Joplin council moves forward with Complete Streets policy

·4 min read

Dec. 24—Policy that would encourage Joplin city government to consider all types of transportation other than the sole use of motor vehicles when planning street and road projects is on its way to adoption.

An ordinance to adopt a policy called Complete Streets was advanced after a first hearing by the City Council at a meeting on Dec. 20.

Taylor Cunningham, senior transportation planner for the city, explained the purpose of the policy at the meeting.

It came about after Joplin was selected in 2019 by Smart Growth America, a nonprofit organization that promotes safe, equitable and sustainable urban development and community growth, to participate in Missouri Complete Streets Consortium. Other communities represented in the consortium were Kirkwood in suburban St. Louis, and Eastern Jackson County, which includes Kansas City.

After the COVID-19 pandemic started last year, work with the consortium was delayed, but Joplin representatives were in contact with those the federal Department of Health and Human Services located in Missouri. As a result, Joplin received an Active Living Community of Practice grant to fund a community need, Cunningham said.

"Those grant funds help Missouri communities adopt active transportation policies and create plans for activity-friendly routes that connect people to everyday destinations," Cunningham said.

A committee was formed to identify the best use of the grant funding.

"We quickly realized we were missing the baseline legislation that would enable these (transportation) programs to happen. That was a Complete Streets ordinance," Cunningham said.

There are nine metro planning areas in the state and the Joplin area was the last one without a Complete Streets ordinance.

"We actually found out through the federal infrastructure bill that federally metro planning areas are going to be required to spend money on Complete Streets planning, so this is something that has become extremely widespread," said Cunningham.

City staff worked with local government officials and transportation planners around the state to devise an ordinance that would accomplish Complete Street goals suitable for Joplin and agreed on it after a fourth draft.

"I want to underscore that the city of Joplin has been doing a lot of this work for quite some time," Cunningham said. "So I don't mean to say this is something we are way behind on and we are just catching up. We have a lot of really passionate advocates for active transportation in this community and a lot of city staff members who have been diligent about including that work, especially in the (tornado) recovery process."

Examples of that include the effort to extend walking and biking trails, the installation and replacement of sidewalks, and repair or replacement of ADA ramps to current standards.

Complete Streets are streets designed for people of all ages and all abilities, Cunningham said. In recent eras, streets have been designed mostly for cars, but that leaves out people who are too young to drive or those who can't or won't drive because of disabilities or health reasons.

"Complete Streets doesn't eliminate the use of cars, it just provides for those who do not use cars," she said. It will not require wide sidewalks and bike lanes on every street. The proposed ordinance has a vision and intent statement to provide safe use for all ages and users and for diverse users, Cunningham said.

"Joplin will have a full commitment to apply the concept as much as possible and will have exemptions" to its use such as where geography makes it impractical or where accommodations for all users are too expensive.

If adopted, a Complete Streets committee will be assembled as an advisory group. That will be made up of city staff and community members, such as representatives of the Joplin Trails Coalition and the Trails and Connectivity Group through the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, as well as two residents.

There is a design section of the ordinance. It states that the policy will apply to all organizations that help plan transportation infrastructure, Cunningham told the council.

It also has a land-use declaration requiring the consideration of people who live in the areas that would be affected by changes to roads. They would be included in planning.

There also are implementation steps on how the program is worked into planning and projects.

Councilman Doug Lawson asked how the city would pay for any changes that have to be made to comply.

Cunningham said current streets, sidewalks and trails do not have to be changed. She said the requirements of the ordinance are to be considered for future projects, such as when city staff is designing projects paid for by the city's half-cent transportation sales tax.

The council will take final action on the ordinance at its meeting Jan. 3.

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