Sustainable Complete Streets
Communities across the country are realizing the ‘green’ potential of their streets. Making our transportation system more sustainable involves many policies and practices that minimize environmental impact and create streets that are safe for everyone, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. Complete StreetsComplete Streets are a natural complement to sustainability efforts, ensuring benefits for mobility, community, and the environment.
Many elements of street design, construction, and operation can work in favor of achieving both Complete Streets that work for all travelers and ‘green’ streets that serve environmental sustainability. Of particular concern are drainage and stormwater runoff issues too common in traditional streets. Optimal stormwater management looks beyond simply removing rainfall as quickly as possible. Instead it focuses on efforts to retain and treat – or even eliminate – runoff at the source through cost-effective green infrastructure , improving water quality and complementing Complete Streets efforts.
Wide streets are problematic for mobility and ecology – they can be unpleasant or, worse, unsafe, for anyone traveling along or across via foot or bicycle. They also necessitate expensive drainage and treatment systems. Drainage facilities can affect pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation users in various ways as well. Poorly maintained systems create puddles that splash pedestrians and those waiting in bus shelters and that are hazards for bicyclists.
When a Complete Streets policy is carefully followed, considering community context and needs, the issues of too-wide streets can be addressed while also increasing access for all travelers. Many communities are narrowing travel lanes, swapping one automobile lane for two bike lanes (a ‘road diet’), or taking other measures to provide safe space for bicyclists, pedestrians, and public transportation. Furthermore, communities can look to maximize pavement albedo (reflectivity) to reduce the urban heat island effect, improve air quality, increase pavement durability, and improve nighttime illumination.
Landscaping elements that help curb stormwater runoff – bioswales, planters, rain gardens, and street trees – are mutually beneficial for mobility and ecology. Such green elements are increasingly found to be important deterrents of crashes and injuries, and contribute to a more comfortable and visually interesting environment for all users. Traffic-calming elements like chicanes, islands, and curb extensions – all popular in creating Complete Streets – provide site opportunities for bioswales, street trees, and rain gardens.
Of course, Complete Streets make their most basic contribution to green streets by providing space along the right-of-way for low-emission travel Complete Streets policies are an essential tool in providing transportation choices beyond the personal automobile. Walking and bicycling for the shortest trips (less than 1 mile), rather than taking a car, could reduce CO2 emissions by 12 to 22 million tons per year in the U.S. Replace the car with walking and biking for longer trips (1–3 miles), and the CO2 savings come to 9 to 23 million tons annually. Add in the benefits of access to public transportation ridership – which is already cutting CO2 by 37 million metric tons every year – and the environmental benefits of Complete Streets are astounding.
Complete Streets, in conjunction with green infrastructure, is a tremendous opportunity to improve the livability of our communities, both now and for future generations
For more information – Green Streets Factsheet