Monday, March 14, 2011

Transparent and Progressive Complete Streets Planning

This memo reviews Minnesota and Hennepin County’s planning process for implementing complete streets. To begin, Hennepin County and Minnesota’s historical infrastructure designs and standards proved to be a natural building block for implementing complete streets. In addition, Hennepin County and Minnesota serve as a great example of a Midwest County and State that systematically provides all levels of government with the resources and abilities to improve their existing infrastructure.  Starting with Minnesota’s Complete Streets Report, Hennepin County’s Complete Streets Resolution and Policy, followed by Minnesota’s Complete Streets Law, Hennepin County has the tools to successfully build complete streets on existing and future infrastructure.  Macomb County can refer to Hennepin County as a successful example of transparent and progressive planning, which allows complete streets to be implemented.

Briefly, Hennepin County is located on the eastern portion of the Minneapolis region.  It is home to the City of Minneapolis.  Hennepin County has the largest population, budget, and estimated market value compared to the rest of the Minnesota counties.[i]  Its estimated 2009 population was 1,156,212.[ii]  Over the past decades, Hennepin County worked hard to maintain access to safe and diverse modes of transportation.  Beginning in the late 1990’s the Federal Highway Administration developed a new set of principles, called Context Sensitive Solutions (CSS),  for states to recognize that transportation, community, and environmental goals should be treated equally.[iii] In 2005 the Minnesota Department of Transportation (Mn/DOT) co-hosted the Midwest Context Sensitive Design and Solutions workshop to assist their State’s stakeholders in implementing CSS goals at the state, county, and local levels.[iv] Furthermore in 2008, Minnesota wanted to keep improving its infrastructure, mandating Mn/DOT to “study the benefits, feasibility, and cost of adopting a complete streets policy.”[v]

Complete Streets Components
Minnesota 2009 Complete Streets Final Report
The Complete Streets Report was compiled by the Commissioner of Transportation and the Mn/DOT Division of State Aid for Local Transportation in response to the legislative directive.  The goal of the report was not to create policy, but to ensure that Minnesota could effectively implement complete streets at every level of government.  The report summarized six key elements to assess the feasibility of complete streets:
·         Gather and assess a list for complete street resources.[vi]
·         Evaluate the State’s current design practices for complete streets.[vii]
·         Asses the maintenance and operations impacts of complete streets.[viii]
·         Analyze other state, county, and local complete streets policies and best practices.[ix]
·         Review the costs, benefits, and feasibility of complete streets.[x]
·         Advocate implementation of complete streets policy.[xi] 

First, the report found that funding resources are difficult to find, but may be obtained through various agencies and partnerships.  Although funding is difficult to obtain, Minnesota has strong infrastructure resources for complete streets implementation due to its previous CSS objectives. Next, the report stated that the design standards needed to be revised to eliminate inconsistencies and integrate all modes transportation.[xii]  In addition, the new design standards involved operations and maintenance staff to minimize long-term maintenance costs.[xiii] Furthermore, the report noted that no quantifiable benefit/cost analysis was performed, but they considered from other case studies that complete streets benefits outweigh their costs.  This allows the report to note, “Complete streets are considered feasible on the state, regional and local levels.”[xiv] Finally, the report explains that a Complete Streets policy must stress the importance of improving the safety for all user of the street.[xv] 

2009 Hennepin County Complete Streets Resolution
As Mn/DOT was preparing their Complete Streets Report, Hennepin County created a Complete Streets Resolution.  In December 2008, public officials from Hennepin County attended a Complete Streets workshop presented by national experts.  Afterward, officials immediately began drafting a resolution.  The Hennepin Complete Streets Resolution was passed by the local government in February 2009.  The resolution aimed to create a Complete Streets policy stating:
·         Hennepin County will adopt a Complete Streets philosophy to all transportation decisions to maintain a safe, efficient, and environmentally friendly transportation system.[xvi] 
·         Complete streets allow Hennepin County to support Active Living, which permits physical activity in daily routines such as walking and biking.[xvii]  
·         Transparency will be crucial in the successful adoption and implementation of Complete Streets policy.[xviii]
·         Hennepin County encourages local, county, and state governments to work together to make complete streets a reality.[xix] 

2009 Hennepin County Complete Streets Policy
After the resolution was passed, Hennepin County passed their Complete Streets Policy in July 2009.  The policy lays out six methods that Hennepin County will use to enforce and adopt their Complete Street Policy: 
·         Incorporate complete streets “principles and practices into transportation development projects.”[xx]
·         Assess and record existing corridors.[xxi]
·         Create a complete streets implementation procedure.[xxii]
·         Generate a complete streets evaluation method.[xxiii]
·         Re-evaluate Hennepin County’s roadside enhancement partnership program.[xxiv]
·         Integrate complete streets in the Transportation Systems Plan and other appropriate documents.[xxv]

By implementing theses measures, Hennepin County believes complete streets will bring a better quality of life to its residents. In addition to the resolution and policy, Hennepin County organized a Complete Streets Task Force to oversee the implementation of the 2009 policy. 

