New Complete Streets materials highlight best practices, assist practitioners

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Complete Streets—roads that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users—offer many benefits, including improved safety, mobility, accessibility, public health, and quality of life. However, much of the work surrounding Complete Streets to date has focused on creating policies and guidelines rather than investigating the processes and action steps needed to successfully implement projects.

Complete streetsIn an effort to fill this knowledge gap, researchers from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs have conducted a study on the planning and implementation of successful Complete Streets projects. Associate professor Carissa Schively Slotterback and research fellow Cindy Zerger have examined projects from 11 locations across the nation, including efforts at the regional, community, corridor, and project level.

“The goal was to look at what it takes to move a community from Complete Streets concept to Complete Streets project,” Slotterback says. “We wanted to identify the critical factors that need to be addressed to advance implementation while also acknowledging diverse contexts, goals, and constraints.”

One case study will feature a Complete Streets project from Charlotte, North Carolina.

The study, sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the Minnesota Local Road Research Board, included an investigation of six specific areas of best practices related to Complete Streets: framing and positioning, institutionalizing, analysis and evaluation, project delivery and construction, promotion and education, and funding.

Complete streets 2One of the most important overall findings, Slotterback says, is that thinking strategically about context is essential for success. “There’s really no silver bullet or perfect recipe that works in all communities or all organizations,” she says. “The unique characteristics of a place need to inform how we make decisions and implement Complete Streets.”

Other key findings resulted in the following recommendations:

  • Policy (if one exists) is just the start. Institutional and cultural changes that facilitate implementation are also necessary.
  • Be rationally opportunistic. Communities should know what they would most like to do but also be willing to take advantage of other opportunities that may arise.
  • Engage advocates. They can be especially important in education and outreach efforts.
  • Make the most of project champions. Whether they are elected officials, advocates, or staff, champions often push the hardest to get projects done.

Slotterback and Zerger are creating 11 case studies and a practitioner-oriented guidebook based on the study’s findings. The case studies provide detailed information on context, documentation, tools, timelines, and examples from each project community.

Case StudiesThe guidebook, a Guide to Complete Streets Planning and Implementation, is slated for completion in early fall. It will highlight policies, practices, designs, and community engagement strategies from the case studies and include suggestions for tailoring Complete Streets implementation to a particular context. These materials are designed to help practitioners in Minnesota apply best practices and lessons learned from other communities to their own projects.

Scott Bradley, director of context sensitive solutions at MnDOT, says the materials will help with planning and implementation at a variety of scales in Minnesota. “Much of the [other available] Complete Streets guidance material remains too general to suit the challenges we face,” Bradley says. “Information from this study, including the case studies from around the country, will help us better evaluate and inform multimodal concerns, opportunities, and trade-offs specific to a project’s context.”

Information from the study’s findings will also be integrated into MnDOT’s Complete Streets guidance, training, tools, and best practices as MnDOT continues its Complete Streets implementation efforts around the state, Bradley says.