Thursday, April 18, 2013

BWL Column: Complete streets can help complete communities

BikeWalkLee's bi-weekly News-Press column this week features the complete streets planning underway in Lehigh Acres.  The info box highlights what else is happening in Lee County on the complete streets front--the Tampa Summit and the NCSC report.  

More information

Elsewhere on the complete streets front, Lee County’s efforts and policies were in the spotlight at last week's USDOT Bicycle Safety Summit in Tampa hosted by Secretary Ray LaHood. County sustainability director Tessa LeSage was one of the speakers, highlighting how safety can be improved by how we plan and build the environment – and how the county’s complete streets program helps us do that. Also, in a recent report from the National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America, Lee County ranked second in the state (behind Winter Park) for its complete streets policies. Overall, in just four years Florida has gone from six communities with complete streets policies to 32.

Can a complete street help complete a community? A planning effort to change the face of Lehigh Acres is showing the way.

At 96 square miles and more than 120,000 lots, Lehigh Acres is struggling to make the transition from platted-land suburb to stand-alone and sustainable community – and, in the process, has to overcome some flaws in its original design made glaringly clear by growth. One of those is the need for the infrastructure necessary to evolve into a full-fledged community, which includes directing growth and creating more urban activity centers that would move away from sprawl and toward a commercial core that mixes in residential and recreational needs.

Plans for these activity centers (created by local planning wizards at EnSite) include multi-use designs integrating commercial and residential, re-routing traffic flow to allow for “through” as well as “to” movement; and designing a streetscape that’s more inviting to businesses and pedestrians alike. That’s where complete streets come into play.

Buildings are closer to the street to create intimacy, with on-street parking to calm traffic and parking garages to handle quantity. Sidewalks, bike lanes and dedicated public spaces make this far more pedestrian- and bike-friendly than the current road system – and having people living over the commercial areas ensures street-level activity after business hours and on weekends.

“Mixed-use development focuses community at the street level, where businesses thrive, people interact with one another and gathering spaces become the heart of the community,” said planner Shellie Johnson with EnSite. “Complete streets form the basis for being able to achieve this mix of economy, community and environment.”

It may be many years before Lehigh is actually home to the 350,000 people projected to live there someday but, by designing these activity centers and implementing other planning corrections to promote complete streets and a sustainable community, the community will be better equipped to handle this growth when it inevitably occurs.

“The planning and design study currently under way will provide the county with a master plan of infrastructure needed to support the redevelopment effort,” said Johnson “It will be an important tool in the planning and capital improvement scheduling for many years to come. Once completed, the county will be able to identify phases of redevelopment that can be implemented as budgets allow.”

— BikeWalkLee is a community coalition raising public awareness and advocating for complete streets in Lee County — streets that are designed, built, operated and maintained for safe and convenient travel for all users: pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Information, statistics and background online at

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