Presser for the 2023 Complete Streets Summit. Photo by Katheryn Laible
Complete Streets Summit
The 2023 Complete Streets Summit recently convened by Vision Long Island was powerful and informative. This is an important annual event that brings local stakeholders together to address the tragic reality that Long Island has the deadliest roads in New York State, and to recognize the incredible potential we have to not only make our streets safer, but to make them healthier and more pleasant for our people, our environment, and our economy.
For the last 25 years, Vision has brought together folks who are passionate about community service; who care about better understanding their context, and who are willing to work together with others to make a positive difference in our built environment. At their events, there are always those who have taken great joy in being involved for years, and people whose faces are alight to be experiencing this group for the first time.
A big challenge Vision has is getting people to be quiet while the program is in progress. This is not due to lack of interest. In fact, the murmur often relates to the content. It happens because the relationships nurtured here are deep and valued. Folks are so happy to see each other, to catch up and to see how best to connect.
Those engaged cover fairly diverse sectors, perspectives, and walks of life. What they tend to share are fundamental values and care for this Island we call home.
The Tragedy is Real
I have always cared passionately about safe, inviting streets that are designed to serve human beings and that respect their broader environment. This year, though, the event hit closer to home.
I haven’t been able to stop thinking about Benjamin Daggart, a 16-year-old who went to my kids’ school, Benjamin suffered for two weeks before passing away after being struck down on South Oyster Bay Rd. while riding his bicycle to work at 10:45 on a Sunday morning.
He was not the only person I heard of lately who got hit, nor the only one who suffered for weeks before dying.
Surely. we can do better.
Benjamin was not the only person I heard of lately who got hit, nor the only one who suffered for weeks before dying. Surely. we can do better.
It's About Basic Quality of Life
At the event, I ran into Jorge Martinez, a longtime trustee of the Village of Freeport, business owner, and friend of Vision LI, who now serves an organization called The Age Friendly Center of Excellence. You can see a great interview of their leadership team with Vision Long Island here.
“You know,” he said, “being suitable for all ages isn’t just about the elderly, though that’s really important. It’s about our kids and their families, too.”
“Nassau County, in fact, is great in many ways,” he continued, “It hits six of the eight requirements for being considered an age-friendly community. The two it fails at are big ones, though.”
“Let me guess,” I responded, “Walkability/Transportation and Affordable Housing.”
He smiled grimly and nodded.
These are indeed key details.
“Nassau County, in fact, is great in many ways. It hits four of the six requirements for being considered an age-friendly community. The two it fails at are big ones, though”
Walkability/Transportation and Affordable Housing.
People Are Doing Something. Help Them.
I am grateful the folks of Vision persist at working with anyone who will engage to figure out how to solve our biggest challenges as a region, while operating fundamentally at the community level. I’m even more grateful that, each time around, more people seem on hand to listen hard, make connections and report on progress.
Ever human-focused, Vision’s work is incredibly down to Earth. Federal and state funding and other initiative are great, and they are a force at that level, but those regional solutions are really only as good as the local stakeholders who help shape and apply them. Our local elected officials live and raise their families here, care for their parents here, and more often than not work in the private sector here as well. It is these folks who know our communities and who roll up their sleeves and work with local civic groups to make things happen. Here.
We used to be grateful to have a roomful of people who cared. For years now, they have had roomfuls of people who are experienced and have real progress to share.
Progress is Happening. More is Needed. Opportunities Abound.
Just imagine: Hopping on a bicycle and safely riding to the beach. Imagine not having to drive somewhere to bicycle safely. Imagine being able to get where you need to go without having to get in your car.
It’s possible. For many, often in the most dangerous places of all, it’s a necessity.
There was rich technical data offered by Elissa Kyle of Vision Long Island and Robert Nalewajk of GPI. There were resources available, and models to learn from.
Folks had much to report, including Daniel Flanzig of Flanzig & Flanzig LLC, Rosemary Mascali of US Green Building Council and Carter Strickland of the Trust for Public Land. It was noted that many walking audits have occurred. People from all walks of life came to testify how important safe streets are to them and what they’re prepared to do about it.
Over the last 20 years, about 40 projects have been undertaken. Legislation has been passed and funding has been dedicated, including at the State and Federal levels. There were over 150 stakeholders present at this Complete Streets Summit, including 18 elected leaders. Thoughts on how best to do things continue to evolve, as more and more models are springing up that are local and inspiring.
This is progress, but it is not enough.
Still, it is refreshingly cross-political, multi-perspective and thoughtful.
The Return of Johnny Appleseed
This year, we even got a visit from the Johnny Appleseed of Walkability himself, Dan Burden. Dan was one of Vision’s first inspirations and seemed honestly excited about the progress we’ve made in the 20 years since he last worked here seriously. He was impressed by the quality of those gathered. This is good, because making things better requires a great cross-section of stakeholders as isolated successes only go so far when the challenges are systemic and mounting.
We need this. People overwhelmingly want this. Let’s do it already.
Dan is over 80 years old, now, not that you’d know it to look at him. His presentations are based on lots of data, cutting edge engineering, and interesting models. Some of what he explains is counter intuitive in the best of ways. It’s very technical and deeply researched. At core, though, it’s simple.
Dan’s message is grounded in human values. As he was quoted in Newsday, “If we built what we value — we care about kids, we care about ourselves and our elders — then we will start making the right decisions.”
We reflected on those values, and considered the data. We then applied that information to real-world examples and thought about how we might make those places healthier.
In the end, folks stood together and brought it all home.
It was a hopeful day. I am grateful.
At core, it’s simple. Dan’s message is grounded in human values. As he was quoted in Newsday, “If we built what we value — we care about kids, we care about ourselves and our elders — then we will start making the right decisions.”
Let’s do this.