Thursday, June 20, 2013——The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI) and the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America, held a briefing to discuss national and local trends in the adoption of Complete Streets policies and how they can be incorporated into fiscally-sound federal transportation policy to support the creation of safer streets in communities across the country. More than 500 jurisdictions at the local, regional, and state levels are now using Complete Streets policies to plan, construct and operate streets that safely accommodate all users – including transit riders, bicyclists, pedestrians of all ages and abilities, and drivers. These policies are helping to build stronger local economies, attract businesses, and support healthier and safer communities.
The Safe Streets Act of 2013, introduced by Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) and Rep. David Joyce (R-OH), illustrates how federal policy can support local efforts to address roadway safety.
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-CA) discussed the importance of Complete Streets policies, which make streets safe for all users—including bicyclists, pedestrians and users of public transportation. She explained the dangers of incomplete and unsafe streets, telling the story of Michelle Murigi, a 16-year-old girl recently killed crossing the street in Sacramento.
The Complete Streets Coalition passed a milestone this year, with 500 jurisdictions having adopted Complete Streets policies. These jurisdictions are found across the country and are of all sizes.
Geoff Anderson, President and CEO of Smart Growth America, which hosts the Complete Streets Coalition, discussed his organization's goal to bring about economically vibrant, sustainable and livable communities. He explained that Complete Streets plays a role in this effort by making roads safer for everyone, especially children.
Danny Pleasant, Transportation Director for the city of Charlotte, NC, described his city's Complete Streets policy, which may provide clues as to future federal policy, since Charlotte’s mayor, Anthony Foxx, is Obama's Secretary-designate for the U.S. Department of Transportation.
Charlotte, NC, began planning for a growing city in the 1990s. During that time, Pleasant’s department began polling residents and found that 82 percent of them felt streets should accommodate all users, not just motorists. Pleasant emphasized that the "market" wants livable, walkable communities.
Since adopting Complete Streets policies, Charlotte has constructed more than $400 million of road and intersection projects, and the North Carolina Department of Transportation has now adopted Complete Streets policies.
Pleasant and Charlotte’s Transportation Department had the following recommendations:
1. Strengthen National policy to accelerate implementing complete streets in cities, towns, and villages.
2. Require that properly-designed sidewalks and bicycle facilities are constructed on bridges and underpasses.
3. Require that properly-designed sidewalks, safe crossings, and bicycle facilities are provided on thoroughfares … especially where there are bus and/or fixed rail transit stops.
4. Ensure that state DOTs accept the design flexibility found in a variety of guidelines including AASHTO, NACTO, or approved local guidelines.
Camille Mittelholtz, Acting Director of the Office of Safety, Energy and Environment at the U.S. Department of Transportation, explained the importance of livability, sustainability and a federal/state/local policy partnership. The principles of such a partnership include: "providing more transportation choices, promoting equitable and affordable housing, enhancing economic competitiveness, supporting existing communities, coordinating policies and leveraging investment and valuing the communities and neighborhoods that they are serving."
One goal of the U.S. Department of Transportation is to address livability through performance measures that will increase the number of states with Complete Streets policies. Currently 29 states, 369 cities, 37 counties and 40 metropolitan planning organizations have policies that promote Complete Streets.
Mittelholtz also discussed the TIGER program (Transportation Investments Generating Economic Recovery) from the Recovery Act, which provides funding for infrastructure development to make communities more livable and sustainable.
Angela Vance, the Associate State Director for Advocacy for AARP West Virginia, stated that the elderly have consistently told AARP it is important for them to stay involved in their communities, making walkability extremely important. Therefore, AARP has been at the forefront of mobility issues.
Vance explained the need for safer streets in West Virginia by showing photographs of incomplete and poorly designed streets. She said streets need to account for bikes, wheelchairs, strollers and traffic patterns.
Safety is a key element of Complete Streets. A pedestrian is killed every two hours in the United States and an older pedestrian (65 and above) is two times more likely to be killed while walking than a younger pedestrian. In West Virginia, 300 pedestrians and cyclists have died over the last decade.
Complete Streets, where people can walk and bike safely, also brings economic and health benefits. Thriving streets ensure spontaneous interactions and strengthen communities.