Complete Streets

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What is a "Complete Street"?

A "Complete Street" is one that ensures safety and accessibility for people of all ages and abilities utilizing all travel modes - walking, biking, transit, and auto driving (including emergency vehicles).

Complete Streets approaches vary based on community context and stakeholder involvement. They may include a wide range of elements, such as: 

  • New or improved sidewalks or curb extensions
  • Bicycle or bus-only lanes
  • New or modified public transportation stops
  • New or improved pedestrian crossing infrastructure, including crosswalks, median islands, or pedestrian signals 
  • Modified vehicle travel lanes, including painting new lines to formalize traffic patterns and calm speeds 
  • Other streetscape and landscape treatments (new trees or shade elements) to encourage walking and biking

Complete Streets reduce motor vehicle-related crashes and pedestrian risk, as well as bicyclist risk when well-designed bicycle-specific infrastructure is included (Reynolds, 2009). They can promote walking and bicycling by providing safer places to achieve physical activity through transportation. One study found that 43% of people reporting a place to walk were significantly more likely to meet current recommendations for regular physical activity than were those reporting no place to walk (Powell, Martin, Chowdhury, 2003).

The concept of Complete Streets encompasses many approaches to planning, designing, and operating roadways and rights of way with all users in mind to make the transportation network safer and more efficient. Complete Street policies are set at the state, regional, and local levels and are frequently supported by roadway design guidelines.

Needham's Complete Streets Tier 3 Status

MassDOT encourages municipalities to promote and implement Complete Streets strategies by offering a grant program to fund streetscape projects up to $500,000. To be eligible, municipalities must go through a multi-step approval process to gain a full Complete Streets community status. The steps are:

  1. The governing municipal officials must draft and adopt a policy outlining their commitment to Complete Streets principles (Tier 1)
  2. The municipality must draft and submit a Project Prioritization Plan identifying areas in which Complete Streets improvements are feasible and needed (Tier 2)
  3. Following approval of the PPP, the municipality is then allowed to apply for Complete Streets grant funding for projects on the plan list (Tier 3)

The Town of Needham has progressed through each of these steps, first by adopting a Complete Streets policy in 2017, then submitting an approved Prioritization Plan in 2020, and finally applying for its first grant funding in 2021. Needham has achieved Tier 3 status as a Complete Streets Community and is now fully able to implement its list of projects and priorities to improve the safety and accessibility of its streets.