By Bruce Van Note, MaineDOT Deputy Commissioner
At MaineDOT, we continuously strive to be customer focused – to understand and anticipate their needs, listen to their concerns, and respond appropriately. Our mission – “to responsibly provide our customers the safest and most reliable transportation system possible – given available resources” – is at the core of how we function as an organization. And we know our customers are not always found on four wheels.
MaineDOT has a long history of providing for the needs of all modes of travel in the planning, programming, design, rehabilitation, maintenance and construction of the state’s transportation system. In partnership with municipalities, metropolitan planning organizations, regional planning organizations, the Federal Highway Administration and other federal agencies, MaineDOT has continuously worked to provide a safe, comprehensive transportation system that balances the needs of all users. Designing for all users of our system – our customers – is nothing new or revolutionary for our engineers. We have compiled our best practices into one comprehensive Complete Streets policy, adopted earlier this year. The policy is simply a more transparent way of communicating what we’ve always done.
Complete Streets policies have a foundation in federal law, guidance and best practices and have been signed into law or policy in states and communities throughout the nation. The intent of this policy is to help ensure that all those who use Maine’s transportation system, including bicyclists, pedestrians, people of all ages and abilities, transit users and motor vehicle users, have safe and efficient access.
Two years ago, legislation was introduced to require us to establish a task force to develop Complete Streets design guidelines to be applied whenever state or federal funds are used to build or reconstruct a road or bridge. The goal was to develop a statewide policy designed to enhance the delivery of cost-effective, sustainable and customer-focused transportation services that will meet the current and future needs of the state. The Maine Legislature’s Transportation Committee heard hours of testimony as to the benefits, with many individuals testifying that we, as a department, already did several of the things the policy sought to implement. Our position on the bill, L.D. 403, was neither one of support nor opposition.
We stated that MaineDOT has always been fully supportive of creating a safe transportation system for all users, including pedestrians and bicyclists. Our current practices and policies, although not labeled Complete Streets, are designed to ensure that all of our projects include pedestrian and bicycle accommodations in the planning and implementation of federal and state funded construction projects where warranted.
Committee members, in their wisdom, deemed that legislation wasn’t necessary. Rather, they asked MaineDOT to work with interested parties to review our existing policies and compile them into one, easily accessible resource.
To that end, MaineDOT and its partners reviewed applicable state laws and policies (consistent with the goals of the Maine Sensible Transportation Policy Act and associated Rules (23 M.R.S. § 73 et al), federal laws and policies related to bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways (23 US Code § 217 (g)), as well as federal laws and policies related to civil rights and other non-discrimination requirements, that either recommend or require that transportation agencies consider bicycle and pedestrian access needs as part of all transportation improvement plans and projects. The end result, the Complete Streets policy, can be found here: www.maine.gov/mdot/completestreets
This is not a paradigm shift for MaineDOT. Although more comprehensive than before, the actual policy is not new. In our continuing effort to provide quality service to our customers, our Complete Streets policy further takes their needs into account. It serves not only as a guiding policy, but as a reminder that our system exists for all users.