Streetsmart News. Vol. 20, 2019
Evidence and Insight for Better Transportation
Best Practices for Complete Streets
Henry Miller, Streetsmart Intern

In recent decades Complete Streets have become a popular concept in cities big and small. While the designs of a “complete street” can vary dramatically from place to place, they are almost always built on a few universal values, including improving pedestrian, bicycling, and other forms of micromobility uses:

  1. Complete streets should aim to improve the health of communities and the safety of active commuters: The most successful complete streets prioritize health and safety for all residents of a community. Active transportation has been linked to a range of health benefits for people of all ages, and young adolescents who commute by bike are 48% less likely to be overweight in adulthood. Complete streets make active transportation more appealing by providing better sidewalks and bike lanes that are part of a larger bicycle and pedestrian network. When it comes to safety, complete streets can reduce car traffic speeds and volumes, making it more comfortable for pedestrians and cyclists to cross at intersections and spend more time on the street.
  2. There is no universal design for a complete street, and the street’s physical and policy context should inform its design: A complete street initiative does not necessarily begin with a protected bike lane and transit stops, but can start with any improvement that makes commuting by any other mode more appealing, even if it is a painted shoulder on the side of a low-traffic rural road. A complete street initiative should begin by evaluating the current function of the street and existing policies regarding road diets. Next steps might include evaluating demographics, the natural environment (both climate and geography), land use policies, and the surrounding street network.
  3. In order to be effective, complete streets should involve the collaboration of many different agencies at different levels of government, public health professionals, and stakeholders: As everyone uses streets and many agencies are responsible for their design and maintenance, collaboration is essential for implementing a complete streets policy. This can be a difficult task in a community where the concept is totally new and when the parties involved are used to “speaking different languages,” as we’ve discussed elsewhere. However, collaboration can also stimulate design innovation and create lasting partnerships that will enable the installment of complete streets in other parts of the road network. Collaboration is also essential for ensuring equity concerns are addressed and every member of the community is satisfied with the process, even if the outcome is not exactly what they were hoping for.
  4. Complete streets should be a part of larger transportation plans like a sidewalk master plan or a TSP: Part of understanding the context of the desired complete street is also recognizing how this street will impact the road network. By reducing the number of car lanes, complete streets could also divert drivers to roads that were not designed to carry them. The best way to avoid adverse consequences of complete streets implementation is by including complete streets in a larger transportation system plan.
  5. Complete streets aim to increase equity for groups that were marginalized by previous road designs. These groups can include everyone from cyclists to people of color and younger street users: While complete streets inherently increase equity between travel modes, they can also be used to address longstanding inequities faced by communities of color and low-income communities, many of which were disrupted by the highway building boom and urban renewal schemes of the 20th century. By including spaces for public art and gatherings, complete streets can help rebuild a sense of place and belonging for community members. By reducing auto traffic and the air pollution that comes with it, complete streets can also reduce safety and health inequities. Residents who are unable to drive due to their age will also experience improved mobility and accessibility.
  6. Complete streets should recognize the value of transit when promoting active transportation: While complete streets are often envisioned as a tool for improving the experience of cyclists and pedestrians, by redesigning a road diet planners and engineers also have the opportunity to improve transit. This can come in the form of better (i.e. more permanent, visible, and safe) transit stations, or in the form of a bus rapid transit lane.

Changes are coming to Streetsmart.
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Rather than advocating for additional federal spending for transportation, Transportation for America is asking for clear federal goals with measurable outcomes. T4A unveiled a new set of guiding principles for transportation for re-authorization, which they describe through a series of blog posts.

The first principle is  prioritizing maintenance. T4A notes how state DOTs can be rewarded for expanding the highway system, even while they neglect basic maintenance. The second principle is prioritizing safety over speed--speed being a major culprit in traffic-related fatalities and injuries. Third is to connect people to jobs and services, which is about promoting and measuring accessibility rather than vehicle speed.
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Civic leaders need to make the case for solutions that work best for their community, which sometimes requires defending innovation. Streetsmart reduces risk by providing the evidence and examples of what works in other communities. We’ve got your back. 

Find success stories with key lessons learned in one easy-to-search place. Why re-invent the wheel? Streetsmart offers insight via case studies and guidebooks relevant to each topic area. Learn from others in the trenches working on issues similar to yours.
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