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2011 Complete Streets legislative report

This report is in response to the legislative directive to the commissioner of transportation to report on MnDOT’s Complete Streets activities. Minnesota Laws 2010, Chapter 351, Section 72 requires that a report is completed by January 15, 2011 addressing these topics:

  • State Aid variance process
  • Plan implementation
  • Statutory barriers to Complete Streets implementation

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Introductory cover letter

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January 20, 2011

The Honorable Mike Beard, Chair
House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee
417 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155

The Honorable Frank Hornstein, Ranking Minority Member
House Transportation Policy and Finance Committee
213 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155

The Honorable Joe Gimse, Chair
Senate Transportation Committee
303 State Capitol
St. Paul, MN 55155

The Honorable Scott Dibble, Ranking Minority Member
Senate Transportation Committee
115 State Office Building
St. Paul, MN 55155

Dear Senators and Representatives:

Enclosed is a report in response to the state legislature's directive to the commissioner of
transportation to study the costs, benefits and feasibility of implementing a complete
streets policy. This report was mandated in Laws 2008, Chapter 350, Article 1, Section 94.
The complete streets approach emphasizes safety and mobility. It ensures that road
projects are designed to meet local needs, be sensitive to context and emphasize that all
modes of transportation and all users are considered in the project development process.
The approach does not mean "all modes on all roads." Rather, the goal is to develop a
balanced transportation system that integrates all modes and include transportation users
of all types, ages and abilities.

Being one of the first states to adopt a policy requiring context sensitive design and
solutions, Minnesota was already positioned to support a complete streets approach to
transportation investment. In addition, Mn/DOT staff have been actively working on
integrating ADA accommodations and bicycle/pedestrian principles within the agency.
Several local agencies in Minnesota have already adopted their own resolutions for
complete streets, indicating that complete streets are achievable at a local level.

Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns about this
report, or you can contact Julie Skallman, Mn/DOT State Aid Division Director, at 651-366-
4831.

Sincerely,

Thomas K. Sorel
Commissioner

Legislative Report on Complete Streets, January 2011

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Report development cost

As required in Minnesota Statute 3.197, this document must contain the cost of
preparing the report at the beginning of the report, including any costs incurred by
another agency or another level of government.

Mn/DOT staff costs totaled $5,000.

Legislative request

This report is in response to the legislative directive to the commissioner of
transportation to report on the department’s Complete Streets activities. Laws 2010,
Chapter 351, Section 72. Chapter 351, require that a report is completed by Jan. 15,
2011 addressing three items:

  • State Aid variance process
  • Plan implementation
  • Statutory barriers

State Aid variance process

The State Aid variance process is provided for in Minnesota Statute 162.155 and allows
local agencies to be granted waivers to Minnesota Rules 8820 if a variance committee
recommends the waiver and the commissioner of transportation grants it. The Complete
Streets legislation now requires each variance committee to consider the Policy on
Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, from the American Association of State
Highway and Transportation Officials and the Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing
Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities, from the Institute of
Transportation Engineers in evaluating any variance that is related to Complete Streets.

Actions taken to expedite the process

The checklist to complete a State Aid variance committee meeting has been recently
modified. The detailed internal checklist helps State Aid staff to be knowledgeable of the
steps required to process variance requests and to ensure that there is no loss of
productivity as staff changes occur. The procedure described in the checklist helps staff
expedite the process and ensures they are fully informed of their responsibilities.

Actions taken to make the process more transparent

The variance process link has been moved to the front page of the State Aid for Local
Transportation web page under Quick Links.

http://www.dot.state.mn.us/stateaid/index.html

The web page contains meeting dates for the current year, a map showing where the
Variance Committee meetings are held, a link to the State Aid Rules, a State Aid
Standards Development Slide Show and a contact person for further information and
assistance. It also includes a Design Element Variance Checklist for agencies
requesting a variance to be sure their request includes all the information a variance
committee uses in considering recommendations. The revised checklist includes a
reference to the AASHTO green book and ITE book so that a requesting agency can
use these guides to support their submittal.

Review of past variance requests

From January 1 - October 1, 2010 there were 10 variance requests; four were related to
Complete Streets designs. Three of the four were approved. The variance requested by
the city of Monticello to narrow a Municipal State Aid Street from 38 feet to 36 feet with
parking on both sides was denied based on the following reasons as recommended by
the variance committee:

  • There is not a large parking demand. West River Street can remain 36 feet wide
    with parking allowed on one side or West River Street can be narrowed to 32 feet
    wide with parking allowed on one side of the street;
  • West River Street can be widened to 38 feet wide since there is sufficient right of
    way and there are few mature trees to remove.

