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'Complete Streets' policy adopted by city council

New Richmond

Over the course of the past few years, the City of New Richmond council has been working to design streets, sidewalks and trails so that they meet the needs of residents and visitors today and well into the future.

To do that, there has been a concerted effort to engage the residents directly through public planning meetings for specific projects, bringing in the ideas and comments of those most directly affected.

Those policy decisions that help bring city officials and residents together in planning for the future have been formalized even more so with the city's recent decision to utilize and plan under a Complete Streets policy.

According to City Administrator Mike Darrow, the complete streets policy, "directs future street projects to be designed in a comprehensive manner that addresses concerns such as safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, reducing traffic speeds, improving street lighting, connectivity with existing sidewalks and trails, and ADA standards for accessibility."

Darrow pointed to two recent projects that have incorporated this policy — the Paperjack Drive and North 4th Street projects. The Paperjack Drive project was completed last summer and the planning for the North 4th Street project has been ongoing throughout this winter and is expected to be completed this coming summer.

The intent of a complete streets policy, according to city officials, is to ensure that the street and the entire right of way is designed to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.

The City of New Richmond joins a select group of only seven communities in the state of Wisconsin, and about 1,140 communities in the United States, that have developed a Complete Streets policy.

"The North 4th Street meeting held a couple of weeks ago was really an amazing conversation with people who have been in that neighborhood for a long time," Darrow said. "To hear their thoughts on pedestrian movement was amazing. It was truly enlightening to hear about not only this plan, but the safe routes to school plan, the downtown plan, trails and sidewalks and that interconnection is a huge part of the planning."

The utilization of the Complete Streets policy has been a win-win arrangement, Darrow said, that has been successful because of the "good relationships with the people that are stakeholders," he said.

In addition, it's been the substance and depth that residents have shown when helping to develop their neighborhoods that have been most rewarding for the city.

"What we've found through this process is that people really care about this community. They are putting in the thought and have been involved in the process and have a deep care for what's happening here. That's what we've been seeing."

The city has taken many steps to improve its bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, a process that is sure to continue with upcoming projects.

The most recent planning and implementation of projects have included adding sidewalks to Paperjack Drive, extending the North Shore Trail with a combination on-street/off-street trail, and adding an off-street trail on 115th Street and painted bicycle lanes to the Doar Prairie Restoration.

With the city, state and nation having been auto-centric over the past several decades, there is a national movement in transportation planning that is bringing things back toward the middle — a middle that not only includes planning for automobiles, but also for the bikers, the hikers, the joggers and even the kids who want better, safer ways to get to school.

"It used to be that we were so auto-centric — and for such a long time," Darrow said.

"If you look at pictures of New Richmond from years ago, you will see the streets with the large sidewalks. But then it became the idea that we had to get the cars through. But people now are using bikes and people need handicap-accessible routes. They want safe places for kids who want to bike to school. There are so many gaps in the city. For instance, getting to Hatfield Park. Based on what the community is saying ... we like being able to walk to the library or bike to school, to have the opportunity to unwind by using these facilities," Darrow said.

The Complete Streets policy helps the city provide the best plans for everyone.

Investments have been made in sidewalk repairs and maintenance, and a new bicycle and pedestrian master plan and a first-ever safe routes to school plan were also developed last year.

The city council's recently-adopted complete streets policy will ensure that these planning efforts continue well into the future.

"Whether you run or bike long distances, enjoy taking your dog for a walk around the block, or just want the peace of mind knowing that your kids can safely walk or bike to school or to the park, the newly-adopted complete streets policy will help ensure that the City of New Richmond's transportation system meets the needs of not only motorists, but of all users," city management analyst Noah Wiedenfeld said.

"A well-connected, multi-modal transportation system encourages exercise and outdoor recreation, provides many economic and environmental benefits, and in short, simply helps."