Complete Streets: making Cullman pedestrian-friendly

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Sharon Schuler Kreps

Streets are a vital part of livable, attractive communities. Everyone, regardless of age, ability, income, race, or ethnicity, ought to have safe, comfortable, and convenient access to community destinations and public places–whether walking, driving, bicycling, or taking public transportation. But too many of our streets are designed only for speeding cars or, worse, creeping traffic jams.”
National Complete Streets Coalition

 

CULLMAN – What would it take to make Cullman’s streets pedestrian-friendly? That’s what a group of people met to discuss on Friday at the Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce. The forum, sponsored by the Cullman County Extension Office, was specifically about how to make our community more accessible to pedestrians whether they travel on foot, bike or in a wheelchair. Leading the discussion were Smart Growth America's Complete Streets Director Emiko Atherton and former Meridian, Mississippi Mayor John Robert Smith.

“In any public project you need to know who you were in the past, who you are now and who you aspire to be in the future,” said Smith. “It is critical to engage for future generations.

“The world needs to hear our stories and around Meridian we are beginning to tell that and I want to see Cullman tell your story which is distinctly different than Meridian’s story. That’s why it has to be authentic. It has to be real. It has to be true. It has to be not just actual history; it has to prove where you are headed.”

Smith spoke about walkable cities and about updating and using the historic buildings, especially second and third floors in the older parts of town. He talked about how by updating Meridian’s Union Station and other historic buildings, it has brought new life to the historic structures and they have helped the city to grow and stand out.

Emiko Atherton spoke about the Complete Streets program- what it is, why it exists and the benefits of the project.

“Complete Streets are streets for everyone, no matter who they are or how they travel,” she said. “Many streets across America are inadequate; there are no sidewalks, which make them too dangerous to cross on foot. They are uninviting for bus riders and don’t have room for people. They are inaccessible for wheelchair users and are unsafe for bicyclists.

“Every mode of transportation needs to be convenient, safe and comfortable. They must have access and reasonable travel time. Complete Streets policies ensure that the entire right-of-way is planned, designed, constructed, operated and maintained to provide safe access for all users. We have Complete Streets policies to make the needs of all users the default for everyday transportation planning practices.”

Some of the things Atherton suggested were to add bicycle lanes to the roads and add shady trees to the sidewalks. The idea is to allow more walkers and bicyclers access to downtown Cullman so they will spend money in local restaurants and shops.

She explained that Complete Streets benefits older adults, children, families and people with disabilities. It improves safety and health. It helps build stronger economies and reduces costs. It provides a choice; citizens wouldn’t always have to drive places; they could walk or ride bikes easily.

Both Smith and Atherton spoke of all the wonderful possibilities there are in Cullman to turn it into a pedestrian-friendly place. Not surprising, there were a few things Cullman has already done.

“I’d like to give you a brief idea of what we have done, as far as the city, to try and improve pedestrian and bike traffic,” said Cullman City Councilman John W. Cook. “We’ve added a lot of new sidewalks in the downtown historic area and all sidewalks around the high school. We redeveloped the north shopping center and added sidewalks up there. One of the requirements to developing the Exit 310 project was to add sidewalks, so we did that there. On Childhaven Road we produced sidewalks and on St. Joseph as well. The pedestrian crossing signs on the light posts, we have been working on all traffic signals to install them.”

To learn more about the Complete Streets program, visit  http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/complete-streets.