Complete Streets policy on hold amid cost fears

By Emily Le Coz/NEMS Daily Journal

TUPELO – A proposal to require sidewalks and bike lanes on all major street projects was derailed this week amid confusion and questions.
But supporters of the plan, including Mayor Jack Reed Jr., vowed to keep pushing.
Several City Council members said Monday that adopting the “Complete Streets” policy might saddle the city and private developers with extra costs. It would hinder new road construction and stall major road improvements, they say.
No one could afford it, they said.
“In my mind,” said Ward 3 Councilman Jim Newell, “it’s a hidden tax increase on citizens.”
But the policy has strong backing from Reed, the Community Development Foundation and the city Department of Development Services.
The policy is similar to those adopted in communities across the country as part of a national movement to provide safe alternatives to vehicular travel.
In addition to sidewalks and bike paths, the policy requires handicap accessibility, transit stops, signs and benches. It also requires shoulders on heavily traveled streets.
But it would be applied on a case-by-case basis and provides for numerous exemptions in case of cost, safety and usefulness, said Renee Autumn Ray, the city senior planner who initiated the idea.
The cost of adding sidewalks, bike lanes and other amenities also could be offset in some cases by reducing lane widths and shoulder widths, Reed said. The mayor also suggested using bonds to pay for some of the improvements.
“These aren’t just added costs,” he said. “It could be neutral. It could be less.”
And according to Jon Milstead, director of planning for CDF, the policy not only conforms to the city’s new comprehensive plan, but also to a new reality in economic development.
“Quality of place is a very important thing from an economic and job recruitment standpoint,” Milstead told the council on Monday. “It’s not just big metal buildings anymore.”
But private developers voiced concern about the proposed policy during a meeting with city planning officials in late January, said BJ Teal, director of the Development Services Department.
Ward 6 Councilman Mike Bryan said he’d like for the council to meet with private developers, as well as members of the Major Thoroughfare Committee, to get their direct input on the policy.
The Major Thoroughfare Committee handles Tupelo’s large-scale road widening and road building projects – exactly the kind targeted by the new policy.
The council on Tuesday tabled the issue. A work session will be planned to assemble key stakeholders and discuss the plan. A date, though, hasn’t been set.
If the council adopts it, the policy will become a permanent part of Tupelo’s development code and subdivision regulations. It also will make the city Mississippi’s first to join the “Complete Streets” movement. Similar movements are ongoing in Arkansas, Atlanta, the entire state of Tennessee and more.
In the meantime, Reed said, it’s time for Tupelo to start considering people as well as automobiles. He called it a necessary paradigm shift.
“We’re maybe not going to be the cheapest place for people to build,” Reed said, “but we want to be the best place for people to live.”

Contact Emily Le Coz at (662) 678-1588 or emily.lecoz@djournal.com.