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Oliver: Complete Streets can boost health, economy

Published: Tuesday, Aug. 26, 2014 11:27 p.m. CST

Many of us care about McHenry County and want to make it a better place to live.

Fortunately, many of us also are willing to work together to make it happen.

Take for instance a new partnership between area municipalities and the McHenry County Department of Health to implement the Complete Streets program.

The city of Woodstock and the villages of Algonquin and Lakemoor have adopted the policies, which aim to give residents more transportation choices by increasing accessibility and safety on roadways.

“We are working as a community to help our residents stay healthy,” health department spokeswoman Debra Quackenbush said.

The idea behind Complete Streets is simple: encourage towns to make their streets usable by everyone, including those who do not drive, such as children, seniors and people with disabilities.

Some of the ways to do that are to add bike lanes and sidewalks, marked crosswalks, countdown timers at crossings, increased lighting and raised median islands, according to the Active Transportation Alliance.

“This provides a safer environment,” health educator Keeley Gallaugher said. “Not everyone in McHenry County has a car. Some are forced to stay home or go out and make unsafe choices.”

Research has shown drivers look out more when they see bike lanes on streets, Gallaugher said. Pedestrian crashes also have decreased in communities that use bump-out curbs.

There’s also an economic incentive for towns to adopt pedestrian- and bike-friendly strategies, health educator Rachel Mintle said.

Towns that have more sidewalks and bike lanes are seen as more desirable, increasing property values, she said. Likewise, more foot traffic can mean more business.

“Businesses will want to rent those spaces,” Mintle said.

Complete Streets communities also are healthier, with more people walking and biking to places rather than jumping into their cars for quick trips.

“People not only have the environment to get around, but that they use it,” health educator Rachel Wyss said.

Not only do sidewalks help seniors and those with disabilities get to grocery stores and doctor’s appointments, but they also create a safe environment for children to walk to school and families to get out into the community.

“We know that people are sitting more,” Wyss said. “This creates another way to get moving without taking additional time out of the day. This makes it a part of their routine.”

So there’s a benefit of combating obesity, too.

Best of all, the Complete Streets program doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, Mintle said.

Towns can do little things, such as adding a bike lane when they repave an existing road, or simply repainting crosswalks.

The idea isn’t to replace cars entirely, but to increase walkability in our neighborhoods.

“We’ll still drive to work,” Wyss said, “but when we’re home with the children, we’ll walk to dinner as opposed to driving five minutes.”

That’s not only good for the waistline, but also good for the pocketbook.

The hope is the success of towns that have signed on to Complete Streets will prompt others to join the movement as well.

“We would like other community leaders to take the example of Woodstock, Algonquin and Lakemoor,” Quackenbush said. “This makes good sense.”

To learn more about Complete Streets, visit www.activetrans.org or contact the health department at 815-334-4510.

• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at jolivercolumn@gmail.com.

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