How can Seattle improve its Complete Streets policy?

What does “Complete Streets” mean to you? If you’re a transportation geek or road design lawyer (guilty as charged to both of these), a city engineer, city planner, transportation advocate, or just a concerned citizen, you’ve probably heard of Complete Streets. But most people are not well informed about the origin of Complete Streets, its purpose, and its significance. So, what exactly is Complete Streets, and how do we make sure that Seattle adopts the best policies possible?

Have you reviewed the 2023 NCSC Best Complete Streets Policies?
Credits: Smart Growth America & National Complete Streets Coalition

As our transportation options continue to expand, we need to prioritize the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and users of public transit. Complete Streets policies are a key part of this effort, and a recent report from the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) sheds light on the progress we’ve made in adopting and implementing these policies across the United States.

Let’s learn from the cities showcased in the May 2023 NCSC Best Complete Streets Policies report and take a close look at the successes and lessons learned from cities that have embraced these policies.

This blog post will break it all down for you.

Progress and Collaboration: First, let’s take a look at the progress we’ve made so far. Over the past four years, 157 cities have adopted new Complete Streets policies, bringing the nationwide total to an impressive 1,740. That’s thanks in large part to the collective efforts of organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Stantec, and the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) Steering Committee. So, bravo to them!

The Importance of Complete Streets: But why are Complete Streets policies so important? Well, for starters, they play a crucial role in reducing traffic violence, promoting health equity, and addressing the pressing challenge of climate change. Plus, they make our communities more livable and accessible for everyone, regardless of their mode of transportation. Isn’t this something we all want? (Mayor Harrell: This would make you our hero, if you help lead our city with this.)

Room for Improvement: But even with all this progress, there’s still room for improvement. The NCSC report notes that the average score for policies evaluated in this report has increased, but we need to do a better job of prioritizing underinvested and underserved communities. We need to address the systemic discrimination and exclusion that has long plagued transportation planning.

Road Safety: And let’s not forget about the increasing danger on American roads. 2021 was the deadliest year since 2005, so we need state and federal action to address this issue. Luckily, the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) includes a Safe Streets and Roads for All Program, so we’re moving in the right direction.

Success Stories: But enough doom and gloom. Let’s take a look at some success stories. Tucson, AZ; Howard County, MD; El Paso, TX; and Joplin, MO have all adopted strong Complete Streets policies. They’ve shown us the importance of community engagement, attention to detail, coalition building, and proactive land-use planning. So, take notes!

The NSCS report highlights lessons learned from four cities that have adopted strong Complete Streets policies: Tucson, AZ; Howard County, MD; El Paso, TX; and Joplin, MO.

Tuscon, AZ

Tucson’s policy was successful in part because organizers engaged community members as valued participants in the planning process. Tucson’s Complete Streets policy, which was unanimously adopted in 2019. The policy was developed over three years with the help of grant funding.

A diverse group of stakeholders was involved in the process, including individuals from city agencies and external organizations. The policy was also shaped by community input, with workshops held to gather feedback. The policy emphasizes equity, with specific measures to prioritize underserved communities. The policy has led to changes in project selection and design, but some challenges remain.

Key lessons learned from Tucson’s experience: The importance of engaging community members and operationalizing equity.

Howard County, MD

Well done to all those who helped realize the Howard County’s Complete Streets policy! Howard County’s Complete Streets received a perfect score from the National Complete Streets Coalition. The city took six years to develop it. However, this teaches us the importance of taking time to get the details right.

Howard County’s Complete Streets policy was adopted in 2019. Initially, the city’s policy was developed over three years, with community input and feedback playing a key role. The main players in the policy’s development included Streets for All, a coalition of organizations, as well as county officials.

Key lessons learned:

  • The policy prioritizes equity, with specific measures to identify and prioritize underserved communities.
  • We also find in Howard County’s policy clear guidelines for exceptions, which helps ensure accountability. The policy led to the update of the community’s Design Manual, which now reflects Complete Streets goals.

El Paso, TX

The city’s health and safety concerns borne out of its growth and development spurred El Paso’s Complete Streets policy. The El Paso’s Complete Streets Coalition formed in 2020, but it took two years for the city to adopt the policy. The coalition researched other Complete Streets policies for best practices, and used Tucson’s policy as a starting point. Not surprisingly, the coalition faced some resistance from city staff, but ultimately gained support by emphasizing the long-term benefits of the policy.

Unanimously adopted in 2022, El Paso’s Complete Streets policy was developed through a collaborative effort between advocates, city planners, and decision makers. The policy has succeeded in part because the coalition used multiple strategies to get their message out.

Key lessons learned:

  • The importance of building a strong coalition and taking advantage of opportunities to share the message.
  • A focus on equity, community context, and proactive land-use planning.

Joplin, MO

Similar to the previously mentioned cities,Joplin’s Complete Streets policy was in response to the city’s growth and development patterns that led to health and safety concerns. Joplin’s 2018 Bicycle and Pedestrian Transportation Plan cited the need for travel options outside of a car to better serve low-income residents, people with disabilities, and older adults.

In 2019, Joplin joined the National Complete Streets Coalition’s Complete Streets Consortium, which provided resources and knowledge to help the city draft a strong policy. Then, in 2020 Joplin received a Livable Community Initiative grant, which helped fund the drafting of the Complete Streets policy.

After a long process of drafting, revising, and garnering support, the policy was adopted in 2022 .

Key features of Joplin’s policy:

  • a focus on equity, community context, and proactive land-use planning.
  • the importance of building a strong coalition, taking advantage of resources, and continuing the conversation after adoption.
  • close coordination during the implementation process, including city departments and community stakeholders.
  • the benefit of funding and technical assistance from various sources.
  • specific measures to ensure accountability and implementation.

The policy scored highly on the National Complete Streets Coalition’s policy framework, with particular strengths in equity and community engagement. Aimed at improving multimodal transporation options, the policy addresses safety concerns in that framework. Kudos!

Lots to digest, I know. In an upcoming blog post, we’ll dive into the 2023 Complete Streets Policy Framework Updated.

1 Comment

  1. on August 17, 2023 at 6:31 pm

    An intriguing discussion is worth comment. I do think that you should publish more on this topic, it might not be a taboo subject but generally people dont speak about such subjects. To the next! Cheers!!

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