Complete Streets from Policy to Project Part 1: Framing and Positioning Complete Streets Efforts

In this first of a six part series, Cindy Zerger and I introduce a recent research report on complete streets from the University of Minnesota and highlight key findings.  The report, entitled Complete Streets from Policy to Project:  The Planning and Implementation of Complete Streets at Multiple Scales, examines the emerging practice around complete streets.  The report presents insights from a diverse set of eleven jurisdictions that have successfully moved from initial interests, plans, and policies, to getting complete streets projects on the ground.  The jurisdictions and their basic characteristics are indicated in the table below.

Case Study Community Stats

Methodology and Report Overview

Drawing on over 100 interviews with a range of community and project stakeholders, the research specifically focuses on the space between initiating complete streets efforts and the construction of one or more complete streets projects.  The report is intended to produce practical and usable insights for jurisdictions in Minnesota and elsewhere.  The report is organized around six best practices, with illustrative examples drawn from the 11 case jurisdictions.  The report also includes detailed case reports that highlight key findings, summarize relevant complete streets documents (e.g. policies, plans), offer a chronological overview of complete streets in the jurisdiction, and illustrate implementation through multiple photos of completed projects.

Best Practice 1:  Framing and Positioning

The remainder of this post focuses on key findings related to the first best practice area: Framing and Positioning.  As we looked across many of the jurisdictions in the study, we quickly discovered that local governments and other agencies were thinking and talking about complete streets in a wide range of ways.  For some jurisdictions, practitioners were leading with efforts to define and advance efforts clearly defined as complete streets.  In other cases complete streets was underlying or simply an evolution of ongoing focus on innovations in transportation.  In other instances, we saw communities making connections between complete streets and broader economic, social, and environmental goals.

Case Example 1 – Lifelong Communities through Complete Streets in the Columbus Metropolitan Area. 

Roundabout in Hilliard, Ohio

Roundabout in Hilliard, Ohio

A first example of the Framing and Positioning Best Practice comes from the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC), the metropolitan planning organization (MPO) for the Columbus, Ohio, region.  This agency played a critical role in advancing complete streets in Columbus and surrounding communities.  While its initial approach to advancing complete streets focused on transportation benefits, MORPC’s framing evolved to connecting complete streets to aspirations to build “successful” and “lifelong” communities.  This evolved approach was informed in part by pushback from some stakeholders, as well as insight from some Columbus region communities (e.g. Hilliard, Westerville) that were successfully pursuing complete streets and broader transportation improvements as an explicit response to changing demographics, development trends, and market preferences.  MORPC’s 2012-2035 Metropolitan Transportation Plan clearly makes the connection between complete streets and broader issues of lifelong communities and economic competitiveness:

“MORPC…is working to create ‘lifelong communities.’  The goal is to ensure central Ohio’s cities, villages, townships and counties continue to prosper, attract and retain businesses and residents, and in return have a richer tax base to support important programs, such as infrastructure, education and social services.  An important facet of Lifelong Communities is Complete Streets.”

Following on this broader framing, MORPC conducted regional complete streets workshops, including one focused on market and demographic trends.  In addition, MORPC produced a 10-minute video – “Rethinking Streets for Successful Communities” – with background information on complete streets, as well as perspectives from local elected officials, developers, and experts on the intersection between transportation and successful, competitive communities.

Case Example 2 – Connecting Livability and Sustainability in Dubuque.

Historic Millwork District in Dubuque, Iowa

Historic Millwork District in Dubuque, Iowa

The City of Dubuque also used a broader framing in its efforts to advance complete streets.  Its complete streets initiative is an outcome of the community’s sustainability and livability visioning and planning efforts, called ENVIS10N and Sustainable Dubuque.  The City’s work on sustainability identified complete streets as an approach to advancing livability and contributing to environmental integrity.  In addition, the extensive process and community engagement around these two efforts helped facilitate the Millwork District Master Planning Project.  This redevelopment project that features active manufacturing uses, as well as new residential and commercial development, also includes complete streets components such as bicycle facilities, wide sidewalks, enhanced crossings, public art, and period lighting.

Case Example 3 – Advancing a Modal Shift in Boulder.

Downtown Boulder, Colorado

Downtown Boulder, Colorado

The City of Boulder is widely recognized as a long-time leader and innovator in transportation.  For over twenty years, Boulder has been advancing an approach to transportation that aligns with complete streets, though only recently has the City adopted explicit complete streets language.  Boulder’s framing has focused on building multi-modal networks.  Various iterations of its Transportation Master Plan over the years have further refined the language and the approach.  For example, the 2008 Transportation Master Plan calls for reconciling “two seemingly conflicting goals: first to provide mobility and access in the Boulder Valley in a way that is safe and convenient; and second, to preserve what makes Boulder a good place to live by minimizing auto congestion, air pollution, and noise.”  Key to Boulder’s efforts to implement multi-modal networks was its 1994 decision to limit vehicle miles traveled (VMT) growth to that year’s levels, which set the stage for infrastructure improvements intended to achieve a major modal shift and build out a network with strong connections across modes.

The cases described above offer a glimpse into the approaches that jurisdictions to advance goals related to transportation, but that also connect across additional priorities such as sustainability, economic competitiveness, and quality of life.  The Complete Streets from Policy to Project report offers further detail related to these cases and others.

Up Next…

Watch for part 2 of our series next week, when we will highlight ways that jurisdictions are institutionalizing complete streets – building complete streets approaches into the plans, policies, and practices and making complete streets the rule, rather than the exception.

This research was funded by the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, with additional support from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Transportation Studies.

Carissa Schively Slotterback

About Carissa Schively Slotterback

Carissa Schively Slotterback, PhD, AICP, is an Associate Professor and Director of the Urban and Regional Planning Program in the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota. Her research is focused on stakeholder involvement and decision making in environmental, transportation, and land use planning. Follow her on twitter @cschively.