by Eileen Gunn, Associate | Business Line Manager
The idea of designing streets for the safety and accessibility of everyone – so-called “complete streets” – has really taken hold over the last several years. The broad adoption and implementation of complete streets has provided communities with multiple benefits like improved safety, physical and mental health, and increased economic activity and property value. But is a complete street really “complete” if it does not also consider resilience for future generations?
Complete streets already help us mitigate climate impacts. They allow for safe alternate modes of transportation, which inherently encourages non-vehicular modes of transportation and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions. Now, as we plan for and adapt to our changing climate, we have an opportunity to expand our thinking and proactively and purposely design streets for climate resilience. The impacts of climate change will be felt within the useful design life of infrastructure that we are building now, and wise investments need to account for the conditions throughout that time span. If the purpose of a complete street is to be inclusive of all users, then it needs to anticipate the needs of all future users as well.
Prior to joining Fuss & O’Neill last year, I was proud to serve as the Municipal Grants Program Administrator for MassDOT’s Highway Division, where I co-developed and managed the Complete Streets Funding Program. I watched this program institutionalize complete streets as a planning and design concept, and saw firsthand how it got municipal planning and public works departments asking critical questions before they touched a roadway.
Now as a consultant working to embed climate resilience into community and transportation projects, my background in environmental protection, coupled with my experience implementing the Complete Streets Program, strongly influence how I look at a roadway project. In addition to the safety and network questions I ask, there are a host of forward-looking resilience questions we all should also be asking. Among them:
- Does this roadway currently experience flooding?
- With heavy downpours expected to occur more frequently and with greater intensity as global temperatures continue to rise, will this roadway experience flooding in the future?
- Could this site benefit from green infrastructure for stormwater management?
- Is this an area where providing more shade would foster more use of a sidewalk or bicycle lane as summertime heat and humidity increase?
It’s time to expand our vision of complete streets, and to start asking these forward-looking questions that consider conditions over the entire useful life of a project. Engineering that incorporates nature-based solutions provides cost-effective, flexible resolutions that offer ecological co-benefits. Fuss & O’Neill has raised roads in anticipation of future flooding, designed green street retrofits, and utilized nature-based solutions to adapt to, and protect against, changing conditions. We incorporate living shorelines with coastal roadway elevation projects to improve resilience to future storm surge and sea level rise.
Senator Ed Markey just reintroduced his Complete Streets Act, which would set aside 5% of a state’s federal highway money to create a Complete Streets Program. There is flexibility in how the eligible infrastructure is defined and an incredible opportunity in the development of this national program to embed resilience measures. It is also consistent with the Biden Administration’s goal of incorporating resilience into infrastructure investment. Regardless if this act passes, and I certainly hope it does, the time to think about the future is now. Ask yourself what the next project on your horizon is. Then ask forward-looking questions and consider the climate resilience needs of your community.
About the Author
Eileen Gunn is a Transportation Business Line Manager in our Boston office. With her broad range of skills and knowledge, she assists municipalities throughout Massachusetts to identify and meet their transportation and community-wide resiliency needs.