Walking and Biking, Made Easier
Complete Streets support pedestrians and cyclists - not just cars!
New Hampshire's Monadnock Region is known for its winding scenic roadways, covered bridges, and quaint town commons. But a closer look at this idyllic landscape reveals a troubling reality that may be causing the region to lose in health and prosperity.
Many neighborhoods in the region lack safe walkways; this prevents kids from walking to school and residents from walking for errands or visiting neighbors. Empty storefronts abound; could it be that the lack of foot traffic impacts businesses? Perhaps worst of all, preventable pedestrian accidents result from vehicle-centric roadways.
Accommodations for non-vehicular transportation - such as sidewalks and bike lanes - have traditionally been avoided in infrastructure development because they are viewed as burdensome and costly to maintain. Now, communities are recognizing that any development without considering the big picture - pedestrians and bicyclists - is far more costly in the long run.
People have responded positively to the idea of Complete Streets, because they can see the benefits to their children, their parents or grandparents, and to themselves.
-Mari Brunner, planner, Southwest Region Planning Commission
Complete Streets: The Wave of Monadnock's Future
Many forward-looking towns in our region are addressing the big picture through "Complete Streets" plans. The Monadnock Region towns that embrace these plans realize that Complete Streets policies are one way to improve health, safety, and economic prosperity for residents. To date, four Monadnock Region towns have adopted Complete Streets policies and several more are in the process.
Adopting a Complete Streets Policy isn't easy but thanks to the work of Healthy Monadnock partner, Southwest Region Planning Commission (SWRPC), rural communities are understanding how Complete Streets can be adapted to meet the unique characteristics of New England towns.
SWRPC held "Demonstration Days" or street mock-ups so that residents in each community could experience Complete Streets and understand how they may impact a neighborhood. The events built awareness and support for policy development.
Each neighborhood and town requires different considerations. SWRPC helps towns develop "Design Guidelines" along with their policies so that once a policy is adopted, future infrastructure development will have a thoughtful plan for reference.
Case Study: Swanzey, NH
In 2014, a group of Swanzey residents held a charrette to develop the vision for West Swanzey Village as a center for economic activity and community identity. This initial work primed the community, which included resident Nancy Carlson, to form a Complete Streets Task Force in order to support SWRPC's work with the town to develop a policy and coordinate a demonstration project.
The Complete Streets policy was adopted and immediately helped inform a project for sidewalk improvements and new parking in the Village Center. Now, residents are able to enjoy two complete walking loops connecting residential areas with the Village Center.
Swanzey has a rich history of community support for sidewalks. The original settlers of the town elected to pave their sidewalks before they paved their roads. They established a community endowment for the upkeep of the sidewalks because they believed them to be critical to the social connectivity of their community.
Obesity has increased at an epidemic level.
Obesity in America has reached epidemic proportions. The latest data shows that 25.4 percent of Cheshire County residents are considered obese. Only 37.9 percent of the County's populations were at a healthy weight. Although these rates are better than the state and national averages of 36.4 and 33.4 percent respectively, data shows that the majority of youth in our region are either obese or overweight.
Health experts agree that a big factor is inactivity -- only 25.6 percent of Cheshire County residents meet the recommended physical activity guidelines. Incomplete streets mean many people lack opportunities to be active as part of daily life.
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found a link between walkable and bikable physical environments and lower obesity rates. But without safe and practical ways to move by foot or bike, people will opt to use their cars … which may be convenient, but does not encourage active lifestyles.
Creating walkable environments is also important for our kids, who are suffering high obesity rates in this country. One factor could be that fewer children are walking to school; while it used to be that children routinely moved around their neighborhoods and to school by foot or bicycle, today fewer than 15 percent of school children nationwide walk or bike to school. Making changes to our built and social environments can directly influence the level of physical activity, which can lead to improved health and weight loss.
Four Monadnock towns have adopted Complete Streets policies.
When you see what a Complete Street looks like, you can see what a difference just minimal changes make to make a street more accessible and welcoming for people.
-Sarah Carbonneau, director of planning and community development, Town of Swanzey
Keene, Swanzey, Troy and Hinsdale (with a total population of 36,830) have adopted Complete Streets policies.
So what could these communities look like as they use their Complete Streets plans? The common elements of Complete Streets include public spaces and parks; convenient and abundant bike parking; lots of pedestrians and bike riders; way finding signs; and protected bike routes.
Simple fixes -- such as pedestrian crosswalks, “sharrow” lanes for bicycles and infrastructure tweaks to make it safe for those waiting for a bus -- go a long way to helping pedestrians and bicyclists feel safe on the city or town’s roadways. And having reliable and affordable transportation options in the region is an integral component of quality of life, economic development and overall health and wellbeing for a community.
Further, Complete Streets has the potential to help the Monadnock Region’s vulnerable populations, for example, the elderly who no longer drive, non-driving youth and low-income residents who don’t own a car. According to a 2016 survey, 15 percent of the population of Keene is older than 65; 12 percent are younger than driving age, eight percent are disabled and 16.5 percent are living in poverty. Complete Streets not only help all of us become more active in our daily lives, it helps people safely access their jobs, healthcare, friends and family.
Complete Streets is long-term investment in the overall health of our communities. As the Monadnock Region makes it easier for all of us to walk and bike as part of our daily routine, we can expect to see direct improvements in the health and wellbeing of our children, neighbors and ourselves.