As the state Legislature engaged in hot debate over high-profile issues such as same-sex marriage and taxes, lawmakers also quietly approved other important measures, including Complete Streets legislation. Following unanimous approval of the Senate and Assembly on June 20, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is expected to sign the bill into law soon.
That's great news. In a nutshell, Complete Streets ensures that when they are designing a future road project that receives state or federal funds, highway officials will take into account the needs of all users, including pedestrians, older adults, people with disabilities, bicyclists and drivers.
That's a huge step forward for all New Yorkers. The legislation will complement local Complete Streets initiatives in Saranac Lake, Malone and several communities in Essex County. The North Country Healthy Heart Network has partnered with local organizations and residents to work on a local Complete Streets planning and policy change.
In the North Country, new Complete Streets legislation will mostly apply to future projects on state highways. Because state roads comprise many of our main streets, having legislation that encourages Complete Streets designs will help make certain that everyone, whether they are 8 or 80, will benefit from safe, convenient facilities for walking and biking. Such designs encourage active lifestyles and will help fight the soaring increases in obesity and diabetes that New York is experiencing.
Complete Streets can create social and economic boosts as well as health benefits. When streets are more walkable and inviting, people can more easily be physically active and mingle with neighbors. They also gain more opportunities to shop locally. Increased access to trails and bike paths encourages us to be more active and healthy. These same recreational venues can also be a tourist draw. Of course, when more people walk and bike, there is less traffic congestion and pollution.
This is a wonderful vision that's not so hard to achieve. The legislation sets the framework. Policy and program changes at the county and local levels are needed, too. We don't expect an overnight overhaul of streets, sidewalks, crosswalks, roads and trails, but as new road construction projects are planned, Complete Streets design guidelines should be considered and implemented where practical. For many roadways, it can be as simple as replacing part of a sidewalk, re-striping a road lane or painting new crosswalks.
Meanwhile the local Heart Network efforts are moving along nicely, with a groundswell of community involvement.
For example, in Saranac Lake, the Healthy Infrastructure Advisory Board was formed in 2009 to make policy recommendations regarding pedestrians, cycling and accessibility of village infrastructure. HIAB just started working on a Trails Master Plan with grant funding from the Department of State. The goal of the plan is to identify ways to link existing pedestrian and bike networks to trail systems in and around Saranac Lake. Connectivity of sidewalks and bike routes will be a major focus. The recently proposed Sidewalk Capital Improvement Program in Saranac Lake is also to be commended.
In Malone, a Complete Streets partnership was formed a year ago. Members of the community, business owners and municipal representatives have identified and evaluated main walking routes in the village near shops, schools and the Rec Park. Both the village board and town council have formally declared their support for Complete Streets.
Presentations to the public are next on the agenda, along with brainstorming sessions.
In early 2010, the Heart Network partnered with the Essex County Public Health and Planning departments to form the Essex County Complete Streets Coalition. Along with forming a committee with the county Department of Public Works and several local highway superintendents to examine potential Complete Streets policy and project review changes for county roads, coalition partners have taken action on local Complete Streets initiatives in several communities, including Elizabethtown, Wilmington, Westport and Lewis.
Heart Network staff looks forward to seeing these plans come to fruition and applauds our state lawmakers for helping enable them to happen.
Jamie Konkoski and Josh Wilson are program managers with North Country Healthy Heart Network in Saranac Lake.