WATERLOO --- The Blue Zones Project is paving the way to "complete streets" in Waterloo and Cedar Falls.
The concept involves making roads safe for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, transit riders, the elderly, children and those with disabilities.
Design elements could include on-street bike lanes, off-road trails and landscaping as the Blue Zones health initiative aims to nudge residents toward healthier lifestyles.
Last month the Waterloo and Cedar Falls city councils voted unanimously to adopt nonbinding resolutions spelling out steps they'll take to achieve Blue Zones certification.
Among those is developing a complete streets policy. While Waterloo will draft a policy from scratch, the Cedar Falls council passed a resolution in November 2009 that encourages complete streets designs for new public street projects. Mayor Jon Crews believes the policy fulfills that portion of the Blue Zones requirement.
"I read our policy compared to what they had asked, and it looked awful close," Crews said. "We may have to tweak it, but I think we're pretty substantially in compliance."
Kamyar Enshayan, a former Cedar Falls city councilman, approves of the city's efforts to make roads accommodate multiple modes of traffic, some requiring little investment. He pointed to the bike lane painted on a portion of Clay Street as well as shared-lane markings on Rownd Street and Orchard Drive.
While reconstructing College Street from about 23rd Street to University Avenue, "bumpouts" --- sidewalk extensions that make busy pedestrian crossings safer by shortening the distance walked --- have been added.
Buses picking up pedestrians now have a turnout lane to allow other vehicles to pass. Bumpouts also were added in front of Orchard Hill and Southdale elementaries, and Orchard Hill has a bus lane.
Waterloo has streets with sidewalks and bike trails but none with identified on-road bike accommodations, Waterloo City Planner Aric Schroeder said.
Paved shoulders double as bike lanes on Hess Road from the Crossroads area to Orange Road toward Hawkeye Community College, added Kevin Blanshan, director of transportation for the Iowa Northland Regional Council of Governments in Waterloo, who also serves on the Power 9 team for the Waterloo Blue Zones Project.
"Both cities have some of it, and we're just working with them and our metropolitan planning organization on kind of developing a more comprehensive sustainability approach," he said.
Cedar Valley residents can expect to see more such components incorporated into new and reconstructed streets. Alternatives discussed for the University Avenue project, which spans across both cities, have included fewer lanes, bicycle and pedestrian accommodations and aesthetic treatments.
"If I want to walk from (the UNI) campus to College Square Mall, I should be able to in comfort and safety," Enshayan said. "And I cannot, because the 45 mph traffic is inches from me."
Blanshan sees complete streets as the way of the future and a general trend at the national level. Many federal programs and legislation are heading in that direction.
But not every street is a candidate for a complete streets project, noted Felicia Cass, community program manager with the Waterloo Blue Zones Project.
"I think some people make the leap that the city's going to force people to put sidewalks in everywhere there isn't sidewalks," she said.
Others may not be economically feasible because of available infrastructure or limited space, such as attempting to retrofit a reconstruction project.
Education is key when introducing complete streets, Schroeder said.
"You can have bicyclists getting frustrated with motorists who aren't really being very accommodating of the fact that they're on the road, and vice versa," he said. Bicyclists have a right to use the road with or without a designated bike lane.
"You gotta share the road. I think that goes a long way toward making the biker feel a little more comfortable."
But safety remains a big concern for Cedar Falls City Councilman Tom Hagarty. He opposes on-road bike paths and roundabouts as "smart growth" options.
"It's just too much of a risk on busy streets," he said. "You don't need both when we've got a perfectly acceptable and usable bike trail or sidewalk running along the street."
Cedar Falls saw seven bicycle accidents in 2011 and six so far this year, according to Police Chief Jeff Olson. Four of those involved accidents with cars on University Avenue. Cedar Falls Councilwoman Susan deBuhr also is hesitant about on-road accommodations. Mixing uses should be done on low-volume roads, not busy ones, she said.
"When you put a car versus a bicycle, the bicycle's never going to be the winner," deBuhr said.
Plus, widening a street for bike lanes comes with a price tag, she added. Off-road trails are a bigger bang for the city's buck, offering amenities for a multitude of users, like walkers and joggers, she said. Bike lanes only serve bicyclists.
Enshayan said streets be overdesigned, such as expanding Ridgeway Avenue to four lanes at the south end of the industrial park. He would like to see a bigger focus on vegetation, trees and shubs to make spaces "more pleasant" and suggested engineers involve members of the parks division in the planning process.
Applying any complete streets element is a win, he added. Biking and walking improve health, energy conservation and air quality, and an inviting and accessible place attracts investment, such as multi-unit housing and infill, according to Enshayan, also the director of the University of Northern Iowa's Center for Energy and Environmental Education.
"A street is a public space and belongs to all users, so a street needs to accommodate all public users," he said. "Really when you think about it, it's such a basic, common-sense idea."