The Housing, Transportation, and Telecommunications Committee took the first step towards a “Complete Streets Policy” Wednesday after advancing legislation to create an integrated transportation network across the U.S. Virgin Islands consisting of bike lanes, sidewalks, and paved roadways.
Sen. Steven Payne Sr., the primary sponsor of the legislation, said the bill would enhance the quality of life of all Virgin Islanders who contend daily with roadways lacking lighting, public transit stops, and pedestrian walkways. According to a study done by the V.I. Department of Health in 2016, nearly 90 percent of the street length in the territory has no adjoining sidewalk, nearly half no lighting, nearly 80 percent provide no walkable destinations, and less than five percent have public transit stops.
If enacted, the Complete Streets Policy would be created by the Complete Streets Task Force to be housed within the V.I. Department of Public Works. Payne said the task force – a 10-member board appointed by the governor – would use “design based on the thoughtful application of engineering, architectural, and urban design principles.”
In the process of creating the policy, Payne said the legislation also calls for the task force to be responsible for revising and updating additional infrastructure plans like the territory’s sidewalk master plan, the territorial transportation improvement plan, the bike path plan, and the urban forest management master plan
Though lawmakers voted unanimously to advance the legislation, it was not without contention. Sen. Kurt Vialet said the legislation should include a list of required skill sets to be appointed to the task force, while Public Works Commissioner Derek Gabriel said the department had concerns surrounding land use.
“There are several areas of our territory, particularly our historic towns, districts, and sights, where there is a high improbability of implementing complete streets in these areas. As islands, we have limitations due to our landscape and topography,” Gabriel said. “If you build a road to our current federal standards, that’s already 16 feet at minimum for two lanes of roadway. That does not include the additional two to four feet for drainage or five feet for sidewalks. Taking it a step further by adding bike lanes makes the width even larger. As residents of this territory, we all understand how narrow many of our roads are, especially in the historic districts.”
While the department supported the intent of the bill, Gabriel said aside from the financial burden, “would (we) even have the space?”
The legislation is not without its inherent challenges, but American Association of Retired Persons-V.I. Chapter State Director Troy Schuster told the committee of the challenges faced every day by the non-driver, elderly, and disabled navigating the territory.
These mobility challenges surrounding the territory’s streets have caused 1,102 pedestrian-related accidents in the territory, an average of 91 per year Schuster said, and “most of the injured or killed pedestrians were older people, senior citizens.”
Schuster said the territory has twice the national rate of pedestrian-related accidents. The national rate is 1.85 per 100,000,
Quoting from the bill, Payne said: “All residents regardless of age, physical ability, or economic stature must be able to choose from diverse, integrated transportation options which are safe, affordable, convenient, and efficient.”
The legislation was forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary for further review.
Sens. Marvin Blyden, Genevieve Whitaker, Samuel Carrion, Steven Payne Sr., Dwayne DeGraff, and Kurt Vialet were present for the hearing. Sen. Janelle Sarauw was absent.