Complete Streets is a policy initiative that ensures that streets and roads are designed for everyone, meaning all users, using any mode of transportation, from an 80-year-old in an 18-wheeler to an 8-year-old on a bicycle, can move around safely.
How does it do that? Once a municipality adopts a Complete Streets policy, new infrastructure and improvements are made to accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, public transport, etc. - not just cars. And when it's easier for people to cross streets, walk to shops, bike to work and more, they move – and that has important implications for fighting chronic disease. One study found that 43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels, while just 27% of those without safe places to walk were active. (Complete Streets policies have also been shown to raise real estate values.)
Chronic disease and obesity run rampant in Lake Charles, in part, because of the design of the built environment. To combat this issue, a group of people, ranging from transportation planners and the local chamber of commerce to public health officials and other advocates, came together to host a two-day Complete Streets Workshop in November of 2016. National experts on Complete Streets from Smart Growth America educated the public, local politicians and policy officials on the importance of Complete Streets, as well as how those elements could be implemented within existing municipality ordinances.
The workshop was a roaring success. Over 70 elected leaders and policy officials from five parishes attended! After the workshop, several cities, including Lake Charles wanted to learn more about Complete Streets. To seal the deal in Lake Charles, the team hosted a "Better Block" demonstration, where they used temporary paint and homemade materials to transform several blocks of a major street into a Complete Street, by installing bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, trees, plants, and other quality-of-life improvements, such as temporary local businesses and a park. (See our movie here fill in link)
The event was very successful. But it wasn't without controversy, as several outspoken locals were not in favor of bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. However, the conversation they sparked reached every dinner table in Lake Charles. And, ultimately, those conversations led to public support.
In the spring of 2017, the Lake Charles City Council voted to approve the integration of Complete Streets policy elements into the city's planning and zoning code of ordinances. In the fall, Lake Charles began painting its first-ever dedicated bicycle lanes, and ushered in a brighter, healthier future for its citizens.
And the movement in Southwest Louisiana is increasing. This February, the team hosted another Better Block, this time in Sulphur. We hope when everyone sees the difference Complete Streets can make in their community, they'll get moving on it too.
Want to know more about John O'Donnell and Complete Streets? Start Here