Minnesota on the Road to Implementation

Minneapolis skyline with complete bridge over the Mississippi River. Photo: Andrew Ciscel
Minneapolis skyline with "complete" bridge over the Mississippi River. Photo: Andrew Ciscel

I’m just back from my first visit to Minnesota since the passage of their landmark Complete Streets law in mid-May. It was gratifying to learn that both the advocacy community and the state Department of Transportation have set a brisk pace on the road to implementation.

The Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition held a celebration after the bill became law, but once the cake was consumed, coalition members set aside their forks for a two-hour meeting on what to do next. Two products are already out: a Complete Streets toolkit for local advocates and another toolkit for local elected officials and city staff. The toolkits provide important information about the state law, and encourage local governments to adopt their own, complementary policies.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) issued its implementation plan even before the bill became law. Last week, everyone came together for the first external advisory group meeting. The group is mandated by law and includes representatives from the state department of public health, several members of the Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition, and representatives of cities that have been leading the way with local policies. Most members agree that MnDOT is starting off with a systematic approach that should result in real change.

Some of those cities have valuable experience to share. Fit City Duluth helped get a policy passed in March to “…increase the usability of all streets for all appropriate modes of travel, for citizens of all income levels, all ages and all abilities in Duluth.” This is one of the few policies nationwide that is explicit in including the needs of low-income citizens, inspired in part by the participation of the Local Initiative Support Corporation (LISC), a National Complete Streets Coalition partner. Fit City Duluth is now working to inject energy into the city’s implementation plans.

Meanwhile, in Rochester, city planner Mitzi Baker reports she is beginning to see the fruits of the state’s first local Complete Streets policy. The city has worked to change its processes and plans and standards. Mitzi has been pleasantly surprised to come across installations of bike lanes and intersection improvements for pedestrians that she didn’t have to watch over – the improvements are beginning to happen as a matter of course.

And we can expect to see much more out of Minnesota.

Randy Neufeld and I were there to present at the State Health Improvement Program conference (SHIP), a state-level program similar to the federal Communities Putting Prevention to Work program. More than 400 people, mostly public health professionals, gathered from across the state to learn more about how to make the healthy choice the default choice when it comes to eating, physical activity, and stopping tobacco use. Many communities are working for policies to make complete streets the default in transportation project planning and construction.

As we learned during our Best Practices research, policies work best when they exist across multiple governmental levels. We are excited to see that start happening in Minnesota.

Complete Streets