(10/14/22) BATON ROUGE, La. — Rural communities face a unique set of hurdles when it comes to making infrastructure improvements to benefit the health and wellbeing of residents. To help address some of these challenges, the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities program hosted the first Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit Oct. 6.
According to the Federal Highway Administration, roadways designed according to a concept known as “complete streets” serve the needs of everyone, including pedestrians, bicyclists, public transit users, people with disabilities and motorists. Complete streets not only reduce the risk of traffic deaths and injuries but also promote economic vitality and health by connecting residents to everyday destinations like grocery stores, schools, parks and health care facilities.
“Towns with complete streets are places where people want to spend time and money. When it is easy to stroll down to the next place in a community, people are likely to walk farther and maybe pop into the next shop down the street, which promotes thriving communities with better health outcomes,” said Jessica Stroope, physical activity specialist for the LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities program. “We want there to be options for everyone to safely get around town, whether by car, on foot, by bike, using a wheelchair or pushing a stroller.”
The AgCenter and the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development have been working to identify and address barriers to accessing funding in rural communities, Stroope said. The goal of the summit was to help rural communities navigate how to create a complete streets plan and secure funding.
Teams of elected officials, community members and AgCenter extension staff from 12 rural communities were matched with representatives from the state transportation department, Center for Planning Excellence, Atchafalaya National Heritage Area, Federal Highway Administration and Safe Routes Partnership. Groups received hands-on guidance from officials on how to work toward complete streets in their communities.
The teams learned about pedestrian infrastructure funding opportunities for rural communities and how to submit successful funding applications.
“I hope these communities realize this funding is for them. It’s not just for the metropolitan areas. It’s for the rural areas,” said Brian Nunes, Transportation Alternatives Program manager for Louisiana DOTD. “They’re underserved at this time, and we need to get the word out that this money is there for them.”
This sentiment was echoed by other participants, including Kendall Thompson, president of the East Carroll Parish Police Jury.
“We’re proud to be here to try to work for our community, to try to bring back things for our community because I think we’ve been left out a lot,” Thompson said. “The opportunity is here, and we’re here to try to make sure that we jump on board to get whatever we can get out of this summit.”
The summit was hosted by LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities, a program that makes Louisiana towns healthier places to live, work, learn and play. Through Healthy Communities, local residents decide what the important issues are, come up with possible solutions and work together to make healthful foods and physical activity safe, affordable and accessible for all.
“The feedback that we got from the rural communities that came today was amazing. This is something I hope we can repeat in the future with different communities,” Nunes said. “We showed some of the before and after pictures earlier. In a year or two, I hope the before and afters are the communities that were here today.”
For more information about the Louisiana Rural Complete Streets Summit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Stroope, LSU AgCenter Healthy Communities physical activity specialist, presents an overview of complete streets opportunities for rural Louisiana. Photo by Ruthie Losavio/LSU AgCenter
Teams discuss areas in need of improvements and brainstorming solutions based on funding opportunities. Photo by Ruthie Losavio/LSU AgCenter
Team members from St. Joseph, Louisiana, review a map of their current complete streets plans. Photo by Ruthie Losavio/LSU AgCenter