National Complete Streets Coalition

Livable Communities

The streets of our cities and towns are an important part of the livability of our communities. They ought to be for everyone, whether young or old, motorist or bicyclist, walker or wheelchair user, bus rider or shopkeeper. But too many streets are designed only for speeding cars, or worse, creeping traffic jams. They are unsafe for people on foot or bike – and unpleasant for everybody.

Incomplete streets deny citizens safety, choice

Most of us think of America as the land of choices. Yet, in just about any community built in the last 50 years, there is only pretty much one choice for transportation: the car. The more sprawling our communities -– low density, scattered development linked by busy, high-speed, multi-lane roadways -– the more we are limited to our cars.

Even where daily destinations are close to home, incomplete streets too often make them inaccessible by foot, bicycle, or public transportation. They are cut off by cul-de-sacs that increase walking distance, or by high-speed roads lacking bike lanes, sidewalks, comfortable transit stations, or safe crossings. While some streets do provide a safe pedestrian environment, it may not be a pleasant one; the absence of benches, scarce landscaping, and storefronts set back from the sidewalk do little to encourage walking.

The heavy reliance on driving has an impact far beyond today’s traffic jam. People of color, who are less likely to own cars and more likely to rely on public transportation, are particularly affected by poor development patterns. Working families who own a car are burdened with associated expenses: purchase cost, maintenance, registration fees, fuel, and others.

Streets designed solely for automobile travel also put people at risk. In 2007, there were 4,654 pedestrian deaths and 70,000 reported pedestrian injuries –- that’s nearly one every eight minutes. In a poll of people over 50 years old, 47 percent said it was unsafe to cross the street near their home. In neighborhoods where traffic is a nuisance and a threat, residents both young and old are more inclined to stay in their homes. This limits much needed physical activity and social interaction.

Complete streets foster livable communities

Communities are increasingly embracing smart growth to meet their residents’ desire for choices in housing, shopping, recreation, and transportation. Complete streets meet the demand for transportation options, while promoting other community goals. They provide safe and affordable access for everyone, whether traveling to school, work, the doctor, or their favorite restaurant.

More than half of Americans recently surveyed would like to walk more and drive less. Poor community design and lack of pedestrian facilities are the primary reasons people cite for not walking more. An overwhelming number support policies intended to make their communities more livable by reducing traffic speed and creating a safer pedestrian environment.

Complete streets contribute many benefits to the surrounding community:

  • Wide, attractive sidewalks and well-defined bike routes, where appropriate to community context, encourage healthy and active lifestyles among residents of all ages.
  • Complete streets can provide children with opportunities to reach nearby destinations in a safe and supportive environment.
  • A variety of transportation options allow everyone – particularly people with disabilities and older adults – to get out and stay connected to the community.
  • Multi-modal transportation networks help communities provide alternatives to sitting in traffic.
  • A better integration of land use and transportation through a Complete Streets process creates an attractive combination of buildings – houses, offices, shops – and street designs.
  • Designing a street with pedestrians in mind – sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for travelers with disabilities – may reduce pedestrian risk by as much as 28 percent.
  • A livable community is one that preserves resources for the next generation: Complete Streets help reduce carbon emissions and are an important part of a climate change strategy.

In San Diego, where a number of Complete Streets policies are in place, the La Jolla neighborhood saw its namesake boulevard become something more than an uninteresting strip of shops after recent roadwork. Today, the street is vibrant and alive, with pedestrians, bicyclists, and shoppers. Despite the economic meltdown, the street is outperforming on every factor, from numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians to number of smiles. Communities are also investing in Complete Streets as a way to attract new residents and young professionals.

Complete streets transform the way transportation serves the American people by creating more choices, shortening travel times, and encouraging less carbon-intensive transportation. A community with a Complete Streets policy values the health, safety, and comfort of its residents and visitors. These policies provide opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to contribute to, and benefit from, a livable community.


[all citations are available in the downloadable files]

Additional Resources:

Interagency Partnership for Sustainable Communities
U. S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Smart Growth

Smart Growth Network

Smart Growth America

Livability in Transportation Guidebook: Planning Approaches that Promote Livability
Federal Highway Administration, 2010

Easter Seals Project ACTION Supports Livable Communities
Easter Seals Project ACTION

Initiative for Sustainable Communities and States
Smart Growth America’s Leadership Institute

Land Use and Traffic Congestion (.pdf)
Arizona Department of Transportation, March 2012

Examining Walkability and Social Capital as Indicators of Quality of Life at the Municipal and Neighborhood Scales
Shannon H. Rogers et al., Applied Research in Quality of Life, 2010

Driven Apart: How Sprawl is Lengthening Our Commutes and Why Misleading Mobility Measures are Making Things Worse
CEOs for Cities, 2010

Case Studies on Transit and Livable Communities in Rural and Small Town America
Transportation for America, 2010

Beyond 50.05 A Report to the Nation on Livable Communities: Creating Environments for Successful Aging (.pdf)
AARP Public Policy Institute

Planning Complete Streets for an Aging America
AARP Public Policy Institute, 2009

Active in Action: New Principles for a Sustainable World
Dan Burden, April 2010

Where We Want To Be: Home Location Preferences And Their Implications For Smart Growth (.pdf)
Todd Litman, Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 2010

Road Diet Handbook: Setting Trends for Livable Streets
Jennifer Rosales, Parsons Brinckerhoff, 2009

Assessing the Social and Environmental Achievements of New Urbanism: Evidence from Portland, Oregon
Bruce Podobnik, 2009

Safe Streets, Livable Streets
Eric Dumbaugh, Journal of the American Planning Association, 2005

The Transportation Prescription: Bold New Ideas for Healthy, Equitable Transportation Reform in America
PolicyLink and Prevention Institute, 2009

Urban Sprawl and Delayed Ambulance Arrival in the U.S.
Matthew J. Trowbridge, MD, MPH, Matthew J. Gurka, PhD, Robert E. O’Connor, MD, MPH

Active Travel: The Role of Self-Selection in Explaining the Effect of Built Environment on Active Travel Research Brief (.pdf)
Active Living Research

Active Design Guidelines: Promoting Physical Activity and Health in Design
New York City departments of Design and Construction, Health and Mental Hygiene, Transportation, City Planning, and Office of Management and Budget, 2009

Livable Streets for School Children: How Safe Routes to School programs can improve street and community livability for children (.pdf)
Bruce Appleyard, National Center for Bicycling and Walking Forum, 2005

A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families (.pdf)
Center for Housing Policy, 2006

The Impact of Residential Density on Vehicle Usage and Energy Consumption
Thomas F. Golob and David Brownstone, University of California Energy Institute, 2005

The Relationship of Neighborhood Built Environment Features and Adult Parents’ Walking
Mariela Alfonzo, Marlon G. Boarnet, Kristen Day, et al., Journal of Urban Design, 2008

Moving to Equity: Addressing Inequitable Effects of Transportation Policies on Minorities (.pdf)
Thomas W. Sanchez, Rich Stolz, and Jacinta S. Ma, The Center for Community Change and the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University, 2003

Americans’ Attitudes Toward Walking and Creating Better Walking Communities
Belden, Russonello and Stewart, Poll and Report for Surface Transportation Policy Partnership, 2003

Stores, transit, walkability: To attract millennials, appeal to their desires
Bruce Mason, Crain’s Detroit Business, 2007

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