Completing Rural Highways: Making the case in Massachusetts and Washington

State DOTs in Massachusetts and Washington used new tools and strong communication to make the case for Complete Streets projects.

From November 2022 to May 2023, Smart Growth America worked with the State Smart Transportation Initiative to host a series of four virtual workshops for staff at state departments of transportation (DOTs) to discuss challenges and strategies for implementing Complete Streets on state-owned rural roads. This work was completed in partnership with CDC’s Active People, Healthy Nation℠ Initiative. Learn more here.
Aerial shot of intersections in Washington State, with pedestrians walking on sidewalks


MassDOT has worked for years toward its vision of creating safe, comfortable, and convenient options for walking and biking. Their ultimate goals are to eliminate bicyclist and pedestrian fatalities and serious injuries, while increasing the share of short trips made by walking and biking. This has required cultivating a unified front and a cultural shift towards active transportation within the agency, paired with tools to make the work easier to implement.

Their tools for estimating latent demand—i.e., potential for walking and biking trips—have been instrumental in building a Complete Streets focus into all levels of decision-making. The resulting metrics consider the concentration of nearby activities and short car trips (based on de-identified cell phone data), and they inform project selection, corridor planning studies, and safety assessments. They are also incorporated into the agency’s Complete Streets design criteria and help determine where sidewalks and bike lanes are required.

The incorporation of latent demand tools into the agency’s Complete Streets design criteria helped build internal support for their use in everyday practice. Staff were given resources and attended training that covered use cases and strategies for communicating recent tool updates. The agency continues to iterate on the methodologies behind the tools and make improvements based on staff feedback. Several lessons learned throughout this process include the importance of internal agency champions and the need for context-sensitive solutions, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach.

A Complete Streets approach isn’t about choosing a singular design prescription to make roads safer. The needs of travelers can differ depending on their local contexts, and streets will look different as a result. Learn more about a Complete Streets approach to planning, designing, and building streets.


WSDOT has gained strong internal buy-in for Complete Streets by aligning its strategic plan and statewide active transportation plan, published in 2021, with Complete Streets principles. Over the past decade, WSDOT incorporated Complete Streets elements through strong and consistent leadership focused on including multimodal infrastructure in plans, emphasizing active transportation modes in projects, and focusing on pilot projects to demonstrate the need.

This positioned the state well for meeting the requirements of the Move Ahead Washington law passed in 2022, requiring any project over $500,000 to incorporate Complete Streets elements. This makes active transportation facilities a new baseline for project needs across the state. The law applies to all projects in incorporated cities, population centers with active transportation gaps or overburdened communities identified in WSDOT plans. Funding will not be released for projects until after the screening.

WSDOT focused on regional teams and clear, transparent guidance to effectively implement the new Complete Streets requirements. The agency released a project delivery memo coupled with the legislation to provide publicly accessible guidance for concrete implementation steps. The interdisciplinary regional teams regularly meet during screening, pre-design, and design processes to provide feedback and regional focuses for project delivery. A regional focus allows WSDOT headquarters to support regional leaders that are more familiar with the projects and areas while maintaining a central place for communication.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provided support for this project under cooperative agreement OT18-1802 supporting the Active People, Healthy NationSM Initiative, a national initiative led by the CDC to help 27 million Americans become more physically active by 2027. Learn more: The findings and conclusions in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Complete Streets Transportation