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Constructive Candor

Is the Complete Streets Model Our Future in Transportation?

America loves their cars. For over 100 years our city landscapes have been molded by the Car to provide for faster and more efficient transportation.  We became an auto-centric society that gave little thought to other types of street users.  But now those views are changing and more and more people are seeking policies that enhance healthy, safe and sustainable ways to build our transportation infrastructure.  Many refer to this movement as Complete Streets.

Complete Streets improve community livability by providing safe mobility for all users including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit vehicles, and motorists. Some noted benefits of Complete Streets include:

  • Increased transportation choices
  • Economic revitalization
  • Improved safety
  • Improved return on infrastructure investments
  • Access to all community members regardless of age, ability, or mode of travel

It’s time for America to change its view of our streets and transform them into places that are accessible by all.

Our streets have traditionally been built on geometric design standards that determine how many lanes, how wide of lanes, median and shoulder width, intersection design, and other features that reflect the need to move automobiles. These standards can be found in federal and state manuals including The American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, state highway design manuals, and Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The standards in these manuals were written to apply to freeways, principal routes connecting to those freeways, and roads important to strategic defense. Today, those types of roadways only account for four percent of the more than four million roadway miles in the United States (The American Road & Transportation Builders Association, 2014). This is a small percentage of our roadways that focus primarily on moving automobiles quickly and efficiently, and are focused on removing other types of roadway users.

Most local jurisdictions adopted these federal and state highway standards, or used them as the basis of their own standards, because of a lack of resources or expertise to develop their own. However, neither federal nor state law mandates their adoption. The outcome has driven streets that are overbuilt with wider sections, too many lanes, and less emphasis on alternative modes of transportation. This is the wrong way to design our city streets and we should all be encouraging our local agencies to adopt new policies that focus on Complete Streets design.

One option for agencies without their own Complete Streets standards is to look to other communities and agencies that may be ahead of them in developing standards. An example of this is Los Angeles County which developed the Model Design Manual for Living Streets. Los Angeles County saw there was a need in all communities for new policies that benefit all roadway users, so they developed the Model Design Manual for Living Streets and made it freely available for all communities to use by adopting, modifying, customizing, or expanding upon the standards and policies that were developed. There have also been recent developments of policies by the Federal Highway Administration and numerous state transportation agencies that local agencies should incorporate into their standards and policies.

How can we prevent our communities from becoming more auto-centric rather than people-centric? Tell us what you think - we would love to hear from you - email 

Over the next year as part of the Roads 2.0 program, we will be discussing the practice of Complete Streets and how we can transform our local public roads to benefit all users. Some of the topics that you can look for are:

  • Road Diets

  • Pedestrian Accessibility

  • Bikeway Design

  • Transit Accommodations

  • Traffic Calming

  • Intersection Design

  • Street Retrofits

Click to view Roads 2.0 by MacKay Sposito Photo Credits:  istockphoto.comTRAFFICE_VIDEO

Topics: Transportation & Public Works

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