Complete Streets Frequently asked questions


-> What are Complete Streets?

-> What does a "Complete Street" look like?

-> Why do we need Complete Streets policies?

-> Do Complete Streets policies always lead to Complete Streets?

-> What planning documents are used to adopt Complete Streets policies?

-> Where are Complete Streets being built?

-> How can I get a Complete Streets policy adopted in my community?


What are Complete Streets?

Complete Streets are streets for everyone. They are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and transit riders of all ages and abilities. Complete Streets make it easy to cross the street, walk to shops, and bicycle to work. They allow buses to run on time and make it safe for people to walk to and from train stations.

Creating Complete Streets means transportation agencies must change their approach to community roads. By adopting a Complete Streets policy, communities direct their transportation planners and engineers to routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of transportation. This means that every transportation project will make the street network better and safer for drivers, transit users, pedestrians, and bicyclists making your town a better place to live.


What does a "Complete Street" look like?

There is no singular design prescription for Complete Streets; each one is unique and responds to its community context. A complete street may include: sidewalks, bike lanes (or wide paved shoulders), special bus lanes, comfortable and accessible public transportation stops, frequent and safe crossing opportunities, median islands, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, roundabouts, and more.

A Complete Street in a rural area will look quite different from a Complete Street in a highly urban area, but both are designed to balance safety and convenience for everyone using the road. Check out the 'Many Types of Complete Streets' slideshow to see examples from across Canada and the USA.


Why do we need Complete Streets policies?

Incomplete streets those designed with only cars in mind limit transportation choices by making walking, bicycling, and taking public transportation inconvenient, unattractive, and, too often, dangerous.

Changing policy to routinely include the needs of people on foot, public transportation, and bicycles would make walking, riding bikes, riding buses and trains safer and easier. People of all ages and abilities would have more options when traveling to work, to school, to the grocery store, and to visit family.

Making these travel choices more convenient, attractive, and safe means people do not need to rely solely on automobiles. They can replace congestion-clogged trips in their cars with swift bus rides or heart-healthy bicycle trips. Complete Streets improves the efficiency and capacity of existing roads too, by moving people in the same amount of space just think of all the people who can fit on a bus or streetcar versus the same amount of people each driving their own car. Getting more productivity out of the existing road and public transportation systems is vital to reducing congestion.

Complete Streets are particularly prudent when more communities are tightening their budgets and looking to ensure long-term benefits from investments. An existing transportation budget can incorporate Complete Streets projects with little to no additional funding, accomplished through re-prioritizing projects and allocating funds to projects that improve overall mobility. Many of the ways to create more complete roadways are low cost, fast to implement, and high impact. Building more sidewalks and striping bike lanes has been shown to create more jobs than traditional car-focused transportation projects.


Do Complete Streets policies always lead to Complete Streets?

Adopting a Complete Streets policy is a strong step towards change but does not guarantee implementation. Case in point is The Nanaimo Master Transportation Plan which was adopted by Nanaimo Mayor and Council in May 2014. Although some complete streets have been built (see below) the actual policy is not fully implemented.

As a result of this policy-to-implementation disconnect, some Canadian jurisdictions have begun to develop Complete Streets implementation guidelines. These guidelines support existing Complete Streets policies by ensuring that local engineers and planners have direction to implement Complete Streets in new infrastructure projects or as part of right-of-way retrofits. For a great example of how guidelines can dictate Complete Streets implementation, please check out the Complete Streets Guidelines from Calgary.


What planning documents are used to adopt Complete Streets policies?

The Official Community Plan, or its equivalent depending on the jurisdiction, is a key document for the adoption of a Complete Streets policy because it is the most overarching policy document that guides land use and infrastructure planning in most Canadian provinces and territories. There are other valuable documents where a Complete Streets policy can be adopted. These policy documents include Transportation Master Plans, Strategic Plans, Urban Design Guidelines, Active Transportation Master Plans and others. The goal is to have an overarching policy direction that supports Complete Streets and this is done through integrating Complete Streets throughout a given municipality's most important planning documents. The GNCC main concern is that although the Nanaima Master Transportation Plan has been adopted it is not part of the OCP. It has no budget priorites, specific short term goals or firm implementation deadlines.


Where are Complete Streets being built?

Communities worldwide, including many towns, cities and provinces have adopted bike plans or pedestrian plans that designate some streets as corridors for improvements for bicycling and walking. More and more, communities are going beyond this to ensure that every street project takes all road users into account. Among the places with some form of Complete Streets policy are many cities and towns in Canada. See the map on Complete Streets Canada. And in the USA,yes that bastion of motor vehicles, the states of Oregon, California, Illinois, North Carolina, Minnesota, Connecticut, and Florida have complete street policies. Check the interactive atlas on the Smarth Growth America website to see all the jurisdictions that have formally committed to the Complete Streets approach.

In Nanaimo the following projects have some form of Complete Streets principles.

  • Boundary Road - protected bike lanes & pedestrian crossing improvements
  • Bowen Road near Wakesiah - our first green paint on bike lane & new sidewalks
  • Bruce Avenue - bikelanes and pedestrian sidewalk improvements
  • Brickyard Avenue - roundabout to enforce traffic calming & new crosswalk
  • Turner Avenue - new roundabout with seperate sidewalk and bike path
  • ?

To see what city staff presented to council in July 2015 on the NMTP click here.


How can I get a Complete Streets policy adopted in my neighbourhood?

To advocate for Complete Streets you will have to reach out to elected officials, municipal staff, your local advocacy groups and the public. Describe your community's problematic or unsafe streets: many communities have examples of schools that have no sidewalks out front, bus stops that are not accessible for people using mobility devices and stretches of arterial roadway without pedestrian crossings.

Successful Complete Streets advocates organize around a clear message and specific goals: Conventional street design fails to provide adequate safety and convenience for user of all ages, abilities and modes. Canadians require a Complete Streets approach to ensure all streets are designed for all modes and all abilities

Strengthen your campaign by partnering with an organization with which you have common goals such as the Greater Nanaimo Cycling Coalition. Public health agencies, transit authorities, seniors' advocates and all other groups that have a stake in streets that are safer and more convenient for all users make good allies in a campaign for Complete Streets

Talk with them about particularly problematic and unsafe streets: schools that have no sidewalks out front, bus stops that are not accessible for people in wheelchairs, missing crosswalks by the grocery store, and no safe routes to bicycle to work, school or shopping centre. Work together to identify ways to make these places safer and more attractive and present your ideas to others.