Regional "Complete Streets" Policy Aims to Make Roadways Safer, Friendlier for All Users

May 21, 2012

The elected officials and transportation agency representatives who sit on the Transportation Planning Board agree: designing, building, and operating streets that enable safe access for all users and potential users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of diverse ages and abilities, should be a goal of every local jurisdiction and transportation agency in the Washington region.

By a nearly-unanimous vote at its May 16 meeting, the TPB adopted a resolution officially endorsing the elements of an approach to roadway design known as "Complete Streets" and encouraging local jurisdictions and transportation agencies to adopt new implementation policies or to revise existing policies to include the core elements and best practices associated with the approach.

The term "complete streets" has been part of the national conversation on transportation since 2005, when the National Complete Streets Coalition began promoting the approach under that name. Some laws requiring that roadways be built to accommodate users of modes other than automobile -- especially bicycling and walking -- have been in place since as far back as 1971, however, when the State of Oregon passed its "Bicycle Bill" stipulating that "footpaths and bicycle trails… shall be provided" as part of every transportation project.

Today, 26 states have adopted policies reflecting the spirit or core principles of "Complete Streets," as have 31 metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) like the TPB, and the federal government.

The TPB's pursuit of a regional "Complete Streets" policy began in June 2011, when its Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) requested that the TPB work to develop and approve a policy to encourage local jurisdictions to adopt policies calling for the safe accommodation of a range of users, where appropriate and feasible, in designing new roadways and making major improvements to existing roadways.

The CAC cited the value of "Complete Streets" in supporting already-established regional goals related to creating walkable, mixed-use communities, promoting public health and fitness, supporting economic activity and tourism, protecting the environment, and ensuring equitable access to the region's transportation system. It also pointed out that jurisdictions and transportation agencies could save money in the long run by integrating multi-modal accommodations into the design of transportation facilities from the beginning rather than facing expensive retrofits later.

In the Washington region, Virginia, Maryland, the District of Columbia, and several local jurisdictions have "Complete Streets" policies in place already -- or an implementation policy that includes key elements similar to those associated with "Complete Streets" -- but some local jurisdictions do not. So, in addition to its official policy statement endorsing the "Complete Streets" approach, the TPB approved a policy template that jurisdictions can use to take advantage of best practices in developing or revising their own policies.

To help the public follow the progress of local jurisdictions in adopting and implementing "Complete Streets" policies, the regional TPB policy also calls for local jurisdictions and the TPB to document and report which jurisdictions have adopted policies, which have built or made significant improvements to bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and whether new projects slated for construction conform to locally-adopted policies.

In adopting a regional "Complete Streets" policy, the TPB has taken a significant step toward making roadways in the Washington region safer and friendlier for travelers of diverse ages and abilities to get to work, to school, to medical appointments, or to any number of other important destinations.

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