In most cases, communities want to do the right thing when it comes to helping to make sure their transportation system works for all users. City officials and planners recognize that not only is that important from a safety perspective, it makes good sense from the standpoint of moving people more efficiently, whether in cars, on a bus, on foot or on a bike.
But at the same time, those towns and cities are often financially challenged in their ability to fully update and rebuild streets, sidewalks and bicycle routes to help safely move all those users around the community. While towns and cities have resources do this, additional funding can help move the process along.
Recognizing that fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) in Massachusetts played a key role in working with a coalition to get that state to approve funding for implementing complete streets projects at the municipal level. The funding will help assure that complete streets principals, which are designed to enable safe, convenient and comfortable travel and access for users of all ages and abilities regardless of their mode of transportation, are incorporated in municipal street and road construction and reconstruction throughout the state.
Existing law in Massachusetts requires complete streets principals to be incorporated into all state-based roadway and bridge work and development projects, including new construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, repair, maintenance, and operations projects. However, at the municipal level, where there is no complete streets requirement, there is often a mishmash of sometimes dangerous street and road design throughout the state.
Allyson Perron, senior government relations director for the AHA, says that the coalition working on the funding effort recognized early on in the process that they had to do more than just encourage municipalities to implement complete streets policies; they had to provide secure additional dollars that complement the dollars already available.
“When it comes to policies like complete streets, towns and cities have latitude to use their existing funding so streets and sidewalks can be accessible for all users, including people who are walking and biking. That said, additional funding from the state can only help make the community safer,” she says.
The result was that in 2014 the Massachusetts General Court (that state’s legislative body) allocated $12.5 million, through a bonding bill, to help implement complete streets in municipalities. The funding, which was allocated in 2015, could be used for both design and construction, allowing the state to support communities that are advancing complete streets.
In 2016, that financial commitment was further increased with the approval by the governor’s office of $10 million per year, through the state’s capital improvement plan, for technical assistance and construction grants over a five-year period. That $50 million investment will be critically important because more than 200 Massachusetts communities have already taken complete streets training programs.
The municipal-based complete streets funding in Massachusetts is important from a public-safety perspective. From 2003 to 2012, 716 people were killed while walking in that state due, in large part, to unsafe conditions. Of all traffic deaths, pedestrians account for 18 percent in Massachusetts.
But the funding will do more than enhance safety – it will also support public health. The complete streets policy and supporting funding will be a significant tool in that state’s efforts to help improve the health of its citizens, and decrease rates of chronic disease that has occurred due to increasing levels of obesity and overweight, brought on, in part, by sedentary lifestyles.
The funding will be especially important to the effort to help end health disparities in Massachusetts. The policy’s stated objectives include promoting regional equity by ensuring program dollars are distributed as equally as possible among different community types, and working to advance mobility goals for low and moderate income residents.
Perron believes that in addition to safety and health, the funding will also eventually result in enhanced economic opportunities for many communities.
“Funding for complete streets at the municipal level will help insure that Massachusetts communities are more walkable and bikable,” she says. “That will also result in economic development opportunities because walkable and bikable communities create an atmosphere that makes downtowns more accessible and safer.”