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Completing the Promise of Complete Streets


More than 10,000 Leaders and Supporters have now raised their voice in support of Safe Routes to School programs, which help make it safe for students to walk or bicycle to school.

One of the hallmarks of Safe Routes programs are Complete Streets, transportation policies that aim to ensure streets are designed and built to make it safe for all people who use them, regardless of their mode of transportation. During last week’s 2013 Walking Summit in Washington, D.C., conference goers were abuzz about the growth of Complete Streets policies.

Consider this: Although Complete Streets policies were not adopted until a decade ago, there are now 488 policies in place nationwide. Complete Streets policies exist in 27 states, D.C., and Puerto Rico — and in 2012 alone, 125 communities adopted Complete Streets policies.

Because Complete Streets programs encourage people to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine, they are among the 18 policies supported by the new Voices for Healthy Kids initiative overseen by the American Heart Association and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The Complete Streets coalition recently awarded Indianapolis, Ind., with its award for best policy. Since 2009, Indy has successfully adopted 10 Complete Streets policies, covering 36 percent of Hoosiers. Encouraging people to add a little activity to their day is vital in Indiana, a state where 25.9 percent of residents say they have had zero activity in the past month.

During a panel discussion about Complete Streets, Indianapolis officials offered a few tips to help other communities advance Complete Streets policies of their own, including:

  • Having a local champion. Indy Mayor Greg Ballard is an avid bicyclist, which has led him to become a major supporter of Complete Streets.
  • Having a diverse coalition. Everyone has a stake in policies that support walking, the panelists noted. Communities should reach out to organizations such as the American Planning Association, along with local real estate agents and even aging-in-place advocates, who aim to help senior citizens stay active and independent.
  • Having solid data. Being able to show that Complete Streets policies will be effective and useful to the community will help inform and grow a coalition.

Complete Streets policies are part of the larger movement to increase walking among all Americans, conference goers noted. Other conference sessions focused on areas such as capacity building, engagement strategies, technical resources, funding streams and walkable commercial districts.

And since this was a walking conference, conference attendees took part in several walking tours of local neighborhoods.

Tyler Norris, vice president of total health partnerships at Kaiser Permanente, told the Inside Track that “nothing is going to stand in the way of the walking movement,” noting that an eclectic mix of groups are working to help and encourage people to walk more.

“In a democracy we can’t afford spectator sports,” he said. “To pull this off, we need every sector.”