Complete Streets Policies: Easy to Adopt and Easy to Ignore

More and more local governments are adopting complete streets policies. But gaps in implementation in these places suggests that the building of actual complete streets is dependent on a true culture shift. Angie Schmitt looks at the obstacles.

"If Ontario Street in Cleveland, Ohio, is any indication, a complete streets policy is no guarantee you’ll get a safe place to ride a bike, or even a comfortable place to walk." Cleveland is one of the 500 communities and states across the country with a complete streets policy on the books. But when the city recently resurfaced eight-lane Ontario Street, the only nod to the policy enacted by the traffic engineering department was the addition of "shared lane bike stencils, or sharrows." 

"And there you have it," says Schmitt. "A complete streets policy should be a fabulous thing that elevates safety, the economy, and social equity in cities, but it can also amount to nothing more than a few new rules that are easily ducked if officials don’t want to follow the spirit of the law."

"Having good city staff — people who are committed to seeing complete streets implemented and understand why it’s important — is crucial. Or, like Charlotte, you can develop and train a working group or committee to oversee the process."

“You have a lot of people that have been around for years that are used to doing things the way they have been doing them,” Stefanie Seskin at the National Complete Streets Coalition said. “You have to change the problem and make them understand they’re solving for a new problem.”

Full Story: Passing a Law Is the Easy Part: The Challenge of Building Complete Streets

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