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Can Complete Streets and Freight Mobility Coexist? (Part 2): Implementing a Complete Street Policy

6293518033_4578967227_zOur Cities have built themselves around a street serving dual purposes. This street is attempting to serve as both Main Street and highway. As Main Street it strives to be the hub of a community, surrounded by commercial development and acting as a community gathering place. This purpose requires mobility for all users. As highway it strives for safe, reliable, timely and efficient through-travel. This purpose requires freight movement to deliver goods and services that these communities rely on.

So how do we ensure Main Street functions as a Complete Street without negatively impacting freight traffic? One solution, which I’ll dub the High Level Solution, is to adopt a balanced regional or local Complete Street policy.

A Complete Street policy is a law, ordinance or resolution that defines your community’s vision for transportation facilities that accommodate all users. According to, at the end of 2014 over 700 jurisdictions nationwide had a Complete Street policy in place. While these policies are gaining in popularity, that equates to less than 15 policies per state, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

Most often these Complete Street policies are adopted to correct the fact that pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users have been neglected in our street design for many years. As an advocate for Complete Streets, I believe these wrongs need to be righted. But in the process let’s not forget the important part of that vision to “accommodate all users”. We do not want to change our street design to accommodate one type of user in a way that negatively impacts another.

Here is what a balanced Complete Street policy should include to ensure we are truly providing for all users.

  1. Complete Streets mission statement. State what your community wants from a Complete Street. For instance, the desire to build healthier communities, safer streets and increase transportation choices and economic vitality. Or perhaps the need to provide streets that accommodate all modes of transportation and people of all ages and abilities. List who the users of the street are: pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, automobiles, and freight.

  2. Define your transportation network at the local AND regional level. A Complete Street policy should define transportation routes for all user types. An important aspect of these networks is that not all modes of transportation need to follow the same route. Not every street needs to provide for every user, but the policy should provide routes within the community for every type of user. In transforming Main Street into a Complete Street you may find that booting freight onto another route may be the best option. By providing a bypass corridor to the freight community they will likely thank you for moving them through your community faster.

  3. Address other agencies within or connecting to your transportation network. More than likely the transportation network that is outlined in your policy will connect to other jurisdictions, and in the case of your Main Street that is also functioning as a state highway this will need to be addressed at the local and state level. Addressing these connections and involving all jurisdictions will provide a more seamless connection. In areas where connections between jurisdictions are high, the case for a regional policy adopted by all jurisdictions may be better suited.

  4. Determine design standards and flexibility. For years many of our local streets have been designed to standards that are more applicable to highway design. The outcome has given us streets that are overbuilt with too many lanes, lanes that are overly wide, and less emphasis on alternative modes of transportation. A new Complete Street policy should include guidance on local street design that accounts for the type of user and abutting land uses. An arterial functioning as a freight corridor should not be designed with the same standards as an arterial serving a residential area. One option is to look to other jurisdictions or agencies that have already developed these types of standards. An example of this is Los Angeles County which developed the Model Design Manual for Living Streets.

  5. Incorporate Practical Solutions. An effective Complete Street policy will require the implementation of Practical Solutions to enable flexible and sustainable design decisions by focusing on the project’s purpose and need. Corridors within rural areas or industrial districts may not be the best locations to provide miles of pedestrian sidewalk and likewise wide streets and intersections that provide for truck turning movements may not be suited for residential neighborhoods. Practical Solutions tailored to the specific project will be most cost effective.

  6. Gain community support. Community acceptance will be needed for a Complete Streets policy to succeed. Make sure to involve the public in the early planning stages, through design and into construction. Your policy can outline basic public involvement strategies while allowing for project-specific approaches. Part four of this blog series will talk more about community outreach and how to involve the freight community.

  7. Prepare a step by step implementation plan. Providing action items and establishing a Complete Streets council are great ways to keep people involved and provide accountability.

I’m not saying it will be easy to develop and adopt a Complete Street policy. Getting buy-in from the various stakeholders can be difficult, especially if multiple cities or counties are involved. But if you are persistent and do things the right way, you are likely to succeed. Then you’ll be on your way to having transportation facilities and systems where all users can coexist.

Look for upcoming posts on:

  •          Complete Streets Corridor Studies for Freight
  •          Public Involvement with the Freight Community

Check out our other posts in this series:

The Evolution of Main Street (part 1)

Developing Solutions with a Corridor Study (part 3)


Does your agency have a Complete Street policy, or are you considering creating one? Let me know if you have any other tips to add to this list by leaving a comment below or emailing me.

Photo credit: / dmytrok 


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Topics: Transportation & Public Works

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