Over a year ago, a partnership formed in Nashua between public health and planning to advance street design that supports health by providing safer and easier ways to get around for pedestrians and bicyclists. After applying for and receiving a grant from the American Planning Association, the Plan4Health Nashua coalition was formed to conduct a street study and develop a Complete Streets guidebook and policy recommendations. Over the next few months, the coalition will present the guidebook and provide Complete Streets training to members of the city staff, elected officials, residents, and members of the business, healthcare and nonprofit communities.
Nashua is joined by many other New Hampshire cities and towns that are considering Complete Streets policies to create healthier communities that attract residents and businesses. Five New Hampshire municipalities have officially adopted Complete Streets policies or resolutions—Portsmouth, Concord, Dover, Keene, Swanzey—while others are in the process. Each community has chosen a different path toward implementing the policies, from city policy to city council resolution.
Defined by Smart Growth America, Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They make it safe for people to walk to and from bus stations. There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in a highly urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.
Portsmouth and Concord are two good urban examples of Complete Streets policies that have been in effect for multiple years. The Portsmouth City Council adopted a Complete Streets policy in 2013 and the same year was ranked 7th in the country by Smart Growth America for its quality Complete Streets policy. Portsmouth recently revised its Capital Improvement Program selection criteria so that all transportation-related projects are evaluated to ensure compliance with the Complete Streets Policy. Concord adopted its Complete Streets policy in 2009 called the Comprehensive Transportation Policy. The city has excelled at making incremental improvements since adopting their policy, and that work paid off when federal funding was secured in 2012 for the revitalization of its Main Street, with Phase I completed in 2015.
The small town of Swanzey is the latest community in New Hampshire to adopt a Complete Streets policy. Adopted in October, 2015, Sara Carbonneau, Swanzey’s Director of Planning & Community Development, hopes that Swanzey becomes a model and inspiration for other small towns. She has already heard great feedback from several other small communities saying, “If Swanzey can do it, we can do it!"
There are a number of reasons communities are adopting Complete Streets policies. Complete Streets support the safety, health and well-being of community members. A recent Southwest Region Planning Commission Safe Routes to School study illustrates the impact of a Complete Streets approach to planning on health. The study showed that after improvements in sidewalk infrastructure, 26% of children at one Keene elementary school now walk to school compared to 11% when their Safe Routes to School program began five years ago. Complete Streets also create economic opportunity through increased tourism and retail sales, as well as attracting skilled young workers who prefer to live and work where they can walk, bike and take transit. Having Complete Streets policies in place actually save municipalities money in the long-run by preventing costly delays and retrofits.
There is a statewide Complete Streets policy being considered at the State House. Bike-Walk Alliance of NH, Transport NH, and Healthy Eating Active Living NH lead a growing coalition of organizations who worked with the Senate to create SB 364 which would establish a committee to study the feasibility of incorporating Complete Streets into the 10-year transportation improvement plan. The bill has passed in the Senate and is currently assigned to the House Public Works and Highways Committee with a hearing expected in March.