Strong ‘Complete Streets Ordinance’ Needed To Keep Lakewood’s Streets Safe

As someone who grew up in Lakewood and is raising my children here today, one of the driving reasons in my decision to run for City Council was to do everything I could to make Lakewood’s streets safer for users of all ages and abilities, not just cars. Distracted driving, speeding cars in neighborhoods, lack of safe pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and aggressive driving hurts our neighborhoods and residents. I was proud when City Council recently adopted the Active Transportation Plan which called for the adoption of Complete Streets legislation to ensure accountability measures for its implementation. Complete Streets is an approach to planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining streets that enables safe access for all people who need to use them, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

Complete Streets Ordinance
On June 17, my colleagues – Council President Sarah Kepple and Ward 3 Councilperson Cindy Strebig – and I proposed an Ordinance to enact Complete Streets in Lakewood. The Complete Streets Ordinance seeks to address the livability and safety needs of Lakewood by building upon efforts to promote an equitable multimodal transportation system. It sets up an accountability structure and public engagement process to ensure that Lakewood is meeting the goals and infrastructure improvements called for in the Active Transportation Plan.

A Walking School District – Caregiver Decisions to Allow Walking/Biking to School
Lakewood and our School District are unique in that we do not provide buses to bring students to school because we have neighborhood schools where most elementary and middle school students live within walking and/or biking distance to their respective school. We proudly call it a “Walking School District.” I love walking or biking with my children to school each day. However, the Active Transportation Plan found that the key issues impacting caregiver decisions to let a child walk or bike to school included “safety of intersections and crossings” at 61 percent, “speed of traffic along route” at 45 percent, and “convenience of driving” at only 13 percent. As such, the safety of our streets – not the convenience of driving – is impacting those decisions. Moreover, 67 percent of fatal or serious injury pedestrian crashes and 40 percent of fatal or serious injury bicycle crashes happened within ¼ miles of schools and over 83 percent and 90 percent occurred within a ½ mile of schools. Those are jarring numbers.

We owe it to the most vulnerable among us to do all we can to implement the safety infrastructure improvements outlined in the Active Transportation Plan.

Planning Commission’s Charter-Bound Role Over Changes to Streets
While many communities that enact a Complete Streets Ordinance often create a new volunteer committee or task force to oversee its implementation, Lakewood already has a qualified body in the Planning Commission to take on the work. Lakewood’s Charter creates and provides structure to the Planning Commission, which is comprised of five talented volunteers with two appointed by City Council and three appointed by the Mayor. The City Engineer serves as a non-voting member. The Planning Commission is entrusted with many responsibilities under Section 7.2(g) of the Charter that require “mandatory referral” to the Planning Commission. That section outlines that “nor shall any street be opened, widened, narrowed, relocated or vacated, or its use changed for any purpose whatsoever … unless it has first been submitted to [Planning Commission] for report and recommendation.” Considering the Planning Commission’s Charter-bound duty to be consulted on any changes to our streets and the goals of the Complete Streets Ordinance, they are well-suited and positioned to fill this advisory role. In addition to their expertise, the Planning Commission also has the capacity as they have gone from a high of 85 agenda items in 2017 to only have 37 in 2022 and 25 in 2023.

The Complete Streets Ordinance seeks to have Lakewood, before embarking on any transportation project, publicly come before the Planning Commission and show that the treatments called for in the Active Transportation Plan are in the planned improvements. If those treatments are not feasible, then the City must explain why to the Planning Commission. This process will provide structure and process to what the Charter already requires of the Planning Commission, increase public participation, safety, and ensure that Lakewood meets the goals outlined in the Active Transportation Plan. While this proposal creates a process to formalize what the Charter requires, it was not traditionally included in the City’s process of embarking on transportation projects. It will require established protocols to be modified to accommodate the public input and accountability structure of the Active Transportation Plan, but we could think of no better reason than the safety of our most vulnerable users of our streets to endeavor to make those changes.

Difference Between a Complete Streets Ordinance and a Complete Streets Policy
The Administration put forth a Resolution to implement a Complete Streets Policy after my colleagues and I introduced the Complete Streets Ordinance. City Council and the Administration agree on the goals of Complete Streets. However, there are notable advantages of seeking to accomplish the goals of Complete Streets through an ordinance as opposed to a policy. A policy does not have the accountability structure of a public meeting and, notably, does not allow for the Planning Commission to perform its Charter-bound duty to review all changes to our streets. Moreover, City Council acts through the Lakewood Codified Ordinances and not through policies. The Administration has indicated that the Complete Streets Ordinance would halt Lakewood’s progress on public works projects or usurp the expertise of dedicated and skilled employees of Lakewood. That is simply not true, not intended, and a misreading of the proposed Complete Streets Ordinance. Having one public meeting before the Planning Commission to allow for public input and a Planning Commission report and recommendation would not halt progress or usurp participation of skilled employees, it would create better andsafer projects. That said, I look forward to working with the Administration, our colleagues, and the public on the Complete Streets Ordinance to reasonably refine the proposed process to create a safer and more equitable Lakewood.

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Volume 20, Issue 13, Posted 7:53 AM, 07.09.2024