Institutionalizing Complete Streets

We continue here with highlights from our recently completed research on complete streets planning and implementation (read Part 1).  The research 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 in eleven jurisdictions across the U.S.  Drawing on over 100 interviews with stakeholders engaged in a variety of roles in complete streets planning and implementation, the report offers practical insights for practice.  The report is organized around six best practice areas and also includes eleven detailed case reports.

Best Practice 2:  Institutionalizing

In this post, we focus on our second best practice area – Institutionalizing Complete Streets.  One of the things that clearly emerged as we talked with stakeholders in the case communities, is that for complete streets implementation to be successful, it needs to be institutionalized via the communities’ plans, policies, and processes.  Complete streets needs to become the way of doing business – the rule rather than the exception.

Case Example 1 – Charlotte’s Urban Street Typology and Guidelines

Charlotte’s Six Step Process for Applying the Urban Street Design Guidelines

Charlotte’s Six Step Process for Applying the Urban Street Design Guidelines

Charlotte’s Urban Street Design Guidelines (USDG) provide an exceptional example of how to conceptualize complete streets and build a basis for infusing complete streets across a community’s transportation and land use planning policies and processes.  The Guidelines were approved in 2007 with the intent of providing “more streets for more people” and achieving a complete street network.  Guiding principles associated with meeting the network standard include:

  1. Streets are a critical component of public space
  2. Streets play a major role in establishing the image and identity of the city
  3. Streets provide a critical framework for current and future development
  4. Charlotte’s streets will be designed to provide mobility and support livability and economic development goals
  5. The safety, convenience, and comfort of motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, transit riders, and neighborhood residents will be considered when planning and designing Charlotte’s streets
  6. Planning and designing streets must be a collaborative process, to ensure that a variety of perspectives are considered
Charlotte’s Street Typology integrates land use and transportation

Charlotte’s Street Typology integrates land use and transportation

Consider the significance of these statements – that streets are not just streets!  Connecting streets to public space, image and identity, livability, and economic development is a significant move that positions the Charlotte’s Department of Transportation as a critical collaborator in advancing a wide range of the community’s goals.  The connection to land use is particularly critical and further institutionalized through a planning process that calls for consideration of the land use and transportation contexts and a new street typology based on a continuum of pedestrian to auto-oriented.  Further, the USDG is implemented through land use and zoning policy, with changes made to the subdivision ordinance, tree ordinance, and land development standards.

As one interviewee in Charlotte noted, “we don’t look at them as complete streets projects, just as projects” and now “the burden falls on the omission [of complete streets] rather than the addition.”

Case Example 2 – New Haven’s Complete Streets Request Form

Audubon Avenue in New Haven

Audubon Avenue in New Haven

The 2010 Complete Streets Design Manual serves as New Haven’s complete streets guiding document.  A key element of this document is the Complete Streets Request Form.  The form is critical to the complete streets decision making process and serves as a means to institutionalize stakeholder priorities in advancing complete streets projects.  The City’s decision to establish the request form was informed by the high level of neighborhood-scale organization and engagement.  It was neighborhood leaders and a local elected alderperson who led the charge for complete streets in the community.  The form allows neighborhood organizations, as well as individual residents, the ability to influence infrastructure priorities and express how local conditions could be improved by the application of complete streets.  To ensure that proposed projects align with the community’s priorities, the form asks proposers to specify how the project relates to the guiding principles in the Manual.  A few examples of the principles are listed below:

  1. Safety and slow vehicle speeds – promote safety for all users, limit vehicle speeds, reduce injuries and fatalities
  2. Human health – design for active transportation and to decrease air pollution and particulate levels caused by motor vehicles
  3. Equity – design streets to provide for the needs and safety of all users, particularly people with disabilities, the elderly, children, and people who cannot afford a private vehicle

Case Example 3 – Advancing Project-scale Complete Streets Decision Making in Hennepin County

Portland Avenue in Minneapolis

Portland Avenue in Minneapolis

Following passage of its Complete Streets Policy in 2010, Hennepin County staff developed its Checklist for Compliance with Hennepin County Complete Streets Policy.  This document formalizes consideration of complete streets practices as county road construction projects are proposed and is intended to “ensure that project stakeholders understand a project’s context and types of improvements that are being proposed.”  The checklist includes a variety of questions to characterize both the transportation and land use context.  It considers current transportation characteristics (e.g. road functional class, crash rate, average daily bicycle traffic), key trip generators, and connections to the city/county bicycle plan.  Prospects for a variety of complete streets features (e.g. sidewalks, ADA compliant ramps, pedestrian bumpouts, pedestrian lighting, roundabouts, bike lanes) are evaluated.

The case examples described above offer a preliminary set of insights on institutionalizing complete streets through plans, policies, and processes.  The Complete Streets from Policy to Project report offers further detail related to these cases and others.  In addition, the case studies in the report’s appendix offer deep detail related to the evolution and chronology of complete streets programs in the case communities.

Up Next…

Watch for our next installment later this week.  We’ll discuss community and regional approaches to analyzing and evaluating data and performance to determine future project priorities, complete streets practices, and investments.

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.