2010 Minnesota Complete Streets Law
In addition to the Complete Streets Report and Hennepin County’s resolution, policy, and task force, Minnesota passed a Complete Streets Law in May 2010.  The law frames five objectives for successful integration of complete streets in Minnesota:
·         Defines complete streets.[xxvi]
·         Creates a complete streets implementation policy after consulting with stakeholders, agencies, authorities, and governments.[xxvii] 
·         Requests a complete streets implementation report in the agency’s biennial budget submission.[xxviii]
·         Encourages, but does not require, local road authorities to adopt and implement complete streets policies.[xxix]
·         Gives the commissioner control over variances from engineering standards.[xxx]

The law also stipulates the commissioner of transportation shall submit reports to the members of the house and senate summarizing steps taken to improve the transparency of the complete streets implantation process.[xxxi]

Hennepin County and Minnesota serve as a great reference for Macomb County as they attempt to implement complete street policies. Hennepin County and Minnesota continually emphasizes transparency throughout all of their processes.  If Macomb wants to successfully implement complete streets polices, transparency must be a tool to highlight.  By allowing all units of governments to see what is going on, less time and resources are wasted trying to bring polices and implementation strategies to Macomb County and its municipalities.

Furthermore, the political system in Hennepin County and Minnesota is similar to Macomb County and Michigan.  Although they are similar, Minnesota and Hennepin County successfully integrates all levels of politics to focus on carrying out complete street polices.  Macomb County must strive to work with all levels of government to find agreement on how complete streets will benefit their area.   It is understandable that Macomb County has a rich auto-centric culture and will face substantial opposition to a drastic change in the transportation culture. Moreover, Michigan does not have the historical building blocks for an easy transition to complete streets, like Minnesota and Hennepin County.  Macomb will struggle to find most existing infrastructure already set up to handle complete streets planning.  This suggests that Macomb must work harder to achieve the same status as Hennepin, but certainly should not discourage any attempts to retrofit infrastructure to complete streets standards. 
Finally, Hennepin County and Minnesota accomplished their complete streets policies through a stage by stage implementation process.  This progressive planning process will be necessary for the future of Complete Streets in Macomb County.   Michigan has made progress by writing into law that 1% of all transportation funds be allocated to non-motorized infrastructure improvements.  This is not enough.  Macomb County must reach out to all of its municipalities and state government, to make others aware of the benefits that can come from progressive complete streets policies. 

[ii]U.S. Census Bureau. (2009). Quick Facts: Hennepin, MN.  Washington, DC.
[iii] Minnestoa Department of Transportaion. (2009, December). Complete Streets Report.
[iv] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[v] Minnesota Legislature. (2008). Complete Streets Chap 350 Sec 94. Minneapolis, MN.
[vi] Minnestoa Department of Transportaion. (2009, December). Complete Streets Report.
[vii] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[viii] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[ix] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[x] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xi] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xii] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xiii] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xiv] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xv] Ibid. Complete Streets Report.
[xvi]Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. (2009, February). Complete Streets Resolution 09-0058
[xvii] Ibid. Complete Streets Resolution 09-0058.
[xviii] Ibid. Complete Streets Resolution 09-0058.
[xix] Ibid. Complete Streets Resolution 09-0058.
[xx] Hennepin County Board of Commissioners. (2009, July). Complete Streets Policy.
[xxi] Ibid. Complete Streets Policy.
[xxii] Ibid. Complete Streets Policy.
[xxiii] Ibid. Complete Streets Policy.
[xxiv] Ibid. Complete Streets Policy.
[xxv] Ibid. Complete Streets Policy.
[xxvi] Minnesota Legislature. (2010). Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72
[xxvii] Ibid. Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72.
[xxviii] Ibid. Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72.
[xxix]Ibid. Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72.
[xxx] Ibid. Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72.
[xxxi] Ibid. Complete Streets Chap 351 Sec 52 &72.

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