According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, “Complete Streets are streets for everyone.” They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities must be able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.
Creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists – making your town a better place to live.
What does a “complete street” look like?
Complete Streets are more than just bike lanes! There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include a combination of features such as: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more. A complete street in a rural area will look quite different from a complete street in a highly urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.
Why do we need Complete Streets policies?
Incomplete streets – those designed with only cars in mind – limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive, and, too often, dangerous. Changing policy so that our transportation system routinely includes the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles means that walking, riding bikes, and riding buses and trains will be safer and easier. People of all ages and abilities will have more options when traveling to work, to school, to the grocery store, and to visit family.
Making these travel choices more convenient, attractive, and safe means people do not need to rely solely on automobiles. They can replace congestion-clogged trips in their cars with swift bus rides or heart-healthy bicycle trips. Complete Streets improves the efficiency and capacity of existing roads too, by moving people in the same amount of space – just think of all the people who can fit on a bus or streetcar versus the same amount of people each driving their own car. Getting more productivity out of the existing road and public transportation systems is vital to reducing congestion.
What are the costs of Complete Streets?
Complete Streets are particularly prudent when more communities are tightening their budgets and looking to ensure long-term benefits from investments. An existing transportation budget can incorporate Complete Streets projects with little to no additional funding, accomplished through re-prioritizing projects and allocating funds to projects that improve overall mobility. Many of the ways to create more complete roadways are low cost, fast to implement, and high impact. Building more sidewalks and striping bike lanes has been shown to create more jobs than traditional car-focused transportation projects (PERI, Pedestrian and Bicycle Infrastructure: A National Study of Employment Impacts, June 2011.)
What are some of the benefits of Complete Streets?
Complete streets can offer many benefits in all communities, regardless of size or location, including, but not limited to the following.
Complete Streets improve safety. A Federal Highways Administration safety review found that streets designed with sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for disabled travelers improve pedestrian safety. Some features, such as medians, improve safety for all users: they enable pedestrians to cross busy roads in two stages, reduce left-turning motorist crashes to zero, and improve bicycle safety.
Complete Streets encourage walking and bicycling for health. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently named adoption of Complete Streets policies as a recommended strategy to prevent obesity. One study found that 43% of people with safe places to walk within 10 minutes of home met recommended activity levels; among individuals without safe place to walk, just 27% were active enough. Easy access to transit can also contribute to healthy physical activity: nearly one third of transit users meet the Surgeon General’s recommendations for minimum daily exercise through their daily travels.
Complete Streets can lower transportation costs for families. Americans spent an average of 18 cents of every dollar on transportation, with the poorest fifth of families spending more than double that figure. In fact, most families spend far more on transportation than on food. When residents have the opportunity to walk, bike, or take transit, they have more control over their expenses by replacing car trips with these inexpensive options. Taking public transportation, for example, saves individuals $9,581 each year.
Complete Streets foster strong communities. Complete Streets play an important role in livable communities, where all people – regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation – feel safe and welcome on the roadways. A safe walking and bicycling environment is an essential part of improving public transportation and creating friendly, walkable communities. A recent study found that people who live in walkable communities are more likely to be socially engaged and trusting than residents of less walkable neighborhoods. Additionally, they reported being in better health and happier more often.
Complete Streets Basic Info
Frequently Asked Questions - Answers to common questions about the basics of Complete Streets.
Brochure: Common Features and Benefits [pdf] - A tri-fold brochure providing an overview of complete streets.
Brochure: Policy and Implementation [pdf] - This brochure includes covers elements of a complete streets policy and various issues in implementation.
National Complete Streets Coalition
Street Design: Part 1 - Complete Streets - Public Roads, the bimonthly magazine of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), ran a comprehensive article on Complete Streets in its July/August 2010 edition.
Reports & Articles
Evaluating Complete Streets Projects: A guide for practitioners (April 2015) [pdf] - This Guide developed by AARP, Smart Growth America, and the National Complete Streets Coalition serves as a tool kit to help transportation practitioners in their efforts to identify and establish performance measures to evaluate transportation projects.
Complete Streets: Best Policy and Implementation Best Practices - This Planners Advisory Service report, a joint project of the American Planning Association and the National Complete Streets Coalition, draws on lessons learned from 30 communities across the country. The report provides insight into successful strategies and practices to create complete streets, including how to build support for complete streets, adopt policies, and integrate the policy into everyday practice. Co-edited by Barbara McCann and Suzanne Rynne, with chapters written by Coalition staffer Stefanie Seskin, it also covers topics such as cost, design, and working with stakeholders.
Complete Streets: Best Policy and Implementation Best Practices — Chapter 5: Making the Transition [pdf] - This chapter from the Best Practices report covers how communities make the transition from traditional, automobile-based transportation planning to a more inclusive and multimodal process through the four key steps for successful implementation: 1) Restructure procedures to accommodate all users on every project; 2) Develop new design policies and guides; 3) Offer workshops and other training opportunities to planners and engineers; and 4) Institute better ways to measure performance and collect data on how well the streets are serving all users.
Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America - A major report from the AARP Public Policy Institute, working with the Renaissance Planning Group, the National Complete Streets Coalition, the Institute of Transportation Engineers and others, on considering the needs of older people in multimodal street planning.
Complete Streets in the United States - In this paper, John LaPlante and Barbara McCann discuss the growth of the Complete Streets movement and how the design of our streets can provide more room for nonmotorized travelers and control traffic speeds for safety (January 2011).
Complete Streets: We Can Get There from Here [pdf] - Authored by John LaPlante and Barbara McCann; in the journal of the Institute of Transportation Engineers (May 2008).
Retrofitting Urban Arterials into Complete Streets [pdf] - John LaPlante’s research at TRB’s 3rd Urban Street Symposium (2007).
Public Policies for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility [pdf] - This 2010 Federal Highway Administration report identifies and provides examples of effective policies and implementing
programs that support pedestrian and bicyclist safety and mobility, based on examples from the U.S. and abroad.
Aging Americans: Stranded Without Options - This report concludes that as Americans grow older, our existing transportation network is unable to meet their needs of the national’s aging population particularly as they become less willing and able to drive.
Model Complete Streets Communications Plan (.doc) - In January 2007, the Partnership for Active Communities in Sacramento, California, kicked off its campaign, based on this Communications Plan, to build support for Complete Streets.
Partnership Moves Community Toward Complete Streets - Published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, this article describes how the Partnership for Active Communities brought together multidisciplinary organizations to support increased walking and bicycling through a 5-year project.
Bicycling and Walking in the United States: 2010 Benchmarking Report - This report from the Alliance for Biking Walking highlights data on biking and walking levels, safety, funding, policies, and more from 50 states and the 51 largest cities.
*From the National Complete Streets Coalition