3 ways complete streets policies provide social, economic, and physical equity

July 12, 2018 Mike Rutkowski

Smart Growth America has made a difference in the lives of thousands across the US—and we’re proud to help continue our support


I joined Stantec five years ago to help lead the firm’s complete streets initiative. At the time, we were a sponsoring firm of Smart Growth America and its National Complete Streets Coalition. This organization was (and still is) doing much to push along complete streets policies and concepts in the US, so in addition to the sponsorship, we became a board member. I was fortunate enough to be invited to help them in their training efforts. I jumped at the chance.  


Rendering of what complete streets concepts can accomplish.


Smart Growth offers many free and paid workshops to their partners and subscribers—many of which Stantec actively engages with as trainers. One specific workshop series is the Safe Streets Academy. This workshop series is designed to bring together three jurisdictions at a time to learn from national experts, collaborate, and discuss best practices in engineering, tactical _q_tweetable:When I began working with Smart Growth America, we had maybe 300 complete streets policies in America, today we have more than 1,300 adopted complete streets policies._q_urbanism, creative placemaking, and community engagement. A while ago I was fortunate enough to help Smart Growth organize events and was invited to work on one of these training sessions in Norfolk, Virginia. We proposed using some training elements that we use during outreach for complete streets projects at Stantec—like interactive polling with the audience and using “Walking Audit” case studies—and the group’s Executive Director, Emiko Atherton, wanted to incorporate it into the Safe Streets Academy workshops.  

The National Complete Streets Coalition receives grant money and then puts a call out for applications to participate in the Academy. Three cities or communities are then selected, and we bring them together to have group discussions about how they can make their streets safer and modal-friendly. Our latest session brought together the cities of Orlando, Florida, Lexington, Kentucky, and South Bend, Indiana.

Another training we’re involved with is the Complete Streets Consortium Series. The Consortium Series is an opportunity for three communities from the same state to work closely together to implement complete streets—streets that are safe and accessible for people of all ages and abilities. The first award went to three cities in Tennessee (Nashville, Knoxville, and Chattanooga). Each city has a two-day event to discuss their issues, and the other cities are encouraged to attend. We’ve found that the larger group allows the cities to not only learn from the national complete streets trainers but from each other, and with common interest.


A demonstration project of neighborhood traffic calming in South Bend, Indiana.


Why is it important to develop complete streets in our communities? 

  • The value of making a community attractive and safe is growing. The National Association of Realtors just published a survey of real estate buyers and asked if they’d be willing to live in a smaller unit (potentially give up their car) if they lived in an area that was walkable to the amenities they wanted … coffee shops, pizza places, movie theaters. Guess what? 54% said they would go for the smaller unit with walkabililty.
  • As demand increases for bicycle and pedestrian-friendly communities, we need education in place for planners, urban designers, and engineers on how to integrate and implement a complete streets project for their community. Much of these projects usually involve retrofitting an existing “bad” roadway (i.e., congested, unsafe, or economically depressed). Often, practitioners aren’t sure where to start, and, honestly, it’s complicated. Everybody understands why complete streets are important for health, economic vitality of a corridor, and choices in modality. But they don’t know how to start the process to retrofit these corridors, so our team walks them through that process and helps them understand priorities and limitations and then look at trade-offs because you can’t have everything for everyone.
  • We’re providing a connectedness within the community. The more choices we can provide for an individual to do business, travel, work, or play, the more we create an environment that is better connected and more resilient in its infrastructure, providing what’s needed for the long-term.


Mike Rutkowski and Emiko Atherton of Smart Growth America at a training event.


And, it’s important that we monitor and follow up with the communities we help. When I began working with Smart Growth America, we had maybe 300 complete streets policies in America, and today we have more than 1,300 adopted complete streets policies. I’m honored to work with an organization that is making a difference, spreading awareness, and educating people on how to implement and create equity within our communities.

And the workshops Smart Growth is doing are making a major difference. For example, the project we worked on with leaders in Lexington during the Safe Streets Academy has resulted in a remarkable outcome, thanks to their individual efforts. Our work involved examining a dangerous intersection at Loudon and Bryan avenues in North Lexington, with the intent of identifying solutions to make the streets safer and more accessible. The changes, rolled out as a demonstration project, include eliminating some turn lanes, median use, adding marked pedestrian crosswalks and rerouting traffic onto other streets. The $43,000 cost of the project is funded by a grant from the National Complete Streets Coalition.

And the demonstration project has been successfully received by the community. I see this model of testing out solutions through a demonstration project as something that will be embraced by many communities. It gives them the chance to test performance before installing anything on a permanent basis, in a very cost-effective way.

I’m excited to continue my journey with Smart Growth as we help move people (not just cars) safely. Why? It impacts health, safety, beauty, and economic vitality of a community and to me, that makes complete streets policies a no brainer.

About the Author

Mike Rutkowski

Mike Rutkowski sees transportation projects as more than just roads; he sees them as multi-modal havens for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists alike.

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