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Complete Streets: Separating Fact from Fiction

The term “complete streets” evokes radically differing opinions and ideas depending on individuals’ personal viewpoints or political philosophies.  One thing is for certain, however: it’s always better to base one’s positions on facts rather than rumors or hearsay.  With that in mind, here are some basic facts about the complete streets movement.


Problems with Today’s Roads

The United States enjoyed a period of spectacular growth in the years following World War II.  This rapid expansion created an urgent need for new roads.  Most of the new roadways were designed with the needs of drivers, not pedestrians, in mind.  The nation’s emerging automobile-centric culture brought with it many benefits.  Unfortunately, it also created its share of problems.  These have included:

·       Rising rates of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses associated with a lack of physical activity.

·       Less opportunities for Americans to walk, bike, or engage in non-motorized methods of transportation.

·       Replacement of traditional neighborhoods with urban sprawl.  This, in turn, has exacerbated problems with air pollution and the disappearance of parks and wildlife areas.


By the 1970s, these problems reached crisis levels in many regions of the country.  The complete streets movement grew from a desire to address these issues.  It seeks to apply the following solutions:

·       Development of bicycle lanes and walking paths alongside traditional roads.

·       Establishment of “green” areas such as linear parks and roadside landscaping projects.

·       A shift in emphasis away from an automobile-dominated culture and towards a society that emphasizes neighborhoods, community spaces, and physical activity, especially running, walking, and biking.


Complete streets initiatives do not seek to ban automobiles or to punish drivers.  The goal of the movement is to expand opportunities for people to use the transportation mode of their choice, whatever that may be.  Potential benefits include:

·       Increased levels of physical health and well-being.

·       Reduced levels of air pollution and greenhouse gases.

·       A return to classic American values centered on family and community life.


That, in a nutshell, is the essence of the complete streets movement.  Separating these facts from the political rhetoric is essential to having a healthy dialogue on the topic.