Building better mobility with Complete Streets

single-meta-cal March 1, 2018

Huntsville’s new Complete Streets policy is creating a set of guidelines to help the City make the most out of its asphalt.

From here forward, Huntsville’s departments will look at streets differently, with a detailed eye on how to better accommodate pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

Adopted by the Planning Commission in February, the new policy is the result of a competitive grant from Smart Growth America. The non-profit urban planning coalition provided a workshop in Huntsville last spring for municipal departments and the public to talk about creative and innovative ways to better plan transportation corridors.

“Wherever possible, we want to provide different, safe means of transportation within a well-connected transportation network,” said Mayor Tommy Battle. “Complete Streets give people many ways of moving from here to there, from bikes to pedestrians, automotive and even the jogger.”

The Mayor went on the note that millennials, a highly desired workforce demographic, are attracted to cities that incorporate multi-use transportation. The model provides additional economic and environmental value, too. The more people that use alternative transportation requires less asphalt, fewer parking spaces and parking garages.

How it works

Now that Huntsville is incorporating a new approach to road design, City planners will look for resourceful ways to implement the Complete Streets policy.

“This ordinance is really a commitment to look at how we approach our streets,” said Dennis Madsen, Manager of Urban and Long-Range Planning for the City of Huntsville. “It doesn’t mean we’re going in tomorrow and blow up all of our streets to redo them and create new ones. It does mean we’ve adopted a better format for departments to work collaboratively so that we build better streets and more effectively adapt existing streets that qualify for multi-use.”


Madsen explains that multiple departments have a vested interest in street design and function. Consider the public safety needs of Police, Fire & Rescue, and trash collection standards for Sanitation. There are maintenance requirements in Public Works, Engineering design standards, Water Pollution Control, Traffic Engineering, and Planning/Urban Development, which must accommodate business and industry demands in addition to residential.

Each of these departments is sensitive to the context of every street. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. Land use, traffic flow, what is appropriate now and in the future are central to the conversation.

“We take into account who is using the street, who is adjacent to it, and what destinations it connects to,” said Madsen. “We’ll consider every mode of transportation we might need in years to come. By making sure streets are designed properly for anticipated uses, we help ensure they become more constructive, and it means we are less likely to have traffic issues in the future.”

First steps

Not every street will be a candidate for the Complete Streets model, and the City has been experimenting with the form in recent years to better understand how they might be an asset.

The new Lowery Boulevard is one example. It provides a multitude of transportation uses and strategically connects to development from Governor’s Drive to Big Spring Park.

Spragins Street was recently retrofitted to include a protected cycle track and connect the Gateway Greenway to Twickenham Square.

Holmes Avenue is under redesign for multi-modal use with construction slated for next year. Using the Complete Streets model, the road will serve as an alternate route to University Drive for walkers and bikers commuting from downtown to Cummings Research Park.

A future possibility is Oakwood Avenue. BIG Picture planners are working on a master plan for the Five-Points area, and that includes transportation options for Oakwood. Since the road is budgeted for resurfacing in the near future, it makes the timing of a Complete Streets retrofit more feasible.

“Where it is economically feasible, and it makes dollars and sense (which I also spell cents), we’ll look at the Complete Streets model,” said Battle. “If you’re getting more out of your pavement, you’re getting more out of your tax dollars.”