Partnership Moves Community Toward Complete Streets

From its initial narrow focus on increasing biking and walking to school in one suburban neighborhood of Sacramento, C.A., a community partnership has now expanded its goals to include promoting the creation of Complete Streets, streets safe for all users of all abilities, including pedestrians, bikers, motorists and transit users, throughout Sacramento County. The result is community-wide awareness of pedestrian and bike safety issues, as well as considerable change to development policies and the physical environment.

In the past, Sacramento had been cited as one of the 12 worst U.S. cities for air pollution and smog; motor vehicle emissions were problematic; and most children got to school in cars. Thus, increasing walking and biking to school was identified as a good way to meet numerous public health and development concerns. Under this Active Living by Design (ALdB) grant, the Partnership for Active Communities initially set out a five-year plan to strengthen support for walking and bicycling through modest staff support for appropriate school programs, part time review of land-use development projects, and coordination of members of the partnership.

Key Findings:

  • Using the $200,000 ALdB grant, the Sacramento partnership has leveraged more than $12 million in additional support for its efforts.
  • The walk-to-school ethic has been successfully institutionalized throughout the school district, thanks to the effort’s leadership by the superintendent of schools. Future school construction plans have been modified to encourage walking and biking by building schools closer to where kids live.
  • Over the past five years, the partnership has reviewed more than 150 development projects, expanded its role in the approval process and worked collaboratively with planners and developers to incorporate walkability and Complete Streets concerns in the plans it has reviewed. The partnership has learned it can have the most significant impact in the Sacramento jurisdictions where: (1) community organizations are concerned about future development projects; and (2) the approval process allows review of a project early in its process when developers are still open to change.
  • Thanks to the partnership’s persistent communication and advocacy, transportation plans in Sacramento’s largest jurisdictions now officially incorporate Complete Streets policies.

The initial five-year plan and ALbD funding provided a stable framework for the Sacramento partnership to refine its mission and establish itself. Based on its early success, the partnership is now advocating for early review of development projects in all jurisdictions, accelerating efforts to complete a pedestrian-bicycle network and expanding its Safe Routes to School programs.