Complete Streets: Closing the Gap between Policy and Practice

November 12, 2013

Across the country, hundreds of communities have embraced Complete Streets policies as a way to foster safer streets that serve everyone, not just drivers. But individual projects and general policies aren't enough: transportation agencies often struggle to reform decades of rules, practice, and politics that prioritize cars. Barbara McCann, founding director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, has dug into what it takes to upend the way every transportation project is conceived, planned, and evaluated so each provides for people walking, bicycling, or taking the bus. In her new book, Completing Our Streets: The Transition to Safe and Inclusive Transportation Networks (Island Press, 2013), she shares the stories of the places and people that have succeeded in reinventing the way they build streets.

McCann debunks two common ideas: that changing transportation is all about new design standards and that change will come if only we can really nail the facts about the benefits of a multi-modal network. Instead, she discusses how planners, engineers, and advocates have changed auto-oriented systems by focusing on three strategies: reframing the way we think about streets, building a broad base of support, and creating a clear path to a multi-modal process. McCann discusses the challenges of determining how to prioritize pedestrians, bicycle riders, buses, and cars, and the concerns about the cost of complete streets compared to their traditional alternatives.

In her talk, McCann discussed what she learned about why Complete Streets too often fail and what can be done to close that gap between policy and practice. She shared the stories of practitioners in cities and towns from Charlotte, North Carolina, to Colorado Springs, Colorado, who have made four fundamental changes in the way transportation projects are chosen, planned, and built.

PowerPoint presentation (ppt)

PDF of PowerPoint presentation (pdf)

Barbara McCann

Barbara McCann

Barbara McCann served as the founding executive director of the National Complete Streets Coalition, working with groups from AARP to the YMCA to develop and advance the adoption of policies to make streets safe for all users. More than 500 jurisdictions, including more than half the states, have now adopted Complete Streets policies. She is also a co-author of Sprawl Costs and author of Measuring the Health Effects of Sprawl, the first research report documenting the relationship between sprawl and obesity. She lives in Washington, D.C.