White House Clean Energy Economy Forum

Mayor Becker speaks at last week's Clean Energy Economy Forum (whitehouse.gov).
Mayor Becker speaks at last week's Clean Energy Economy Forum (whitehouse.gov).

Last week, I attended the White House’s Clean Energy Economy Forum “Livability and Sustainable Communities – Taking Action for a Clean Energy Future.” Complete Streets got plenty of attention as one way to begin to create a ‘Clean Energy Economy.’ Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City talked about institutionalizing Complete Streets and described the transformation planned for North Temple Street with light rail, bike lanes, a shared use path, permeable pavement, and other features that would create “a new model for an urban arterial in Utah.” He shared the stage with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Shaun Donovan, who re-affirmed their intent to knit together transportation and housing policy to achieve clean energy goals.

Most interesting was the subtext about how the Administration can lead – by following. Secretary Donovan said HUD recognizes the environmental, financial, economic, and job-creation benefits of creating ‘green’ housing stock, and that President Obama believes the federal government should set the pace, while Secretary LaHood noted that transportation innovation is not starting in Washington, but is already happening all over America. Both cabinet secretaries spent considerable time discussing their new grant programs aimed at unlocking such innovation by providing resources for communities to start pursuing greener housing and transportation projects.

Secretary LaHood noted that the first $1.5 billion in TIGER grants will help get a lot of people out of their cars and onto better transit systems and out walking and bicycling. Many of these projects include Complete Streets components. Secretary Donovan discussed the HUD’s proposed $100 million in planning grants, and encouraged comments on the proposal via HUD’s wiki site (comments are due Friday!).

During the question period, I noted that the many communities adopting Complete Streets policies would be looking to create Complete Streets in all of their future transportation investments. I asked how DOT and HUD can help with this institutionalization. Secretary LaHood answered that there was frustration in the TIGER process because they were able to fund such a small portion of the applications, but that he was hopeful the additional $600 million in this year’s budget would help begin to meet the demand. Secretary Donovan said the $100 million in regional planning grants, and an additional $40 million to be made available for Community Planning Challenge Grants, could also be used to help communities with Complete Streets planning.

Clearly, Secretaries LaHood and Donovan want to lead – by providing communities with the resources to innovate. These new programs are a resource for communities working for Complete Streets – and they can be a powerful avenue to demonstrate to Congress the need and viability of a federal Complete Streets provision that would apply to all federal transportation funds.

Complete Streets Local Leaders Council