When my wife and I bought our house in Farmington in 1996, we didn’t consider a couple transportation aspects of the neighborhood that we should have to keep our children and even ourselves safe and healthy. We were 25, with few cares, and in truth, had no intention of staying in the house longer than a few years. 14 years later, we are still in that house.
The main problem is with our streets. There are no sidewalks for us to safely walk to get healthy or for our kids to walk to their friend’s houses without walking in the street. A few years ago, my middle son and I were walking to a house when a blue Dodge pick-up truck nearly hit us. We were forced to hustle into the grass as the blue truck barely stayed on the curving dark road itself. No sidewalks and a distracted driver at some point will result in a tragedy in our neighborhood.
We’ve already had a couple tragedies. Since we have lived in our house, two girls, one walking and one biking, have been killed in separate incidents within blocks of my house on Pilot Knob Rd. I regularly see a gentleman in an electric wheel chair driving up Pilot Knob Road on the street shoulder against traffic with cars whizzing by him at 50-plus MPH as he tries to get to the Kwik Trip or wherever he goes over there. That is an accident waiting to happen.
I’m vigilant. I watch for cars, and I tell my kids to walk on the grass as cars approach. But I won’t always be there. My kids are getting older and regularly walk and bike on their own to friend’s houses now. I don’t think my kids are as cautious as I am, or maybe it is worried enough, to watch for that blue Dodge pickup. I don’t want to suffer like the families of those two girls did and it worries me.
In reality, I have two options. I can live with the design of the neighborhood, or I can move to a neighborhood that is designed for safer use. I guess there might be a third option, but it requires the acquisition of Doc Brown’s DeLorean to go back in time and stop myself from buying the house I currently live in. Unfortunately, economics dictate that I truly only have one option, and it is the first.
There is something else I can do though. I can work to make future neighborhoods safer. I hadn’t thought about it until today. Today I received an interesting email that alerted me to a group called Minnesota Complete Street Coalition. The email was from great local organization called Fresh Energy. The first story in the email was titled “Making Minnesota’s streets safer for your family.”
Here are the opening paragraphs:
Have you ever taken a walk only to find that you can’t safely cross a bridge on foot? Or maybe you wanted to ride your bike to catch a movie, but there wasn’t a bike-friendly route that was safe for your kids? Too often, our streets are designed as either one-size-fits-all or solely with driving in mind—making travel by foot, bike, or wheelchair difficult or dangerous.
“Complete Streets” is a transportation planning and design policy that would make Minnesota’s roads safer for everybody in Minnesota—no matter how we travel. It has become a national movement: Complete Streets policies have already been adopted by 12 states and more than 100 cities and counties across the country, including Rochester, Hennepin County, St. Paul, and Albert Lea.
“Complete Streets” means that streets are designed to be safe and accessible for pedestrians, transit riders, bicyclists, and drivers — all users, regardless of age or ability. The coalition has the goal of passing a strong statewide policy to make streets safer. Representative Mike Obermueller, the DFLer from Eagan, plans to take a big first step by introducing a House version of a Complete Streets bill during the 2010 legislative session. The bill will:
- define Complete Streets and declare it as a state policy
- support the partnership work of Mn/DOT and encourage (but not require) local communities to consider Complete Streets policies
- provide immediate design flexibility for communities interested in implementing cost-effective Complete Streets ideas
- require Mn/DOT to report back on the work they are doing through the Complete Streets partnership
The bill wouldn’t solve the problem, but it is a start and it creates awareness. I realize it is more expensive for a new community to include sidewalks and bike paths. But sidewalks and bike paths should be luxuries. Sidewalks and bike paths are necessities to help keep kids safe as they do the normal things kids do growing up, like going to the park or going to friend’s houses.
“Complete Streets” will not only make our children safer, it will promote activities that make us healthier and even promote reduced energy use. I heard that oil prices have risen again. Currently it is in the $83 a barrel range. Safer access to walking and bike paths will make us safer in that we can save a little energy, making us less reliable on oil from the Middle East, and we can get a little exercise saving that energy.
Seems like a good thing to me. If you want more information on Complete Streets, click here.