Working with Non-traditional Partners on Complete Streets

Oct 29, 2012, 5:30 PM

file Manatee County Highway

Marissa Sheldon, MPH, a Public Health Prevention Service Fellow at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is temporarily working at the Manatee County Health Department in Bradenton, Fla., spoke at a session today during the APHA annual meeting on working with non-traditional partners to improve community health. Sheldon heads the county’s APHA Power of Policy Complete Streets Work Group. The health department is developing guidelines for a complete streets policy with implementation planned for 2013. Such a policy ensures that transportation planners and engineers consistently design and operate the entire roadway with all users in mind – including bicyclists, public transportation vehicles and riders, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities.

>>View a related infographic on the connection between transportation and health.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Marissa Sheldon just before the meeting.

NewPublicHealth: Who were the partners on the complete streets project?

Marissa Sheldon: There are so many different benefits to the project that it is important to include multiple people with multiple interests. From the health department perspective we are interested in obesity prevention, getting people out walking and biking, and injury prevention. Then you have people from the planning department or public works who are more interested in making sure that the traffic flow is going well and there isn’t a lot of congestion and that there aren’t a lot of accidents. The school board is concerned about kids who are walking to school. We have people who are bicyclists and pedestrians themselves who just want to make sure that they are safe when they are out on the roads and we also have been in contact with fire and rescue and the sheriff’s department who are the people who are responding to accidents on the roadways. So, it’s really a big effort of several different groups of people who are all interested in the same project, but for different reasons. 

NPH: How close are you to completion? 

file Manatee County Street

Marissa Sheldon: We are right now getting ready to finalize the exact segments of roadways that we want to focus on for our initial projects. We already received support from The Board of County Commissioners so now we are going to be able to provide them with some additional information in order to get the ball rolling with an actual policy.

NPH: What’s the focus of your APHA presentation?

Marissa Sheldon: The focus is mostly on the progress that we’ve made so far and where we are planning to go in the next coming months and after the funding period is over. We are hoping to start implementation with some of the lower cost projects as soon as January or February. It is going to be a decades-long process to actually become a Complete Streets community. We are starting with a focus on what kinds of transportations projects are coming up in the community and making sure that the Complete Streets criteria are included in any transportation construction projects that arise in the future.

NPH: How helpful has it been to work with other communities who have implemented Complete Streets?

Marissa Sheldon: We have definitely got a lot of information from other communities either through their online websites or the National Complete Streets Coalition, which has a huge website that has links to different cities and organizations that have created Complete Streets policies already. We’ve also looked at how they overcame some of the political hurdles and bureaucracy that might come up in trying to pass this kind of a policy. And we’re also hoping to pass that same kind of information on to other communities and share our experience and our lessons learned about what has worked what has not and what we would recommend for other groups who are starting the process as well.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.