Greater City Providence

General Assembly approves Complete Streets legislation

Rhode Island State House

General Assembly Press Release:

Assembly OKs ‘complete streets’ bill

STATE HOUSE – With passage in the House yesterday, the General Assembly has approved legislation aimed at ensuring future road construction projects are developed with an eye toward the safety and ease of all types of users.

The legislation (2012-S 2131, 2012-H 7352) sponsored by Sen. Louis P. DiPalma and Rep. Peter Martin, requires the state to use “complete street” design features in all federal- and state-funded road construction projects, with an eye not only toward motorists, but also bicyclists, public transportation users and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

The goal is to plan streets that encourage people to use healthy, greener transportation modes whenever possible, contributing to their own health as well as the well-being of the environment.

“Cars shouldn’t be the only consideration when public roads are being built. The health and environmental benefits of walking, bicycling and other active modes of transportation are well known, and we should be building our roads in ways that are safe for those activities and encourage people to choose them,” said Senator DiPalma, (D-Dist. 12, Middletown, Newport, Little Compton, Tiverton).

The legislation requires that whenever the state is building or modifying a road, the work must facilitate safe travel by all users, current and projected, particularly pedestrians and bicyclists of all ages and mobility capabilities. Features of complete street design may include sidewalks, paved shoulders suitable for use by bicyclists, lane striping, bicycle lanes, “share the road” signage, “road diets” narrower lanes to discourage speeding and leave room for pedestrians and bicyclists), roundabouts, crosswalks, pedestrian control signalization, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks and ramps and traffic-calming measures.

The legislation allows common-sense exceptions, such as on interstate highways, where pedestrians and bicyclists are prohibited, and on projects where the space is too limited or costs would be disproportionate to the use such features would likely get.

The bill also requires the Department of Transportation to issue a report within two years detailing what it has done to comply with the law, how it has changed its guidelines on such features as lane width, design speed and more, and what best practices the agency has employed. It would also be required to include information on exceptions made, and why they were made.

The sponsors say the bill will encourage active modes of transportation, is healthy for the environment and people, and helps build a sense of community, since pedestrian activity encourages people to speak to one another, know their neighbors and visit local businesses. Additionally, the sort of features common to complete streets designs are increasingly becoming the standard in the United States, and early adoption would save the state from expensive or difficult modifications in the future.

“Making an effort to plan comprehensively for all road users, not just drivers, is a way to get the most from our highway funding. Features that encourage walking and bike riding reduce cars on the road and therefore wear and tear, while encouraging public health and even pumping up pedestrian traffic in downtowns and village centers, which helps fuel local business. This is good planning that will improve the quality of life in our state,” said Representative Martin (D-Dist. 75, Newport).

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  • I admit to being lazy and not reading the legislation, but here are two thoughts anyway:

    1) Is this a real bill that has made progress in this area or have they given themselves substantial enough loopholes so that this doesn’t have to change anything in practice?

    2) What, if any impact, should we anticipate this law having on the reconstruction of Jewelry District street grid?

  • Explains what they did on Broadway with the bike lanes and signing.

    I’m glad they’re finally looking at this. So we can expect to see improvements on Smith St, Cranston St. Broad St. etc. over time.

  • I think this is step forward over current law, and thanks are due to the sponsors, RIDOT for its support, and the AARP for being the primary advocacy group promoting this law. But there are indeed limitations: it applies just to state, not local projects, exceptions are possible due to cost, a demonstrated lack of need. Also, due to budget limitations and Rhode Island’s slow growth, there are relatively few streets to be “constructed or modified” by the state any time soon. But one improvement over current law is that it does require RIDOT to issue a report, assessing current practices and the laws implementation. It also helps standardize the “complete streets” language that can help spill over into local projects.

    In my view, based on experience with current law which also requires some accomodation of bike/ped road users, the effectiveness will depend on local groups familiar with the streets to be involved early on (as on Elmwood Ave) as absent that (as on Union Ave bridge) or too late involvement (in Fox Point at times) accomodation will likely be more limited.

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