The Little Rock City Board of Directors is expected to vote Tuesday night on an ordinance which would impact future development in the city. The Complete Streets policy would require that when transportation improvement projects are planned within the city, consideration of all anticipated users be incorporated.
Director of the Department of Planning and Development, Tony Bozynski, has been involved with crafting the policy since 2013. He said, “Complete Streets is all about safety and to provide equal access for all users of the city’s roadways and all modes of transportation.”
The ordinance was originally up for a vote in January, but Ward 5 Director Lance Hines asked for a 90-day deferral in order to clarify questions about the policy.
According to Bozynski, most of the concerns were related to potential costs. He explained that the questions were addressed by simulations.
“(The) Public Works Department looked at a couple current street projects and what would be the additional cost of adding either a Class 2 bike lane, which is a dedicated bike lane, or Class 3, which is just some markings on the pavement and the costs, they were minimal. It was I think less than 1 percent,” said Bozynski.
Director Hines did not respond to requests for comment, but is reportedly “much more comfortable” with the ordinance after having spoken with developers. The ordinance does not mandate renovations to existing streets, only to new developments or when major work is being on a roadway.
One of the strongest supporters of the policy is the group Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas, or BACA. Mason Ellis, president of the group, shared that, even though the ordinance is legally binding, the language intentionally includes exceptions.
“You do not have to give Complete Streets consideration to a road that is only accessible by cars, so we’re not going to put bike lanes on I-630,” explained Ellis. “Also, if including certain items on a street makes the project cost prohibitive, then that can be waived. So there are certain exemptions for that, but overall it’s really looking at the street on a case-by-case basis and seeing what can be done to make this street safer for everybody.”
Bicycle lanes may be one of the most visible byproducts of Complete Streets, but the policy has advocates other than cyclists. The Little Rock Sustainability Commission and our local Chapter of the AARP support the initiative. Jarod Varner, Executive Director of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority, says the public bus system would also be improved by the ordinance.
“Right now we do not have near as many shelters as we need in Little Rock. And one issue we have found is that we go in and find an area that needs a shelter is that there’s not adequate room to place it in the public right of way. So our thought is that as we redevelop and as we develop new areas if we consider either the current need or the future need for a larger shelter then we’ll be able to accommodate that,” Varner said.
Complete Streets policies have already been adopted by over 700 communities across the country, including North Little Rock and several other Arkansas cities.