Complete Streets

Making Roads Safe For All Users

Background

Over the past century many of our states, cities, counties and towns have built many miles of streets and roads that are safe and comfortable only for travel in one way, a motor vehicle. These roadways often lack sidewalks, have lanes too narrow to share safely with bicyclists, and feature few, poorly marked, or dangerous pedestrian crossings. More than 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists die each year on U.S. roads. A study by Professor John Pucher comparing the United States with Germany and the Netherlands, where complete streets are common, found that bicyclist and pedestrian death rates are two to six times higher in the United States.

Each year local jurisdictions throughout the United States spend a combined total of hundreds of billions of dollars to build new roads and highways and to reconstruct and resurface existing facilities. This investment provides an opportunity to design and implement “complete streets” which serve the needs of all transportation users including pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities, transit riders, and automobile users. A seamless network of complete streets including on-street walking and bicycling facilities, trails and transit should connect schools, homes, shopping, employment centers, recreation areas and other destinations.

Complete streets improve safety by providing dedicated facilities for pedestrians and bicyclists. As such this is an important strategy for Safe Routes to School, as children are our most vulnerable roadway users, and roads leading to schools are regularly built and reconstructed.

Good Policies

Ideally, both your state and local jurisdiction will have an adopted complete streets policy or law which requires that the planning, design, construction and maintenance of roadway and transit facilities will include the needs of all transportation users – pedestrians, bicyclists, the disabled, transit users, and motorists. Be careful about policies that only “consider the needs” of pedestrians and bicyclists, as these words provide an easy method for the governing body to dismiss bicycle and pedestrian needs.

It’s important for both the state and local entity to have policies because State Departments of Transportation and local public works departments generally both hold jurisdiction over different local roads where pedestrians and bicyclists – including school children – travel regularly. It’s also important for policies to address roads built as part of developments.

Some jurisdictions require a “checklist” to show how the governing body considered and included the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. In many jurisdictions, bicycle and pedestrian advisory committees help government agencies ensure that non-motorized needs are met. Complete streets policies can be inserted into general plan documents, regional transportation plans, or funding mechanisms such as bonds or transportation sales taxes. They can be legislated through state or local laws, or through resolutions by governing bodies. Alternatively, policies can be internally adopted by public works departments or state departments of transportation.

Examples

Since 1971, Oregon state law has required that “Footpaths and bicycle trails…shall be provided wherever a highway, road or street is being constructed, reconstructed or relocated”. The state also requires a minimum of one percent of state transportation funds be spent on bicycling and walking improvements.

In 2001, the California Department of Transportation adopted a policy title Deputy Directive 64 which says that the “Department fully considers the needs of non-motorized travelers (including pedestrian bicyclists and persons with disabilities) in all programming, planning, maintenance, construction, operations and project development activities and products.” The policy also outlines the various responsibilities of Caltrans employees to meet this directive. http://www.mtc.ca.gov/library/2001_rtp/downloads/bike/final_plan/AppendixB.doc

Chicago’s Complete Streets Policy states the following: “The safety and convenience of all users of the transportation system including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, freight, and motor vehicle drivers shall be accommodated and balanced in all types of transportation and development projects and through all phases of a project so that even the most vulnerable – children, elderly, and persons with disabilities – can travel safely within the public right of way.”

In 2006, the San Francisco Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission adopted resolution 3765, a complete streets policy, which indicates that all projects funded by this MPO will consider the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. MTC is finalizing a complete streets checklist that will become a required part of their application guidelines for transportation projects. http://www.marinbike.org/Campaigns/CompleteStreets/

See links to additional state and local policies for complete streets: http://www.completestreets.org/webdocs/policy/cs-chart-samplepolicy.pdf

Resources

The guide Complete Streets: Making Roads Safe and Accessible for All Users provides information on Complete Streets policies in underserved communities. Produced by the Safe Routes to School National Partnership (2013).

The National Complete Streets Coalition provides success stories, frequently asked questions, examples, and resources including sample presentations: http://www.completestreets.org/

A Complete Intersections Guide can be downloaded from the Caltrans Pedestrian Safety Resources Website: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/survey/pedestrian/

Accommodating Bicycle and Pedestrian Travel: A Recommended Approach is a policy statement adopted by the United States Department of Transportation. USDOT hopes that public agencies, professional associations, advocacy groups, and others adopt this approach as a way of committing themselves to integrating bicycling and walking into the transportation mainstream: http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bikeped/design.htm

America Bikes is an umbrella organization that advocates for bicycle funding and policies in the federal transportation bill. Complete streets is a key element of their platform: http://www.americabikes.org/what_are_complete_streets

The National Complete Streets Coalition shows a map with states and local jurisdictions that have adopted complete streets policies: http://www.completestreets.org/complete-streets-fundamentals/complete-streets-atlas/