Communities: Chicago, IL; Houghton, MI; Denver, CO; and New Orleans, LA
Since the 1950s, streets have been designed for automobile transportation, engineering physical activity out of the built environment. This emphasis on cars can create challenges for pedestrians and cyclists, for those who want or need to take public transportation, and for anyone simply wanting to cross a busy street. “Complete streets” is a strategy that makes streets friendlier for all users. While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to complete streets, roads designed using complete streets concepts may include bike lanes, sidewalks, accessible and attractive public transportation stops, special bus lanes, and safe road-crossings. Complete streets policies are being passed in many jurisdictions across the U.S. (see this map). These policies, often in the form of resolutions or ordinances, help to ensure that complete streets concepts, such as those mentioned above, are incorporated into future road building efforts. The Community Guide, which reviews public health evidence, recommends roadway design standards, infrastructure projects to increase the safety of street crossings, and use of traffic calming approaches, such as speed bumps and traffic circles, to increase physical activity. We now recognize the importance of streets that support active and multi-modal transportation. Several Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities Community Partnerships are leveraging the power of complete streets to reduce childhood obesity.
Chicago, IL: Temporary Road Diet becomes Permanent
Through strong relationships with the Chicago Department of Transportation (DOT) and with a local Alderman, the Chicago HKHC partnership has begun to introduce “Park Zones” in Chicago. With the leadership from 26th Ward Alderman Roberto Maldonado, a traffic calming treatment has been installed on a half mile stretch of Humboldt Blvd, which divides the 200-acre Humboldt Park. On this stretch of road, the average car traveled 40 miles per hour, not a safe place for kids to play. Alderman Maldonado invested $22,000 of his ward budget to pilot a temporary road diet in the fall of 2010, reducing traffic from two lanes to one lane in each direction. This physical change also provides a pedestrian refuge – an island – in the middle of the road, as well as three landscaped planters. In July of 2011, the Chicago DOT installed this intervention permanently using $187, 000 of Alderman Maldonado’s budget to support the changes. In addition, the HKHC partnership received a small grant from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children (CLOCC) to work with an engineering firm to assess the area and propose a multi-phase plan for traffic calming within and around the whole park, ultimately making it a “Park Zone.” These efforts help residents and other park users safely access the park’s facilities and opportunities for physical activity.
Houghton, MI: Complete Streets Policy Win in the Upper Peninsula
In 2010, Houghton City Council passed a Bike Friendly Community resolution, a bike-parking addendum to its zoning ordinances, and, after a process of committee work and public hearings, a Complete Streets ordinance. Houghton became the sixth Michigan city, and first in the rural Upper Peninsula region, to adopt a Complete Streets ordinance. As of July 2011, Michigan led the nation in local Complete Streets policies enacted, with 7 ordinances and 41 resolutions. Ordinances such as Houghton’s specify that all new roads and renovation projects must be designed to accommodate the needs of pedestrians, cyclists and transit users. Houghton is also one of 158 cities nationwide designated as a Bike Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Next up for Houghton’s bike task force is starting work on an Active Transportation Plan, a guiding document that will provide recommendations for transportation projects that reflect the needs of pedestrians, cyclists, transit users and people with disabilities. The Complete Streets ordinance is one important factor that will make it that much easier for residents of Houghton to incorporate activity into their daily lives.
Denver, CO: A Key Piece of the Active Living Puzzle
In May of 2011, Denver’s Manager of Public Works signed a new Complete Streets Policy into effect. This policy will further complement the coordinated work already happening in Denver to promote active transportation. Denver’s Living Streets Task Force, a Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities partner, worked to raise the profile of complete streets concepts in Denver and ensure the passage of the complete streets policy. The policy establishes a procedure regarding how Public Works will incorporate complete streets concepts and decision-making into future planning, design, and construction of Denver’s transportation infrastructure. This policy supports the goals and objectives of Denver’s Strategic Transportation Plan, Greenprint Denver, Blueprint Denver, Strategic Parking Plan, and Denver Moves as they create a “more sustainable and multimodal transportation system.”
New Orleans, LA: Making the Case for Complete Streets when Rebuilding
The New Orleans HKHC Partnership – the KidsWalk Coalition – recently published Stepping to School: An assessment of neighborhood walkability and solutions for a safer, healthier New Orleans. With the release of this report, the KidsWalk Coalition is now disseminating the results of the walkability assessment in order to educate and engage key communities. One of its many goals is for the City of New Orleans to adopt a Complete Streets ordinance, but planning and timing are everything in order for this to happen. The release of the assessment report builds the case for improve walking and biking infrastructure. Some improvements – such as sidewalk repairs and the addition of bicycle paths and signage – are steadily being made through a unique partnership with the City of New Orleans’ Department of Public Works. But with much of the city and its infrastructure remaining to be rebuilt, a Complete Streets policy would ensure the city capitalizes on its opportunity to reshape its physical environment. The KidsWalk Coalition is playing a key role in making sure that the rebuilding process means more pedestrian and bike friendly streets for New Orleans’ youth and everyone else.
Although these four HKHC partnerships are in different phases of their complete streets work, in each example it is clear that context is everything – whether it’s the relationship with the Alderman, the interdepartmental coordination, or the rebuilding that is necessary after a devastating hurricane. Each of these opportunities allows complete streets advocates to frame their support for this policy based on local needs, context, and examples. Now that many of these partnerships have complete streets policies in place, the process of implementation is sure to uncover even more complete streets wisdom.
• The National Complete Streets Coalition helps to promote the adoption of complete streets policies at the local, state, and federal levels and provides a number of resources on its website.
• The National Policy and Legal Assistance Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity (NPLAN) has a number of resources on complete streets.
• The American Planning Association (APA) has published a podcast on complete streets.