Complete Streets provide concrete benefits to communities

A new report from Smart Growth America shows benefits of complete streets.

A report out this month from Smart Growth America and the Complete Streets Coalition looks at the benefits to communities who implement complete streets projects. The report looks at 37 complete streets projects across the country analyzing the outcomes for the communities.

By definition, Complete Streets are safe, comfortable and convenient for travel by everyone, regardless of age or ability – motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists and public transportation riders. All modes of travel are intended to be accommodated, but it is based on urban context – i.e. there is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context in a complementary relationship between thoroughfare and urban character.

Typical elements that make up a complete street in an urban or suburban setting include sidewalks, bicycle lanes (or wide, paved shoulders), shared-use paths, designated bus lanes, safe and accessible transit stops, and frequent and safe crossings for pedestrians, including median islands, accessible pedestrian signals and curb extensions. Certainly, a design for a complete street in a rural area will look quite different from one in an urban or suburban area. For example, a complete street in a rural area could involve providing wide shoulders or a separate multiuse path instead of sidewalks. The common denominator, however, is balancing safety and convenience for everyone using the road.

The study, Safer Streets, Stronger Economies, looks at projects where before and after data is available. The outcomes for the communities are grouped in four main categories:

  • The data showed that streets were usually safer after the complete streets projects were completed than before
  • The data showed that complete streets projects encouraged more multi modal travel
  • Complete streets are less expensive or equal in cost compared to conventional streets
  • Complete streets can have positive impacts on local economies

Not every project studied had outcomes in these four areas, but it shows the potential returns for communities interested in pursuing a complete streets approach. Not every community that implements a complete streets project will see all of these benefits but this shows there are concrete benefits to a complete streets approach.

For more information on pursuing complete streets in your community, contact a Michigan State University Extension Land Use educator.

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