Complete Streets: A Simple Idea that's Sweeping the Nation

Reader Contribution by Staff
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For those of us in the advocacy world, political change often moves at a painful, microscopic, glacial pace. So when progressive legislation suddenly catches fire, spreading quickly from coast to coast, it’s something to celebrate.

Well, put on your party hats bike-ped fans, because that’s exactly what’s been happening with Complete Streets. This month, the National Complete Streets Coalition celebrated a major milestone, noting that the number of complete streets policies hit 200 before the end of 2010. That’s up from 100 policies just 14 months ago.

If you’re not a transportation planner or a wonky advocate like me, you’re probably wondering what a jargon-y term like Complete Streets means. Well, it’s an increasingly popular concept that puts equity back into transportation policy at the local, state and, hopefully one day, federal level. Our culture has become so addicted to cars that we’ve all but forgotten that streets aren’t meant exclusively for automobiles. They’re meant for buses and bicycles and pedestrians, too. Complete streets’ policies simply require planners to account for all users, not just motorists.

Stefanie Seskin, state and local policy manager for the National Complete Streets Coalition, notes on the organization’s blog that a growing number of people are recognizing “the increased choice and access available when streets are planned, designed, and constructed to allow safe travel for all, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation.”

“They notice how much more control they have over household spending — a significant portion of which is put into transportation — when their kids can walk or bicycle to school instead of being driven in the family car,” Seskin writes. “And with the increasingly alarming statistics on obesity, diabetes, and heart disease making headlines, people are also recognizing that time spent idle in traffic could, at least in part, be replaced by a bike ride or a walk to the bus stop, if there were bike lanes or more crosswalks.”

Complete streets policies aren’t just catching on in progressive enclaves; they’re taking root in communities large and small in virtually every state across the nation. Just one example: Take a look at my (semi-)home state of Missouri.

This week, the Kansas City City Council passed a complete streets policy for Missouri’s largest municipality. The “Livable Streets” resolution recognizes that “streets and sidewalks are an important part of our community that serve transportation needs and are also a part of the public realm where people live, shop, interact, and travel.” It makes the critical connection that “the built environment influences residents’ choices to be physically active and highlights that “Livable Streets safely facilitate the movement of people of all ages and abilities from destination to destination.” Most importantly, the resolution states: “Kansas City supports the concept of Livable Streets as a means to promote great neighborhoods, healthy and active people, and a thriving community.” (Hat tip to Kansas City Councilwoman Beth Gottstein for taking the lead on the resolution.)

Naturally, the Missouri Bicycle and Pedestrian Federation lauded the passage of the complete streets policy as a “a giant step forward.” But cities across the Show-Me State are moving in the right direction. According to the MoBikeFed: “Kansas City is moving to the forefront of transportation parity in Missouri following the adoption of similar Complete Streets policies in Columbia, De Soto, Ferguson, Crystal City, Festus, Herculaneum, St. Louis, and Lee’s Summit.”

“The Livable Streets resolution is a sort of capstone to several different polices and plans that are already moving the city forward towards becoming safer and easier to navigate by whatever mode of transportation people choose,” Eric Rogers, the vice president of the MoBikeFed writes on

“It’s great to see more Complete Streets policies being adopted in Missouri,” adds Sarah Shipley, a KC resident and staffer at the MoBikeFed. “It means our roads and streets will be designed for everyone and safer for everyone — the old, the young, people with a disability, people who walk, bicycle, take the bus, or drive.”

Click here to read Kansas City’s “Livable Streets” resolution, or check out the National Complete Streets Coalition here

Photo: The rise of complete streets policies, courtesy of the National Complete Streets Coalition