Legal Brief – Ensuring Complete Streets

A good Complete Streets policy will provide for its own implementation and enforcement, but many do not.

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Communities across the country are starting to adopt Complete Streets policies to help make streets safer for bicyclists. According to the National Coalition for Complete Streets, a Complete Streets plan is designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

While traditional transportation planning tries to maximize the movement of cars through an area, Complete Streets policies shift planning to consider all users of the road. Complete Streets policies vary widely in how they are adopted and implemented by a community. Once adopted, the community faces the practical hurdles associated with implementing the policy, which, as you might expect, goes better in some communities than in others. A good Complete Streets policy will provide for its own implementation and enforcement, but many do not.

When a Complete Streets program fails to provide clear guidelines for implementation and enforcement, or when the community fails to meet its obligations under the new policy, the last option may be to file suit. In Rosenzweig v. Dep’t of Transp., 979 So. 2d 1050 (Fla. 1st DCA 2008), a Florida appellate court held that a local bicycle organization had standing to sue for enforcement of a Florida state law that required the installation of bicycle lanes on state roads. Larry Silverman, of Akerman Senterfitt LLP, is the attorney who spearheaded the Rosenzweig case. He said that the Rosenzweig decision has played a key role in future efforts to hold communities to their Complete Streets commitments when it established that a local bicycle organization could sue for the enforcement of state laws that require the consideration of bicycle lanes.

Complete Streets policies are an important way to begin meaningful integration of all modes of transportation on public streets. If your community is considering a Complete Streets plan, get involved with the process. Make sure that your Complete Streets plan states how the policy will be implemented and enforced. Instead of focusing solely on facilities or infrastructure, consider how the policy will support the needs of all users. Public input in establishing a better way to design our roadways is essential. The Rosenzweig case has illustrated that advocacy groups and concerned citizens have a legal standing for ensuring communities stick to Complete Streets policies. In the end, we want to be safe on our streets no matter what our choice of transportation. Complete Streets policies are a big step toward safer streets for everyone.

Jim Freeman is a personal injury lawyer in Chicago, IL. His practice concentrates mainly on advocating on behalf of the “vulnerable users” of roadways such as bicyclists and pedestrians.

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