Editorial: Complete the streets

They're the blight of suburbia and many city neighborhoods — multilane streets and boulevards that accommodate only cars.

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Published July 2, 2007 by The Sacramento Bee

They're the blight of suburbia and many city neighborhoods — multilane streets and boulevards that accommodate only cars. They have no bike lanes. No sidewalks. No pull-outs for bus transit. No trees. No medians or crosswalks so kids and other pedestrians can safely cross to get to schools, shops or retirement villages.

You can see these types of streets all over the urbanized parts of Sacramento County and in many other California communities. These high-speed blacktops are one reason that, each year in California, cars kill about 700 pedestrians and injure 14,000 others.

These boulevards of death now have a polite name — incomplete streets. In a perfect world, incomplete streets would be outlawed and phased out of existence. Yet short of such bold action, lawmakers could take action this year to encourage more complete streets as communities plan for future growth. They could enact Assembly Bill 1358, by Mark Leno, D-San Francisco, which requires local governments to accommodate all users of the road when revising the circulation element of their general plans.

Currently, California's government code is silent on the need to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users when planning a local transportation system. That needs to change. AB 1358 would encourage local governments to work on the front end so streets were designed to include bike lanes, transit stops, sidewalks and tree cover for walkers.

Leno's bill passed the Assembly, but it was a party-line vote, with nearly all Republicans opposed. This is mystifying. Last time we checked, Republicans walked on two legs and occasionally rode bikes. Why the opposition to this bill?

Legislative analysts say it would cost a mere $150,000 for the Office of Planning and Research to develop "complete street" guidelines mandated by AB 1358. The total cost for local governments to follow these guidelines would be about $500,000 in some years. Here in our region, Sacramento, Davis, Roseville, Folsom and other communities are already building complete streets.

As California's population gets older, alternatives to the automobile will become even more important. At the moment, about one-fifth of California elderly don't drive, either because they can't or choose not to. The population over 65 is projected to double by 2030, which is why the California Chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons supports this bill.

AB 1358's next stop is the Senate Local Government Committee. This bill deserves to pass without a single nay vote. There's no reason why protecting kids, the elderly and other people afoot should be a partisan issue.