Complete Streets Policies

Indicator Description

The Complete Streets Policies indicator provides information on whether or not a state or the metropolitan planning organization that serves the region or a given metro area has adopted a complete streets policy that requires or encourages a safe, comfortable, integrated transportation network for all users, regardless of age, ability, income, ethnicity, or mode of transportation. Data come from the National Complete Streets Coalition’s list of complete streets policies. A score of either 0 (no policy) or 100 (policy in place) is provided for this indicator.

Related Strategies

Transportation and Health Connection

Roadways traditionally have been designed primarily for motor vehicles. A personal vehicle-centric design approach potentially could pose barriers to use by pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation users, thus limiting active transportation opportunities and potential resulting health benefits. Complete Streets policies can support planners and engineers in developing roadway designs that improve the safety of all users and provide additional opportunities for physical activity from transportation. The connections between physical activity and public health have been widely documented. Research suggests that physically active adults “have lower rates of all-cause mortality, coronary heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, colon cancer, breast cancer, and depression” than their physically inactive peers (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1996). Active transportation, or trips made by walking or bicycling, was identified by Healthy People 2020 as a target for measuring progress for healthier people (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2010). Additionally, Healthy People 2020 listed “increased legislative policies for the built environment that enhance access to and availability of physical activity opportunities” as a specific travel and transportation policy.

Active transportation and physical activity is more likely to occur in places with a variety of land uses, a comprehensive network of pedestrian, bicycle, and public transportation facilities, inviting street design for all users, and safety measures; and Complete Streets policies address all four of those factors (Fenton, 2012). Complete Streets also promote increased roadway connectivity, which has been shown to reduce VMT per capita (Moreland-Russell et al., 2013), and they have been found to improve safety and mobility for pedestrians and bicyclists (U.S. DOT, 2010; Handy, Tal, Boarnet, 2010).

About the Data

The National Complete Streets Coalition Policy Atlas is a collection of the Complete Street policies from across the country that has been used to identify the presence and robustness of Complete Streets policies at the state and regional levels to develop this indicator. The interactive map marks the policies and identifies the different levels: laws and ordinances, resolutions, tax ordinances, internal policies or executive policies, plans, design manuals or guides, or policies adopted by elected boards (Smart Growth America). A chart listing all of the policies is updated bi-monthly. This data source is limited in that it relies on communities to self-report policies in addition to identifying potential policies through internet and social media searches.  Additionally, the Coalition is privately run and there is no federal clearinghouse of policies, plans, or programs.

Moving Forward

Shifts towards using Complete Streets provide a measure of how approaches to planning and engineering are shifting over time. The focus of road design is no longer about auto-mobility, but creating an overall network that serves all users (LaPlante, McCann, 2011). Complete Street policies are a component of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) transportation recommendations. Complete Streets can enhance physical activity and reduce injury. Setting a Complete Streets policy in place is a foundational step towards improving infrastructure by providing accessible, safe, and connected roadways (CDC, 2010).

A recent survey of implemented Complete Street policies suggests this type of strategy is applicable to communities that vary in geography and socio-demographic factors (Marshall, Garrick, 2011), which suggests that it can be a useful tool for various regions. Complete Streets strategies include retrofitting existing arterials to accommodate multi-modal users or building new facilities that support multi-modal transportation and complementary roadside uses. Complete Streets elements may include pedestrian and bicyclist accommodations, public transportation access, accommodations for persons with disabilities, landscape elements, and traffic calming. Controlling and reducing vehicular speed can be done through reducing the number of lanes, adding curb parking, or installing raised medians (LaPlante, McCann, 2011). Decision makers can search the National Complete Streets Coalition Policy Atlas for model language and for other assistance in developing Complete Streets policies. This is an opportunity for health and transportation professionals to work with advocates and decision makers in setting forth policy strategies to shape the future of land use, growth, and development in ways that encourage use of alternate modes and opportunities for physical activity from transportation, while enhancing safety for all users. Enhanced health and safety of the broader population is tightly connected with the built environment and small steps now can lead to significant benefits in the future.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Recommendations for Improving Health through Transportation Policy; 2010.

Fenton M. Community design and policies for free-range children: creating environments that support routine physical activity. Childhood Obesity; 2012:8:44-51.

Handy S, Tal G, Boarnet MG. Draft Policy Brief on the Impacts of Network Connectivity Based on a Review of the Empirical Literature; 2010. *

LaPlante JN, McCann B. Complete Streets in the United States; 2011.

Marshall WE, Garrick NW. Does street network design affect traffic safety? Accident Analysis & Prevention: 2011:43:769-781. *

Moreland-Russell S, Eyler A, Barbero C, Hipp JA, Walsh H. Diffusion of Complete Streets Policies Across US Communities. Journal of Health Management and Practice; 2013:19:S59-96.

Smart Growth for America. National Complete Streets Coalition. Complete Streets: A to Z.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Physical Activity and Health: A Report of the Surgeon General; 1996.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Healthy People 2020; 2010.

U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Evaluation of Lane Reduction “Road Diet” Measures on Crashes; 2010.

* Indicates research that supports policies analyzed

† Indicates research that supports equity or vulnerable populations studied

Updated: Tuesday, February 2, 2016
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