Sunday, September 22, 2013

Completing Our Streets: A review by Douglas Stewart

In 2004 the Virginia Department of Transportation adopted a policy to routinely accommodate pedestrians and bicyclists in all road construction and reconstruction projects. More than 500 other state and local governments as well as regional planning organizations have adopted similar “Complete Streets” policies. In Fairfax, VDOT’s policy has helped spur welcome changes that incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities in the planning and design of road projects.

But adopting a policy and implementing one are two different things. A new book by Barbara McCann examines in detail how different communities are tackling the challenges of putting Complete Streets policies into practice. McCann is the founder of the National Complete Streets Coalition and a long-time bicycle advocate in Washington DC and Atlanta. Her book, Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks, will be enlightening reading for anyone interested in creating a more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly transportation network.

Completing Our Streets focuses on the complex, political process by which project projects are chosen, planned and built. State and local transportation departments have accreted decades of rules and practices that tend to prioritize travel by motor vehicles. Federal funding streams flow predominantly toward projects focused on cars. A single new policy, by itself, will change very little in how business is done. Successful advocates have used Complete Streets policies as a wedge to get in the backrooms where many transportation decisions are made and to influence elected officials to put their weight behind a more multi-modal approach.

McCann explains that the Complete Streets movement is not about street design. Instead, practitioners and activists have changed the way projects are built by focusing on three strategies: reframe the conversation; build a broad base of political support; and provide a clear path to a multi-modal process. McCann shares stories of practitioners in cities and towns from Charlotte, North Carolina to Colorado Springs, Colorado who have embraced these strategies to effect fundamental change.

Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks will be published by Island Press on October 14. Parts of the book are being excerpted on Smart Growth America’s website.

In Fairfax, FABB has seen how successful we can be when advocates are fully engaged in the many different facets of transportation planning. In Tysons, FABB volunteers have participated in all of the major processes that have gone into redeveloping Fairfax’s new “downtown” around transit – processes that have been unfolding for longer than FABB has existed. FABB mobilized when original plans for new bridges over the Beltway HOT lanes excluded bicyclists and pedestrians, leading to significant improvements.

These can be very drawn-out processes with twists and turns and setbacks, but patience and persistence pay off. Join us at the Fairfax Bike Summit on November 2 to learn more about how each of us can make change happen.

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