Complete streets: Fighting the good fight

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What are complete streets?To learn more, visit or check out this quick illustration from AARP on what a complete street might look like.

What was simply a loose confederation a few years ago of bicycle, pedestrian, and safety advocates seemingly yelling into the wind has become an organized coalition making significant traction in policy and political circles, advocating for streets that are accessible and safe for all users.

Some of that success can be attributed to the shift from bureacratic, wonky terminology to a simple catchphrase that summarized what they were all fighting for — “Complete Streets.”

From Neal Peirce’s column, “A national fight for saner streets,” appearing in the Seattle Times:

The cause has simmered for years — and we’ve all felt some of it: frustration with fast traffic that turns streets through our neighborhoods into corridors of fear. There is a resentment about narrow, rough or nonexistent sidewalks, a reluctance to have children walking to school cross high-speed roadways. Bicyclists take their lives in their hands when venturing onto major roads.

Now, finally, there’s an organized nationwide movement to fight the good fight for saner streets. It’s a coalition mounting a nationwide campaign for city and town roadways that include safe, quality space for pedestrians and cyclists and public-transit users, accommodating their wishes just as seriously as those of car and truck drivers.

He also cites the recent poll we did with the National Association of Realtors to make the point that complete streets is not some unpopular fringe movement — it enjoys vast popular support:

But 90 percent of us, according to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, believe that new communities should be designed so we can walk more and drive less, and that public transportation should be improved and accessible.

New Urban News also featured complete streets in their December issue, highlighting some of the successes around the country and showing how different states and municipalities have approached including all users in the planning and design process. Consider the example of Seattle:

The 569,000-population city passed a resolution in October 2006 and an ordinance in April 2007. The ordinance helps ensure that for each capital project in Seattle, there is a Complete Streets meeting, with participants from all the municipal departments that have a stake in the project — most notably Planning and Development, Public Utilities, and Transportation. “Now they’re all in the room,” McGrath emphasizes. “They can ask, ‘Do you have what you need?” The needs of pedestrians, cyclists, and others do not have to be guessed at.

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