Complete Streets

Complete Streets are streets designed and operated to enable safe use and support mobility for all users. Those include people of all ages and abilities, regardless of whether they are travelling as drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, or public transportation riders. The concept of Complete Streets encompasses many approaches to planning, designing, and operating roadways and rights of way with all users in mind to make the transportation network safer and more efficient. Complete Street policies are set at the state, regional, and local levels and are frequently supported by roadway design guidelines.

Complete Streets approaches vary based on community context. They may address a wide range of elements, such as sidewalks, bicycle lanes, bus lanes, public transportation stops, crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, modified vehicle travel lanes, streetscape, and landscape treatments. Complete Streets reduce motor vehicle-related crashes and pedestrian risk, as well as bicyclist risk when well-designed bicycle-specific infrastructure is included (Reynolds, 2009). They can promote walking and bicycling by providing safer places to achieve physical activity through transportation. One study found that 43% of people reporting a place to walk were significantly more likely to meet current recommendations for regular physical activity than were those reporting no place to walk (Powell, Martin, Chowdhury, 2003).

Related Transportation and Heath Tool Indicators

How can this strategy result in health benefits?

  • Address chronic disease (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease)
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce human exposure to transportation-related emissions
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities
  • Reduce transportation's contribution to air pollution

How has this worked in practice?

Implementation of Complete Streets in Saint Paul, Minnesota

The City of Saint Paul, Minnesota, is an innovative leader in the implementation of Complete Streets. Funded by a U.S. DOT TIGER II Grant (grant to fund capital investments in surface transportation infrastructure), the city developed a Street Design manual to implement its Complete Streets policies. Multiple pilot projects are underway that include public workshops to prioritize potential street improvements. In 2013, a “Better Block” event was held to illustrate the Street Design Manual. For the event, a block was temporarily transformed into a complete street with walkable and bikeable amenities, pop-up businesses, and street art.

Where can I learn more?

The Bicycle & Pedestrian Program of the Federal Highway Administration's Office of Human Environment provides extensive bicycle and pedestrian resources and guidance.

The Smart Growth America National Complete Streets Coalition works to promote Complete Streets. Their site includes fundamental information about Complete Streets, support for implementing Complete Streets, fact sheets, and news updates. 

Complete Streets: Best Policy and Implementation Practices summarizes successful policy and implementation practices based on the examination of 30 communities across the country.

Complete Streets in the Southeast: A Tool Kit, a partnership between AARP Government Affairs, Smart Growth America, and the National Complete Streets Coalition, is a how-to guide for implementing Complete Streets.

Evidence base

Aytur SA, Rodriguez DA, Evenson KR, Catellier DJ, Rosamond WD. Promoting active community environments through land use and transportation planning. American Journal of Health Promotion 2007;21(4):397-407.

Boehmer, TK, Lovegreen, SL, Haire-Joshu, D, Brownson, RC. What constitutes an obesogenic environment in rural communities? The Science of Health Promotion 2006;20(6):411-421.

Buehler R, Pucher J. Cycling to work in 90 large American cities: New evidence on the role of bike paths and lanes. Transportation 2011;39(2):409-432.

Dumbaugh E, Li, W. Designing for the safety of pedestrians, cyclists, and motorists in urban environments. Journal of the American Planning Association 2010;77(1):69-88.

Fitzpatrick K, Carlson P, Brewer M, Wooldridge M. Design Factors that Affect Speed on Suburban Streets. Transportation Research Record: Journal of the Transportation Research Board 2000;1751:18–25.

Frank LD, Sallis JF, Conway TL, Chapman JE, Saelens BE, Bachman W. Many pathways from land use to health: associations between neighborhood walkability and active transportation, body mass index, and air quality. Journal of the American Planning Association 2006;72(1):75-87.

National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). NCHRP Synthesis 436: Local Policies and Practices that Support Safe Pedestrian Environments: A Synthesis of Highway Practice. Transportation Research Board; 2012.

Powell KE, Martin L, Chowdhury PP. Places to walk: convenience and regular physical activity. American Journal of Public Health 2003;93:1519-1521.

Pucher J, Buehler R, Bassett DR, Dannenberg AL. Walking and cycling to health: A comparative analysis of city, state, and international data. American Journal of Public Health 2010;100(10):1986–1992.

Reynolds CC, Harris MA, Teschke K, Cripton PA, Winters M. The impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes: a review of the literature. Environmental Health 2009;8:47.

Shinkle D, Teigen A. Encouraging Bicycling and Walking: the State Legislative Role. National Conference of State Legislatures; 2008.

Updated: Monday, October 26, 2015
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