Complete Streets in North Carolina - - Presentation by Paul Morris, Deputy Secretary of Transit, NCDOT

Post date: Aug 15, 2012 12:53:03 PM

The following presentation was given by Secretary Morris, featured speaker at Meeting #6 of the Person Street Partnership on August 7, 2012 at the NCAIA Headquaters building on Peace Street.

Secretary Morris, FASLA, is the Deputy Secretary for Transit for the N.C. Department of Transportation and is responsible for the department’s five multimodal divisions: Aviation, Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation, Ferry, Public Transportation and Rail. He also serves as the central point of contact for transportation initiatives involving the Global TransPark, North Carolina Railroad and the Ports Authority. A licensed landscape architect and a member of the American Planning Association, Morris’ project and professional experience include work on more than 400 planning projects in the areas of land use and transportation planning, transit-oriented development, urban regeneration and development, and sustainable community development.

Complete Streets in North Carolina

The NCDOT’s goal as related to Complete Streets is to establish complete streets as not just a policy but a practice across the state. The DOT operates with a 19-member board and operates under a mission statement that has been updated to include the economy and health and well-being of North Carolina. The mission statement sets the context for Complete Streets and where the DOT is going.

There has been a “mind shift” within the NCDOT as to how they do work and for what purpose. The department is responsible for 80 percent of the roads across the state – second only to Texas. They need to be innovative to meet divergent needs and changing times require a real change in the way they do business or what might be called “the new normal” - - a massive reorganization and transformation within the department in terms of what they do and the philosophy of how they do it. They’re not just thinking about highways but streets also which have a different connotation from highways. The DOT is working to think more holistically about how people live and work along these streets.

The key components to success are in building partnerships and collaborating with others to make decisions. The NCDOT is working to build accountability into actions that are based on hard data. They are performing quantitative analyses in order to rationally justify decisions. Most importantly, the DOT is now requiring innovation and working from the ground up, not the top down. This requires a much more grass roots-based approach. DOT planners/architects need to understand local needs and use the new guidelines to define their work.

The NCDOT is putting together the 2040 plan, a vision that will be specific on maintaining what we have in terms of transportation and designing what will come. The DOT must understand how all modals work together to create a high quality of life.

The NCDOT is also working to practice what it preaches. The “Complete Streets” philosophy drives this. The DOT is not just thinking about which projects to fund but the overall policy. A good policy framework is essential to coming up with good projects. The first step was to adopt the complete streets policy. The DOT wants to be a leader in the U.S. to create complete street environments and has put into place guidelines about how to design and define complete streets.

This new policy is now being used in the field during this “beta year.” The NCDOT knows that the guidelines are imperfect and need the community’s help to refine them. Currently, the “Complete Streets” policy seeks to create street environments that enable safe access for all users and meet all the transportation needs for the prospective users such as bikes, pedestrians, and cars.

The benefits of complete streets are clear. They provide connectivity, make travel easier, improve safety for all users, encourage use of all modes, increase mobility and accessibility for all ages and abilities and support local health.

Why the new approach? The NCDOT realized that the world of the 1930s through 1960s, around which NC’s transportation system was built, has changed. New policies are needed as we evolve. The policy is a framework to launch a new conversation and launch the complete streets process.

Some templates from the guidelines are as follows:

Urban center vs. urban residential. Mordecai, for example, is very mixed and eclectic. Each street is unique. Some characteristics are stable while others are evolving. We need to figure out the “street context” for the land uses that are emerging in our neighborhood.

Best practices are being designed by NCDOT through a technology-driven process. Streets must be safe and secure. Whatever is designed must meet users’ needs and not create more problems than it solves. N.C. is fortunate to have some complete streets already. The DOT is using these older formats where it makes sense. Municipalities and developers are also working in new and redeveloping areas. The DOT is using these old/new examples as well as looking around the country to learn from what’s working or not working elsewhere. We want to avoid the problems that others have experienced. The new guidelines blend all these examples and tailor them to North Carolina’s context and needs.

NCDOT goes from Main Streets to freeways in creating a complete street. The guidelines spell out how this is done. The DOT has moved away from functional descriptions (collectors, arterials) to terms people are more familiar with, i.e., main streets, boulevards, parkways.

The new guidelines look at streets as being an “outdoor room.” If we think of our streets as a “room” stretching from the front of a building on one side of the street to the front of a building on the other side, we will conceptualize it differently than if we just think of it as a way to move cars. Once you define the entire space, it helps you to design it. Setbacks, tree locations, etc., can be determined.

“Quality of service” is a term that says all design elements of the street have to improve its functionality. People should not feel that the street is worse than before NC DOT touched it.

Streetscape guidelines do have differences in terms of urban vs. suburban streets. More rights-of-way are available to pedestrians and bicyclists in certain streetscapes. In the past, the streets were split 50/50 between bikes and cars. Today 70-90 percent of streets are dedicated to autos. The NCDOT wants to create more of a balance. The balance must create a safe travel environment so that intersections, bridges, etc., don’t create hazards for bikes and pedestrians.

In terms of bridges, NC DOT will be replacing 1,700 of N.C.’s 7,000 bridges in the next few years. The complete street concept must be fully considered with each bridge replacement since these bridges will be in place for decades.

The NCDOT is now in the process of jump starting the implementation of complete streets. They received hundreds of comments when the policy was being developed. The beta year has been launched, and the DOT is looking for pilot projects. The Person Street corridor may be a part one of those. NCDOT is focused on not just moving people through an area but making good use of the land that’s there. Buildings, awnings and lighting from storefronts all tie in. DOT also needs to look at infrastructure, like public utilities, and public transit. Pedestrians must be accommodated before transit will work. Transit stops must be convenient and safe or they will not be used.

Parking must be considered for bikes and cars for to create a complete street. There are various ways of parking cars including back-in diagonal parking to increase safety.

All 14 DOT regions in N.C. have been asked to identify small pilot projects including new and renovated streets. As projects are completed the DOT will have a catalogue of complete streets around the state.

In addition to the small pilot projects, the DOT is undertaking a major complete streets project on Blue Ridge Road that encompasses 25 acres around this entire neighborhood. The DOT will design a network of streets to work as a single unit. Public transit is a major focus of the makeover as well as creating a bike/pedestrian network to allow daily travel as well as recreational, off-street travel that doesn’t compete with cars.

Part of the project involves re-envisioning the Blue Ridge/Hillsborough intersection with its 13-phase signal. So far, 17 engineer designs have been reviewed for this interchange. The goal is to preserve land for NC State, the N.C. State Fairgrounds and adjoining properties. There may be an overpass that will accommodate light rail with cars passing underneath.

NC DOT is going through a major culture change. In a few years, the goal is not to be seen as the "highway department" but the "transportation" department.

The DOT will soon launch a training program to get citizens more familiar with their new guidelines. A webinar is being designed along with three regional workshops. In 201, 24 training sessions will be held across the state. The DOT needs a constituency that understands the policies and can help to administer them.