What Are Complete Streets?

Complete Street Graphic
February 28, 2019

In communities throughout California, there is a call to make our streets safer for people of all ages and abilities, no matter how they are traveling, whether that is by car, walking, biking or riding a bus. In 2016, 16 pedestrians died every day in traffic collisions, averaging a pedestrian every 1.5 hours. Bicycle fatalities increased by 8.1% from 136 fatalities in 2015 to 147 fatalities in 2016. How might we rethink this focus and design with safety in mind for all modes of travel?

Complete Streets Defined 

Complete Streets are roadways designed, planned, and implemented to enable safe and comfortable access for every type of user, and they are an essential component of creating healthy streetscapes.  

Constructing safe routes between all modes of transportation requires human-centered thinking. Complete Streets create safe, comfortable multimodal transportation networks by acknowledging the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and automobile drivers of all ages and abilities. There is no standard template for Complete Streets, as they respond to environmental characteristics, community needs, and type of mobility device.

 A Complete Street mockup using Street Mix

Why are Complete Streets important? 

Too many streets are designed only for motor vehicle traffic. With efforts to improve the number of people able to walk, bike, and use transit safely, we need to make the environment more inclusive.

According to Caltrans, benefits of Complete Streets projects include:

  • Increased transportation choices

  • Economic Revitalization

  • Improved Return on Infrastructure Investments

  • Livable Communities

  • Improved Safety for All Users

  • More Walking and Bicycling to Improve Public Health

  • Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Improved Air Quality

What are some examples of Complete Streets projects?

The Complete Streets movement started over a decade ago and rapidly spread. Local government and state agencies, armed with the power to enact health-promoting policies with input from community stakeholders, have implemented more than 1400 Complete Streets policies affecting transportation planning and street design nationwide.

Common Complete Streets elements, such as sidewalk widening, installing pedestrian beacons, enhancing vibrancy through landscaping, adding wheelchair accessible curb ramps, or implementing a protected cycle track, improve roadway safety and ensure accessibility for all users.

Examples of Complete Streets plans and designs in California:

In 2014, the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) released a helpful, evidence-based guide to Complete Streets projects providing before and after photos, and data about collisions, economic factors, annual average daily traffic (AADT) and mode choices. Check out the guide for more detailed breakdowns of Complete Streets case studies. 

A cyclist bikes in a colored bike lane, while a pedestrian passes. At left, a group of transit users wait for a trolley to arrive.

Embarcadero Waterfront in San Francisco, CA | Image Source: Photograph by Anne McGrane from PedBikeImages.org

How can I get Complete Streets implemented in my community? 

With support from the California Office of Traffic Safety, UC Berkeley’s Safe Transportation Research and Education Center (SafeTREC) Complete Streets Safety Assessments (CSSA) program is currently offering comprehensive transportation safety assessments that focus on pedestrian and bicycle safety to California agencies working in cities with a population over 25,000 people. To learn more about the program, access technical guides and research on Complete Streets, and details on how to apply for a CSSA in your community, visit the CSSA program webpage

Where  might I find further resources about Complete Streets? 

Caltrans’ Complete Streets Elements Toolbox is a consistently updated, ‘living document’ encompassing a wide breadth of roadway elements that align with Complete Streets plans and designs. The Toolbox is a helpful guide for planners, engineers, and community advocates to use during Complete Streets project planning and development.