Complete Streets for More Complete Communities

In the guest blog I wrote with Jon Henney for Smart Growth America, we argued that an effective municipal complete streets policy will eschew “one size fits all” prescriptions and instead provide a common vision flexible enough to be implemented by multiple agencies. The complete streets movement is inherently inclusive, both in the literal sense of making streets accessible to more user groups, and in the broader sense of promoting the diverse goals of various city agencies. As the movement has grown, more organizations are eyeing its principles as effective tools for promoting larger initiatives like community health, safety, livability, economic growth, and social vitality.

As mentioned in the Smart Growth America post, GS&P has worked with a diverse range of public agencies to design complete streets projects, and the funding sources behind those projects are often even more diverse. One of our recent projects, the Southwest Greenways Master Plan for Louisville Metro Parks, was funded in part by a grant from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

At first glance, such collaborations seem a little random, and the CDC’s and other organizations’ attraction to complete streets a little mysterious. Further examination, however, reveals the far-ranging impact that such projects can have.

Community Health

The Southwest Greenways project received funding from a CDC “Putting Prevention to Work” grant, aimed at combatting obesity. Rapidly overtaking tobacco as the major root cause of death in the U.S., obesity is one of the most urgent community health issues that we face today.

Our lifestyles can reflect the way we design our neighborhoods, and obesity has been exacerbated by community design issues. Neighborhoods with unsafe streets or deteriorating or non-existent sidewalks present barriers to community health. Complete streets, on the other hand, can help combat obesity by providing a safe, inviting and accessible space for pedestrians and cyclists to get out and get some exercise.

Safety and livability

Click to enlargeProviding designated spaces for pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles helps make streets safer by preventing the sort of conflicts that can result in serious crashes. In this way, complete streets principles make streets safer and more usable for multiple groups.

When revitalizing the River Road Corridor in Louisville, the Metro Department of Public Works was determined to promote the scenic corridor by making its rich historic, recreational, cultural, archaeological and natural features easily accessible to pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles. Adopting an extensive public engagement plan, we worked with area residents and the public at large to understand what they needed from the corridor and how they hoped it would function in the future. Armed with that knowledge, we were able to develop a plan that would make the historic corridor safer, more accessible, and more attractive to a range of community groups.

Economic Growth

In another revitalization project, the Louisville Economic Development Department sought to improve the West Market Street Corridor and attract future growth and redevelopment to the economically depressed urban neighborhood. The improvement plan we worked with them to develop called for sidewalks buffered by trees and medians, wider pedestrian spaces at key intersections in commercial areas, and physical streetscape improvements, all with the hope of improving current residents’ quality of life and attracting future developers to the area. In this case, the improvements, in addition to functioning as transportation features, can act as economic catalysts by laying an attractive foundation for new growth and development.

Social Vitality

Complete Streets Nashville TennesseeApplying complete streets concepts to important corridors can help create a more accessible and vital community by strengthening existing connections and building new ones. In Nashville, GS&P recently worked with Metro Nashville Public Works to design the 28th/31st Avenue Connector, a new corridor connecting the North Nashville and West End communities, previously separated by Interstate 40. Built as a complete street, the connector offers pedestrians, cyclists, and vehicles easier access to many nearby resources including six area universities and several local hospitals, and aims to facilitate a wide range of social and economic connections.

In each of these cases, the repercussions of a corridor extend far beyond one street to affect the vitality of the community at large. That wide-ranging impact makes complete street projects ideal points of overlap for many community organizations, and undertaking such projects can help generate productive grounds for collaboration and progress.

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