Dormont now eighth Allegheny County Municipality to pass a Complete Streets Policy

Borough of Dormont
Image courtesy of Borough of Dormont

A Conversation about the new Complete Streets Policy with Dormont Councilperson Jen Mazzocco

On June 5, 2023, Dormont Borough became the eighth municipality in Allegheny County to pass a Complete Streets Policy, showing a desire for safer, more livable streets in the region. Following Pittsburgh and Mt Lebanon’s adoption in 2016 and 2022 respectively, this policy unites all three West Liberty Avenue and Washington Rd communities.

Across the country, residents are pushing decision-makers to “complete” the streets and build roads that are safer, more accessible, and easier for everyone. In contrast, a road or network is considered “incomplete” if it only serves the default mode, the automobile, leaving those who can’t drive with fewer choices.

At its core, a Complete Streets Policy lays out a town’s vision that everybody, regardless of who they are, where they live, or how they get around, should have the choice to travel in a safe and convenient manner. This will require those who are making decisions about our transportation network to plan ahead and put the policies and the laws in place to ensure it.

Dormont’s Complete Streets Policy clearly articulates their goals and vision for safety, and outlines how to achieve it.

We sat down with Borough Councilperson Jen Mazzocco, who led the initiative and wrote the policy, on what it means for Dormont.

1. Can you give us a bit more detail into how Smart Growth America’s Complete Streets Champions Institute helped you develop the policy for Dormont?

The institute taught me about the components of an excellent Complete Streets policy – using their 10 point framework – and allowed me to hear from experts in various fields about the value of walkable places and how Complete Streets policies interact with other local ordinances, like the zoning code. Most importantly, I got to meet other elected officials from across the country, some who had already passed Complete Streets policies and were working on implementing ambitious projects. It helped me see the next steps and know what has worked well in other places. 

2. In what way do you see this new policy first helping Dormont? Are there any projects coming up that will be influenced by it?

We do a road paving program each year, so the policy should help us choose which streets to address in a more holistic way. Rather than just focusing on surface condition, we will consider which streets might have a dangerous intersection or speed problem and potentially prioritize them. We’re hoping to integrate this into our 2025 paving program so we have time for our new Safe Mobility Commission to get used to the policy and work on a robust public outreach plan so we can integrate community feedback into our decisions during the 2025 budget process, which is at the end of 2024. 

I’d love to work on the intersection of Dormont and Dwight Avenues near the Castle Park. We’ve heard time and again concerns about car speed on the streets right next to where children play. We’ve also talked a lot about making it safer to walk from the park to the pool and across the street to access the grocery store and shops in Banksville plaza. There’s also a great opportunity to create a safer bike path from that plaza, down Dormont Avenue and up Memorial Drive into the park, creating a critical connection for residents to the grocery store. 

We also have big ideas for the West Liberty Avenue / SR19 corridor. Currently it is a mess – congestion, noise, long distances between intersections and not a lot of infrastructure to make it safe & pleasant to be a pedestrian or even possible to bike. I’d love to use the Complete Streets policy to help influence a redesign of this road to include a road diet, a bike lane, more street trees and safer, more frequent crossings for pedestrians. 

3. Can you expand on the equity and accessibility component of the policy?

First, there is language in the policy that holds us accountable to prioritizing projects that serve historically underserved populations. Dormont is not large, nor is it terribly diverse at this moment in time, but we can still look at census tract data, rental density and car ownership to identify spots where new projects will serve the people who need it most and areas that have maybe historically received less investment. 

The policy also points out equity in how we balance different modes in a street. It may not be enough to say that, for example, driving and biking are given “equality” in the public space, but what are we doing to make non-car trips MORE appealing than driving?

With regards to accessibility, I wanted to make sure that we were thinking about what changes we can do to actually make life easier and more enjoyable for those who are using mobility aides, rather than just checking boxes. The requirements of ADA are obviously an important place to start, but there are things beyond that make getting around something that is actually pleasant when it may have been previously challenging. Things like frequent benches, street trees, wider sidewalks, longer pedestrian signals at crossings. 

I think this will be the work of Council and the Safe Mobility Commission to be specific about in the next year. I know I have a lot more to learn, but it’s an essential component to this work. 

4. What advice do you have for other Allegheny County leaders in bringing a Complete Streets Policy to their municipality?  

Most importantly – ride a bike, walk or take transit as often as you can! I don’t think anyone can really understand the challenges of using other modes to get around until you actually do it. Then start talking to other people in your community and engaging residents in the process. We did a Mobility Audit during the summer of 2020 that engaged around 40 volunteers and gave us lots of interesting data about where mobility issues were and also created a group that were supportive of changes. We’ve also tackled some “lighter lifts,” like our Shared Streets program, to get people used to the idea that streets are not just for cars! Definitely read up on Complete Streets – Smart Growth America has lists of the best policies and other resources to help get started. And, you have to have momentum on your council or commission, so encourage others who are like-minded about street safety to run for office! 

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