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Prevention Institute

December 19, 2012

Making the Case for Complete Streets in Your Community
Rapid Response: Dialogue on Food and Activity

In California, there’s clear support and momentum for Complete Streets policies that support all modes of transportation – whether it’s walking, biking, or rolling. The passage of California’s 2008 Complete Streets Act committed locales to include Complete Streets language in general plan updates, and we’ve seen California communities from Sacramento to Boyle Heights pass Complete Streets policies in recent years. In the Bay Area, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission created a new regional platform that requires cities and counties receiving certain grant funds to pass Complete Streets policy resolutions.

At the same time, federal support for walkable and bikeable communities has weakened. With the June passage of a new federal transportation law, entitled Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century (MAP-21), bicycle and pedestrian funding was both cut and consolidated, creating a single fund for “transportation alternatives” that states can choose to opt out of. While the cuts to funding are disappointing, the new structure presents a clear opportunity for Californians to advocate that state and local governments fully utilize available funds to make biking and walking safer and more accessible.

Leveraging the media to build momentum for bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure can be an effective component of a strategy to generate support for Complete Streets policies. Yet, news coverage highlighting the need for Complete Streets, as well as local success stories, are barely visible in the media.

This week, we’re providing tips and examples from news stories, blogs, and media advocacy efforts that do a great job of making the case for Complete Streets.

  • Cue the environment when demonstrating the need for policy change.
    Media coverage of health issues tends to zoom in on individual responsibility for health outcomes, often overlooking the influence of environmental factors. When developing a media story aimed at building support for policy and environmental changes, it’s important to paint a picture of the places where people live, learn, work and play that demonstrates why healthy communities matter and how environments shape health and safety outcomes. This striking story from Ontario, Canada, vividly depicts the setting of the subject’s preventable death and sets the stage for policy change to improve the environment.

    The tragic and needless death of 87-year-old Kitty MacLeod, who died last Sunday while crossing Governors Road in Dundas, is another stark reminder that Hamilton immediately needs to focus on creating balanced, complete streets that are safe for everyone. For the past two years, the families of people staying in St. Joseph’s Villa, a long-term care facility near the intersection of Governors Road and Overfield Street, have been pushing the city to create a safe way for elderly residents to cross the street. Earlier this year, they submitted a 632-name petition asking for a crosswalk. In response, the city made plans for one — but not until five years from now, when road work is scheduled. (
    Kitty MacLeod died for lack of a crosswalk, The Hamilton Spectator, Ontario, Canada)

  • Communicate the multiple benefits of policy change.
    Media advocacy can raise the profile of Complete Streets, and can be used to convince local policymakers that Complete Streets policies are feasible solutions to an array of challenges that communities face. In tough economic times, advocates can make the case that Complete Streets policies make sense. Complete Streets
    make sense for our local economies, livable communities, and a transportation system that fits the needs of all community residents. In this Nation of Change piece, Prevention Institute’s Jeremy Cantor and Sandra Vieira illustrate how bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure supports not just population health but local economic health.

    A transportation system that’s good for health is also good for the economy. A recent study found that projects that support the development of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure--bike lanes, sidewalks, and trails for example--created 46% more jobs than road-only infrastructure. We can create jobs while investing in sustainable infrastructure projects.  What’s more, a recent report showed that this type of infrastructure has driven local economic development by increasing residential and commercial property values. Light rail, clean natural gas buses, bike paths and safe walking routes also give people a range of options for moving around and in many cases at a fraction of the cost of owning, operating and fueling up a car. That can all add up to more money in our pockets and our communities…..With all of the known benefits of a walkable and bikeable towns—why would we allow our state transportation dollars to just go into ‘business as usual’ projects? (
    We can’t drill or drive our way to health in Nation of Change)

  • Amplify real community voices.
    In early November, the Sacramento City Council approved adding bike lanes to a busy road that’s heavily traveled by students biking to school. This story featured the voices of youth from the community, including a high school student who outlined the dangers of biking on the heavily trafficked thoroughfare.

    “None of us really want to ride down Freeport [Boulevard],” he said. “We do it because we have to. We do it because it’s the fastest way to get to our school, because our school is on Freeport Boulevard… We’ve had students hit by cars. I haven’t been hit by a car yet, but I think one student hit by a car going to school is too many. Having a street where cars are going 40 mph where buses and bikers and cars are all going in the same place, this isn’t conducive to a safe learning environment.” (
    Freeport Bike Lane Project prevails at City Council in the Sacramento Press)

  • Provide visuals to demonstrate the need for policy change--and showcase success.
    By using compelling images such as photos, videos, or other visual representations, advocates can tell a powerful story about why policy change is needed, or capture a community’s success story. Through a photovoice project,
    Pueblo Active Community Environments collaborated with local residents, inviting them to share community images and corresponding stories that helped make the case for much-needed infrastructure to support walking and bicycling. In East Harlem, advocates filmed How Complete Streets Came to East Harlem to capture the experience of navigating the community's streets before and after Complete Streets implementation. This short film also includes the voices of a variety of East Harlem residents--from council members to coalition members to community residents--who benefit from Complete Streets changes.

Take Action: Media Advocacy in support of Complete Streets

  1. Pitch your community’s Complete Streets efforts to a local health or planning reporter. For tips on pitching your story to a reporter, visit the Strategic Alliance website.
  2. Bring media coverage in support of Complete Streets efforts to meetings with local elected officials and state representatives to demonstrate community momentum on the issue.
  3. Post a comment online in response to related coverage you’ve seen, or write a letter to the editor outlining the benefits of Complete Streets in your community.
  4. Connect with Strategic Alliance on Twitter (@Strat_Alliance) - we’ll be tweeting research, talking points, and community stories that help make the case for Complete Streets and other built environment policy changes.

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