Making Complete Streets real in Maryland

Maryland local leaders participate in a walking tour to learn about Complete Streets in Mt. Rainier, MDMaryland local leaders participate in a walking tour about Complete Streets in Mount Rainier, MD.

Maryland members of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council met last Thursday for a workshop titled “Making Complete Streets Real,” sponsored by Smart Growth America and 1000 Friends of Maryland. Councilmember Brent Bolin hosted the event at the Mount Rainer City Hall and gave an insider’s tour of local smart growth initiatives (pictured above) after the workshop.

Many of the leaders who attended the workshop are currently developing new Complete Streets policies, and the conversation focused heavily on how to move from policy adoption to effective implementation and talking publicly about the value of this work. Former Maryland Governor Parris Glendening noted, “It is important to make clear how Complete Streets relate to larger and deeper community goals.”

Salisbury City Council President Jake Day agreed. “We have enthusiasm for downtown investment, but many of our residents are concerned about crime. Smart growth and Complete Streets help us address both.”

Health, equity, public safety, environmental sustainability, and economic revitalization all became underlying themes for the larger discussion. “There is a sizable number of people in Hagerstown who rely on public transit and walking or bicycling as their primary modes of transportation,” explained Hagerstown City Planner Alex Rohrbaugh. “Hagerstown also has one of the highest obesity rates in Maryland. Complete Streets can provide more travel options and healthier lifestyles for people.”

“Fatalities and pedestrian crashes dropped substantially after we built our first Complete Street,” said Adam Ortiz, former Edmonston Mayor and current Director of the Department of the Environment for Prince George’s County. “Joggers, dog walkers and residents love the new lighting, attractive landscaping, and safer crossings. These improvements create a more secure neighborhood, as well as a prettier one.”

The group discussed the problem of losing momentum once a policy is passed, even though the real work has yet to begin. “Plan to have some projects cued up and ready for roll out soon after a policy is adopted,” advised Dru Schmidt-Perkins, President of 1000 Friends of Maryland. “Even if they are simple improvements, this will go a long way in demonstrating the real vision behind Complete Streets.” Including performance measures and specific implementation steps were acknowledged as key aspects of a strong policy.

“Complete Streets is not just a line item in a project or an afterthought,” said Greg Slater, Director of Planning and Preliminary Engineering at the Maryland State Highway Administration, “but rather it should become an intrinsic part of the planning, engineering and decision making processes. This must become a central part of the way we do business.”

Anne Arundel County Councilmember Chris Trumbauer posed a critical question. “We very recently passed a Complete Streets resolution in Anne Arundel County and are in the preliminary phases of implementing our Complete Streets policy. What are the funding options to get us started?” Slater listed transportation planning grants, pedestrian access to transit program, the Americans with Disabilities Act, a sidewalk retrofit program, and bike retrofit programs as some examples. Ortiz also suggested some communities like Prince George’s County can use the state’s stormwater utility fee for Complete Streets. “Everyone wants new money,” he added, “but reprioritizing existing resources also goes a long way. Break down silos within your jurisdiction, don’t just focus on getting money from outside but also being smarter in leveraging the local budget.”

All participants left with packet of resources for crafting, passing, communicating, and implementing a local Complete Streets program. If you would like to receive a copy of the materials from the “Making Complete Streets Real” workshop, contact Sarah Absetz.

Complete Streets Local Leaders Council