Program overview

  • Increasing traffic safety: Complete streets policies set out how a community will plan, design, and maintain streets that are safe for all users. Such policies aim to make streets safer and more comfortable for everyone, while placing an emphasis on improving conditions for pedestrians, cyclists, and other non-automobile drivers.

  • Setting design standards: A complete streets policy provides concrete design guidance to ensure the jurisdiction’s engineers know how to design streets that reflect the policy’s goals. Often, this is accomplished by requiring the adoption of design guides from national transportation agencies, like the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO).

  • Prioritizing complete streets: Conventional processes for allocating funding to transportation projects often prioritize projects that improve vehicle travel time or vehicle throughput. Complete Streets policies update the criteria used in these processes to give extra weight to projects that advance a community’s Complete Streets goals.

  • Varied approaches: Historically, the majority of local governments have adopted complete streets policies through non-binding resolutions. Increasingly, jurisdictions are passing legislation or issuing executive orders that include enforceable language to ensure the implementation of the policy.

Multiple studies with rigorous designs demonstrate that Complete Streets policies are a well-established strategy for increasing physical activity and pedestrian and cyclist safety.

  • Build equity into resource allocation: The most effective Complete Streets policies include measures to prioritize investment in underserved parts of a jurisdiction. In many cities and counties, these areas are the most in need of Complete Streets interventions, as they experience the highest rates of traffic violence. Taking a broader view, investments in underserved areas benefit the entire jurisdiction, as closing gaps in service or infrastructure strengthens the entire transportation network.

  • Write a broadly applicable policy: Strong policies require Complete Streets principles to be applied to all new, reconstruction, and maintenance projects on a jurisdiction’s streets. This ensures that a community can more quickly build a safer street network, as gradual improvements can be made even when a complete street redesign is not feasible. Any exceptions to the policy should only be granted after high-level approval and public notice is given.

  • Require and seek collaboration: Local governments that are implementing a Complete Streets policy should require relevant agencies under their jurisdiction to coordinate in achieving the community’s Complete Streets goals. While a single agency may lead the Complete Streets initiative (e.g., a Department of Transportation), the multidisciplinary nature of the effort will require participation from all agencies that affect transportation (e.g., Departments of Planning, Public Works, and Housing). Additionally, local governments often share responsibility for certain streets with their state government. In these cases, local governments should encourage their state Department of Transportation to adhere to the local policy as much as possible.

  • Measure and report on performance: Effective Complete Streets policies establish specific performance metrics across a range of categories and assign responsibility for collecting and disseminating those metrics. Examples of useful metrics include sidewalk condition ratings, access to jobs (disaggregated by mode of transportation), number of students who walk or bike to school, among others. By collecting and publicizing performance data, local governments can strengthen accountability to and build public support for the policy.