Getting a Functional Complete Streets Policy

Guide me on the community strategy, policy, and implementation option.

There are many guides to getting a functional policy.  Although each community is unique there are national and regional resources that can help guide the development of a community strategy, policy, and implementation:

1. Individually Facilitated Complete Streets Strategy, Policy, and Implementation Procedure Workshop Program (Pilot)

Pilot program to provide personalized help in crafting a strategy, policy, and implementation procedures for Complete Streets.  The minimum requirements for these cities are to have participation from at least one elected official, the City Manager, the head Planner and head Engineer. 

The program consists of two three hour workshops and potentially some individual meetings with key stakeholders.  The meetings are professionally facilitated and participating cities will be provided a mentor city.  If successful, this program will be expanded in late 2014 and early 2015 to additional cities.  Contact Greg Scott at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to express interest.

2. National Complete Streets Coalition Local Policy Workbook.

Download Workbook

3. Ten elements of a comprehensive Complete Streets Policy.

Download Full Document

A strong vision can inspire a community to follow through on its Complete Streets policy.   [Read more] Just as no two policies are alike, visions are not one-size-fits-all either.  For example, Wasatch Front Regional Council’s Vision Statement reads: Complete Streets improves the value of the Wasatch Front Region’s transportation network through a variety of connected transportation choices designed to meet the needs of all users. In the small town of Decatur, GA, the Community Transportation Plan defines their vision as promoting health through physical activity and active transportation. In the City of Chicago, the Department of Transportation focuses on creating streets safe for travel by even the most vulnerable – children, older adults, and those with disabilities.

A true Complete Streets policy must apply to everyone using the public right of way regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation.  Users to be considered include but are not limited to adjacent businesses, residents and visitors; freight, autos, and transit users; and pedestrians, cyclists, of all ages and abilities.     

Complete Streets policies apply to new construction, reconstruction, rehabilitation, repair, and maintenance.   They build upon each transportation improvement to create safer, more accessible streets for all users saving time and money in the process.  Examples include the following:

  • Transit: Providing space in traffic signal control boxes for transit signal priority when such is anticipated
  • Cycling: Shifting the edge stripe to give cyclists more room
  • Elderly: Increasing the allocated pedestrian walk time at traffic signals when demand is present

Complete Streets policies and procedures spell out under what circumstances specific user types will not be accommodated and provide a clear process for granting these exceptions. 

Common exceptions include

  1. 1. accommodation is not necessary on corridors where non-motorized use is prohibited, such as interstate freeways;
  2. 2. cost of accommodation is excessively disproportionate to the need or probable use; and
  3. 3. documented absence of current or future need.   Many communities have included their own exceptions, such as severe topological constraints.  

In addition to defining exceptions, there must be a clear process for granting them, where a senior-level department head must approve them.  Any exceptions should be kept on record and publicly-available. 

Complete Streets policies paired with robust intermodal network planning result in a complete transportation system.

Instead of trying to make each street perfect for every traveler, communities can create an interwoven array of streets that emphasize different modes and provide quality accessibility for everyone. 

Creating Complete Streets networks requires collaboration among many different transportation agencies. Street networks are frequently built, operated and/or maintained by variety of entities including the state, county local governments,  and private enterprise.

The Policies developed by Trenton, NJ and Bozeman, MT provide solid approaches to this policy element.[Read More]

The Utah Department of Transportation has adopted an Active Transportation Policy which will further facilitate the consideration of all users’ needs on Utah State Roads. For more information on their policy please visit:

“Recognizing the inter-connected multi-modal network of street grid, the City of Trenton will work with Mercer County, the Delaware River Joint Toll Bridge Commission, traffic consultant AECOM and state agencies through existing planning efforts to ensure complete streets principles are incorporated in a context sensitive manner.”

“The City of Bozeman will work with other jurisdictions and transportation agencies within its planning area to incorporate a Complete Streets philosophy and encourage the Montana Department of Transportation, Gallatin County and other municipalities to adopt similar policies...Complete Streets principles will be applied on new City projects, privately funded development and incrementally through a series of smaller improvements and activities over time.”

Communities adopting a Complete Streets policy should review their design policies to ensure their ability to accommodate all modes of travel.  [Read More—go to web design section]

An effective Complete Streets policy must be sensitive to the community context.   The recommended practice by the Institute of Traffic Engineers in Context Sensitive Solutions in Designing Major Urban Thoroughfares for Walkable Communities  [link] uses “Context Zone” (urban form), Street Functional Class, Thoroughfare type, and typical land use to guide context related design decisions.  Others may add street design vehicle.

This policy element can allay fears that the policy will require every mode on every road resulting in little-use facilities and inappropriately wide roads.  It also helps align transportation and land use planning goals, creating livable, strong neighborhoods.

[Read More—reference to design part of the website]

Pearson’s law says “that which is measured improves”.  Complete streets moves beyond the traditional, auto-centric measure of congestion.  Complete Streets planning requires taking a broader look at how the system is serving all users. Communities with Complete Streets policies can measure success through a number of ways ranging from the simple to the complete: [Read More for a sampling of multimodal levels of service options]