Once Omaha’s Complete Streets Policy is in place, how will the city Planning and Public Works Departments make decisions on street design. One only has to move throughout the city (by any means) to know that there will be ample opportunity to put the policy into practice. But who will the decision makers design for?
If they look at current usage of the roadways to decide on walking/biking infrastructure, I fear that we will be doomed to more of what we now have: corridors designed with the automobile as priority. In my opinion (such that it is,) they should quit looking at the past. Furthermore, they shouldn’t design for the future; instead they should take the opportunity to design the future, a different concept altogether. I suspect that comment may need some explanation.
If the Planning Department designs for the future, they will look back at historical data and trends, extrapolate expected numbers, then adjust them actuarily to come up with what they feel will be the future use. The problem with this approach is that it is based solely on the past and will, therefore, continue to elevate the use of private automobiles over other means of transport. Hence, roads will be widened, parking added, and other transport options left to share what may remain (if anything.) In other words, more of the same on a grander scale.
However, if the planners instead utilize their education, knowledge, experience, but most importantly their imaginations, they can redesign our cities as more pleasant, enjoyable places to work, live, and play. Consider a concept I like to call Complete Neighborhoods. Currently, we look at neighborhoods as a collection of homes contained within the same area, borders defined often by busy streets. Imagine instead a neighborhood that contained not only homes, but also included businesses that provided central services: grocery store, drug store, hardware store. Those places we often need at least once a week all located within a mile or two (easy walking or biking distance) from home. Those places not needed as often, such as clothes, beauty or barber shops and entertainment, could be located another mile or two (still bikeable) out, with public transit granting access to those who don’t want to ride. Delivery services could provide a means for getting those big ticket items home. Workplaces (for those not employed in these shops) and green spaces could be intermixed throughout. These concepts are found in the book “A Pattern Language” which should be on the shelf of every designer in my opinion.
Allow me to state that I am not promoting a full-city teardown and starting from scratch. Instead, let’s look at current zoning laws and change them to allow these ideas as redevelopment occurs. In Omaha, we already see the desire for such development in areas like the Crossroads Mall, where it appears the zoning and bureaucracy have come together to stifle the creative thinking that Omaha will need as more folks see the opportunities that our city provides now and, hopefully, will provide into the future.