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Complete Streets

Complete Streets: Keeping Pedestrians + Cyclists in Mind

Maggie Kearns Francis

June 3, 2019

Concerns about environmental impacts of traditional transportation modes have led to an uptick in the number of walking and biking commuters over the last decade. During this same time frame, the United States has also seen a steady rise in pedestrian deaths. In 2018 alone, there were more than 6,200 deaths, up four percent from 2017.


These shocking statistics have grabbed the attention of lawmakers and industry experts. The result? A shift away from classic ideas about roadways; roadways primarily designed with the goal of allowing cars to move as quickly as possible towards their destination. Today, thanks to the 1,200 complete street policies that exist across the United States, roadways are being designed with all transportation modes in mind, including walking and cycling.

Making Room

The implementation of wider sidewalks for complete streets has many mobile and aesthetic benefits.


For pedestrians, wider sidewalks make walking a more attractive mobility option and makes navigating sidewalks easier during busy times. Wider sidewalks in commercial areas encourages window shopping and gives restaurants and cafes a space for outdoor seating.


Sidewalks that extend into intersections allow for shorter street crossing lengths for pedestrians. The angle these corners create in intersections forces traffic to slow and increases safety for both walkers and bicyclist. The slowing of traffic is key to pedestrian safety. While eighty percent of pedestrian vehicle collisions with vehicles moving at forty miles per hour will result in a fatality, just five percent of collisions with vehicles moving at twenty miles per hour will result in a pedestrian fatality.


Pedestrian islands in the center of intersections ensures pedestrians are not stranded in the middle of the intersection during a signal change. Installing raised medians along with other intersection improvements, like pedestrian islands and extended sidewalks, has shown to reduce pedestrian risk by more than twenty five percent.


A common element of most complete streets are protected bike lanes. This protection comes from more than just a painted lane line. Physical barriers like a lane of parked cars, curbs, or planters between the bike and traffic lanes increase safety and comfort for bikers while maintaining consistent traffic flow around them.

Seeing the Light

A crucial, and often overlooked, element of complete streets is adequate lighting. Lighting increases safety in more ways than one. Lighting allows each mode of transportation to better see the roadways and sidewalks ahead of them, increasing awareness and reducing collisions. Lighting also helps reduce crime rates.


The impact of installing street lighting is made obvious in this Detroit, Michigan project. During a two-year, $185 million project, more than 65,000 lights were installed and/or replaced across the city. More than 40% of these lights were not working before the project began. Since the project ended, pedestrian deaths have been significantly reduced. Initially, an average of twenty four deaths occurred each year and now the average is down to just one.


According to a professor at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee specializing in pedestrian safety, “lighting is very important since approximately three-quarters of pedestrians in the US are killed at night.”


Additional lighting fixtures such as Rectangular Rapid Flash Beacons (RRFB) bring attention to pedestrian crossings at unmarked intersections or at mid-block crossings. The RRFBs serve as a warning to oncoming traffic of potential pedestrian interactions. Evaluations in St. Petersburg, Florida have found that RRFBs at pedestrian crossings are dramatically more effective at increasing traffic yielding to pedestrians than traditional crosswalks.

Benefits for the Entire Community

Implementation of complete streets and their aesthetic improvements have made impactful changes for downtown areas. Wider sidewalks, street furniture, planters and other landscaping treatments make complete streets enjoyable streets to travel. Traffic calming intersections, bike lanes, and pedestrian islands also make complete street safe places to travel. This dynamic combination results in increases in business, tourism, and mobility for the entire community.


All roads aren’t one size fits all and there’s still important uses for traditional roads. But if you’re in a community that wants to be more walkable and explore multi modal transit options, complete streets might be the answer for you.


Interested in learning more about complete streets or implementing them in your community? Contact us today.