October 25, 2021

Complete streets: putting principles into practice

This month of “Walktober” is all about highlighting the benefits of walking to our physical and mental health. It’s also an opportunity to call out how our community can be better designed to prioritize the needs and safety of pedestrians, as well as bicyclists and transit users. Howard County is currently undertaking this important process as we speak with the drafting of a new Design Manual, which is open for public comment until October 28.

This technical document guides future planning and construction for streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure across Howard County. Previous versions prioritized policies and designs that resulted in wide roads with fast traffic that are unsafe for people walking, bicycling, accessing transit and even driving in our community. Updating these documents is one of several steps needed to accomplish safer, more complete streets.

The new Design Manual will include important guidance on how to design streets that meet the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, individuals with mobility challenges and transit users. For example, it will designate that new street cross sections incorporate higher quality pedestrian and bicycle accommodations, including sidewalks, shared use pathways and separated bike lanes. It will also acknowledge that street design should be compatible and supportive of adjacent land uses, in order to avoid the sprawling of wide, fast streets in the future. While these design changes may sound highly technical and wonky, they will make an enormous difference down the line for pedestrians, bicyclists, individuals with mobility challenges and transit users to get around more safely and easily.

The Horizon Foundation serves on the Complete Streets Implementation Team, which has allowed us to represent the perspectives of those who walk, bike, roll, stroll and access public transportation. The Design Manual has improved over the last several months. However, there is more room to grow. To make sure Howard County is a leader in the region when it comes to complete streets, we invite you to lift your voice and comment on the Design Manual. To assist you with your comments, we encourage you to visit the Howard County Complete Streets Design Manual updates page where you may find the Design manual, links to the community workshops and link to the survey to provide your feedback. The Horizon Foundation, the Streets for All Coalition and other community members and organizations have been advocating for improved streets, sidewalks, bike lanes, and other infrastructure projects to make our community more walkable, bikeable and accessible. We have certainly made important progress with the passage of a new complete streets policy in 2019 and a record $5.375 million in funding for these projects in the FY 2022 county budget. Updating the Design Manual is the crucial next step in this process to ensure that Howard County’s complete streets vision actually becomes reality.

The new Design Manual draft is a marked improvement over previous versions, but there are still ways to make it even stronger. We must remain diligent in ensuring that complete streets principles are reflected in every aspect of Howard County’s future planning, land use policies and construction of infrastructure. With the progress that has been made, we are headed in the right direction – but it will take the continued advocacy of community organizations and residents to secure the future of complete streets in our community.

Now is the time to invest in our public health infrastructure and make Howard County more walkable, bikeable and accessible for all of our residents.

Jennifer White is the Foundation’s senior policy and community engagement officer.