When done right, Complete Streets increase walking and biking

By Megan Link

Complete Streets have been critiqued as to whether they improve safety for all users. Research shows that integrating Complete Streets effectively results in significant increases in walking and bicycling. Effective policies require thoughtful implementation and accountability. Smart Growth America scores the latest Complete Streets policies to determine the strongest and most effective approaches for safer and more equitable streets. New policies are a good start to creating healthier and more equitable transportation networks, but implementing and monitoring them represents a complete overhaul of the decision-making process. 

Incorporating Complete Streets principles into road design leads to more walking and biking, says a new study. Level of traffic stress (LTS), or a person’s degree of safety and comfort on the road, can often determine what mode of transportation they will use.  

Different Levels of Traffic Stress compared to safety and comfort for bicycling. Source: Bas et al., 2023.

A survey asked participants to select their preferred mode of transportation according to how long their trip would be, their intended purpose, and the amount of Complete Street elements along the route (e.g., a paved shoulder or separated bike lane). The findings show the elasticity of walking and biking with respect to LTS is around 0.57. Moving from LTS 4 to LTS 2 or LTS 1 results in a 29% or a 43% increase in walking and biking, respectively.

FHWA released new guidance for bike and pedestrian planning, programs, and project development. This includes funding opportunities, planning, and design resources to assist local communities in applying and implementing these aspects.

Smart Growth America’s latest report scores the top-ranked Complete Streets policies passed from 2019 to 2022 to share best practices and good policy frameworks with other cities. Scores are based on the Complete Streets policy framework, which focuses on the process and implementation to effectively create changes in projects. Scoring systems help cities maintain high standards and accountability for their policies as they are adopted and implemented, to create more equitable, safe, and accessible cities. SGA’s latest webinar discusses some of the top-ranked policies with the advocates involved throughout the process. The panelists note the importance of building trust and collaboration with a diverse group of people to build an effective policy based on local needs.

Complete Streets have also been incorporated at the state level. Our recent webinar talks with Washington, Massachusetts, and Minnesota to discuss challenges, best practices, and opportunities to make Complete Streets more routine and systematic.

Photo Credit: Adrian Olichon via Pexels, unmodified. License