National Complete Streets Coalition


Virginia Noll came home from grocery shopping in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania on June 11, 2009. As she crossed South Washington Street around 5:30 pm from the bus stop to the senior housing apartments where she lived, she was fatally struck by an SUV. The area is particularly dangerous for older adults, despite the high number living in the area. Her neighbor had warned her not to go out, fearing the 88-year-old would be hit while crossing a street.

Incomplete streets put people at risk

Streets without safe places to walk, cross, catch a bus, or bicycle put people at risk. Over 5,000 pedestrians and bicyclists died on U.S. roads in 2008, and more than 120,000 were injured. Pedestrian crashes are more than twice as likely to occur in places without sidewalks; streets with sidewalks on both sides have the fewest crashes. While the absolute numbers of bicyclists and pedestrians killed has been in decline for the decade, experts attribute this in part to a decline in the total number of people bicycling and walking.

Of pedestrians killed in 2007 and 2008, more than 50% died on arterial roadways, typically designed to be wide and fast. Roads like these are built to move cars and too often do not have meet the needs of pedestrian or bicyclist safety. More than 40% of pedestrian fatalities occurred where no crosswalk was available.

A recent study comparing the United States with Germany and the Netherlands, where Complete Streets are common, found that when compared per kilometer traveled, bicyclist and pedestrian death rates are two to six times higher in the United States. Complete Streets therefore improve safety indirectly, by encouraging non-motorized travel and increasing the number of people bicycling and walking. According to an international study, as the number and portion of people bicycling and walking increases, deaths and injuries decline. This is known as the safety in number hypothesis: more people walking and biking reduce the risk per trip.

Complete Streets help reduce crashes

Complete Streets reduce crashes through comprehensive safety improvements. A Federal Highway Administration review of the effectiveness of a wide variety of measures to improve pedestrian safety found that simply painting crosswalks on wide high-speed roads does not reduce pedestrian crashes. But measures that design the street with pedestrians in mind – sidewalks, raised medians, better bus stop placement, traffic-calming measures, and treatments for disabled travelers – all improve pedestrian safety. Some features, such as medians, improve safety for all users: they enable pedestrians to cross busy roads in two stages, and reduce left-turning motorist crashes to zero, a type of crash that also endangers bicyclists.

One study found that designing for pedestrian travel by installing raised medians and redesigning intersections and sidewalks reduced pedestrian risk by 28 percent. Speed reduction has a dramatic impact on pedestrian fatalities. Eighty percent of pedestrians struck by a car going 40 mph will die; at 30 mph the likelihood of death is 40 percent. At 20 mph, the fatality rate drops to just 5 percent. Roadway design and engineering approaches commonly found in Complete Streets create long-lasting speed reduction. Such methods include enlarging sidewalks, installing medians, and adding bike lanes. All road users – motorists, pedestrians and bicyclists – benefit from slower speeds

Complete Streets encourage safer bicycling behavior. Sidewalk bicycle riding, especially against the flow of adjacent traffic, is more dangerous than riding in the road due to unexpected conflicts at driveways and intersections. A recent review of bicyclist safety studies found that the addition of well-designed bicycle-specific infrastructure tends to reduce injury and crash risk. On-road bicycle lanes reduced these rates by about 50%.


[all fact sheet citations are available in the downloadable files]

Additional Resources:

Dangerous by Design 2011: Solving the Epidemic of Preventable Pedestrian Deaths
Transportation for America, 2011

Signalized Intersection Enhancements that Benefit Pedestrians – Making America a Great Place to Walk
America Walks, January 2012

2012 Benchmarking Report
Alliance for Biking and Walking, January 2012

Seattle Road Diet Improves Safety
City of Seattle, August 2011

Evaluation of Lane Reduction “Road Diet” on Crashes (.pdf)
FHWA Highway Safety Information System, 2010

Safety Benefits of Raised Medians and Pedestrian Refuge Areas
Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety

Safety Benefits of Walkways, Sidewalks, and Paved Shoulders
Federal Highway Administration Office of Safety

Risk of Injury on Bicycling on Cycle Tracks Versus in the Street
Anne C. Lusk et al., Injury Prevention, 2010

Personal Security and Safe Routes to School
National Center for Safe Routes to School, 2010

Public Policies for Pedestrian and Bicyclist Safety and Mobility (.pdf)
Federal Highway Association, 2010

New York City Pedestrian Safety Study & Action Plan
New York City Department of Transportation, 2010

Section 402 – the State and Community Highway Safety Grant Program
League of American Bicyclists, 2009

Who Owns the Roads? How Motorised Traffic Discourages Walking and Bicycling
Peter Jacobsen et al., 2009

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

Urban Sprawl and Delayed Ambulance Arrival in the U.S.
Matthew J. Trowbridge, Matthew J. Gurka, and Robert E. O’Connor, 2009

Guidance Memorandum on Promoting the Implementation of Proven Safety Countermeasures
Federal Highway Administration, July 2008

Relationship of Lane Width to Safety for Urban and Suburban Arterials (.pdf)
Midwest Research Institute

Amendments to the International Fire Code
Congress for the New Urbanism

The impact of transportation infrastructure on bicycling injuries and crashes: a review of the literature
Conor C.O. Reynolds, M. Anne Harris, Kay Teschke, Peter A. Cripton, and Meghan Winters

Traffic Safety Fact Sheets
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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