“The Role of Public Health in Complete Streets” webinar recap

Last week we hosted the first webinar of our new series, Implementation & Equity 201: The Path Forward to Complete Streets. Together with Voices for Healthy Kids and the American Public Health Association, we explored “The Role of Public Health in Complete Streets”. Watch the full video recording of the webinar above, or download the PDF of the presentations.

A discussion recap

Emiko Atherton, Director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, kicked off the webinar by explaining the importance of Complete Streets in providing safe places to walk or bike and encouraging healthy lifestyles. She highlighted the connection between physical inactivity and pedestrian fatality rates, demonstrating that places where walking is unsafe are the same places where people aren’t getting enough exercise.

Tim Vaske, State and Community Advocacy Manager at Voices for Healthy Kids, echoed Emiko’s remarks and explained that where people live impacts their health. People who grow up without safe streets, sidewalks, parks, and reliable transportation options are more likely to develop chronic disease, Tim explained, and he described how historic inequalities in housing and transportation have lasting impacts today. Tim called for public health and equity performance measures to be built into Complete Streets policies, and discussed research by the University of Illinois at Chicago evaluating equity language in Complete Streets policies. Finally, he listed nine ways the public health community can take on an active role in Complete Streets, including actively listening to and learning from the community, building public support, connecting other stakeholders, and ensuring there is accountability in performance measures. “Displacement is not the goal of Complete Streets,” Tim explained. “Building relationships to overcome mistrust will take time.”

“Our community’s excitement and ownership of the work helped expedite the projects.”

Next, Kate Robb, Policy Analyst at the American Public Health Association, presented several case studies from the Plan4Health project, which works to integrate public health in planning across the country. She began with the B-Well Bensenville Coalition in Illinois where the county health department collaborated with city government and the Active Transportation Alliance to increase physical activity and access to healthy food. These organizations launched a bilingual survey to identify priority areas that they used to create an Active Transportation Plan and a complete Streets Policy. Columbus, IN also undertook successful public engagement through their Plan4Health Coalition. They collected public input to redesign their crosswalks, improving pedestrian safety and connectivity. “The community’s excitement and ownership of the work helped expedite the projects,” Kate added.

Want to learn more?

Our presenters recommend the following resources to learn more about the projects and case studies they discussed:


We had so many great questions during the webinar and we couldn’t get to all of them during our Q&A. Here are the answers to a few of the questions we missed:

How do you make sure that the voices of everyone in a community are included in Complete Streets conversations, and that these projects do not displace long-time residents?
Tim: For many well established communities, there is a stubborn misperception that once Complete Streets work begins in the neighborhoods—such as the installment of bike lanes—it will ultimately lead to an influx of new people moving in, raise the cost of living in the area, and displace the people who have lived in those neighborhoods for years. The New Jersey Bicycle and Pedestrian Resource Center has a great article breaking down the “Production” and “Consumption” theories around gentrification. These theories essentially state that by building more appealing neighborhoods which include attractive streetscapes, active transportation options, trendy entertainment and dining options (consumption opportunities), land owners and developers will recognize that they can make additional profit by developing newer housing and business options that attract people with higher income (production opportunities). This then has an adverse impact on people with lower incomes who have lived in the area for some time.

However, Complete Streets are meant to benefit all users, including people who have established roots within a neighborhood. As public health and community advocates, it’s important that when discussions are underway at the city level around new transportation projects, that community leaders and members are actively invited to join those discussions. Also, Complete Streets policies and implementation should be part of larger discussions taking place regarding what the future of a city looks like around growth, development, and preservation. Nashville, TN has taken this proactive approach within its NashvilleNext plan where Complete Streets is incorporated into community discussions around affordable housing, job growth, capital improvements, and other policy decisions that impact social determinants of health.

My town is already in the process of implementing Complete Streets. How do we start taking steps now to make sure that we are equitable?
Kate: I suggest having multiple meetings with various stakeholders to share what you are doing and what the benefits will be, as well as hear their feedback. From there, you can work with them to continue implementing Complete Streets. It’s important to demonstrate the value of Complete Streets and also serve the community when you are implementing the changes.

What is the best template or starting point for a solid community outreach/dialog plan?
Tim: The National Collaborative for Health Equity has several tools and resources for starting discussions with communities of color and others around identifying the health equity needs of the community and how Complete Streets and other policies can help address those needs. Recognizing that Complete Streets is a health in all policy approach, it’s important to ensure that meaningful dialog happens early and often within the process. As shared on the webinar, transportation policy in the past has been used as a tool of systematic racism through segregation. The tools from the National Collaborative for Health Equity can help as you move forward with discussions around how future transportation policy can be used to address racial equity.

We work quite a bit with seniors and the aging community surrounding walkability and Complete Streets. Do you have information/resources you can point us to for that specific need?
Emiko: This is an important question. People over the age of 65 are 51 percent more likely than younger people to be struck and killed by a car while walking, so considering their safety when implementing Complete Streets is essential. AARP maintains an archive of resources surrounding walkability and pedestrian safety for older adults.

For the Bensenville, IL project, what was the attendance at the public meetings? How were the workshops advertised? Did a lot of people of color attend?
Kate: Bensenville focused heavily on offering a community-wide survey only. The comprehensive outreach approach to data collection included sending the survey in the local water bill, posting the survey on the village and library websites, and engaging families in summer programs and in local soccer leagues. The Bensenville coalition did host a community forum, but the turnout was very low. The community forum was the last step on the engagement plan, and it’s possible that the other efforts listed above led to small numbers because people didn’t feel a need to engage in the forum.

Join us for the next webinar

Thanks so much to our presenters and to everyone who tuned in to “The Role of Public Health in Complete Streets”. Our Implementation & Equity 201 webinar series will will continue on March 23 with Creating Value: Assessing the Return on Investment in Complete Streets. We hope you’ll be able to join us for the next event!

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