By KATIE HOOS
Striving to accommodate pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists alike, the Westchester County Board of Legislators approved a Complete Streets Act, which will consider adding features for alternative modes of transportation when constructing and repairing county roads.
Complete Streets are designed to provide safe and convenient access for all travelers by adding sidewalks, bike lanes and improved public transportation. Ideally, these additions will lessen the number of motorists and, in turn, increase the heath and safety of travelers while also reducing congestion and motor vehicle pollution.
The policy, which was signed into law on Oct.18 by Republican County Executive Rob Astorino, is modeled after similar New York State legislation, which took effect in February 2012.
County Legislator Catherine Borgia, an Ossining Democrat who chairs the Board of Legislators’ Government Operations Committee, was a lead proponent of the bill.
“I think that, really, in all of our municipalities we’re seeing this move towards people wanting to have alternate modes of transportation and especially, as our population ages, we want to be able to have safe ways for people to cross streets, walk on the sidewalks, walk to bus stops or walk to public transportation,” Borgia said.
Several factors led to the Complete Streets proposal, including growing numbers of people commuting to work on foot, bike or by public transportation.
“In general, population trends are moving away from having a car-centric society, so people want the opportunity to take public transportation,” Borgia said. “They want vital community centers. They want the opportunity to walk or bicycle as people are more interested in maintaining a healthy lifestyle.”
Smart Growth America, a group leading the nation’s Complete Streets Coalition, reported that one study conducted by the National Conference of State Legislators found 43 percent of people who have access to safe places to walk near their homes met the surgeon general’s recommended levels of physical activity. Among those without safe places to walk, only 27 percent met the recommended levels of activity.
Another major factor that pushed the policy into law was the number of injuries and fatalities involving pedestrians on the roadways. According to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, 2,442 crashes involving bicyclists or pedestrians occurred in Westchester County from Jan. 1, 2009, to May 31, 2012. Thirty-one of these crashes were fatal. Yonkers led the county with the most crashes involving pedestrians and bicyclists at 694, with White Plains, New Rochelle, Greenburgh and Port Chester following respectively.
County Legislator Mary Jane Shimsky, a Hastings Democrat, was a co-sponsor of the Complete Streets Act.
“Wherever you go in Westchester, there are roads and streets that don’t have sidewalks or don’t have enough room for bicyclists to travel safely,” Shimsky said. “When you think about all of the major and secondary arteries in Westchester County that don’t have sidewalks, you realize that there’s a whole lot of improvement that can be done to make life easier and safer for people who are not taking their cars.”
In order to make county roads safer, several design changes will be implemented with Complete Streets, especially for pedestrian traffic. This includes adding and enlarging sidewalks, creating raised medians, improving the placement of bus stops and incorporating more features for disabled travelers. Bicyclists can expect more roads with dedicated bike-only lanes. The Complete Streets roadway designs will also lead to speed reduction for motorists.
In terms of how the Complete Streets Act will affect the Westchester budget, Borgia said that the planning did not indicate any additional costs to the county.
“You’ll always have to do engineering, you’ll always have to think about how you’re going to use your resources,” she said. “This just throws another consideration into the mix.”
One project that is already being worked on within the county that incorporates the multi-use features of Complete Streets is the repairing and upgrading of the pedestrian bridge that links Ossining and the Croton-Harmon train station. Also, Shimsky eluded to adding bike lanes to the narrow and potentially dangerous Jackson Avenue in Yonkers.
Looking toward the future of Westchester County roadways, Shimsky said, “I should think in the next 10 to 20 years we should see more roads outfitted with sidewalks. We’ll probably have more connectivity with our bike paths to lead something like the Tri-County Trailway [a pedestrian and bicycle pathway linking the counties of the Bronx, Westchester and Putnam] to downtowns along the way, and we’re also going to have more mass transit.”