Complete Streets policy development
Why do we need a Complete Streets policy?
Complete Streets policies formalize a community’s intent to plan, design, and maintain streets so they are safe for all users of all ages and abilities. Policies direct transportation planners and engineers to consistently design and construct the right-of-way to prioritize the safety of the most vulnerable people who use the street including people walking, biking, and moving actively with assistive devices.
What’s in a Complete Streets policy?
Complete Streets can be achieved through a variety of policies: ordinances and resolutions; rewrites of design manuals; inclusion in comprehensive plans; internal memos from directors of transportation agencies; policies adopted by city and county councils; and executive orders from elected officials, such as Mayors or Governors. All policies should include the 10 elements of a Complete Streets policy. Download the 10 elements ››
We began using these revised elements to analyze and rank Complete Streets policies in 2018.
What kinds of places pass Complete Streets policies?
More than 1600 Complete Streets policies have been passed in the United States, in small towns, suburbs, and big cities alike. See the full list and interactive map ››
Where are the best Complete Streets policies?
Each year the Coalition releases its analysis and ranking of the best Complete Streets policies in the country based on the 10 policy elements. See the full series ››
Is there a federal Complete Streets policy?
Yes, though it leaves incredible latitude for states to choose whether or not to prioritize the needs of all users.
The 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act was the first federal transportation bill to ever include Complete Streets. The infrastructure law passed in late 2021 (the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) also included some provisions related to Complete Streets. Learn more about Complete Streets in the IIJA from T4America>>
Interested in developing a Complete Streets policy for your town, city, region, or state? Learn about our Policy Development workshops ››
Implementing a Complete Streets policy
A Complete Streets policy is a commitment that all future transportation projects will prioritize the safety of the most vulnerable people who use the street. Implementation of that policy is where the work truly begins. The day-to-day decisions a transportation agency and community leaders make in funding, planning, design, maintenance, and operations should be aligned to the goals of that adopted policy document. Some important next steps to ensure the success of Complete Streets include:
1. A plan for implementation
A conscious implementation process identifies all the systems, routines, silos, and assumptions that, together, have created the current transportation system. Communities have found it easier to understand the world of possible activities by assessing and understanding the current procedures and processes; planning for clear next steps; and establishing a person or group of people who can help guide implementation efforts within and across departments and agencies. Complete Streets programs are strongest when the committee that coordinates and oversees implementation includes representatives from the most vulnerable communities prioritized by the policy, such as older adults, people living with disabilities, people who do not own or do not have access to a personal vehicle, and Black, Native, or Hispanic or Latino/a/x people.
2. Changes to procedure and process
Agencies must review the rules, procedures, and habits that have typically guided them. Facilities for bicycling, walking, active mobility with assistive devices, and taking and operating public transportation are simply not in some plans, codes, manuals, and other guiding documents. They can, and must, be added. Some communities do this systematically by reviewing all documents that might affect transportation. Others work through pilot projects, finding the issues that must be corrected as they work through the project.
3. Training and educational opportunities for staff
A successful Complete Streets initiative is about far more than helping engineers learn how to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities into road projects. Planners, engineers, consultants, and other agencies need a thorough understanding of new procedures. Elected officials need ongoing engagement to understand how the general policy goals will be translated into projects on the ground. And communication with the public about what they want out of their streets, and what is happening to their roads, is essential for implementation to be successful.
4. Review and revisions of design guidance
At many transportation agencies, the street design manual is the go-to reference for all projects. If that manual is not supportive of flexible, context-sensitive, and multi-modal approaches, this can be the largest barrier a community faces. A flexible manual can empower planners and engineers to develop design solutions that balance the needs of many users and support the surrounding neighborhood. Changes to the subdivision codes that apply to private development are also necessary to ensure that all new roadways and planned developments are aligned with the community’s Complete Streets goals.
5. New measures of performance
Creating and using new performance measures for transportation projects and the transportation system is essential. It helps agencies ensure if they are on the right track — and helps them celebrate their new way of making decisions. Performance measures can track positive outcomes of Complete Streets (such as improvements to health and safety), changes to decision-making processes (such as other policy updates and project exemptions), and equity improvements (such as more just investment in underserved communities or reduction of health and safety disparities). Having data that demonstrates the success of Complete Streets implementation can become a powerful selling point for future projects and funding.
6. New approaches to select and prioritize projects
Jurisdictions usually have more potential transportation projects than they have funding to implement at any given time. Usually the decision about which projects move forward is based on congestion for cars, political will, or “squeaky wheels” complaints from the community. To ensure Complete Streets mitigates rather than exacerbates disparities by prioritizing the needs of vulnerable, underinvested communities, a Complete Streets policy should establish project selection criteria to ensure funding is allocated fairly and equitably. Examples of criteria for determining the ranking of projects should include assigning weight for active transportation infrastructure; targeting underserved communities; alleviating disparities in health, safety, economic benefit, and access to destinations; and creating better multimodal network connectivity for all people who use the street.
7. More inclusive approaches to community engagement
Complete Streets policies can ensure the most vulnerable members of the community have a meaningful voice in decision-making by creating an inclusive community engagement plan. Rather than treating community engagement as a checkbox exercise, an inclusive community engagement plan ensures that Complete Streets will work to proactively overcome barriers to participation for underrepresented communities, which could include non-native English speakers, people living with disabilities, and people who can not afford or do not have access to a personal vehicle. This requires the use of outreach strategies such as holding public meetings at easily accessible times and places, collecting input at community gathering spaces, and hosting and attending community meetings and events. The best community engagement plans don’t require people to alter their daily routines to participate. Outreach strategies should make use of natural gathering spaces such as clinics, schools, parks, and community centers.
Interested in getting expert guidance implementing your community’s Complete Streets policy? Learn about our Policy Implementation workshops ››