Plan implementation

The State Aid Division engineer has been assigned as the Complete Streets
department champion and a project manager has been identified.
A web page for Complete Streets has been created. A detailed work plan has been
developed, is posted on the web and is updated on a regular basis. So far the following
assignments have been completed:

  • Reviewed AASHTO standards
  • Updated State Aid variance justification checklist
  • Placed a link for variances on the front page of the State Aid website
  • Reviewed the layout content checklist
  • Reviewed the highway project development process handbook
  • Reviewed the cost participation policy

Staff members from different functional groups have been identified to discuss
processes to implement a Complete Streets policy. The following functional groups
have been selected:

  • Design process - The group is identifying possible constraints in the design
    phase. Members of the group have interviewed personnel from Traffic, Design
    Standards, Maintenance and state aid to describe Mn/DOT’s current design
    approaches for the highway system and to discuss different manuals including
    the AASHTO green book and the Minnesota Manual on Uniform Traffic Control
    Devices. A comparison between Minnesota State Aid standards and national
    standards has been prepared and has been shared with the county and city
    standards committees who recommend rule changes for Chapter 8820.
  • Funding and planning - Funding and planning play a key role in implementing
    any policy. Possible funding sources, planning approaches and best practices
    are being evaluated for the Complete Streets project. A list of possible funding
    Complete Streets Legislative Report, January 2011 3
    sources, ways to access funding and the restrictions of each funding source will
    be developed. A grant was received through the National Academies to lead an
    initiative to prepare a Complete Streets plan and evaluate the Complete Streets
    planning process in Grand Rapids, Minn. A research proposal from the University
    of Minnesota (Planning and Implementation of Complete Streets at Multiple
    Scales) has been evaluated by Mn/DOT and funded by the Local Road Research
    Board. The proposal submitted would provide a valuable tool for transportation
    practitioners and local, county and state agencies through development of an
    illustrated framework approach and practical guide to analysis, evaluation and
    prioritization of transportation modes across key locations. The guide would
    highlight plans that have integrated complete streets concepts, emerging
    complete streets policies and successful complete streets projects that have
    been implemented and constructed in a variety of contexts. Findings and case
    studies will be available on CD, through regional workshops and on an interactive
    website.
  • Training and support - Training and support needs are being identified within
    Mn/DOT and at the local agencies. Mn/DOT will develop training to help
    agencies develop and implement their own Complete Streets policies. The Local
    Technical Assistance Program at the University of Minnesota will assist Mn/DOT
    develop this training. A “Designing Complete Streets” training module, with
    interactive exercises, has been developed and integrated into Mn/DOT’s Core
    Foundations Workshop. Another training module, “Serving All Modes,” is
    included in Mn/DOT’s Advanced Flexibility in Design Workshop. The modules
    include information about modes of travel, the Complete Streets concept, design
    trade-offs and risk assessments. Participants also learn about universal design
    principles, ADA design requirements, and how to better serve and integrate the
    needs of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users in transportation projects.
    These training modules are designed for internal and external participants.

An external advisory group has been established and its first meeting was held July 29,
2010. The group discussed work prioritization and ongoing local projects that support or
interact with Mn/DOT Complete Streets initiatives. The group will meet again in
February 2011. The group included:

  • Seven state agency representatives
  • Eight local agency representatives
  • Nine stakeholder group representatives
  • One federal agency representative
  • One state legislator

District 4 Planning and Design staff, Central Office Geometrics and Landscape
Architecture staff and the Director of CSS recently met to discuss Complete Streets
concept and design options for downtown Alexandria. The project is planned for 2013
and exemplifies the benefits of working together early in the planning and design
process. This is an indication that the principles are being adopted by staff in the
agency and will become a way of doing business.

Comments on the Complete Streets activities within Mn/DOT are included in the 2012–
2013 Budget Narrative submitted to Minnesota Management and Budget and will be
noted in future budget documents as required.

The Complete Street plan implementation is a long term process expected to take
several years.

Statutory barriers

The external advisory group has identified three potential legislative barriers that may
be brought forward in the future, but not for the 2011 Legislative Session. There was no
consensus that any of these barriers should be pursued immediately.
Items for future consideration of legislative action:

  • Allow cities and counties with Complete Streets policies to be exempt from the
    requirement of Minnesota Statute161, which requires a commissioner’s speed
    study before establishing a speed limit other than the statutory defined limit
  • Allow cities and counties with Complete Streets policies to be exempt from all
    State Aid design standards
  • Waive the State Aid variance process requirement that requesting agencies
    assume all liability if the agency has adopted Complete Streets policies

As work with the external advisory group continues, additional barriers may be
identified. These will be brought forward in the January 2012 report.
The external advisory group reviewed and commented on this document. Their
comments were incorporated into the final report.