Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, people across the country – from major cities to small towns and suburbs—have embraced Open Streets/Healthy Streets campaigns, where local streets are opened up to create space for people to safely bike and walk while staying physically distanced. As we wrote about back in April, open streets have served an essential function in making it safer for people to travel by foot, bike, and transit to essential jobs, grocery stores, and other critical destinations; they have also provided welcome opportunities to be physically active while parks and gyms are closed, and have given many people the chance to experience walking and biking around their community for the first time.
The pandemic has also laid bare—and exacerbated—the structural inequities that are pervasive throughout our neighborhoods and streets. Black, indigenous, Latinx, and low-income people are more likely to walk and bike out of necessity and also more likely to live, work, and travel on streets that are dangerous by design. It is easy for cities to identify high-crash corridors that see a disproportionate number of serious or fatal crashes involving people on foot or bike. They are usually on high-speed arterials and in areas of town that lack sidewalks and bike lanes; where the people walking are probably Black or Brown, people with disabilities, people who are elderly, and people who are poor. As former Streetsblog journalist Angie Schmitt writes in her new book, they are people who have fewer political resources to make their demands for reform heard.
These are the kinds of structural inequities that cannot be fixed by temporarily closing neighborhood streets to cars. They require policy-based commitments and investments over the long term to ensure that everyone has the same access to safe, walkable, and bikeable streets. To avoid going back to the status quo and make people-friendly, equitable street design a permanent fixture in transportation policy, planning, and funding, regional MPOs can pass strong Complete Streets policies. These policies require that each new road construction and reconstruction project are safe and comfortable for everyone. These policies ensure that governments routinely ensure that streets safely accommodate people walking, biking, and taking transit—as well as driving.
MPOs are already taking the lead on Complete Streets. In Hawaii, the Maui Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) is seeking artist proposals for a colorful intersection design after a successful Complete Streets Quick Build pilot project last year; in Tampa, Florida, Hillsborough County MPO just announced a roadmap to redesign a severe crash corridor after completing an analysis of pedestrian traffic patterns as part of a Complete Streets project.
Safe Routes Partnership has long been a champion of Complete Streets policies, partnering with experts like the National Complete Streets Coalition to share expertise and resources nationally and supporting advocates on the ground who are working to advance strong policies at the local, regional, and state level. Over the past ten years, we have been particularly focused on policy work at the regional level in targeted metropolitan areas that are part of the Regional Network Project, an initiative supported by Kaiser Permanente in Washington, DC, regions of Northern and Southern California, and the Pacific Northwest. Through this project, we advocated for healthy transportation options at the regional level by influencing policy, plans, and funding for large populations.
A new fact sheet, Influencing Complete Streets Policies at the Regional Level, draws on this experience to lay out success stories, best practices, and resources for anyone looking to plan, fund, and build safer, more convenient streets for biking and walking.
Stay tuned for two more fact sheets focused on promoting active transportation at the regional level; one will focus on regional planning and the other on funding opportunities.