What are Complete Streets?
Complete streets are designed to be safe and comfortable for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, motorists, and individuals of all ages and capabilities. These streets generally include sidewalks, bicycle lanes, transit stops, appropriate street widths and speeds, and are well-integrated with surrounding land uses. Complete Street design elements that emphasize safety, mobility and accessibility for multiple modes may include crosswalks, bus lanes, landscaping, lighting, signaling systems, and adequate separation between sidewalks and streets.
For the previous fifty years, streets have generally been designed to serve one mode, motor vehicles, and often have been designed without sidewalks or bike facilities. In contrast, Complete Streets are intended to serve people using all modes.
View examples of Complete Streets Elements (PDF:1.5MB).
The Case for Complete Streets
Communities across North Carolina are seeing a growing need to make it easier and safer for all people to walk, bicycle, drive, or use public transportation. Interest in active transportation, including walking and bicycling, is on the rise. The state’s population continues to grow, with more people seeking urban lifestyles and amenities. Additionally, concerns about obesity and the cost of health care, coupled with high fuel prices, are causing individuals to seek alternative methods of travel, such as public transportation.
Such interest is shared among all individuals, including the young, the elderly, the disabled, the wealthy and the economically disadvantaged. Still, few facilities exist to offer safe routes for pedestrians, transit users, and cyclists. Statewide, more than 1,800 pedestrians and around 1,000 bicyclists are struck by cars in reported collisions each year.
Communities need a realistic solution for the growing demand for safe and accessible transportation options— a solution in which the North Carolina Department of Transportation has an important role. This role is defined by the Complete Streets policy and design approach. Pedestrian-, transit-, and bicycle-friendly streets not only provide transportation system redundancy and safety, but they offer critical economic and tourism benefits needed for the state, and they better serve the needs of all citizens, including the growing population of people who do not or cannot drive or own a car.
Background of Complete Streets Guidelines
Charlotte has been at the forefront of the Complete Streets movement. In 2007, the City adopted a set of Urban Street Design Guidelines consistent with the Complete Streets philosophy and has been creating Complete Streets since 2005.
Other communities in North Carolina are also pursuing related initiatives to create safer streets for multiple modes and diverse users. Several localities, including Asheville, Cary, Charlotte, Hickory and Winston-Salem have used narrow lanes, raised medians, curb extensions, landscaping and on-street parking as traffic calming measures to create safer streets for people using non-motorized forms of transportation.
Similarly, the Active Living by Design program, which has taken root in Chapel Hill, complements the Complete Streets movement due to its promotion of safe, convenient pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Many North Carolina cities also have taken an active role in pursuing smart growth development that is environmentally, fiscally, and economically smart. These cities use innovative land-use planning techniques to incorporate bicycle and pedestrian facilities as key elements in their roadway projects.
The Complete Streets planning and design guidelines (PDF:17.0MB)and Appendices (PDF:7.9MB) will ensure that a formal design process supporting other local policy initiatives and community benefits is developed, implemented and monitored. This process will require transportation engineers/planners and land use planners to utilize a common, comprehensive approach to improve the state’s transportation system and to provide streets that serve all users.
Complete Streets Policy
NCDOT’s Complete Streets Policy is part of a national movement. The Complete Streets Act of 2009 (S.B 584 and H.R. 1443) was adopted in recognition of the significant influence that street design has on safety, environmental integrity, public health, economic vitality and community livability. The bill directs state Departments of Transportation and Metropolitan Planning Organizations to adopt policies that support inclusive and innovative transportation planning policies and apply these policies to future federally funded transportation projects. As a result of this legislation, state and local Complete Streets policies are emerging.
Complete Streets is North Carolina’s approach to interdependent, multi-modal transportation networks that safely accommodate access and travel for all users.
B. Policy Statement
Transportation, quality of life, and economic development are all undeniably connected through well-planned, well-designed, and context sensitive transportation solutions. To NCDOT, the designations “well-planned’, “well-designed” and “context-sensitive” imply that transportation is an integral part of a comprehensive network that safely supports the needs of the communities and the traveling public that are served.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation, in its role as stewards over the transportation infrastructure, is committed to:
- providing an efficient multi-modal transportation network in North Carolina such that the access, mobility, and safety needs of motorists, transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians of all ages and abilities are safely accommodated;
- caring for the built and natural environments by promoting sustainable development practices that minimize impacts on natural resources, historic, businesses, residents, scenic and other community values, while also recognizing that transportation improvements have significant potential to contribute to local, regional, and statewide quality of life and economic development objectives;
- working in partnership with local government agencies, interest groups, and the public to plan, fund, design, construct, and manage complete street networks that sustain mobility while accommodating walking, biking, and transit opportunities safely.
