Complete Streets for Safety and Livability

Lavada DeSalles and Dr. Ileana Arias answer questions during the briefing.
Lavada DeSalles and Dr. Ileana Arias answer questions during the briefing.

The room was packed on Friday, June 6th for the Capitol Hill briefing, “Complete Streets: Integrating Safety and Livability into the Next Transportation Bill,” sponsored by Representative Doris Matsui, the Environment and Energy Study Institute, Transportation for America, and the National Complete Streets Coalition. Presentations and streaming video of the briefing are available online.

Dr. Ileana Arias, Director of the Center for Injury Prevention and Control at the Centers for Disease Control, noted that every eight minutes a pedestrian is injured in the United States. Lavada DeSalles, a long-time volunteer and former Board member with AARP, noted that older Americans are particularly vulnerable — while persons over 65 years old make up 12% of the population, they comprise 19% of pedestrian fatalities in the U.S. She presented the results of a new AARP report that finds that even as this age group continues to grow, three-quarters of transportation planners and engineers surveyed for the study reported they have not addressed the needs of older individuals in street planning. Fortunately, the next transportation bill authorization holds enormous potential to begin to meet the need for increased safety and livability in street design.

Two panelists showed the Congressional staff in attendance what complete streets policies look like on the ground. Mayor Bill Floyd of Decatur, GA, talked about his town’s Community Transportation Plan and detailed the transformations they are making to roads that once served only automobiles. (Read more about Decatur’s work in a recent Transportation for America blog post). Jon Orcutt, Policy Director for the New York City Department of Transportation, discussed how New York City is exploring innovative strategies such as creating protected bike lanes by moving parking away from the curb and into the street, and transforming sections of Broadway and other streets into public plazas. Both emphasized a federal complete streets policy would help them continue to make streets safe for everyone.

The need for change is urgent. Dr. Arias noted that vehicle related injuries cost the United States an estimated $230 billion each year and are the leading cause of death for Americans ages 1 to 34, yet 80% of these crashes are preventable. A poll conducted for the above-mentioned AARP report found that 40% of older individuals say they do not have adequate sidewalks in their neighborhoods, and 47% say they cannot cross their main roads safely. Public health research confirms that well-designed sidewalks, bike lanes, intersections, and other street features to accommodate all modes of travel can significantly reduce injuries, deaths, and automobile crashes. Improvements such as roundabouts, refuge islands, and signalized traffic crossings can dramatically reduce vehicle related injuries.

Barbara McCann, Executive Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, noted that passage of the Complete Streets Act of 2009 (H.R. 1443, S.584) will go far in creating safer and more livable communities. Specifically, it will ensure “all users of the transportation system, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, children, older individuals and individuals with disabilities, are able to travel safely and conveniently on and across federally funded streets and highways.” She discussed ways to incorporate the provisions of HR 1443 into the upcoming transportation authorization, including the integration of a complete streets requirement into expected new performance standards.

Visit EESI’s page on the briefing to download presentations and watch a streaming video.

Complete Streets