Streetsmart: Evidence and insight for climate protection, public health, and equity in transportation
This is a guest blog by Kelly Rodgers, Executive Director at Street Smart. Kelly has 20 years of city planning experience in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors working in sustainable transportation, green infrastructure, and community design.
- 5 years ago, I had an idea to create a platform with the evidence and insight needed for civic leaders to create better transportation systems
- 4 years ago, I founded a non-profit organization called Streetsmart
- 3 years ago, the Streetsmart proof-of-concept prototype was released
- 2 years ago, Streetsmart focused its mission on integrating climate protection, public health, and equity into transportation
- 1 month ago, the beta version of Streetsmart was released with 16 proven strategies that address five goals—physical activity, walking, bicycling, vehicle miles traveled, and greenhouse gas emissions—with notes about equity and inclusion for each one of them.
It’s been a long journey that began with an idea and has been realized as an evidence-based platform for healthy, equitable, and climate-friendly transportation. Along the way, I have met many thoughtful, creative, and dedicated people who share Streetsmart’s mission. I’m grateful to count America Walks among those who have been early supporters.
Helping Civic Leaders
Five years ago, my idea was to give civic leaders the evidence they need to evaluate and prioritize transportation investments that work for their community. In my quest to better understand the needs of different stakeholders, I held separate focus groups with planners, engineers, and public health professionals to better understand the barriers and opportunities for integrating health concerns into transportation (key take-aways published in this Meeting of the Minds article).
For example, engineers have been taught to solve problems. They are charged with protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public and their training emphasizes the use of professionally accepted standards in achieving those objectives. Their project liability further encourages them to “go by the books.” Streetsmart helps engineers reduce their risk by highlighting proven strategies for climate, health, and equity and showcasing case studies and other guidance that demonstrate precedent.
With their understanding of the social determinants of health, public health professionals recognize that improving population health requires the integration of health into all sectors and policies, including transportation. Many health professionals have not been educated about transportation processes, however, and are looking for guidance about the most effective strategies to achieve health goals. Streetsmart’s synthesis of proven strategies helps public professionals (and others outside of the transportation field) quickly understand what works for transportation and health.
Evidence-based strategies are also helpful for community advocates, who must make the case for innovation in highly technical planning processes. Giving advocates access to otherwise inaccessible and hard-to-digest research can help them combat technical information that may have been developed from inappropriate data, tools, and assumptions.
The Role of Evidence
Streetsmart recognizes that evidence is an important tool in the toolkit—it can help you make the case for healthy investments, prioritize projects, and defend decisions. But that evidence is just that: a tool. The reason that evidence-based policy is not common in city planning is that city planning has a tradition of deliberation, argument, and balancing the interests in multiple stakeholders. Research evidence is only one type of information needed for decision-making.
Decisions about transportation investments ultimately are not technical decisions. They are public debates about the values and goals of communities. This public deliberation is essential for fostering democracy. Evidence can help provide insight and indirectly shape public perception over time, illuminating the landscape for decision-makers. This “enlightenment model” calls for the democratization of evidence. Evidence has a role in decision-making but it is in service to the argument.
I hope that the evidence and insight in Streetsmart helps you create walkable communities. Streetsmart is evolving platform, so please get in touch to let us know what’s working, what’s you’d like to see, and recommendations for research and resources. You can find us at thinkstreetsmart.org.