We’re launching an exciting project that will combine the transportation expertise of the National Complete Streets Coalition with a powerful public health framework for creating healthier environments: Policy, Systems, and Environmental Change – or PSE for short. (Check out this presentation (.pdf) from the Minnesota Department of Health for more on PSE.)
The Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW) program of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is using this model to fight tobacco use and obesity – and many of the 52 funded communities have chosen Complete Streets as a primary policy initiative. We are excited to be partnering with CDC to provide technical assistance to these communities within the PSE framework.
The ‘Policy’ piece of the three step process is pretty obvious: adoption of Complete Streets policies help create the political will to change the built environment to create a safe environment for active travel. We will be working with communities to help them draft Complete Streets policies through our interactive one-day Policy Development workshops. We’ll also be reviewing proposed complete streets policy language and helping find the right avenue for its adoption.
In the next step, Systems change, we already focus on how to shift the everyday practices and create lasting institutional change inside transportation agencies. We will be educating CPPW grantees about the four steps needed for effective implementation: creation of new procedures to include all users early in the project development process; new design standards; new training in both design and procedures; and new project selection and evaluation criteria that reflect complete streets goals. We will offer our Complete Streets Implementation Workshops to communities that have policies and still need to put those systems in place. We will also be delivering topical webinars and arranging peer learning opportunities the address specific implementation issues.
The third step, Environmental change, is really the fruit of our labor. If we’ve gotten the polices and systems right, we know that Complete Streets leads to the system-wide environmental changes that ultimately lead to more physical activity. For example, in Charlotte, North Carolina, their 2004 Complete Streets Policy has led to using existing transportation dollars to rebuild nine thoroughfare to complete streets standards – with 17 more underway. The city has completed 19 streetscape and road conversions (8 underway); 11 intersection revamps (8 underway); and 37 miles of new sidewalks – with 66 more on the way. Surely all this activity helped more people reach the new Charlotte light rail line – and a recent study of the effect of the built environment and the rail line found that the new line is associated with increased physical activity, reduction in the incidence of obesity, and reduction in the odds of becoming obese.
For the CPPW communities, we’ll be working with them on establishing ways to track and evaluate the progress of transportation projects undertaken under the new policies – and will be encouraging before and after evaluations to measure the results.
The exciting news is that this approach is not unique to this one program. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, the Convergence Partnership, and the YMCA are all working on programs that engage community members in making policy, systems, and on-the-ground changes to create a healthier built environment – and a bigger federal program may be on the way, courtesy of the new health reform law. These programs are aimed squarely at prevention – and as one of our partners recently noted, these programs’ popularity should weather the shifting political winds. Transportation professionals should take note of these new public health players as they bring powerful new resources into our field.