To conclude Complete Streets month at Smart Growth America, we’re proud to publish the brand new policy grading framework and scoring methodology. These changes come after our Steering committee voted to approve the framework in 2017. For months a group of national stakeholders, consisting of engineers, planners, researchers, and advocates, worked to revise the policy elements and truly raise the bar for what Complete Streets look like in practice. So it is only right that we spent the past month highlighting each of these revised elements and gaining a deeper understanding of the essence of Complete Streets moving forward.
Complete Streets Month
Over the last decade, we’ve come to understand that a Complete Streets policy is only the first step to making streets safer and more accessible to everyone. We’ve revised the “Implementation steps” policy element to include increased accountability from jurisdictions and requirements to include equity and community engagement.
To most effectively implement them, a good Complete Streets policy must be fully integrated into the process for selecting transportation projects. And that process should focus on active transportation projects with a priority on underserved communities in order to reduce health, safety, and economic disparities.
Performance measures exist to track and measure success in communities that have Complete Streets policies. The revised framework requires measures to expand beyond the usual metrics used such as the number of bike lanes. In Complete Streets policies performance measures should address categories like access, economy, environment, safety, and health. As well as, how implementation will impact communities of concern identified in the policy.
We’ve raised the bar for this element of our Complete Streets policy framework to better account for land use and context. In our previous framework, we gave points to policies that simply mention community context in decision making. Now, the updated framework requires Complete Streets policies to integrate land use policies, plans, zoning ordinances, or equivalent documents from jurisdictions at all levels of government.
A Complete Streets policy cannot be implemented without an understanding of how to improve the physical environment. Jurisdictions should prioritize appropriate design guidance into their policy and implementation plans. The way roads are designed can influence traffic speed, safety, comfort, and many other factors that affect all people who use the street. We’ve updated this policy element to require jurisdictions to adopt or design guidelines in addition to adopting a policy.
The jurisdiction element addresses how agencies who may be responsible for building or maintaining roads can require outside parties to comply with the Complete Streets policy. Creating a Complete Streets network requires interagency coordination between government departments and partner agencies. We spoke to Byron Rushing, one of our Steering Committee members from the Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals who shared his insight on why this element is crucial in Complete Streets policies.
Effective Complete Streets policy implementation requires a process for exceptions to providing for all modes in each project. Exceptions should follow the Federal Highway Administration’s guidance on accommodating bicycle and pedestrian travel and identified best practices frequently used in existing Complete Streets policies. The Coalition believes these exceptions are appropriate with limited potential to weaken the policy.
The ideal Complete Streets policy has a strong commitment that all transportation projects and maintenance operations account for the needs of all modes of transportation and all users of the road network. Existing projects and maintenance should be seen as opportunities to implement Complete Streets. However, this does not mean every street needs to add a bike lane during regular maintenance but it is worth considering the potential benefits. We spoke to one of our Steering Committee members Ignacio Bunster-Ossa from AECOM to hear more about how jurisdictions can implement this revised policy element.
A Complete Streets approach requires “diverse users” to be more than just a buzzword. This brand new addition to our policy framework aims to hold jurisdictions accountable for including equity into their plans based on the composition and objectives of the community, a requirement that was lacking from the previous framework. The U.S. history of systemic discrimination and exclusion based on race and income is part of the transportation context and cannot be ignored. Transportation choices should be safe, convenient, reliable, affordable, accessible, and timely regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, income, gender identity, immigration status, age, ability, languages spoken, or level of access to a personal vehicle.