How Can We Tell if Complete Streets Policies are Working?

How do we measure what really matters? As a planner, I know the plan is important but it is not what really counts at the end of the day. It’s the changes that follow the plan – changes in policies, funding, and social capital among others – that really count. And, to get to the things that count, we need measures that show if and how we are making progress.

We now have a critical mass of cities and towns in Massachusetts that have adopted Complete Streets policies and shown support for increased opportunities for biking and walking. However, no consistent data source or metric currently exists to measure how these policies are leading to changes. In addition, we have no measures yet to say whether changes that do occur – such as new bicycle lanes or improved sidewalk networks – are actually leading to more active transportation and physical activity.


In response to this gap and with support from partners like the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, MAPC has made an effort to develop methods to measure these changes. We are testing an approach that uses manual and automated pedestrian counts and a sampling framework (based on Local Access Scores) to generate estimates of how much walking is occurring in specific neighborhoods before and after changes meant to increase active transportation.

Changes to the built environment like new sidewalks or shared use paths will never really face the eternal anecdote about plans (they can’t really sit on a shelf). But, they can collect dust if they don’t lead to the changes we expect and want. We are excited about this work, especially for how it can show us what is really working!

For more on health and transportation, check our Healthy Community Design Info Bank: Transportation + Health.

– Barry Keppard, MAPC Public Health Director