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Study Eyes Next Steps For Implementing Complete Streets in B-N

Bike Lane sign
Ralph Weisheit
Both Bloomington and Normal already have Complete Streets policies, a promise to make streets equally friendly to cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians.

A new study suggests that if Bloomington and Normal leaders want to create streets that are equally friendly to all types of users, they should start with Connect Transit routes.

The Complete Streets Implementation Study draft debuted publicly this week in front of the Bloomington Transportation Commission. Its authors at the McLean County Regional Planning Commission (MCRPC) and Hoyle Consulting are still taking feedback from Bloomington and Normal officials.

Both Bloomington and Normal already have Complete Streets policies, a promise to make streets equally friendly to cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians. This new study aims to prioritize potential projects that would have the most impact, including an emphasis on those along transit routes. The study found one-third of all bike and pedestrian-related crashes in Bloomington-Normal occurred within 150 feet of a bus stop.

Take a speedy stretch of Main Street, between Gregory Street and Raab Road in Normal, for example. There are 10 bus stops with few crosswalks to help pedestrians reach them. Transit ridership is high in that area, and those who live nearby are heavily dependent on transit to get around, the study found. The study ranks Main Street as a high priority, suggesting new crosswalks, pedestrian refuge islands, and/or rapid flashing beacons in that area.

“There are lots of locations where we have serious issue in terms of accessibility,” said MCRPC Transportation Planner Jennifer Sicks. “There’s either not a sidewalk available, or there’s a sidewalk but there’s no path along the right of way into the bus, so people are walking through grass. We have to worry about things like snow removal.”

Even though Bloomington and Normal both have had Complete Streets policies on the books since 2016, that doesn’t mean change happened overnight.

Many of the proposed changes are expensive. Those along Main Street bring an additional level of complexity because it is a state route and any alterations must run through the Illinois Department of Transportation.

But Sicks said the study could be a valuable guide to help government leaders prioritize projects as funding becomes available.

"You can take that information and fold it into our more formal and funding-driven planning process that goes year-to-year, and say, ‘OK, this project is now official. We have funding attached to it. We can put into our annual transportation improvement program,’” Sicks said. “And in this instance, the project description will not just be resurfacing or reconstruction. It will be adding bike lanes or adding transit locations where they can pull off and deal with passengers,” said Sicks.

Bloomington has taken some steps toward Complete Streets. A portion of Washington Street recently got bike lanes. Sicks pointed to Front Street in downtown Bloomington as another project to watch. Traffic signals were removed, and changes are underway to better accommodate buses and improve access for pedestrians, including those with disabilities. It will be finished next spring, she said.

“That is going to be a keystone project, a show-and-tell for the community about how this works and what you might see. The ways in which making an accommodation for bicycles and transit vehicles allows the rest of the traffic to move more freely and easily,” said Sicks.

Not everyone agrees transit should carry so much weight in Complete Streets implementation.

“We question why the study strongly prioritizes and focuses on corridors along significant transit routes at the expense of other street corridors without a transit route that may see greater overall benefits with a Complete Streets implementation,” the City of Bloomington’s engineering division said in a comment about the draft study, released to the Bloomington Transportation Commission.

The study is broader than just mass transit. It also reinforces so-called “road diets,” such as reducing an undivided four-lane street into just one lane in either direction, and using the extra space for bike lanes or a center turn lane. Experts say road diets can reduce speed and crashes and improve pedestrian safety.

“These all come together. The whole idea is that everybody gets to the use it to the greatest extent possible,” Sicks said.

You can also listen to the full interview:

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Ryan Denham is the digital content director for WGLT.