Less than a year after the Transportation Planning Board adopted its regional policy endorsing "Complete Streets," most major jurisdictions in the region now have their own such policies in place aimed at providing adequate and safe access for all street users, according to a December 2012 survey of the TPB's member jurisdictions.
The survey found that ten of the counties, municipalities, and transportation agencies that are TPB members have Complete Streets policies in place, including all three state departments of transportation, Montgomery and Prince George's counties and the City of Rockville in Maryland, and Loudoun, Fairfax, and Arlington counties and the City of Alexandria in Virginia.
In the past year, three jurisdictions have adopted new Complete Streets implementation policies or updated existing policies, while five others are currently developing policies. A number of the surveyed agencies said that the TPB's regional policy prompted them to develop a policy or influenced the details of policies already under development.
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. The regional Complete Streets policy adopted by the TPB in May 2012 defines a Complete Street as one that "safely and adequately accommodates motorized and non-motorized users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, freight vehicles, emergency vehicles, and transit riders of all ages and abilities, in a manner appropriate to the function and context of the facility."
The regional policy encourages jurisdictions and agencies in the region to adopt their own Complete Streets policies or to revise existing policies to include the core elements and best practices associated with the approach. It also provides guidance and a checklist on key elements to include in a policy, such as establishing specific design standards while still permitting reasonable flexibility, and detailing the cases in which a specific project or roadway could be exempt from the requirements of the policy.
At the end of 2012, the TPB conducted a survey of its member jurisdictions to identify those that have adopted policies and to highlight key challenges that jurisdictions have faced in implementing their policies. The survey found that six out of ten jurisdictions with adopted policies are allocating funds to retrofit existing roadways. Six have budgeted funds for new projects that would advance Complete Streets principles.
On January 29, the TPB hosted a workshop for staff of local jurisdictions and transportation agencies to discuss their experiences with developing and implementing Complete Streets policies. More than 50 stakeholders attended the event, which featured presentations from the three state departments of transportation in the region as well as Arlington and Prince George's counties.
At the workshop, officials from the Virginia Department of Transportation explained that Virginia adopted a statewide policy in 2004, making it the first state in the region to do so. Several years later, VDOT conducted an audit to identify inconsistent implementation practices, and, in light of the results, further refined and clarified the policy and developed checklists to promote greater consistency in implementation.
Officials from the District of Columbia told workshop attendees that its policy, adopted in 2010, gathered and formalized many of the design standards already in places under existing policies and bicycle and pedestrian master plans and design manuals. The District's policy calls for a Complete Streets approach to apply to the transportation network as a whole, rather than to each and every street individually, recognizing that some corridors are meant to serve one primary travel mode over others. New York Avenue, for example, is specifically designed to prioritize motorized vehicles, while 14th Street in Columbia Heights has increasingly given space to bicyclists and pedestrians.
Finally, in Prince George's County, the countywide policy there includes a number of key elements identified in a 2008 study of pedestrian safety funded through the TPB's Transportation/Land-Use Connections (TLC) Program. The County, which approved the new policy in 2012, is seeking to make existing auto-oriented development patterns more pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly by strategically reallocating space on some county roads to non-motorized modes.
Since it was adopted in May 2012, the TPB's regional policy has caught the attention of environmental leaders concerned with the impacts of transportation on water quality. In December 2012, the Anacostia Watershed Restoration Partnership formally asked the TPB to adopt a regional "Green Streets" policy similar to its policy on Complete Streets. A Green Streets policy would promote design standards that seek to minimize negative impacts on water quality by better managing runoff from heavy rains. The TPB plans to host a workshop on Green Streets on April 8 to discuss the possibility of developing and adopting a regional policy.
As the TPB considers weighing in on Green Streets, the recent experience with Complete Streets provides a potential model for promoting local action through regional policy. The TPB survey of its member jurisdictions and the January 29 workshop both provide evidence that Complete Streets policies throughout the region are expanding and that regional information-sharing is making them more effective.