May 17, 2023

Howard County Wins Best in the Nation for “Complete Streets” Policy

Horizon Foundation has been a major supporter of campaign to reimagine streets to safely accommodate pedestrians, bikers, transit riders and people with disabilities

Howard County’s policy to create “Complete Streets” that are safe for everyone – bikers, pedestrians, transit riders as well as drivers – is the nation’s strongest such policy, according to a new report from the National Complete Streets Coalition, a program of Smart Growth America. The Coalition analyzed 150 recently adopted safe-streets policies across the country and gave Howard County’s Complete Streets policy a score of 100, the highest possible score and the best in the nation.

The Columbia-based Horizon Foundation spearheaded the “Streets for All” campaign, which garnered broad-based community and elected officials’ support to advance Complete Streets to make Howard County a safer and healthier community for all.

Complete Streets is an approach to planning, designing, building, operating, and maintaining streets that enable safe access for all people who need to use them, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders – of all ages and abilities. More broadly, it is a public health tool that leads to increased routine walking and biking and can address systemic inequities in transportation.

“We are extremely proud that Howard County’s Complete Streets program is being recognized as the best in the nation by Smart Growth America,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, President and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “Members of the community made it clear that they want to transform Howard County streets. Our county elected officials responded by passing a best-in-class policy and providing the necessary funding to make our streets safe and usable for everyone.”

“This is a win-win for Howard County and the nation. We are proud that the Howard County Complete Streets policy prioritizes equity to ensure that projects are being built in communities that have traditionally been overlooked,” said Jennifer Arice White, Policy and Community Engagement Director at the Horizon Foundation.

As part of its campaign, the Foundation organized Open Streets events and walk audits in neighborhoods, giving elected officials the chance to walk in their residents’ shoes to identify areas in need of bike and pedestrian infrastructure improvements. In response to such community input and engagement, Howard County has committed more than $20 million for Complete Streets upgrades over the last five years and is poised to invest another $12 million in 2024, resulting in the creation or repair of nearly 40 miles of shared roads, bike lanes, and bike paths installed or repaired, with more on the way.

Click here to view a video about Complete Streets in Howard County.

“Our community in Guilford has been working with Howard County for years on changes to our streets to make them safer and useful for all members of our community,” said Rev. Dr. Tyrone P. Jones IV, pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford and a strong community advocate for Complete Streets. “We are grateful that Howard County leaders have responded to the community’s concerns and made Complete Streets a priority, and we congratulate county leaders, the Horizon Foundation and all those who have worked so hard on this initiative.”

The Coalition documented key aspects of Howard County’s Complete Streets policy, noting it “was built on a strong foundation of collaboration, which required both time and extensive community engagement.”

The report also highlighted the importance of wide community engagement.

“In order to create a transformational policy and design manual that reflects community needs, Howard County brought together people with a diverse range of personal and professional backgrounds,” the report states. “A huge component of Howard County’s success was that they kept the community informed and actively involved throughout the process. Holding walk audits, open streets events, and other gatherings focused on the County’s Complete Streets work helped people connect on shared goals and create a collaborative vision for what they wanted their community to be.”

Residents of color, whose neighborhoods have historically seen fewer public resources invested in their communities, are disproportionately impacted by the lack of accessible and safe streets. The Streets for All Coalition will continue to work to make neighborhoods safer, more accessible, and healthier for all.

For nearly two decades, Complete Streets policies have been helping places prioritize building safe, accessible, and healthy streets in their communities. In total, over 1,600 Complete Streets policies have been passed in the United States at every level of government, as tracked in the National Complete Streets Coalition policy inventory and atlas.