Ever been to a city that has the perfect ratio of bike lanes to pedestrian walkways to roads? Chances are, that city has implemented a Complete Streets policy—a formal policy that outlines a community’s plans to make streets safe for people using all modes of transportation. There are 488 Complete Streets policies in place across the U.S.; in 2012, cities, states, and regions passed 130 new policies.
This year, at least, the best new policies haven’t come from huge U.S. cities. With a few exceptions, smaller communities are making the most inroads. That’s according to The National Complete Streets Coalition, a project of development research and advocacy organization Smart Growth America. The Coalition ranked the top 10 Complete Streets policies of 2012 based on their performance in a number of "ideal elements," including a clear vision; access for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit passengers, trucks, buses and automobiles; street connectivity; design, and measurable performance standards.
"We’re making sure that when communities adopt Complete Streets policies that they’re thinking about what the next steps are going to be," says Stefanie Seskin, deputy director of the National Complete Streets Coalition. "It’s an accountability measure we’ve been pushing a lot."
These are the 2012 winners:
- 1. Indianapolis, IN
- 2. Hermosa Beach, CA (tie)
- 2. Huntington Park, CA (tie)
- 4. Ocean Shores, WA
- 5. Northfield, MN
- 6. Portland, ME
- 7. Oak Park, IL
- 8. Trenton, NJ
- 9 Clayton, MO
- 10. Rancho Cucamonga, CA
Indianapolis took the number one spot for a thoughtful, well-rounded policy. Says Seskin: "They are recognizing the needs of an aging population, and attracting and maintaining a younger generation. They spent a year or so working towards what Complete Streets means locally, how it would apply to their process. They’re thinking about how this works across their streets. People have options to get from destination to destination."
The city also plans to measure everything it’s doing, including transit stops that are accessible by sidewalk and curb ramps, crash rates, bike lane mileage, and more.
"Indianapolis is putting critical investments into our urban environment to make it more inviting to new businesses and residents," said Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in a statement. "Growing our workforce and attracting new talent requires Indianapolis to do everything possible to make our city a place where people easily can walk to amenities in their neighborhoods, bike and drive to and from work, and explore our many great attractions—a place where people want to call home."
It’s too soon, of course, to measure how well the Indianapolis Complete Streets policy is working. But we’ll be watching. For an example of a long-standing (since 2006) Complete Streets policy in a major city, check out what Chicago is doing.
As Seskin points out, it’s not just cities that can implement Complete Streets policies. "There are so many different kinds of jurisdictions that are really interested in this. We don’t view it as a big city only or a small community only kind of thing," she says.
But in many smaller communities, implementing the policies can be a struggle. If they don’t control the local roadways, it takes longer to make changes. And big infrastructure projects don’t come along as often as in big cities, so it can be a long time before the fruits of a Complete Streets policy are apparent.
"It’s a slow process," says Seskin. "We have over 500 communities with policies now, and it takes some time for projects to take hold."