The midsize city of Reading, Pennsylvania claimed the dubious honor of the most impoverished city in the United States during the height of the recession in 2010. Today it sits slightly further down that list but still holds a poverty rate of 38.8%. Yet, its city managers are leading the way in Complete Streets policy development, having been named the best in the nation in 2015 by Smart Growth America (SGA) and the National Complete Streets Coalition.
Mobility for All
Complete Streets policies aim to sustainably accommodate all street users, whether they travel by car, bus, bicycle or on foot, through design choices that clarify where different types of travelers belong. Many assume such integration is a luxury for wealthier cities but ensuring mobility options and a clean environment for all residents, regardless of whether or not they can afford a car, helps people get to jobs, stay healthy and stay employed.
Highest Possible Score
Reading’s policy grew out of a community workshop that brought together a cross section of the community to talk about safe routes for bikes, children, people with disabilities, public transport and motor vehicles. Smart Growth America (SGA) says Reading’s policy went “beyond a vision for complete streets to clearly commit to building an integrated, context-sensitive transportation network.” The city received the highest possible score from SGA, for looking at many metrics including items such as number of crashes and severity of injuries, number of curb ramps, miles of accessible routes, and on-time arrivals for public transportation.
Reading’s executive order also incorporates non-transportation goals such as green infrastructure for stormwater management, and makes aesthetics and placemaking a central focus to encourage walking and biking. The policy is part of an overall strategy to improve the city’s downtown business district. While in the past, policies focused mainly on the automobile, now city staff evaluate street maintenance plans annually and look for opportunities to calm traffic and close gaps in the pedestrian and bicycle network. They’re also working with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation to replace three state-owned bridges between Center City and West Reading, installing wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and protection from vehicle traffic. As the policy states:
“Complete Streets are beautiful, interesting and comfortable places for people. The design of cities begins with the design of streets, as community places where people want to be. As part of Reading’s public realm, streets shall be held to a higher standard for urban design at a human scale. Multi-modal accommodations and all City projects in the right-of-way shall be approached as opportunities to enhance the aesthetic qualities of Reading and its public realm through the thoughtful creation of place. Wherever feasible, streetscapes shall protect and include street trees and native plants, and incorporate landscape architecture, public art, pedestrian amenities and wayfinding signage, sidewalk cafes and street-facing retail, and/or other elements that enhance the attractiveness of Reading and foster healthy economic development.”
- See the policy here, at Smart Growth America.
- City of Reading
- Pennsylvania Department of Transportation
- 18th Ward Oakbrook Neighborhood Development and Economic Development
- Community workshops that draw a cross section of the community can pave the way for successful Complete Street policy adoption
- Addressing many metrics for different types of transportation and committing to an integrated, context-sensitive transportation network that includes green infrastructure can create powerful policies for Complete Street projects