For the better part of the last century, streets have been designed around the automobile at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. The complete streets movement aims to redesign the nation's streets so that they are equally welcoming to all road users. Complete streets increase safety, create more livable communities, stimulate economic activity, and improve the environment.
Caltrans defines a complete street as: “a transportation facility that is planned, designed, operated, and maintained to provide safe mobility for all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, transit vehicles, truckers, and motorists, appropriate to the function and context of the facility."
Complete Street Strategies
There are a wide variety of techniques that cities can use to redesign their streets. Three of the main areas of complete streets projects are roadways, intersections, and sidewalks.
- Lane reconfigurations - Complete streets are, at their heart, about redesigning streets to work better for more users. One of the best ways to do this is through a road diet - removing automobile travel lanes to make room for other road users, shorten crossing distances, and encourage safer speeds. If removing lanes is infeasible, these goals can be accomplished by narrowing the lanes.
- Bicycle lanes - Road space reclaimed by a road diet or lane narrowing can be used to create safe bike infrastructure. Basic painted bicycle lanes are a start, but lanes protected by medians or posts further increase safety. Sharrows painted in the travel lane can help alert cars to the presence of cyclists on roads without room for dedicated bicycle lanes.
- Bus lanes - Bus lanes are another use for reclaimed road space. If mid-day bus service is relatively infrequent, then designating lanes as bus-only during just peak hours can be an efficient use of space. On major bus corridors, fully separated median-running lanes will allow for the best service.
- Pedestrian plazas - Some unsafe or low-volume streets can be closed to automobiles entirely, creating vibrant pedestrian spaces. Plazas should be well marked to prevent cars from entering them, and the implementing agency should find a community partner to help keep the space clean.
- Crosswalk improvements - At a minimum, crosswalks should be striped to promote visibility. For midblock crossings, consider raising crosswalks to the level of the sidewalk. Raised crosswalks improve visibility, make the crossing easier (especially for people with physical impairments), and act as speed humps to slow cars.
- Signal changes - A leading pedestrian interval is a signaling strategy that gives pedestrians a head start at crossings to reduce crash risk. At intersections with especially high volumes of pedestrian traffic consider installing exclusive pedestrian phases. Also known as scramble crosswalks, these block vehicle traffic and let pedestrians cross in any direction, including diagonally.
- Curb extensions - Many modern intersections have very wide curbs. This encourages faster turning by drivers and increases crossing distances for pedestrians. Corner bulbouts extend the sidewalk into the street to solve these problems. Curb extensions can also be installed mid-block to encourage slower speeds.
- Traffic circles and roundabouts - Conventional four-way intersections are inefficient, confusing, and come with the risk of head-on collisions. Roundabouts regulate traffic in a way that simultaneously decreases speeds while improving intersection throughput. On smaller streets, mini traffic circles can be used to reduce speeds.
- Public seating - Seating reinforces the idea that sidewalks are public space to be enjoyed, not just transportation corridors. Seating encourages socialization and promotes pedestrian activity, which makes areas more pleasant, safer, and better for local businesses. In most cases public seating should be permanently affixed to the ground to keep it in place.
- Outdoor dining - Rather than being an inappropriate private use of public space, sidewalk dining is a highly desirable driver of urban activity and should be encouraged. Because it does use the public right-of-way, strict rules must be in place to preserve pedestrian access to the sidewalk. Fully enclosed sidewalk dining should be prohibited, as it allows restaurants to use public space without stimulating street life.
- Landscaping - Street trees and other landscaping elements are hugely beneficial to a street. Not only are they pretty, but they can provide shade, reduce stormwater runoff, improve air quality, and even reduce vehicle speeds by visually narrowing the street. Pick plants that are compatible with the local climate with minimal irrigation and that will not grow too big for the area in which they are planted.
- Bicycle parking - Providing abundant bike parking encourages more people to ride because they know they will have a place to lock their bike when they reach their destinations. By providing a dedicated space for bike parking, racks reduce the likelihood that people will clutter the sidewalk by haphazardly locking to fences or street poles. Racks should have two points of contact to keep bicycles upright and allow riders to easily lock both the wheels and frame; inverted-U racks are a good choice.
Living streets are policies similar to complete streets in that they promote roads for different types of travel. Livable Streets has additional aims including:
- Promoting economic growth "without inviting gentrification of longtime residents and businesses"
- Transforming important streets into public spaces for walking, biking, and interaction.
- Inviting people to interact with street furniture, public art, architecture and landscaping to promote the community's brand.
- Sustaining and restoring environments by introducing infrastructure that catches rainwater and cleans runoff.
- Encourage healthy and active transportation such as walking and biking and healthy lifestyles
- Introduce traffic calming measures appropriate to the environment (e.g. in residential areas).
Shared streets are street layouts in which pedestrian and automobile traffic in integrated. The model is popular in Europe, Israel, Japan, and Australia.
- Caltrans. "Complete Streets Program."
- City of Los Angeles. "Complete Streets Design Guide."
- Bogert, S. (2011). "Living Streets Design Manual." Model Design Manual for Living Streets. LA County Department of Public Health.
- Ben-Joseph, E. (1995). "Changing the residential street scene: Adapting the shared street (woonerf) concept to the suburban environment." Journal of the American Planning Association.