Reimagining suburbia: complete streets in Irmo

Our world is changing. An increased awareness of climate change and environmental degradation has created new cries for renewable energy and environmental sustainability. In response, Columbia launched a Climate Protection Action Campaign in 2006. This plan includes ways the city has become greener in several categories, including transportation and renewable energy.

But what do we do about Columbia’s suburbs? These sprawling landscapes are car-centric, land and resource inefficient, and contribute extensive carbon emissions to the atmosphere. If Columbia wants to reduce their carbon emissions and become a green city, they will have to address the “suburbia problem”. I propose starting small and tackling transportation first. I propose an introduction of complete streets to Irmo.

Complete streets, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation, are streets designed to enable safe use and mobility for all possible users. This includes a combination of sidewalks, bus lanes, crossing opportunities, and other public transportation methods. They encourage healthy habits and higher levels of human and communal contact.

These streets also provide unique opportunities to mitigate carbon emissions and reduce environmental degradation. The inclusion of public transport removes cars from roads and plummets emissions, as the emissions from single-occupancy vehicles are four times higher than that of public transport.

Implementing sidewalks and bike paths is a chance to create more green spaces in suburbs, which aids in improving stormwater management, air quality, and temperatures through processes such as evapotranspiration.

There are also extensive health benefits for complete streets. Through pedestrian infrastructure and public transport, users are more likely to hit daily exercise recommendations, which decreases the chances for diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Since complete streets remove cars from roads, they also reduce air pollution and human exposure to the transportation-related emissions that often correlate with an increase in asthma and other respiratory illnesses.

Irmo, a suburb of Columbia, lacks comprehensive complete street infrastructure. My proposal focuses on the area surrounding Harbison Boulevard, a 2.2-mile stretch that contains a majority of commercial activity in Irmo’s 6.97 square mile area. This focus was decided because despite the intense level of commercial activity on a day-to-day basis, only two bus lines serve Irmo, and there is an intense lack of sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.

Currently, the COMET services the Columbia metropolitan area, including portions of the Irmo suburb. However, the buses only occur once per hour, and do not sufficiently reach the neighborhood and community directly outside of Harbison boulevard. Additionally, despite the 2016, to implement more pedestrian infrastructure, there has been little to no progress along Harbison Boulevard. Harbison Boulevard suffers from a lack of accessibility via pedestrian and public transport. Implementing complete streets this area could benefit over 30,000 people.

My plan entails the addition of three bus lines and bus lanes that expand the bus routes by 10 miles. Sidewalks, crosswalks, and bicycle lanes would be implemented for a minimum of 5.8 miles total, focusing on Harbison Boulevard, Bower Parkway, and the Columbiana Center. In addition, portions of parking lots in front of stores, where possible, would be transformed into green pedestrian walking areas. All of these features would make Harbison Boulevard and its surrounding commercial area more accessible for pedestrians and bicyclists from across the entire suburb and create alternatives from cars and parking.

In the commercial area, Harbison Boulevard, Bower Parkway, and Columbiana Drive would be connected through sidewalks, crosswalks, bike lanes, and buses. In the surrounding neighborhoods, St. Andrews Road, James F. Byrnes Expressway, and Piney Grove Road would be connected to the commercial area through bus lines, which would appear at stops at least every 30 minutes. This would transform the experience of living in Irmo, and provide the right foundation towards a greener city, something becoming more in demand within communities and governments alike.

Madeline Stewart