Complete street designation

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Complete street designation is a policy initiative and design approach to enable safe access for all street users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users - of all ages and abilities. Complete street designations ensure that the entire right-of-way is planned, designed, constructed, operated, and maintained to provide safe access for all users.[1] Complete streets ordinances and laws come in many shapes and sizes. They have been passed by city councils, planning departments, and policymakers at the state, regional and local levels. Some policies have been developed quickly using resources of the United States National Complete Streets Coalition, while in other cases, communities have engaged in extensive development processes. US federal complete streets legislation was proposed in 2008 and 2009, but failed to become law.[2]



An arterial street in a large urban locality was originally designed to provide mobility, with emphasis on automobile operating speed and carrying capacity. Design requirements that stressed access management, wider lane widths, increased turning radii, and minimum interference with traffic movements lead to divided neighborhoods, inhospitable streetscapes, the loss of cherished local businesses, and a dangerous environment for pedestrians, cyclists, children, and the elderly. Local residents desire a safe transportation environment for all users, ages, and abilities - not only the automobile. A renovated complete street provides safe access for pedestrians, cyclists, transit users, and automobiles with designated right-of-way and safety precautions for each applicable use.


Tradeoffs of implementing this policy may include:

  1. Loss of automobile lane(s) or width
  2. Tension between competing transportation user groups (e.g. intersection design that must accommodate pedestrians, cyclists, autos, and public transit)
  3. Decreased automobile traffic speeds
  4. Increase cost of living/housing due to aesthetic and infrastructural street improvements
  5. Increased congestion on sidewalks, public transit and/or bicycle lanes
Compatibility Assessment

If answered yes, the following questions indicate superior conditions under which a complete street designation is more likely to be appropriate:

  1. Is there demand for increased pedestrian, cyclist, and public transit infrastructure?
  2. Is there an equitable transportation system currently in place? (ie. a system that provides safe access for all ages, abilities, and types of transit users)
  3. Does one transportation system dominate over others?
  4. Is there an automobile dependent transport system?
  5. Do certain user groups feel unsafe on the existing street?
  6. Are some users (e.g. elderly, disabled, children) unable to use the street due to its current design?
  7. Are there high rates of injury/death due to automobile-related incidents or crashes?
  8. Are the roadways aesthetically unattractive?
  9. Are there community public health concerns related to walkability, exercise and environmental psychology?

The following questions should be considered when determining how to implement a complete streets policy or designation:

  1. What is the visual rendering for how and why the community wants to complete its streets?
  2. Who are the streets' user groups that need consideration?
  3. What streets need to be connected to create a comprehensive, integrated, and connected network?
  4. How and why does one method of transportation dominate?
  5. What infrastructure does each user group need to feel safe?
  6. What design and policy strategies will increase walkability, bikability, and transit use?
  7. How will all relevant agencies adopt the policy so that all roads under the designation are included?
  8. What are the best practice standards that will be utilized in designing complete streets?
  9. How will complete streets, as a design solution, complement the existing context of the community and built environment?
  10. What are the performance standards and measurable outcomes that will be used to access the success of the policy?



Over 712 complete street policies were in place in the United States by the end of 2014, with 74 adopted in 2014 alone. Policy adopters include 30 states, 58 Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), and 564 cities.[7]

Notable entities who have implemented or adopted this policy include:





  • Asadi-Shekari, Z., Moeinaddini, M., & Zaly Shah, M. (2015). Pedestrian safety index for evaluating street facilities in urban areas. Safety Science, 74, 1–14. [1] The objective of this study is to conceptualize the pedestrian safety index (PSI), which evaluates facilities along the streets for pedestrians.
  • Brown, B. B., Werner, C. M., Tribby, C. P., Miller, H. J., & Smith, K. R. (2015). Transit Use, Physical Activity, and Body Mass Index Changes: Objective Measures Associated With Complete Street Light-Rail Construction. American Journal of Public Health, 105(7), 1468–1474. [2] Assessed effects of transit ridership on physical activity (PA) and weight among participants in a complete street intervention that extended a light-rail line in Salt Lake City, Utah.
  • Dunham, M. (2011). Where the Shoe Leather Meets the Road: Learning From Experience in Crafting a Complete Streets Ordinance. Planning & Environmental Law, 63(8), 3–8. [3]The complete streets policy and design initiative has taken hold in hundreds of U.S. communities, providing lessons for those considering adopting a complete streets policy.
  • Fields, B., & Cradock, A. L. (2014). Federal Active Transportation Policy in Transition: From ISTEA to Complete Streets. Public Works Management & Policy, 19(4), 322–327. [4] Explores the underlying tensions created as active transportation has been included in the federal transportation planning process over the past 40 years.
  • Geraghty, A. B., Seifert, W., Preston, T., Holm, C. V., Duarte, T. H., & Farrar, S. M. (2009). Partnership Moves Community Toward Complete Streets. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 37(6), S420–S427. [5] The Partnership for Active Communities produced increased public and agency awareness of pedestrian and bicycle safety issues and influenced considerable changes to policies and the physical environment in the Sacramento area.
  • Shu, S., Quiros, D. C., Wang, R., & Zhu, Y. (2014). Changes of street use and on-road air quality before and after complete street retrofit: An exploratory case study in Santa Monica, California. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment, 32, 387–396. [6] This work evaluates the effect of a complete street retrofit in Santa Monica, California, in terms of the street use by different transportation modes and corresponding ultrafine particle (UFP) and fine particle (PM2.5) concentrations.
  • Resources Variety of complete streets resources compiled by Smart Growth America
  • Best Complete Streets Policies of 2014. The National Complete Streets Coalition ranks each year’s new Complete Streets policies to celebrate the people who developed exceptional policy language and to provide leaders at all levels of government with examples of strong Complete Streets policies.
  • Policy Elements Identifies 10 elements of a comprehensive Complete Streets policy.
Related Policies

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