Complete Streets: what are the pros and cons?

National Complete Streets Coalition

Ever since the Plum St. reconstruction debacle, the City Council has shown interest in rethinking our streets and roads.

Nfld News:  City Council is considering new plans to make Northfield roads ‘complete’

The Minnesota Complete Streets Coalition is a cooperative effort that began in 2009 through the work of Fresh Energy, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and Transit for Livable Communities. The coalition “seeks to improve and ensure access to safe travel choices for Minnesotans” by encouraging cities to build their roads with all users in mind, not just cars.

For a street to be "complete," it must take into account what types of transportation the road is used for, how heavy the traffic is and what the surrounding area is like. Along with attending to the needs of road users, the coalition urges cities to make wise environmental choices during construction projects.

More at: National Complete Streets Coalition


  1. I assume the main “con” that would be discussed by people is cost. The initial cost can be higher, but not necessarily. And in light of the cost of maintaining the street for automobiles, other users come pretty cheap (think about how often you have to patch/replace a street surface versus a sidewalk).

    I’m very happy to see that the Council is taking this up. If we only consider the installation of sidewalks, we’re actually in a pretty good place already. Full coverage (both sides) has already become the de facto standard, and will be required by the new LDC. There are a number of other factors I do hope a Complete Streets policy takes into account.

    Most of the City has only intersection lighting. The Liberty Park area has more pedestrian-scale lighting, but the fixtures are too bright and too few. A consistent glow is welcoming and much safer, especially during the winter. Unfortunately, lighting is rarely touched by reconstruction projects — this year, on Jefferson Road (City) and Woodley/Division (246-State), nothing will be done. In previous years, nothing was done on the major E Woodley and E 4th St projects. Only the downtown streets (including Hwy 3) have an adequate level of lighting for a good pedestrian environment.

    Tree coverage
    This really matters, for homeowners and other users. Plum Street. ’nuff said.

    Pedestrian sewers
    Modern streets are sometimes called automative sewers, but I think we could aptly call many new sidewalk installations “pedestrian sewers” — the goal seems to be to get pedestrians through safely, but not to create any particular environment. I’d particularly point to the 1st and 2nd St culs de sac, where sidewalk was installed on the undeveloped side of the street (Old Main Field) and not on the side of the houses, where it actually would have been used by the college students and visiting researchers who occupy many of the houses. Instead it sits uselessly on the edge of a playing field. We need to be careful to prioritize direct connections to homes and businesses. You should not have to walk through a driveway or parking lot, and you definitely should not have to cross the street.

    Extreme narrowing could be helpful on many streets. While MSA streets must be held to state standards, we could have many narrower local streets.

    August 14, 2011
  2. kiffi summa said:

    Sean: There is not yet enough vocal predominance on the Council for this to be an established principle (Complete Streets); but I certainly hope it will become the prevailing design standard.

    Several weeks ago, when Councilor Buckheit gave her presentation on Complete Streets/Strong Towns, her presentation was preceded by one from the consulting engineers, Bolton&Menk. which gave the older engineering standards, and which some of the council seemed to prefer, citing ease of truck traffic on residential streets ( !!! ), the need to facilitate trucks for businesses, etc.

    Unfortunately , there was some rather bad behavior by the consultants during Councilor Buckheit’s presentations , as they sat on the sidelines.

    The Council will have to come out strongly in favor of their overall preferences for more thoughtful design, and will have to take a firm hand with direction to the consultants they must hire to perform for nonexistant in-house staff.

    Several years ago I advocated for a ‘check off box’ on every resolution/motion that would indicate that action taken had been evaluated for environmental ‘soundness’, and found to be good practice. I have recently suggested this to two councilors as a means to show commitment to the Green Steps Cities program, which the Council has endorsed.
    Let’s try to gather some more support for that idea…

    Thanks for your always thorough analysis… I hope you’ll bring back more good community design ideas from your trip to Norway.

    August 14, 2011