Complete Streets Best Practices

Complete Streets Best Practices reportA central strategy of the Complete Streets movement has been to learn from local success. We’ve been doing so since our first newsletter came out in March 2005, when the first statewide legislative campaign began in Illinois. Now we are proud to share a publication that takes this strategy to its highest level: Complete Streets: Best Policy and Implementation Practices, a joint project of the staff of the National Complete Streets Coalition and the American Planning Association and partially funded by FHWA’s STEP program. The book is available through APA’s prestigious Planning Advisory Service.

The report is based on thirty case studies of states, cities, counties, and MPOs that have adopted and are implementing Complete Streets policies. Suzanne Rynne, Stefanie Seskin, David Morley, myself, and a number of other APA and Coalition staffers talked to dozens of planners, engineers, and other insiders about what it took to adopt a policy in their state or community and the techniques they are using to fully integrate multi-modal planning into every transportation project.

In some cases, the case studies confirmed what we had hoped: for example, that the policy development process is a valuable tool in changing transportation priorities and establishing a new ideal for how streets should operate. One local interviewee described the first success of their policy as stopping the bleeding: ending the practice of building automobile-only arterials that are discouraging and even dangerous for all other users.

We also learned much that was new. For example, we already knew that Complete Streets policy initiatives are helpful in communicating with the public about transportation priorities, but a number of interviewees told us how essential the policies have been in their communications and negotiations with other agencies that they work with on transportation planning. Local agencies are using their policies to push their state DOTs to build Complete Streets (and vice versa).

A few of the case studies really stand out; their thoughtful and thorough implementation practices can almost be a guide unto themselves. Charlotte, North Carolina (already the basis for our Complete Streets Workshop system) is one of these, as is Seattle, Washington. In fact, Seattle has come up with an elegant answer to the frequent question of what to do when a project budget simply won’t allow full realization of a Complete Streets design. In Seattle, they make sure that this need is added to a future projects list, and they look for ways to fulfill it.

Perhaps the most inspiring theme in the publication is the way that Complete Streets policies have empowered planners and engineers to tackle a new challenge with creativity and innovation. In almost every case study, planners and engineers have invented new ways to consult with partners, deal with limited right-of-way, and save on costs.

You can get an idea of the breadth of the report from the table of contents; the first two chapters focus on policy adoption, and the next two on the steps to integrating Complete Streets into transportation planning processes. Chapters six and seven expand on the issue of paying for Complete Streets, and the many different ways communities have tackled design considerations. The final chapter summarizes twelve lessons learned; readers will undoubtedly draw many more. You can get a sneak peak by reading Chapter Five: Making the Transition, which we have posted to our website. The full report is available for purchase from the American Planning Association, and please let us know what you think of it.

Complete Streets