‘Complete Streets’ can be a path to a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma

complete-streets-presentation-3-638Elizabeth Armstrong was a Fall 2015 OK Policy intern. She is pursuing a Master’s degree in Geography at Oklahoma State University where she also works as a Graduate Research Assistant.

In ways far more important than many Oklahomans realize, the way we live today in Oklahoma depends greatly on the choices of past generations about how to construct our transportation and community infrastructure. Today our choices are no less important for future generations. If we want healthy, growing communities that are attractive to tomorrow’s most skilled workforce, we can’t make these decisions in the same ways we have in past decades.

One hopeful example of how a city is attempting to set a more future-looking, citizen-oriented path for development is Stillwater’s “Complete Streets” initiative with direct input from the newly formed Bicycle and Pedestrian Citizen Advisory Committee.

What are Complete Streets?

Complete Streets is a philosophy of adopting transportation and city design policies that ensure safe, sustainable travel options for all modes of transportation. Many cities have been designed with an automobile-focused approach, with other forms of transportation as a side-thought. A Complete Streets model provides accessible sidewalks, bike lanes, and alternative biking and walking paths that deviate from traditional roadside paths. Additionally, a comprehensive Complete Streets plan includes environmentally-friendly city designs, accessible public transportation, and space for regular automobile use.

Even in Oklahoma’s largest cities, we have relatively low usage of alternative transportation to personal automobiles. Walking and biking constitute just 1.8 percent of commuting trips in Oklahoma City and just 2.4 percent in Tulsa. The public transit operated by those cities trails well behind other cities in the region like Kansas City, Little Rock, and Fort Worth. However, as cities like Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Guthrie, Edmond, etc. adopt Complete Streets policies and improve mass transit systems, the popularity of these options is sure to increase.

How Can Complete Streets Benefit Oklahoma?

Adopting a Complete Streets policy in more Oklahoma communities has potential to reduce state expenditures on health care and road maintenance while also providing opportunities for economic growth.

  • Health: Oklahoma ranks 50th in the nation for overall health with some of the highest rates of obesity and heart disease in the country. As cities shift from auto-focused transportation, people experience notable gains in physical, mental and emotional health. This is because people benefit from increased physical activity and social interaction made possible by complete street designs. As such, complete streets offer an excellent long-term health plan for any state or city government.
  • Cost Savings: A varied transportation mix lessens impact on roads by reducing city congestion and limiting the cost of road maintenance. Besides savings for the state and municipalities, household budgets also benefit from reduced expenditures on car maintenance. These savings are then cycled back into the local economy, often in the form of local business support, which is essential in a state that supports over 330,000 small businesses.
  • Economic Growth: In communities that adopt Complete Streets projects, lower-socioeconomic groups are able to more easily find and maintain employment. Complete Streets projects also directly create well-paying jobs such as rail workers, construction workers, and safety managers. Additionally, Oklahoma supports an incredible network of small towns that provide a unique opportunity for tourism growth—especially, as the cycling community increases in Oklahoma with events like the Landrun 100, Enid Tour de Trykes, and Oklahoma Freewheel. Not only would this provide an increased source of revenue for small towns, but it would also encourage rural communities to participate in healthy recreation, reducing obesity and heart disease rates that plague rural Oklahoma.

What’s next?

A 2014 survey revealed that the Stillwater community was ready for a more inclusive transit system, similar to results in other Oklahoma communities.  However, for any Oklahoma town considering a Complete Streets initiative, it is important to remember that change takes time and community support. The effort is worth the challenge, because the lifelong improvements made possible by Complete Streets can directly address some of our state’s most serious needs — like diversifying our economy and improving our health. Encouraging Complete Streets initiatives at the local and state levels is a cost-effective long-term plan to create a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma.

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2 thoughts on “‘Complete Streets’ can be a path to a healthier, more prosperous Oklahoma

  1. It is not just individual communities and municipalities that can benefit from Complete Streets policies. The State of Oklahoma should also adopt such a policy, to guide the construction and design of state funded roads and highways, particularly those that pass through our cities and towns. As an example, a nearly half $Billion-dollar project to widen portions of I-44 in Tulsa, using State and Federal funds, and engineered by ODOT is almost completely void of any kind of enhancements for pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users, seriously jeopardizing the safety of each. Our legislators must address these discrepancies and force ODOT to implement a state wide Complete Streets policy immediately.

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