National Complete Streets Coalition

Cost Concerns

Across the country, community leaders, transportation staff, and residents are working together to create streets that are safe and accessible for everyone, no matter their age, ability, or mode of travel. These places have found that investing in multimodal transportation helps them to achieve their shared goals, protect their most vulnerable road users, and even save money on their transportation projects. Numerous professional organizations have made official statements of support for multimodal transportation planning and design, including from the the American Planning Association, the American Public Works Association, the American Society of Civil Engineers, and the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

Yet, Complete Streets supporters are often asked: who and what will fund Complete Streets? How much will these projects cost? Complete Streets: Guide to Answering the Costs Question, a new resource from the National Complete Streets Coalition, helps transportation professionals, advocates, and decision-makers make the case that implementing Complete Streets won’t break the bank. The Guide provides four overarching points to make in answering cost questions, each supplemented with multiple examples from communities across the country:

  1. Complete Streets policies are necessary to safely accommodate existing road users.
  2. Complete Streets can be achieved within existing budgets.
  3. Complete Streets can lead to new transportation funding opportunities.
  4. Complete Streets add lasting value.

We give general guidance to the most appropriate audiences for each point, as well as general tips when discussing these topics in your community. A fundamental principle of answering cost concerns is drawing on real-world, and preferably local, examples. We encourage you to use these examples as a starting point. Look for similar facts and stories from your own state or region and add those local examples to your presentations, fact sheets, and discussions. Each point made below is illustrated in a companion PowerPoint slide.

Download the full guide.

Point 1: Complete Streets policies are necessary to safely accommodate existing users

The Complete Streets approach is rooted in a need to provde safe accommodations for all existing users of the transportation network. Safety is a powerful point for all audiences, particularly transportation professionals who view safety as a fundamental goal and elected officials who feel responsible for using taxpayer money to provide for all constituents. You can make this point locally by showing photos of “goat trails” or people walking, waiting for buses, or riding bicycles in unsafe conditions where there are currently no facilities. Providing statistics on how residents travel, via the Census, and maps of pedestrian and bicyclist injuries and fatalities also emphasize the need to safely accommodate users.

See examples in Powerpoint 1:

Point 2: Complete Streets can be achieved within existing budgets.

Reassuring and illuminating, this point highlights the fact that Complete Streets projects can be modest in size and cost; that a Complete Streets approach is about thinking smart, which can save money; and that the cost of bicycle or pedestrians facilities are small in comparison to other costs.

Many Complete Streets improvements are modest in size and cost. With Complete Streets, every time something on the street is touched, it is made better for all users. This means that small and routine tasks such as restriping and updating signal timing — not just the larger construction and reconstruction projects — provide opportunities to implement Complete Streets. Many small, low-cost improvements can, when thoughtfully implemented over time, create a much friendlier and safer environment for everyone.

A Complete Streets approach means thinking ahead and thinking smart — and that can lead to decisions that save money and avoid costly. Complete Streets is not an additive approach. It is not about simply tacking a bicycle lane or sidewalk onto an existing roadway, but about looking for opportunities, no matter how small, to make improvements for various road users. Complete Streets implementation is gradual. Smart planning that integrates the needs of all users early in planning and across departments will help muncipalities and transportation agencies avoid costly delays and retrofits. Such planning can result in small changes in routine operations that will result in significant improvements at minimal or no cost. Maintenance activities such as resurfacing can help to achieve Complete Streets goals at a low cost.

The incremental cost of features such as bicycle lanes and sidewalks are dwarfed by much bigger cost concerns, such as variable labor and materials costs. A point best articulated by planners and engineers themselves, the examples and figures presented in the Guide can help explain why places implementing Complete Streets policies don’t see cost as a significant issue. There are many other, and more expensive, factors in street planning and design: the variable cost of asphalt (which is linked to the cost of oil); utility placement; the terrain and number of crossings over a stream, river, or other natural barrier; the costs of going from open to closed drainage; and variable labor costs. It is important to use the figures in this section sparingly and in context to avoid confusion about universal cost estimates.

See examples in Powerpoint 2:

Point 3: Complete Streets can lead to new transportation funding opportunities.

Multimodoal planning and design can be an opportunity rather than a constraint. Complete Streets projects can can open up funding streams and garner strong public support.

Complete Streets projects can make transportation projects more popular and garner more support for transportation funding. National, state, and local polls all show strong, consistent support for ensuring that transportation projects include all modes. Popular support can translate into financial support when funding measures come up either for a popular general vote or for consideration in the legislature or city council.

Complete Streets can inspire a search for additional funds from new sources to achieve the Complete Streets vision. A multimodal design can make projects more competitive for some federal, state, and regional funding opportunities.

See examples in Powerpoint 3:

Point 4: Complete Streets add lasting value.

A Complete Streets approach offers long-term benefits than outweigh initial costs. By emphasizing the many benefits of a single investment, you can demonstrate the lasting value Complete Streets can bring to your community. The Guide includes the following points:

  • Complete Streets supports healthy communities.
  • Complete Streets means safer streets for everyone.
  • Complete Streets can be a powerful aid to economic vitality.
  • Complete Streets is a cost-effective part of a long-term strategy for congestion mitigation.

Examples and information about additional benefits, such as for sustainability, can be found in the fact sheet section of our website.

See examples in Powerpoint 4:

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