NATIONAL COMPLETE STREETS COALITION
In the last few years, dozens of towns, counties, regions, and states looked at their streets and realized they could be something more. These communities joined a growing nationwide movement coalesced around a simple idea: our streets should work for everyone, of all ages and abilities, regardless of how they travel. This simple idea is “Complete Streets.”
The power of the Complete Streets movement is that it fundamentally redefines what a street is intended to do, what goals a transportation agency is going to meet, and how the community will spend its transportation money. It breaks down the traditional separation of ‘highways,’ ‘transit,’ and ‘biking/walking,’ and instead focuses on the desired outcome of a transportation system that supports safe use of the roadway for everyone, by whatever means they are traveling.
This report celebrates and documents the rapid growth of Complete Streets policy adoption and provides a standard analysis of the content of the more than 200 written policies adopted before January 1, 2011. It highlights those policies that come closest to achieving the ‘ideal’ of our ten policy elements. Our purpose in issuing this report is to provide jurisdictions looking to adopt new policies with guidance and plenty of examples.
Policy Adoption Accelerates
Complete Streets policy adoption has been accelerating rapidly, with the number of communities adopting policies roughly doubling each of the last three years. More than 200 policies were in place by the end of 2010, directing transportation professionals to begin transforming their transportation networks into Complete Streets.
While almost half the states (23) have some form of Complete Streets policy, communities of all sizes and types have adopted policies. Suburban communities of fewer than 30,000 people make up the largest percentage of adopters by size and location. Small towns, often in rural areas, are well represented, with about one fifth of policies adopted by these smaller jurisdictions. State and regional policies have often encouraged adoption of policies at lower levels of government.
Policy adoption is also remarkably widespread, with at least one policy adopted in 46 states by the end of 2010. Heightened activity is evident in a few states and regions, including Minnesota, Michigan, and California, where a state law is beginning to require inclusion of Complete Streets in general plan updates.
The Strongest Policies
The National Complete Streets Coalition tracks all kinds of policies that seek to set a community’s intent to fully provide for the needs of everyone using the roadways. Over one-third of all Complete Streets policies adopted are expressed through relatively simple resolutions, and approximately one-quarter are laws or ordinances. Internal policies, expressed through top-level departmental objectives, made up about 12% of all policies, and 14% are contained inside planning documents such has comprehensive plans.
We grouped our evaluation of policies by type, to allow apples-to-apples comparisons. The policies that received the top overall scores by jurisdiction size and type can be found on page 23. A full listing of the scores of the more than 200 policies analyzed can be found in the appendix.
Our analysis focused around the ten elements that the National Complete Streets Coalition has determined should be part of an ‘ideal’ Complete Streets policy. Though the concept of “Complete Streets” is itself simple and inspiring, the Coalition has found, through research and practice, that a policy must do more than simply affirm support for Complete Streets. The ten elements refine the vision, provide clear direction and intent, are accountable to a community’s needs, and grant the flexibility in design and approach necessary to secure an effective Complete Streets process and outcome.
We provide a clear explanation of each policy element, and list example policies that show particular strength in an element.. The most notable overall finding is that very few policies meet the standard for an ideal policy when it comes to spelling out clear implementation steps. This may be of concern as communities move from adopting paper policies to putting projects on the ground. This analysis is based purely on what has been written on paper and is not intended to reflect the degree to which any given community is successful in implementing its Complete Streets goals.
Implications for Future Policy Adoption and Federal Action
Americans who live in cities and towns, north and south, east and west, have a strong interest in ensuring that transportation investments provide for the safe travel of everyone using the road.
This report demonstrates an enormous effort to use Complete Streets policies to re-orient long-standing transportation policies so to better provide roadways that are safe for everyone and help communities meet a variety of challenges facing them in the 21st century. While opinion polls show that voters want infrastructure investments to create safe streets for their children, we know the commitment runs much deeper. Elected officials, advocates, and transportation practitioners have spent months and even years crafting each of the policies analyzed in this report.
Policies at several levels of government can take the burden off any one to accomplish all the process and procedure changes necessary for successful implementation of Complete Streets.
Implementation of Complete Streets can require changes to a number of documents, processes, and mechanisms currently in place. When each level of government works toward the same vision, those changes can be implemented more gradually and with greater regional coordination. Many communities adopting local policies have expressed their support for inclusion of a Complete Streets policy in the next federal transportation bill that would cover federal transportation investments.
States have a leadership role to play in providing guidance on Complete Streets.
Localities look to the state to provide examples of policy language, but also how to effectively create Complete Streets. Outreach from the New Jersey and Wisconsin Departments of Transportation have helped not only their district departments, but also locals, understand the more technical and process details to Complete Streets.
About the National Complete Streets Coalition
The National Complete Streets Coalition seeks to fundamentally transform the look, feel, and function of the roads and streets in our community, by changing the way most roads are planned, designed, and constructed. Complete Streets policies direct transportation planners and engineers to consistently design with all users in mind, in line with the elements of Complete Streets policies.