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Complete Streets:  An Economic Analysis Beyond Numbers

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Today's guest blogger is Scott Lane, Senior Transportation Planner at Stantec. Scott will be talking about the necessary  ingredients in achieving success for complete street projects.  Following the post is a link to his free webinar "Creating Value: Assessing the Return on Investment in Complete Streets" which may be  of benefit to both grant seekers and grant recipients.



What Are Complete Streets?

Complete streets integrate transit, automobile, bicycle, pedestrian travel in  street designs that promote  healthy lifestyles, increase opportunities, and improve overall mobility in safe attractive, and functional corridors where people want to be.


Key Steps for Complete Streets

These environments don’t happen by accident; there is a process to evaluate each corridor and each community it serves. Some of the key steps follow:

Understanding Success:   An important part of complete street design is developing an understanding of the communities through which a project traverses: do people here walk because they have no other choice of reliable transportation; is the corridor served by transit and how often is that option used; do the land uses surrounding the corridor serve automobiles or people; and do those uses include health-based clinics, food stores, schools, and other places that are vital to a community? Stantec often conducts a community exercise with stakeholders and others to help understand how to make the inevitable trade-offs that happen within a limited footprint of the road right of way. Without knowing the important of each mode of travel, current barriers to all travel modes, and conditions decisions tend to fall back to the current state or to what most transportation agencies and practitioners know best: vehicular delay.

Evaluating the Options:   Most practitioners understand level-of-service and other auto-oriented delay measures. In a vacuum of other analysis options, it is often the only metric that gets used at all. When evaluating the performance of a complete street initially, additional metrics can include quality level-of-service measurements, comparative transit-auto travel times, crash reduction potential, surveys, and other means to evaluate different design options. Again, the specific performance measures used to weigh options should derive from the definition of success  from the first step: the better defined that understanding of success is to the project team at the outset, the more likely they are to arrive at a sound solution that represents the needs of a specific community.

Working with Stakeholders:  One of our mantras in the complete street realm that we like to say often is that public engagement is crucial to people traveling by foot, bus, or bike since the travel experience is highly individualized and intimate. Traveling on foot compares to automobile travel like riding in a car compares to riding in an airplane: what people hear, see, and feel while walking, biking, or waiting for the bus is much more nuanced than what the same person experiences in a car. Therefore, detailed public engagement is vital to creating an understanding of the specific issues and needs within each community in order to translate those concerns into relevant recommendations.  Personal security, economic impacts to businesses, health-based impacts, and environmental resource considerations can be as important in some communities as travel times and crash reductions. These issues, which seem ancillary and “out of scope” to a lot of practitioners are often necessary, first-order gateways that have to be addressed before tackling the more focused mobility questions.


How to Assess Return Investment -The Webinar

The  National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America has been hosting a monthly webinar series "Implementation & Equity 201:  The Path Forward to Complete Streets.   In the  second installation   "Creating Value:  Assessing the Return on Investment in Complete Streets" Scott discusses how to do an economic analysis  that goes beyond numbers to get both community and decision maker buy in.  It is also of benefit to grant seekers and recipients.    To access it, simply click the box below which will take you directly to their website:


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Scott Lane in an Article About Complete StreetsAbout Scott:  Scott Lane is a senior transportation planner at Stantec, a global design and consulting company, specializing in such areas as engineering, architecture, environmental sciences and project management.  To learn more about Scott, visit his LinkedIn page or click on his name right below the title of the article.



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