This policy requires that NCDOT’s planners and designers will consider and incorporate multimodal alternatives in the design and improvement of all appropriate transportation projects within a growth area of a town or city unless exceptional circumstances exist. Routine maintenance projects may be excluded from this requirement if an appropriate source of funding is not available.
This policy sets forth the protocol for the development of transportation networks that encourage non-vehicular travel without compromising the safety, efficiency, or function of the facility. The purpose of this policy is to guide existing decision-making and design processes to ensure that all users are routinely considered during the planning, design, construction, funding and operation of North Carolina’s transportation network.
D. Scope and Applicability
This policy generally applies to facilities that exist in urban or suburban areas, however it does not necessarily exclude rural setting; and is viewed as a network that functions in an interdependent manner.
There are many factors that must be considered when defining the facility and the degree to which this policy applies, e.g., number of lanes, design speeds, intersection spacing, medians, curb parking, etc. Therefore, the applicability of this policy, as stated, should be construed as neither comprehensive nor conclusive. Each facility must be evaluated for proper applicability.
Notwithstanding the exceptions stated herein, all transportation facilities within a growth area of a town or city funded by or through NCDOT, and planned, designed, or constructed on state maintained facilities, must adhere to this policy.
It is the Department’s commitment to collaborate with cities, towns, and communities to ensure pedestrian, bicycle, and transit options are included as an integral part of their total transportation vision. As a partner in the development and realization of their visions, the Department desires to assist localities, through the facilitation of long-range planning, to optimize connectivity, network interdependence, context sensitive options, and multimodal alternatives.
F. Related Policies
This policy builds on current practices and encourages creativity for considering and providing multi-modal options within transportation projects, while achieving safety and efficiency.
Specific procedural guidance includes:
- Bicycle Policy (adopted April 4, 1991)
- Highway Landscape Planting Policy (dated 6/10/88)
- Board of Transportation Resolution: Bicycling & Walking in North Carolina, A Critical Part of the Transportation System (adopted September 8, 2000)
- Guidelines for Planting within Highway Right-of-Way
- Bridge Policy (March 2000)
- Pedestrian Policy Guidelines –Sidewalk Location (Memo from Larry Goode, February 15, 1995)
- Pedestrian Policy Guidelines (effective October 1, 2000 w/Memo from Len Hill, September 28, 2000)
- NCDOT Context Sensitive Solutions Goals and Working Guidelines (created 9-23-02; updated 9-8-03)
G. Exceptions to Policy
It is the Department’s expectation that suitable multimodal alternatives will be incorporated in all appropriate new and improved infrastructure projects. However, exceptions to this policy will be considered where exceptional circumstances that prohibit adherence to this policy exist. Such exceptions include, but are not limited to:
- facilities that prohibit specific users by law from using them,
- areas in which the population and employment densities or level of transit service around the facility does not justify the incorporation of multimodal alternatives.
It is the Department’s expectation that suitable multimodal alternatives will be incorporated as appropriate in all new and improved infrastructure projects within a growth area of a town or city.
As exceptions to policy requests are unique in nature, each will be considered on a case-by-case basis. Each exception must be approved by the Chief Deputy Secretary.
Routine maintenance projects may be excluded from this requirement if an appropriate source of funding is not available.
H. Planning and Design Guidelines
The Department recognizes that a well-planned and designed transportation system that is responsive to its context and meets the needs of its users is the result of thoughtful planning. The Department further recognizes the need to provide planners, designers and decision-makers with a framework for evaluating and incorporating various design elements into the planning, design, and construction phases of its transportation projects. To this end, a multi-disciplined team of stakeholders, including transportation professionals, interest groups, and others, as appropriate, will be assembled and charged with developing comprehensive planning and design guidelines to support this policy.
These guidelines will describe the project development process and incorporate transparency and accountability where it does not currently exist; describe how (from a planning and design perspective) pedestrians, bicyclists, transit, and motor vehicles will share roads safely; and provide special design elements and traffic management strategies to address unique circumstances. An expected delivery date for planning and design guidelines will be set upon adoption of this policy.
I. Policy Distribution
It is the responsibility of all employees to comply with Departmental policies, including the Complete Streets policy adopted by the North Carolina Board of Transportation on July 9, 2009. Therefore, every business unit and appropriate private service provider will be required to maintain a complete set of these policies. The Department shall periodically update departmental guidance to ensure that accurate and up-to-date information is maintained and housed in a policy management system.
Advisory Group Members
Jay Bennett, PE
Joseph (Joe) Geigle, PE,
Complete Streets Presentations