Happy Anniversary, Complete Streets!

With apologies to our public health allies. Photo: Eliza Adams on Flickr
With apologies to our public health allies. Photo: Eliza Adams on Flickr

Today marks an anniversary for the complete streets movement: the term ‘complete streets’ was coined seven years ago, on December 3rd, 2003. That’s the day I wrote a memo to the America Bikes board suggesting it as a replacement for the clunky term ‘routine accommodation’ – the term then in use to express the idea of including bicycles in everyday transportation planning. While the concept of routine accommodations was powerful, we realized a more powerful name would help it gain more traction.

The new term was born, appropriately, out of a collaborative effort. While I wrote the memo, it followed a series of brainstorming meetings I’d organized for America Bikes that involved people from a wide range of organizations, including Smart Growth America‘s David Goldberg – the first to say “complete streets.”

Right away, we knew that we had a concept that was bigger than bicycles. I worked with Martha Roskowski (my boss at America Bikes at the time) and Andy Clarke of the League of American Bicyclists to develop a plan to reach out. And that’s where the collaboration that has become a hallmark of our movement really kicked in.

We formed the Complete Streets Task Force, led by America Bikes with active participation from many groups, including AARP, the American Planning Association, the American Public Transportation Association, the American Society of Landscape Architects, and the American Heart Association. Our initial goal was inclusion of a complete streets provision in the federal transportation bill that became SAFETEA-LU, but we soon understood the power of the complete streets policy concept on the state and local level. Over the next year, we brought together advocates and transportation practitioners from across the country to define the meaning of complete streets. We began to share the best practices of communities that had already developed a commitment to ensuring all transportation projects served the needs of all road users.

The groups that make up the Steering Committee today stepped up in 2005 to provide financial support and form the National Complete Streets Coalition. We pursued a strategy that depended upon each Coalition member engaging their strengths in working for policy adoption at the federal, state and local level. This strategy turned out to be key. We made a conscious decision not to trademark the name Complete Streets, because we wanted it to come into common use. While it is sometimes hard to see it used commercially by groups or companies without ties to the Coalition, this was the right choice. It allowed many people to have a hand in forming and ‘owning’ complete streets, and provides the flexibility to adapt to specific situations.

Each group took on projects appropriate to their skills (and this listing gives just some of the highlights): AARP launched a research project to investigate the impact of Complete Streets on an Aging America. The Association of Bicycle and Pedestrian Professionals took on managing our Complete Streets Workshop Program. And we worked with the American Planning Association and its members to write Complete Streets: Best Policy and Implementation Practices. In addition, many consulting firms have begun supporting the Coalition as Complete Streets Partners, because they know they need policy support behind the work they are doing on the ground to complete the streets.

Using this coalition model, we long ago passed our initial goal of policy adoption in 5 states and 25 local jurisdictions. Seven years on, we are very close to breaking the 200-policy mark; in just this year Complete Streets allies have helped pass laws in Minnesota, Michigan, and Colorado. Now the Coalition is ready to ensure adopted policies go on to transform both practice and projects.

I want to thank all the Coalition Members and Partners that have contributed to our growth from that modest memo back in 2003. And if you haven’t yet formally joined the Coalition, please do so today. We want the ‘Who We Are’ pages on our website to reflect the true breadth of our movement – and we know that we need the strength of our Coalition so we can achieve our new goal of instituting effective complete streets policies in half the states and 200 local jurisdictions over the next three years.

Complete Streets