National Complete Streets Coalition

Changing Procedure and Process

“Complete Street design should be understood as a process, not a specific product.” — Major and Collector Street Plan, Nashville

Changing the everyday processes that guide decision-making is at the heart of the Complete Streets movement. Changing the way planners and engineers do their jobs on a day-to-day basis is challenging, but is essential if Complete Streets plans or new design manuals are to do more than collect dust.

Implementing Complete Streets successfully requires inclusive decision-making processes. In many communities, Complete Streets implementation is delayed, or even derailed, by ‘silos’ that have been built within and between agencies. Such silos keep departments working independently from, and sometimes at odds with, each other — meaning the Complete Streets vision is interpreted differently or ignored completely. Simply bringing the right people together to discuss projects in light of Complete Streets is an important procedural step. It requires attention to who is involved with transportation projects as well as who should be involved. A committee can become a forum for this collaboration, so long as it includes representation from appropriate agencies and can influence their actions. Such committees are great for specific tasks, such as creating a specific plan or document.

Project-level teams that bring together many departments or agencies can also be influential in ensuring major work is done in the spirit of a Complete Streets policy. Such an approach is used in communities such as Seattle and Duluth, Minnesota. More sophisticated public involvement strategies should be employed by project-level teams, including design charrettes and regular interaction with residents and business owners.

To change processes, implementing agencies must review the rules, procedures, and habits that have typically guided them. Facilites for bicycling, walking, and taking and operating public transportation are simply not in some plans, codes, manuals, and other guiding documents. They can, and must, be added. Some communities do this systematically by reviewing all documents that might affect transportation. Others work through pilot projects, finding the issues that must be corrected as they work through the project.

Implementing Complete Streets requires that the maintenance and operation procedures be updated to look beyond automobile movement. Commonly, the only criteria for selecting and designing these projects is pavement condition and keeping costs low. However, such projects are often the most important — and frequent — opportunities to quickly create change within communities, since larger construction and reconstruction projects may take years to plan. Changes made during maintenance and operations adjustments are often inexpensive and tied to work that is already necessary. Many communities are now planning ahead for restriping of roadways following repaving and looking for opportunities to incorporate bicycle lanes, clearer pedestrian crossings, or improved parking. Communities can revise their paving plans so citizen groups and city planners can use the upcoming opportunities to suggest changes.

An agency committed to Complete Streets will need to make changes to the way it selects its transportation projects. Communities that rely on automobile Level of Service (LOS) should consider alternatives, such as relaxing LOS standards in some areas or at certain times; creating a different type of LOS that applies to all other modes; or switching to entirely different measurements such as Auto Trips Generated. Communities with mode-specific plans should coordinate those efforts via an overarching street prioritization map and ensure that small improvements can be made on every project, not just on major routes identified in the documents. Agencies, especially Metropolitan Planning Organizations, can also employ a points system in selecting projects that reward multimodal inclusion. Equity — ensuring projects are distributed across neighborhoods regardless of income or ethnicity — must also be considered so as to avoid building out a great network in one neighborhood but nothing in the next.

Often, the most effective way to overcome barriers is to simply create new systems. Broadly, three commonly pursued tactics are: developing a strong exceptions review process; adopting project-specific checklists; and creating a new project development process. Complete Streets policies should spell out specific exceptions to the policy’s application, and successful implementation requires a system to determine when and how those exceptions are made. Checklists remind or require planners and engineers to consider the needs of all users as they go about their work, helping to provide appropriate solutions based on transportation and land use needs; collect and share information between departments; and illuminate the decisions to the public. By themselves, checklists are usually not enough to fundamentally change transportation planning. Communities can bring all the procedural changes together by creating entirely new step-by-step project development processes. The best known example is the six-step process created by the Charlotte Department of Transportation in their Urban Street Design Guidelines. The process starts by evaluating the existing land use and transportation context of the project; moves on to identifying gaps and deficiencies and defining future objectives; and then recommends a street classification and deliberates the tradeoffs that might need to be made.

Possible Activities

  • Create a list of all documents to be updated to be consistent with the Complete Streets policy.
  • Modify department procedural documents. May include:
    • Checklists.
    • Decision trees.
    • Standard operating procedures.
    • Project development steps or phases.
  • Include non-transportation departments (e.g. planning, environment) that have a role in street planning, design, operations, or maintenance or participates in the updating of:
    • Utilities’ street documents.
    • Plans, including neighborhood, area, redevelopment, urban forestry/street tree, and/or comprehensive plans.
    • Transit agency’s street and planning documents.
  • Prioritize multi-modal projects by:
    • Awarding points or otherwise prioritizing multimodal projects in project selection criteria.
    • Formally prioritizing multimodal projects in the capital improvement program (CIP) or transportation improvement program (TIP or STIP).
    • Prioritizing projects that are identified as closing gaps in the multimodal network.
  • Change or create new project procedures at the following phases:
    • Planning,
    • Programming (including CIP/TIP decisions),
    • Scoping,
    • Design,
    • Construction,
    • Operation, and
    • Maintenance.
  • Ensure changes apply to all project types, including:
    • New construction,
    • Retrofitting/reconstruction,
    • Repair,
    • Resurfacing/restoration/rehabilitation,
    • Bridges,
    • Privately built roads,
    • Master planned neighborhoods and planned unit developments,
    • Infill,
    • Greenfield, and
    • Transit.
  • Establish a process for allowing exceptions to the Complete Streets policy.
  • Name a specific entity for approving exceptions (e.g., transportation director, city council, other committee or staff).
  • Provide staff the decision-making power to be flexible and consider the land use context.
  • Adopt or update relevant plans, such as:
    • Bicycle Master Plan,
    • Pedestrian Master Plan,
    • Transit Master Plan,
    • Non-Motorized Network Plan,
    • Transportation Plan,
    • Major Street Plan, and/or
    • General or Comprehensive Plan.
  • Adopt or update relevant policies, including:
    • Education policies and activities,
    • Encouragement policies and activities,
    • Enforcement policies and activities, and
    • Multimodal Level of Service guidelines and criteria.
  • Require consultants to use Complete Streets approach in project scope and/or consultant contracts.

Best Practices

  • Encourage stronger relationships between departments, with citizens, and with elected officials.
  • Try easier, smaller projects or those with obvious, visible benefits first.
  • Keep a network approach in mind when selecting the first projects. New facilities won’t be well used if they don’t connect to destinations or other routes.
  • Document results of early projects, including before-and-after studies of safety benefits if possible.




Funding Priority Systems



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