In cities around the U.S., there’s a growing awareness that streets are meant for more than just cars, and in fact, that streets should be safe places no matter what form of transit you choose, whether you’re a pedestrian, cyclist, bus rider, skateboarder, or pogo-stick jumper (okay, maybe not the latter).
The National Complete Streets Coalition puts out a measure every year on just how well cities are doing at forming so-called "complete streets" policies that consider these various modes of transport as equals in transportation planning.
This year’s list shows marked growth in cities adopting this progressive way of thinking about transit. (We covered last year’s list here.) In 2013, according to the coalition’s report released today, 83 jurisdictions adopted complete streets policies—making it a total of 610 that have done so over the years. "The majority of policies are in smaller suburban communities again this year. I think those are good things. There’s this mischaracterization of the complete streets idea as applying to big cities," says Stefanie Seskin, deputy director of the coalition, a project of Smart Growth America.
Here is the group’s ranking of the top 10 complete streets policies in 2013, based on metrics including vision, design, and clear performance measures:
- Littleton, MA
- Peru, IN
- Fort Lauderdale, FL
- Auburn, ME
- Lewiston, ME
- Baltimore County, MD
- Portsmouth, NH
- Muscatine, IA
- Piqua, OH
- Oakland, CA
- Hayward, CA, Livermore, CA, and Massachusetts Dept. of Transportation (tie)
The top community, Littleton, Massachusetts, got to number one for its clear look at how the idea of complete streets would work for them, how it would be implemented, and how it could work with other jurisdictions to make sure streets were safe beyond the 9,000-person town’s small borders. Last year’s list included many cities in California, this year, there is much more geographic diversity. "It really speaks to the breadth of what’s happening here," says Craig Chester, with Smart Growth America.
One interesting development, says Seskin, is that more and more policies, such as the one recently created by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, are considering public health as a primary motivation. The growing awareness that transportation can be about promoting active lifestyles, and not just getting from Point A to B, is leading to a broadening of the policy conversation, she says.
Another positive change compared to last year is that more policies adopted include specific steps of actions to take, rather than simply vague commitments, says Seskin. But a lot more needs to be done, especially for improved policies at the state and federal level that support local work.
"A lot of [cities] do face issues of conflicting guidance with what they want to do and that the state says is possible to do with funding," says Seskin. "States really need to step up their game...and there’s certainly a role for improved federal guidance," she says, noting that Congress is considering the Safe Streets Act.
Still, just as the public is becoming more open to getting out of their cars, so are the equally important people who work in transportation policy and planning. "I think in five to 10 years, it will be just regular parlance among engineers and planners. I think cities will spend more time figuring out that we can be something more than cities that you drive through," says Seskin.