Complete Streets are the marching orders across California that impact everyone from speeding motorists to the growing number of bicyclists, bus riders and pedestrians from parents pushing strollers to grandparents.
The phrase means hundreds of planned street improvements will factor in all people using our streets and not just drivers, which has been the case since the Korean War. Roads may be reduced and lanes narrowed, parking spaces eliminated, bike lanes added and the walk from curb to curb shortened.
The reason is the carnage on our streets. Traffic fatalities increased 7 percent from 2015 to 2016 in California, bicycle fatalities increased 8.1 percent, pedestrian fatalities rose 13 percent for those 65 and older, according to the state Office of Traffic Safety.
“We are facing a traffic safety crisis in this country,” said Fremont public works director Hans Larsen, who has spoken to groups in San Diego, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis on Complete Streets. “The number of people dying on our streets has been increasing in recent years. There are concerning factors that are creating these deaths, and this is going to continue.”
California became the first state to approve a Complete Streets policy in 2008. Nearly two dozen states have followed suit and the National Complete Streets Coalition has urged Congress to adopt a policy across the country.
Telegraph Avenue in Oakland, Delaware Street in Santa Cruz and Farm Bureau Road in Concord were converted to Complete Streets in recent years. This spring, the same approach will be completed in Fremont on Paseo Padre Parkway, Walnut Avenue, Grimmer Boulevard, Stevenson Boulevard, and Driscoll Road.
Later this year studies on busy Bascom Avenue in the South Bay will be completed, and Oakland will make more changes on Telegraph from 42nd to 52nd streets.
“This is really important,” said Ryan Russo, Oakland’s public works director, citing easier and safer access to local businesses. “If everyone is using a car for every trip, that just won’t work anymore.
“This is really valuable for business vitality. It will give Oakland a vibrancy. It’s a win-win.”
Also on the wish list are Tasman Drive from Milpitas to Sunnyvale, and Story Road-Keyes Street through San Jose; a segment of El Camino Real on the Peninsula; Sloat Boulevard, 19th Avenue, Van Ness Boulevard and Lombard Street and in Howard Street in San Francisco and Highway 9 through the San Lorenzo Valley.
The changes would resemble what was done on Lincoln Avenue in the Willow Glen neighborhood of San Jose four years ago. One lane was removed each way, a center left-turn installed, bicycle lanes added and signals coordinated.
“Streets in Silicon Valley have been planned for moving as many cars as quickly as possible,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of Oakland-based TransForm. “But we can see that is backfiring. When you plan for cars, you get cars, and we now have so many that traffic is horrendous and getting worse.”
In 2015, all fatal traffic crashes in Fremont occurred on major streets with speed limits of 40 miles per hour or greater, and 50 percent of the fatalities occurred on Fremont Boulevard alone. The city has since lowered the speed limit from 45 to 40 mph and from 40 to 35 mph on 11 major streets.
In Oakland, two of three drivers now yield at some crosswalks on Telegraph, compared to just 20 percent a few years ago. Speeding is down 45 percent.
“Traffic on Telegraph seems calmer,” said Mary Tran of Oakland. “I’m not as nervous riding my bike there.”
Joel Edelman of San Jose said Bascom Avenue “was the old Highway 17 but probably doesn’t need to be six lanes anymore. Making it four lanes could address a lot of these concerns.”
The Bascom study will evaluate 5.9 miles from Interstate 880 near the Bascom-Forest and Rose Garden neighborhoods in San Jose, past Valley Medical Center, the Pruneyard in Campbell, and down to the Farnham and Ponderosa neighborhoods near Highway 85.
But not all changes are welcomed. When the Valley Transportation Authority pushed an idea to reserve one lane each way on El Camino Real from Mountain View to San Jose for buses, loud protests killed the plan.
“You take away lanes from drivers just trying to get around for bicyclists and bus riders,” said Fred Lee of Santa Clara. “That made no sense. None at all.”
Not so fast, said Debbie Hale of the Transportation Agency for Monterey County, which has been promoting Complete Streets for awhile.
“The county is still really focused on repairs and repaving and doesn’t always see the cost-benefit of including sidewalks, bike lanes or crossing improvements at the same time,” she said. “We’re working up a presentation to help persuade our public works directors that Complete Streets means fewer bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and deaths.
“The safety angle seems to work best with them.”