Did You Know?

Public transit users take 30 percent more steps and spend roughly eight more minutes walking each day than drivers.

City of Blue Island adopts Complete Streets ordinance

Recently, I checked off the first of seven big, important boxes on my to-do list. On Tuesday, July 12 the Blue Island City Council adopted a Complete Streets ordinance. They are the first that we know of in Illinois to adopt this policy by legislative ordinance. One adopted: Six to go!

These boxes are only one part of an ambitious work plan for the largest single initiative that Active Trans has ever taken on, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW). I know what you’re thinking: If it’s such a big deal then how come I hardly ever hear about it?

The honest truth is that all of us working on it have been too busy to blog much. And it’s such a huge project with so many moving parts that it’s difficult to pick any one thing to talk about. Confounding this is the fear that the victories are meaningless without all the back story. So for those of you who don’t know, here’s the info:

Active Trans is under contract to provide technical assistance to suburban municipalities for advancing transportation policies that promote walking, biking and transit use as a way to improve public health.

Why does policy matter? Think of the things that you want from your local government to make you safer and happier while you’re out walking, biking, or running to catch a bus or train. It might be a better sidewalk, or a new bike lane. Maybe it’s better enforcement of the traffic laws that protect you and your kids. Whatever it is, before a local government can give it to you, they have to be allowed to do it; they have to want to do it badly enough to get it funded, and in a lot of cases they have to seek out new innovations in order to do it right.

This is a long term commitment. When it comes to active transportation facilities, this means willing change within a bureaucracy– no new crosswalks unless an agency is empowered by some level of policy.

Three cool things about CPPW:

1. It enables Active Trans to help 25 suburban municipalities to make these internal changes to guide their transportation work and, well, make the world a better place.

2. Those 25 municipalities all signed on to this voluntarily.

3. All this work is funded (!) by a federal grant to prevent obesity, awarded to Cook County Department of Public Heath in partnership with the Public Health Institute of Metropolitan Chicago.

This project gives us the opportunity to educate people at all levels of local government about the issues, identify challenges and propose solutions, and draft policies and plans. Then we revise them, and tweak them, and crumple them up and start over until people agree (enough) to give them the golden seal of approval to make it a rule or a law.

Then all these big ideas translate into items on the to-do lists of city workers and, sooner or later, they’ll do something like change traffic signal timing so that your great aunt gets another three seconds to cross that busy street with her groceries. If you’ve ever used a wheelchair, you know that those three seconds really matter.

And some of us measure our progress with boxes. I have seven boxes to represent the seven communities that have committed to advancing Complete Streets policies under CPPW. That is, committing to the accommodation of all road users in all future roadway projects regardless of their age, ability or their travel mode. It means acknowledging walking and biking as legitimate forms of transportation and including them in the goals and priorities of people who build roads. It means designing streets for people, not just cars.

It’s a paradigm shift — a break from the way that so many agencies have allowed private automobiles to dominate our roadways. These ideals are now law in the City of Blue Island.

I tip my hat to Blue Island, and to all the people who collaborated to take this big step.