A strong Complete Streets policy measures progress (element #8)

How do you know if your Complete Streets policy is working? You measure it. And then you share the results publicly. A strong Complete Streets policy requires tracking performance measures across a range of categories—including implementation and equity—and making someone responsible for doing it.

Stylized graphic illustrating the 8th element of a complete streets policy: Measure progress
Nearly 20 years into the Complete Streets movement, we’re taking a closer look at what makes a strong Complete Streets policy. We are walking through each of the 10 elements used to craft these policies in a series of 10 posts. These elements make up the framework we use to evaluate Complete Streets policies, as we do in our frequent Best Complete Streets Policies report, to be released in May 2023. Find links to these 10 posts at the bottom of this post, or at the home for the Complete Streets Policy Framework.

Why is this element integral to a strong Complete Streets policy?

As the old saying goes, “what gets measured, gets done.” That rings true for Complete Streets policies too—if you want to make sure your Complete Streets policy is fully realized, you need to measure your progress. 

Measuring performance in transportation is not new. But historically, transportation metrics have focused on motor vehicles with metrics like pavement quality and congestion. But adopting a strong Complete Streets policy represents a different approach to transportation which means committing to new performance measures that reflect the policy’s vision and motivation

Performance measures provide a quantitative or qualitative indicator of the performance of a specific street, corridor, or of the whole transportation network. This information helps stakeholders better understand the impact of their Complete Streets policy and take corrective actions. For example, when progress is tracked:

  • Staff and committees tasked with implementing the policy are able to do their jobs better. With more information on the current performance of the transportation network, staff are able to make more informed decisions on project design, planning, maintenance, and operations. 
  • The general public and advocates are able to hold city agencies and elected officials accountable. When performance measures are publicized, transparency and government accountability is improved since individuals, community organizations, and advocates are equipped with information they can use to hold their government accountable to the vision and priorities set out in the Complete Streets policy.
  • Elected officials can better communicate to the public, and build broader support for Complete Streets. By tracking progress on the Complete Streets policy, elected officials and other policymakers have information that helps them better communicate the status of transportation improvements in their community. Information on the impact of transportation investments can also help elected officials build broader support for Complete Streets.

What does this element look like in practice?

The jurisdictions with the strongest Complete Streets policies take four clear, concrete steps: 

  1. Establish specific performance measures across a range of categories, including implementation and equity
  2. Set a timeline for the recurring collection of performance measures
  3. Require performance measures to be publicly shared
  4. Assign responsibility for collecting and publicizing performance measures

As far as the specific measures are concerned, a community should adopt performance measures that reflect the community’s priorities, and more specifically reflect the overall vision and motivations stated in the Complete Streets policy itself. For example, if your community’s priority is improving health equity, one metric you might track is serious injuries by race, ethnicity, age, gender, income, disability status, and/or neighborhood. Measures should be tailored to a community’s priorities but they should also cover a wide range of categories to ensure a holistic evaluation of the transportation network. Some examples of categories your community might measure are safety, access, economy, public health, and environment. 

Beyond these, it’s crucial to track two specific areas: policy implementation and equity. For the former, this could include tracking which internal policies and documents have been updated, how many staff members have been trained, how many exceptions have been approved, and how well the public engagement process is working. Equity is less of a specific single measure, and should instead be embedded within all performance measures; jurisdictions can do this by disaggregating the data by race, ethnicity, age, gender, income, disability status, and/or neighborhood. Measuring this information can help jurisdictions evaluate whether disparities are being exacerbated or mitigated. 

Below is a list of examples that can be used. 

  • Number of crashes and severity of injuries
  • Injuries and fatalities for all modes
  • Presence of adequate lighting
  • Travel time in key corridors (point A to point B) by mode
  • Number of trips by walking/rolling, biking, transit, and driving 
  • Presence of transit facilities, biking facilities, and walking/rolling facilities
  • Sidewalk condition ratings
  • Number of curb ramps 
  • Building vacancy rates 
  • Access to jobs by mode
  • Temporary and permanent jobs created by project
  • Emergency vehicle response times
  • Number of students who walk or bike to school
  • Number of mode users: walk, bike, transit
  • Bike route connections to off-road trails
  • Number of bike share users
  • Air quality 
  • Number of street trees 
  • Number of temporary and permanent art installations
  • Internal policies and documents updated
  • Number of staff trained
  • Effectiveness of community engagement process

Additional examples can be found in Evaluating Complete Streets Projects: A Guide for Practitioners

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this information is only valuable if it is made publicly available on a consistent basis. To do that means committing to a timeline of how often the data will be collected and published publicly and it means putting someone in charge of that process. 

Policy scoring details

In our framework for evaluating and scoring Complete Streets policies, this element is worth a total of 13 out of 100 possible points. 

  • 3 points: Policy establishes specific performance measures under multiple categories such as access, economy, environment, safety, and health.
    • (1 point) Policy mentions measuring performance under multiple categories but does not establish specific measures. 
    • (0 points) No mention. 
  • 2 points: Policy establishes specific performance measures for the implementation process such as tracking how well the public engagement process reaches underrepresented populations or updates to policies and documents.
    • (1 point) Policy mentions measuring the implementation process but does not establish specific measures. 
    • (0 points) No mention. 
  • 3 points: Policy embeds equity in performance measures by measuring disparities by income/race/vehicle access/language/etc. as relevant to the jurisdiction.
    • (1 point) Policy mentions embedding equity in performance measures but is not specific about how data will be disaggregated. 
    • (0 points) No mention. 
  • 2 points: Policy specifies a time frame for recurring collection of performance measures.
    • (0 points) No mention. 
  • 2 points: Policy requires performance measures to be released publicly.
    • (0 points) No mention. 
  • 1 point: Policy assigns responsibility for collecting and publicizing performance measures to a specific individual/agency/committee.
    • (0 points) No mention.

Learn more about the 10 elements

Click any element to read more about each one, or visit the home for the full Complete Streets Policy Framework:

  1. Establishes commitment and vision
  2. Prioritizes underinvested and underserved communities
  3. Applies to all projects and phases
  4. Allows only clear exceptions
  5. Mandates coordination
  6. Adopts excellent design guidance
  7. Requires proactive land-use planning
  8. Measures progress
  9. Sets criteria for choosing projects
  10. Creates a plan for implementation
Stylized graphic showing illustrated people on a lovely complete street in a random community

Evaluate the strength of your policy

We regularly evaluate and score policies using our policy framework. Now, advocates and policymakers can do the same, using our free and open-source tool to evaluate existing or drafted local, MPO, or state-level Complete Streets policies. Learn more and evaluate your policy >>