On Tuesday we revealed The Best Complete Streets Policies of 2014, and to celebrate we hosted an online discussion with representatives from a few of this year’s top-scoring communities. If you missed the discussion, here’s a recap of the kickoff event.
Kicking off the call was Barbara McCann, Director of the Office of Safety, Energy, and Environment at the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). McCann discussed USDOT’s Mayors’ Challenge, which encourages towns and cities across the country to use a Complete Streets approach.
“We devised the Mayors’ Challenge as a way to allow cities to focus on this, talk to each other, get recognition, and move forward on bicycle and walking safety,” McCann explained. “We realized the best way [DOT] can help is to help drive resources.” Improving safety is one of USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx’s primary focuses over the coming years, McCann explained, and Complete Streets is an important part of that. She encouraged mayors everywhere to sign up for the challenge, which officially launches on March 12.
Also joining the discussion was Andrea Smith, Director of Planning & Development for the City of Ogdesnburg NY, which had the top-scoring policy of 2014. “We’re an aging community,” Smith explained, “and that’s one of the factors that led to the development of the Complete Streets policy.” The policy has also contributed to a total renaissance for Ogdensburg’s waterfront, she added.
Next up was Doug Halley, Director of the Board of Health for the Town of Acton, MA, which tied for 6th place on this year’s list. Halley emphasized the health benefits of Complete Streets, which make it easier and safer to bike and walk to destinations. “During our 2020 planning process, transportation was identified as an issue to work on,” Halley explained, “and a Complete Streets policy was one of our long-term goals.” He cited improving connections, making travel more safe and pleasant, and supporting economic growth and community stability all as reasons Acton residents want more Complete Streets.
Finally, Katherine Gregor, the Complete Streets Program Manager for the City of Austin, TX’s Transportation Department, discussed how a coalition of advocates came together to support their Complete Streets policy.
“Land use and transportation must be approached as one complex, interrelated challenge,” she explained. To address that end, designers, planners, project managers, and bike advocacy groups have all come together to create their Complete Streets policy as well as a very ambitious bicycle master plan.
“We really encourage communities to adopt the NACTO guides,” Gregor added. “The guidelines gave us a common language to communicate across the departments, cities, the private sector, and the community.”
Webinar listeners posed several great questions to the panelists. The first question was: What advice would you give other communities interested in passing a Complete Streets policy? “Get public feedback early and often,” Smith said.
“Engage your public works department,” was Gregor’s advice “Austin had extensive internal training. This was a big change for people who have been in their jobs for a long time.”
Another listener asked: How do you engage partners? “I was very fortunate that in the early part of my career I worked in engineering,” said Halley, “so I had pretty good understanding of what makes them tick. Reaching out to them was a critical part of our success.”
“One of the reasons that all this collaboration is important is that so much of creating Complete Streets is in the details,” added McCann. “It includes people from different parts of our cities—streets service, sidewalk, intersections—different people and different agencies engaged in all those places.”
And finally, one listener asked what ordinary citizens can do to bring Complete Streets to their towns. “Talk to your legislators, city administrators, town council, or mayor,” Smith said. “Express your interest there.”
Adding to the conversation was a dynamic discussion on Twitter. Here are some of the best tweets from earlier this week:
Is your city considering a Complete Streets policy? Visit smartgrowthamerica.org/complete-streets for resources on how to write a great one, and maybe you’ll be listed here next year. Congratulations again to all of this year’s winners.