Thursday, December 13, 2012

Everyone Wins with Complete Streets

Sierra Club Complete Streets Training

Minneapolis, Minnesota 
December 7-9, 2012

….a complete streets approach offers the perfect intersection of my twin guideposts: safety and livable communities.” – Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, Nov. 17, 2009

A future free from our reliance on dirty oil means tackling some of our toughest transportation and mobility problems.  Currently, Americans are struggling with the health, climate and economic costs of our car-centric society.  The solution is to make our streets safe for everybody with green transportation choices – walking, biking, and public transit -  which will reduce our community’s oil use (and help address the climate crisis) because people want to, and will walk, bike and take transit when these options are safe and convenient.  Many U.S. cities are beginning to make wise investments in infrastructure that balance the competing needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders and motorists.  These changes have come about because of a recent shift in transportation planning practices that now focus on complete streets. A complete street is safe, comfortable, and convenient for travel via automobile, foot, bicycle and transit. Complete streets policies provide for everyone, regardless of age or ability, by ensuring that the entire right-of-way is designed and planned for all users. 

Complete streets create more choices, shorten travel times, and encourage less carbon-intensive transportation.

This paradigm shift is due in part to a growing grassroots movement to pressure our local transportation agencies to make smart transportation and land use decisions.  Citizens are getting involved, building relationships with local decision-makers, and voicing their concerns about their community mobility.

That is why the Sierra Club’s Green Transportation campaign convened their first ever Complete Streets Training December 7-9, 2012.  Activists were hand-selected from across the U.S. to attend this training that focused on the following objectives:
  1. Understanding complete streets policy and the process through which transportation planning and funding decisions are made.
  2. Learning basic skills for how to launch and run a grassroots Complete Streets campaign.
  3.  Next steps for how to build cohesive complete streets movement at both the national and local level. 
Why should we all be joining the movement for complete streets? Because it’s the right thing to do.

One-third of all Americans are not able to drive because of age (older and younger), income, or ability. Therefore, complete streets benefit more than just the average recreational walker or biker; it provides safe access for all commuters.  This has the added benefit of reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT), oil consumption, obesity, and economic inequality (more people can afford transportation with complete streets).  There is also a growing movement that recognizes the added benefits that complete streets has on quality of life, smart growth and environmental sustainability as an economic engine.   

Know enough to ask hard questions.

In order to bring about the needed change at the grassroots level, it is necessary to understand transportation and land use planning so that we can know how to ask the right questions.  Historically, transportation planners and engineers primary responsibility is moving cars as efficiently as possible from point A to point B – and they've done well.  However, the age of the automobile is beginning to sunset which means we have new range of problems to solve.  This is why organizers of the Sierra Club Complete Streets training invited transportation experts to provide complete streets and engineering 101 crash course.  Attendees learned everything from complete streets guiding principles, to the nuts and bolts of transportation policy – decision-making, designing roads, funding, implementation, interfacing with engineers, and “talking the planners talk.” 

We learned that a shift to complete streets requires the following:
  •  Updating design guidelines to embrace best practices for planning and zoning
  •  Restructuring procedures for public input
  • Updating the performance measures for roads 
  • Seeking opportunities for improvements i.e. "piggy-back" on other projects 
  • Collecting and analyzing data
  • Continually educating and advocating for equal access for all users

Organizing to win and building alliances. 

Sierra Club Florida Organizer Britten Cleveland demonstrates a
"one-on-one" as a tool to build campaign leadership teams
Transportation is not unlike any other environmental or political issue in the sense that it requires grassroots organizing: individual people acting together to affect change in our communities. Luckily, this is what Sierra Club does best.  The complete streets training focused on building the skills necessary to build relationships to change the balance of power and win concrete improvements in people’s lives. The overarching theme of the weekend was movement building through partnerships built by uncovering shared values. Understanding how to reveal the values that inspire action through emotion is a skill that can help us build community and solidarity.

Complete streets work involves building alliances with a variety of stakeholders because transportation affects each of us differently.  So, we must ask ourselves, and one another: what brings you to the table and how can we work together to achieve our common goals?  We need to learn to be good partners, respect and acknowledge differences, listen to what matters to potential allies and seek ways to be mutually supportive.

Interested in becoming involved in a complete streets campaign in Florida? Contact in the Tampa Bay area or in Southwest Florida.  Even if you live outside of these locations, we can connect you with fellow transportation activists that may be active in your area. 

     The Sierra Club Green Transportation Campaign is working to launch a complete streets activist network that has the skills and knowledge necessary to build grassroots campaign in communities that need better access to safe, efficient, and clean transportation.