Implementing Complete Streets in Rural Upstate NY Communities

 IMG_7617I spent St. Patrick’s Day in the Adirondacks working with the North Country Healthy Heart Network implementing Complete Streets training. This was not the first time visiting, in fact I was in Malone, NY back in 2010 helping them develop a complete street policy. It is exciting to see the progress that the North Country Healthy Heart Network has achieved since then establishing local policies, developing plans and creating an inclusive process that engages citizens in the decision making process. This is the path seen in communities across the state but it doesn’t end there. The need to train citizens, policymakers, business leaders and our public employee implementers is a crucial next step to help institutionalize complete streets for all projects from maintenance to full reconstruction and that’s what I was doing on this trip.

IMG_7611The workshop was well attended by town and village highway departments, code enforcement officers, planning board members, traffic safety coordinators, community development professionals, public health officials and members of the local bicycle and pedestrian advisory boards. The training program included a strong background on “why” complete streets are important through the benefits they can provide for the community, including information on the health, safety, mobility, environmental and economic outcomes provided. The focus of the training was on specific infrastructure elements as identified by the community to provide an understanding on their use, considerations for implementation, and maintenance. An important aspect was identifying the short-term low-hanging fruit opportunities that can be made available through road-diets and paint, which can lead to larger community buy-in and ultimately long-term infrastructure investments.

IMG_7615The challenge faced by the villages of Malone, Saranac Lake, and the city of Plattsburgh are not much different then many other communities in the North Country and across the state. Budget constraints, capacity and figuring out how to work with the NYS Department of Transportation to make complete streets commonplace are resounding themes. The energy and enthusiasm of the participants truly demonstrated a commitment towards overcoming these obstacles to create healthy and vibrant communities. I look forward to my next trip to witness the change they will surely succeed in creating.

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