Lessons learned in Louisville: a common vision for Complete Streets

A page from the Louisville Metro Streetscape Design Manual.

The following is a guest post by National Complete Streets Coalition partners Jonathan D. Henney, AICP, ASLA and Mike Sewell, P.E., of Gresham, Smith and Partners.

In 2006, just as the Complete Streets movement was gaining momentum, Gresham Smith and Partners (GS&P) put together a Complete Streets Design Manual for the City of Louisville Metro Planning and Design Services Department. The manual offered practical guidelines for using Complete Streets principles within urban, suburban, rural, residential and commercial streetscapes.

At first, the Complete Streets Manual existed mostly as theory, providing universal language for unbuilt projects. Today, it exists as a living language across the city, visible in a diverse range of Complete Streets projects, each testifying to commonly held guidelines. That jump from theory to practice was far from automatic, and other cities can learn from Louisville’s trajectory.

Though not officially adopted into city code, the easily accessible design manual laid a foundation for widespread collaboration by providing a common vision for Complete Streets while allowing for flexible and specific applications. Armed with knowledge of Complete Streets, varying agencies quickly saw how those principles could promote their own individual and, in many cases, shared desires for improved economic growth, neighborhood safety, community health and other issues. Enthusiasm for Complete Streets projects went beyond one department and became city vernacular.

The manual’s refusal to prescribe a “one-size-fits-all” solution makes its proposals relevant in the real world of Louisville development, where no two projects are exactly alike. The overarching guidelines can be applied to a range of development projects and adopted by a variety of agencies.

GS&P has seen evidence of this widespread adoption as we have worked with assorted Louisville public agencies over the past six years. In hopes of enticing new developments to the West Market Street corridor, the Louisville Economic Development Department asked GS&P to use a Complete Streets approach to make the corridor more appealing to the public and to investors. Louisville Metro Public Works contracted with GS&P to implement Complete Streets along the rejuvenated River Road Corridor, intended to promote the corridor’s historical and cultural landmarks by ensuring safe and easy access for all users. That same ease of access appealed to Louisville Metro Parks, which contracted with GS&P to develop a Southwest Greenways Master Plan. In part funded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this project will promote community health by providing an accessible transportation network for everyone.

As the Complete Streets movement has grown, more public agencies are investing in projects with a Complete Streets goal, each with a slightly different angle and viewpoint. A common, city-specific vision helps clarify and meld those different voices and provides a framework for producing Complete Streets that completely serve the local community.

For more details and insights on how Complete Streets can help a variety of city agencies achieve goals of safety, livability, community health, economic growth, and social vitality, check out a related post on GS&P’s Dialogue blog: Complete Streets for More Complete Communities.

Complete Streets