The term “complete streets” has gained momentum in recent years, but the concept is time-tested. How can we develop networks that meet a community’s needs?

We sat down with Kittelson Senior Planner Amanda Leahy and Principal Planner Laurence Lewis to hear their definition of “complete streets,” how it’s changed over time, and where it’s going in the future.

To begin… what are complete streets?

Laurence: We use the phrase “complete streets” now, but the ideas are not new. We’ve always asked how we can build and sustain street networks that meet the needs of all roadway users. There’s a strong emphasis on community demographics. Who is in the community, and what are their needs?

Amanda: Yes, we like to think of it more as a network and a system, not a single street in isolation. We look at how networks can serve people of all ages and abilities by creating space for active transportation while also considering integration with other modes and new services and technologies. We often think about complete streets in concert with accessibility-based planning (versus mobility-based planning), recognizing the role that active and public transit play in an efficient and equitable transportation system.

We like to think of it more as a network and a system, not a single street in isolation.

- Amanda Leahy, Senior Planner

What are key considerations for complete streets projects?

Laurence: Make sure you understaComplete Streetsnd the context. Who makes up the community, and what are their needs? Get a complete picture by not only looking at data, but also by interacting with the community and learning their priorities and concerns.

Amanda: A complete streets approach considers the unique project context (location, land use, demographics) and the needs of people of all ages and abilities, all races, ethnicities, and income levels. At a planning level, it is important to conduct inclusive community engagement, and consider context in terms of land use, density and activity (how are people using the network), and form (who is using the land, and what resources and needs they have). Once there is a common understanding of the project context, purpose, and objective, performance measures can be developed and the effects of the project can be measured and documented relative to established goals.

Laurence: A key consideration of all complete streets projects is trade-offs. There is always some process in place to pick priorities. For example, if walking and biking is prioritized, drivers may have to drive slower or park further away. Every corridor has many competing needs.

Amanda: It’s also important not to under-emphasize the idea of “place-making.” A complete streets approach is about more than getting people from Point A to Point B. It’s about their experience using the space, comfort, convenience, and being part of the community.

What’s the future of complete streets?

Amanda:  There is not one future – there are many! It’s very context-dependent. What I hope to see is a built environment that supports reductions in the use of single occupancy vehicles, promotes transit and active transportation, and provides access and opportunities for all people.

Laurence: The role of technology will be really important. Right now we’re looking at ride sharing and e-scooters – but with each new technology, we need to weigh options and determine the extent to which we should prioritize it.

Amanda: New technologies pose big questions. How do we create safe spaces for them to operate? How do we adopt appropriate policies and regulations to leverage this new technology to achieve community goals? What are the possible unintended consequences of implementing this new technology? For example, ride shares vehicles and shared electric scooters have potential as a first mile/last mile connector, but we also see ride share vehicles replacing public transit and people riding and parking shared electric scooters on sidewalks, posing a hazard to people walking.

Laurence: Ultimately, we’re asking the same types of questions we always have – but now there are more options on the table to consider. It all goes back to balancing priorities and listening to the community. We’re here to improve livability and create equitable spaces for everyone to move around safely and efficiently.

It all goes back to balancing priorities and listening to the community.

- Laurence Lewis, Principal Planner

Increasing accessibility and equity for all members of a community drives our work at Kittelson. Read about some of our complete streets projects here.