I want complete streets and community trails!
What can I do to help make this a reality?
First off, know you're in the majority. Complete streets and community-wide trail systems are the norm for metropolitan areas this day and age, not exceptions. However, similar to many aspects of mid-west living, the Metro-East region, i.e. Madison and St. Clair Counties in Illinois, has only recently come to terms with this reality. What does that mean for the region and for all of us? It's catch up time!
Gone are the days that streets are built to merely accommodate vehicular traffic. Instead, roads and communities are now built to accommodate and connect people ...all people, regardless of their physical abilities or mode of transportation.
Fortunately, the Metro-East region is not starting from scratch! Several communities in the area have already embraced the complete streets mentality by incorporating these concepts in to their development plans and by passing "complete streets" ordinances so bicycle and pedestrian accommodations are considered in all transportation projects. In addition, both Madison County Transit District and St. Clair County Transit District, as well as numerous communities within both counties, have already built and continue to build an expansive regional trail system throughout both Metro-East counties. Much of this existing infrastructure can and should be utilized for reference and modeled after for communities just getting started.
Complete Streets -- Why now? They just makes sense on so many levels! It makes for happier and healthier communities. It's great for the environment. It provides choices. It makes travel safer. It attracts and retains residents. It has a positive impact on the local economy. And most importantly, it's what the citizens want, need, and demand!
Now is your time to get involved and here's how...
This step is where you need to get caught up, learn the lingo, get to know your choices, and remember, there is no point in reinventing the wheel. A good place to start is by analyzing existing conditions in your area of interest. Also, become familiar with all the organizations, advocacy groups, non-profits, and municipal/public departments and committees that are already working on complete streets and community trails in your area. Last, be sure to review local and not-so-local plans, policies, and ordinances in order to know what is already "on the books," what others are doing, and what tools and resources you have to work with.
Besides getting to know your local non-profit and public entities, here are few other organizations and resources that you might be interested in:
- Metro East Park and Recreation District (MEPRD)
- MEPRD's Online Trail Map
- MEPRD's Grant Funding Programs
- MEPRD's Long Range Development Plan
- MEPRD Public Facebook Group
- Gateway East Trails*
- Get Up & Go - St. Clair County*
- Heartlands Conservancy*
- League of Illinois Bicyclists*
- Madison County
- Madison County Health Department
- Madison County Transit District
- St. Clair County
- St. Clair County Heath Department
- St. Clair County Transit District
* A 501(c)3 organization.
Now that you’ve done your homework and you know all your choices, it is time to make a big decision ... Where will you invest your time, your efforts, and your resources in order to bring complete streets and/or trails to your community? Maybe it will be at a personal level by volunteering your time or perhaps by becoming a member of an existing group or committee, or maybe you merely decide to donate monetarily to the cause.
Define your goals and objectives and determine what route makes most sense to reach your goals and objectives and what, if any groups, committees, or organizations are in existence to help you get there. Your goals and objectives may be specific to a single project within a targeted area or they might encompass your entire community or county. That's only for you to decide! Whatever you decide, keep in mind you can change or revise your goals and objectives at any time! The remainder of the steps are intended for those who decide to get involved at a more personal and hands-on level. Remember, any action, other than no action, is involvement.
Now that you have done your homework, defined your goals and objectives, mapped your route, and decided to really get involved in bringing complete streets and/or trails to your community, now it’s time to get to know the players and the processes. Why, you might ask? You want to meet your goals and objectives, correct? Well, these individuals and these processes dictate whether your goals and objectives are met; simple as that.
We encourage you to get to know all the individuals that are influential in the decision making processes (relating to complete streets and community trails) within your community. In addition, get to know the processes by which public employees use to implement the directives given by these influential decision makers. Expect the players and processes to be different for every locale. Just because you knew the process in one community, doesn't mean it will be the same process for another community.
This step is not only self explanatory but it's critical and one that often gets overlooked. Just like any other relationship, communication is key! What do we mean by this? Open and honest, two-way dialog between you and the organizations and individuals you identified in the previous steps is a must. Be sure not to just place blame or focus on the negatives or what you don't have; instead, be constructive and be prepared to provide suggestions, assistance and solutions!
For instance, be prepared to provide suggestions and solutions to the "hard" questions. These questions might include: is there a need, who is going to pay for it and how, are there grant funds available, is it a priority of the residents, who will own it, and how will it be maintained. Fortunately, you will be prepared for such discussion since you did your homework in Step 1!
Depending on your goals, objectives, and locale, you might choose to reverse the order of this step and Step 4. Why? Verbal communication is sometimes only as strong as the number of mouths it comes from or only as strong as the individual speaking. Local leaders and other decision makers need to know that your goal and objective related to complete streets and/or community trails isn't merely a self-serving personal request, but rather good for the entire community. It's also important for these leaders to know there is overwhelming support for the topic as well. How better to show this support to these leaders than by increasing awareness of your goals and objectives, and inviting others to join your cause!
Know this in advance: complete streets and community trail initiatives typically take QUITE SOME TIME to plan, fund and complete. Expect this time-line to be stretched out even further if the decision maker(s) need much convincing, if plans need to be developed from scratch, or if property acquisition is required. Whatever you do, don't let this fact intimidate you! Pace yourself and don't give up. Be determined, be patient, and be steadfast from beginning to end!
Welcome to Step 7! Whether you have been here once or multiple times, it's time to evaluate or reevaluate your process, progress, and performance by which you got to this point and make adjustments if and as necessary. Congratulations if your evaluation includes an analysis of a successful campaign; if not it's time to learn from your past experiences, build upon your accomplishments to date, and repeat the steps shown above.
Good luck and best wishes on your complete streets and community trails goals and objectives from MEPRD!