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Complete Streets Program: Good Law or Bureaucratic Overreach?

Law requires that walkers, bikers considered when roads designed

Gov. Rick Snyder recently fulfilled an obligation of his office by naming members of something called the "Complete Streets Advisory Council."

This government board exists as a result of Public Acts 134 and 135 of 2010, which were signed into law by former Gov. Jennifer Granholm on Aug.1, 2010.

The law mandates that those who design (or redesign) roads and transportation systems take more than just automobile traffic into account when they draw up their plans. It is to make sure pedestrians, bicyclists, etc. aren't forgotten by the designers and, if appropriate, are accommodated.

Here's how the "Complete Streets" concept was described within the legislation:

It requires "roadways planned, designed, and constructed to provide appropriate access to all legal users in a manner that promotes safe and efficient movement of people and goods whether by car, truck, transit, assistive device, foot, or bicycle."

It requires "local land-use plans to 'provide for safe and efficient movement of people and goods by motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, and other legal users' (rather than just 'automobiles') and other provisions relating to the 'interconnectivity' of various elements of the transportation system."

Apparently, to make sure the "Complete Streets" mandate was carried out, the law established the Complete Streets Advisory Council within the Michigan Department of Transportation to, "provide education and advice to the State Transportation Commission and others, and advise the Commission on the adoption of model policies."

"This is the kind of stuff I wish the governor would use his influence to have us repeal," said Rep. Mike Shirkey, R-Clarklake, who was not a lawmaker when the bills passed. "There are already plenty of resources available to planners. Why do we need this?

"We seem to have an insatiable appetite for meddling," Rep. Shirkey continued. "And meddling inevitably tends to lead to more spending."

Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, who was one of the original sponsors of the legislation, said the law is not an example of bureaucratic overreach.

"There is no mandate in this that costs any money," Rep. Switalski said. "The only thing it does is make sure planners consider everyone not just those who will be in automobiles. Young people are moving out of Michigan in droves. What young people want is vibrant cities, and a major part of that involves transportation. Focusing on how people get around will play a key role in turning this state around."

The legislative analysis of the "Complete Streets" legislation said the measure was expected to increase costs by "unknown" amounts. The analysis stated:

The bills would increase Michigan Department of Transportation internal costs by an unknown amount. Absent increased appropriations to handle the demands, the costs would be funded by reducing activity through other Department activities. The bills also could increase local unit expenses by an unknown amount, depending on the costs associated with developing and implementing complete streets policies.

Some costs imposed by the bills potentially would be minimal, to the extent that the State and local units already develop long-range plans. However, the bills also would create a new State council and potentially would affect the types and nature of transportation projects implemented at the State and local levels. To the extent the changes made projects more expensive, the bills also would increase costs.

"It says 'unknown costs' because it would still be up to the local people to make the final decisions," Rep. Switalski said. "Yes, if they want to add a sidewalk or bike path it would cost more, but it's really up to the locals. There's no one policy. It will still be up to the individual planner.

"This [law] puts more people on the radar," Rep. Switalski added. "We're no longer back in the 1950s where everything was designed around the car. We put together a strong coalition in favor of the bills that included the disabled rights community."

Rep. Bob Genetski, R-Saugatuck, said he remembers voting against the "Complete Streets" bills.

"My chief objection to the bills was that it seemed to me that they placed a lot of decision making in the hands of MDOT and took a lot away from local communities," Rep. Genetski said. "Usually, that automatically leads to increased costs.

"In my opinion, this law is bad policy," Rep. Genetski continued. "Not only does it increase costs, but I also believe an unintended consequence of the legislation is that it could lead to wealthy communities getting more matching funds from the state at the expense of poorer communities. It is easier for wealthier communities to do projects that meet the [Complete Streets] requirements, while many poorer communities could struggle to do so."

Specifically, the "Complete Streets" law does the following:

  • Requires the State Transportation Commission to adopt a "complete streets policy" for the Michigan Department of Transportation and one or more model policies for use by municipalities and counties.
  • Specifies conditions under which MDOT, counties, and municipalities would have to consult and reach agreement addressing respective "complete streets" policies.
  • Authorizes MDOT to provide assistance to local agencies in developing and implementing "complete streets" policies.
  • Establishes a Complete Streets Advisory Council within MDOT to provide education and advice to the State Transportation Commission and others, and advises the Commission on the adoption of model policies.
  • Specifies that certain improvements regarding non-motorized transportation services and facilities would have to meet established best practices.
  • Requires MDOT, a county, and a city or village to notify each other upon the completion of a five-year program for the improvement of qualified non-motorized facilities.
  • Revises requirements pertaining to the establishment of facilities for non-motorized transportation.

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See also:

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Will Gov. Snyder Get Stuck With 'Tax Hiker' Label?

Bill Would Ensure More Gas Tax Money Goes To Roads

Commentary: Balance Road Spending With Cuts

Expert: Medicaid Expansion Means Increased Costs For Worst Service

Medicaid Expansion: Beware of Obamacare 'Gifts'

Tax-and-Spend Interests Pushing Medicaid Expansion

Trust Not In Obamacare Medicaid Promises

Medicaid Expansion: The Decisive Obamacare Battle

Obamacare Medicaid Expansion A Budget Trap

Wisconsin's Alternative Medicaid Plan

Questions About Obamacare Medicaid Expansion

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