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FHWA Sends Complete Streets Report to Congress with Landscape Architects’ Recommendations Included

ASLA worked with FHWA to include landscape architects in discussions to identify policy and design barriers to implementing Complete Streets projects. Many of ASLA's contributions are recognized in the report. As one of the founding members of the National Complete Streets Coalition, ASLA continues its work in moving the needle toward the goal of making all rights-of-way safe for all users.

Roxanne Blackwell

2022-05-11
Recently, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) released a report to Congress, Moving to a Complete Streets Design Model: A Report to Congress on Opportunities and Challenge, detailing the agency's commitment to advance widespread implementation of the Complete Streets design model to help improve safety and accessibility for all users.

The report identifies five overarching opportunity areas that will inform FHWA as it moves ahead with its efforts to increase the proportion of federally funded transportation projects that are routinely planned, designed, built, and operated as Complete Streets.
 
ASLA worked with FHWA to include landscape architects Rob Loftis, ASLA, Peg Staeheli, FASLA, David Lustberg, ASLA, David Crawley, ASLA and Ryan Bouma in discussions with the department to identify policy and design barriers to implementing Complete Streets projects. Many of ASLA's contributions are recognized in the report.
 
Roadway deaths have been steadily rising over the past decade, particularly among pedestrians and bicyclists, and especially since the COVID-19 pandemic began. FHWA Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack has recognized the urgent need to make streets safer for all users. To that end, the agency is committed to using Complete Streets as its default approach to funding and designing roadways.
 
The report to Congress five key areas of focus:

1.       Improve data collection and analysis on safety
2.       Support safety outcomes during project design and development
3.       Accelerate adoption of safety and accessibility standards in street design
4.       Interpret standards, guidelines, and project reviews as prioritizing safety for all
5.       Make the Complete Streets model the default approach in funding and design
 
Across these areas of focus, the report emphasizes the importance of holistic design thinking. For instance, the report states that “a practical approach to Complete Streets also focuses broadly on building Complete Networks to provide connectivity for different modes of travel. Complete Networks may use parallel routes to facilitate access that variously prioritizes different modes throughout an area while ensuring the safety of all roadway users.”
 
The report also advanced a critical philosophy on street design that keeps the human user at the center of its considerations – a key point espoused by landscape architects during their meetings with FHWA. Better recognizing human use, including human error, should result in more appropriate design solutions such as replacing stop signs with roundabouts and increasing lighting during later hours at intersections, which have been shown to reduce fatalities by 82 percent and reduce pedestrian-involved accidents by 42 percent, respectively.
 
The team of landscape architects also identified the need for better training and information about alternative design guides and standards at the state and local levels. “Oftentimes, laws and regulations promoting Complete Streets are passed at the federal level, but concerted efforts are not made to ensure that they fully translate into the actual projects on the ground.  Our state and local transportation agencies could benefit from guidance on how to best implement these design strategies,” said Rob Loftis, ASLA.
 
Along with the report, FHWA established a new Complete Streets hub, which can assist transportation agencies with educational resources and guidance in the planning, development, and operation of a safe and equitable street network. The new Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act calls on state departments of transportation to adopt Complete Streets policies of their own, and to spend at least 2.5 percent of their planning funding on projects that make it easier for people of all modes, ages, and abilities to get around.  The report, federal guidance and resources will go a long way in achieving these goals.
 
The report also identifies severe safety disparities in underserved communities. Specifically, findings show that pedestrians in lower-income neighborhoods have been killed in vehicle accidents at significantly higher rates than those in higher-income neighborhoods. In fact, “of the top 30 pedestrian crash hotspot locations in the U.S., 75 percent are bordered by low-income communities.” In these areas, street safety concerns coexist with transportation inefficiencies, limiting ease of access to jobs, education, health, and civic resources. That is why the DOT’s National Roadway Safety Strategy has elevated themes of economic accessibility and equity alongside safety as priority outcomes.
 
Landscape architects were pioneers in the development of the Complete Streets movement and continue to be leaders in designing these projects. As one of the founding members of the National Complete Streets Coalition, ASLA continues its work in moving the needle toward the goal of making all rights-of-way safe for all users.
 
Read the full report to Congress.

Access FHWA’s Complete Streets resource hub.

Read the National Complete Streets Coalition’s “Dangerous by Design 2021 report.

Access ASLA’s Federal Active Transportation resources.

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