Complete Streets

Source: Pedestrian Bicycle Information Center (PBIC)

Complete streets are designed and operate to enable safe and convenient access for all users. Pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities are able to safely move along and across a complete street. Complete streets foster transportation equity, healthy lifestyles, and vibrant communities.

Although 11 percent of all trips are made by foot or bicycle, more than 16 percent of all traffic fatalities are bicyclists or pedestrians. More than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists die each year on U.S. roads. People of color and older adults are disproportionately represented among pedestrian fatalities. While design is not the only contributing factor to traffic crashes, streets can be dangerous by design and put people at unnecessary risk. A national survey by NHTSA found that the top complaints among pedestrians and bicyclists were the lack of sidewalks and bikeways -- essentially, incomplete streets. Roads without safe access for non-drivers are barriers that hinder mobility for a large portion of the population. Approximately 9 percent of U.S. households lack access to a vehicle, making complete streets essential for children and older Americans, as well as people with certain disabilities, and those that cannot afford a car or do not wish to own a car (2015 American Community Survey 5-year estimate).

Complete streets incorporate context sensitive solutions, which make each one unique. Design features that may be found on a complete street include sidewalks, bicycle lanes, plenty of crosswalks, medians, bus pullouts, special bus lanes, raised crosswalks, audible pedestrian signals, sidewalk bulb-outs, and more. Complete streets in rural areas look quite different from complete streets in highly urban areas. However, both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

In 2015, the U.S. government passed the first Federal transportation bill that referred to complete streets. The FAST Act requires state DOTs to account for all potential users of the roadways in their designs and design alternatives. This is reinforced by a FHWA memorandum that supports a flexible approach to bicycle and pedestrian facility design, including the use of design guides like the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide.

Complete streets policies are in place in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington D.C. While complete streets policies have gained popularity, more than 40 percent of the adopted policies are non-binding resolutions and there is still a need to focus on implementation by incorporating complete streets into regulations and design standards.


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