State Rep. Switalski pushes through Complete Streets law

What makes a street complete -- bike lanes, accessible bus stops, pedestrian crossings?

Yes, yes, and yes. Earlier this month, Michigan became the 14th state to adopt Complete Streets legislation, which incorporates sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, crossing opportunities, and other features that benefit pedestrians, cyclists, and users of public transportation, into road planning.

State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, one of the bill's sponsors, says another thing to consider is the flow of young people leaving Michigan. What he's seeing more and more is young professionals first moving to a new location -- Chicago, say, or the east coast -- and then looking for a job, instead of the other way around.

"They want to live in sustainable communities, to use different modes of transportation to get to work and places of leisure," he says. "In many places in Michigan, there is only one way to get around, by automobile."

"Transportation policy, when it comes to planning our communities, is a critical piece of transforming Michigan into a place that is desirable for young professionals to live, and a piece of the puzzle to turning our economy around."

Switalski explains that the state will develop a model Complete Streets policy for communities to use as a guide to interpret based on their own situations. In the past, the Michigan Department of Transportation hasn't been required to take the communities' desires into consideration; if the community has adopted a Complete Streets policy, they have to work together.

Somewhere, there's a compromise -- there can't be an industrial corridor next to bike trails, but a downtown doesn't have to have a six-lane highway, either. "What this is really doing is putting [forward] a new way of thinking about transportation policy," he says. "This is not a mandate, but a completely different way of looking at possibilities to move people and goods around the state."

Also, cities and townships will be encouraged to look at Complete Streets when updating their master plans.

Cyclists were among the supporters of the bill, as were senior advocates and healthy lifestyle groups. In Switalski's community of Warren, there are many senior citizens that may not have someone to take them to the pharmacy or grocery store.

"A lot of senior citizens feel trapped in their homes," he says. "They don't have options. It's not safe for them to walk across Van Dyke."

Plus, in many new developments, there are no sidewalks or walking paths, which makes it hard for students to even walk to school anymore. "Kids get dropped off or get a bus, but there is no other way," he says. "I believe many, many people will benefit from this [legislation]."

Source: State Rep. Jon Switalski
Writer: Kristin Lukowski
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