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Implementing Complete Streets Policies

Success stories from Vermont, Hawaii, Indiana and Washington state

Mature Couple, Walking, Neighborhood, Livable Communities

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Mature couple walking on sidewalk in neighborhood. Complete Streets are usable by pedestrians, as well as by cars.

Complete Streets policies are new laws, ordinances and executive orders that enable states, cities and towns — and their planners and engineers — to build road networks that “are safer, more livable, and welcoming to everyone,” according to the National Complete Streets Coalition.

This case study, titled "The Road Ahead: Implementing Complete Streets Policies" and prepared by AARP Education & Outreach, shares the stories of successful implementations of Complete Streets policies by AARP state offices. The report reviews the actions taken and lessons learned in Vermont, Hawaii, Indiana and Washington state.

Key Points

There are many reasons communities adopt Complete Streets policies. The different advocacy approaches shared here all succeeded because the key partners identified the messages and information that spoke to leaders and stakeholders within their community.

For some, the focus was about health and obesity. For others, safety, bicycling and children were of primary importance. Still others focused on mobility, business development and growth.

In almost all of the cases the motivation behind advocating for Complete Streets policies was the same: “Let’s improve our own community for the betterment of all.”

Some of the lessons learned from these states include:

1. Build a coalition broader than your own focus

Complete Streets is about biking, walking, livability, aging in place, health, sustainability and children. The more organizations and groups involved, the more likely elected officials will take action. Be mindful, too, of the politics and reputations of various partner organizations.

2. Plan on being in for the long haul, but look for shorter term “wins” that demonstrate what it means for a community to have a complete street

The planning process for new streets and roadways is long. Modifying existing streets and intersections takes time, too. Be prepared for the Complete Streets process to take months and years, not days and weeks. To help maintain momentum, look for and celebrate early successes.

3. Statewide or regional regulations need to be translated into specific actions for local decision makers to embrace and implement

At the end of the day, everyone involved in Complete Streets policies wants to know, “What’s in this for me, or my community?” Make sure that question is answered.

How To Use

The AARP Complete Streets case study can help community planners and local government officials pursue Complete Street initiatives in their communities. By demonstrating that many approaches can be successful, this case study helps equip local planners with options for determining a course forward.

Research published Fall 2013

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