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Kaid Benfield’s Blog

Streets are for everyone

Kaid Benfield

Posted July 30, 2008

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How many of us have wished for a sidewalk in order to feel safer and more comfortable?  no way outOr have viewed 6-lane arterial roads, wondering how anyone ever manages to walk across?  How many of us have ridden bikes and needed more road space in order to share a roadway with cars?  How many of us have waited at a bus stop with no place to sit or be sheltered from the weather?

Just about all of us, I’m guessing.

NRDC belongs to a coalition called Complete Streets that is trying, with a growing number of successes, to do something about it.  My friend Barbara is one of their stalwarts.  Their objective can be simply stated:  Foster streets that are “safe, comfortable and convenient for travel via automobile, foot, bicycle, and transit.”

Complete streets advocates believe that we can integrate thoughtful design into a street with room to rideour roadways from the beginning, with features like sidewalks, shade trees, comfortable transit stops that are easy to walk to, good crosswalks and traffic signals for pedestrians (and medians on wide streets so a walker can pause halfway across if need be), and bike accommodations.

For decades, civil engineers have focused their efforts on making streets safe and comfortable for cars.  Nothing wrong with that, as one goal of a multi-modal strategy.  But as the only goal?  Not so good.  As stated on the coalition’s website, “creating complete streets means transportation agencies must change their orientation toward building primarily for cars. Instituting a complete streets policy ensures that transportation agencies routinely design and operate the entire right of way to enable safe access for all users.”


how not to do it so many problems that I don't know where to start 

The coalition also stresses that, since each complete street is unique, it is impossible to give a single description. 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.

Since so many of our roadways today are anything but complete streets, retrofitting must be one of the orders of the day.  Here’s a great visioning demonstration from Oregon of how it can be done:

no shade, discontinuous sidewalks, no room for bikes, too wide to cross safe sidewalks, shade, designated turning lane, bike lanes

This is hardly something to feel discouraged about, because the cause is making great progress.  The website reports complete streets policies endorsed by the US Conference of Mayors and adopted by communities as different as Buffalo and Charlotte.  The group’s latest newsletter reports progress in Scottsdale and Dayton.  A complete streets bill has also been introduced in the US House of Representatives.

Perhaps most significantly, the policy has been picked up by the Institute of Traffic Engineers.  ITE ran an article in their newsletter on the subject co-authored by Barbara McCann and former City of Chicago transportation engineer John LaPlante.

So I sense a groundswell in the making, and I’m glad good people are on the job.  Do visit their site and check them out.  Me?  I’m out for a bike ride.


Many thanks to  the Complete Streets Coalition for graciously allowing my use of their photos.

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Anonymous Barbara McCann FanJul 30 2008 11:26 AM

Outsatnding Complete Streets overview!

Dan TroutmanJul 30 2008 11:15 PM

Note to engineers: As America becomes a 3rd world nation, please make sure all streets and sidewalks are properly designed for pedestrian, bicycle, rickshaw and horse & buggy traffic (e.g. hoof friendly pavements). :)
Better yet, let's tear up all that concrete and asphalt and go back to dirt - the way mother nature intended humans to get around....

Kaid @ NRDCJul 31 2008 10:26 AM

Hey Dan, I get the impression from some of your posts around the board here that you're sort of cynical and negative about stuff. I'm just sayin'.

Dan TroutmanAug 1 2008 12:33 PM


I didn't expect to be one of the "frequent" commentors on this site, but I prefer to be a realist. :)

I feel that a majority of the blogs have a very "utopian" feel that sadly, just isn't going to happen in America - that's all. I don't mean to rain on your parades, but I get the feeling that everyone in NRDC lives in big cities and doesn't have a complete picture on middle-class rural America.

Believe it or not, I share a LOT of the same goals as NRDC - I just get frustrated on how you all are going about it. As I've mentioned before, your organization has noble goals that most people agree with - it's the message and execution that's sometimes hard to swallow. I think there are better, different strategies that would work better on the American middle class.

For example, it's frustrating to me to see your organization "fawn" all over talkers like Mr. Gore who only give speeches, write books and make films, while completely ignoring those that are actually spending their own money and DOING something now like Mr. T. Boone Pickens. Does NRDC even have a position yet on his plan yet?

I would like to think of NRDC as a progressive organization - not just an obstructionist one.

I suppose I've been around the military, government, politicians and businessmen too long and it's jaded me. I also don't complain just to complain (unlike a lot of Americans). I believe I have solutions to a lot of problems that I'm surprised people haven't talked about. (I'm willing to throw them out on the floor for discussion.)

I'll tone down my comments in the future. Thanks for at least allowing me to post. :)

BTW, I don't mind being a free, "lightning rod" guest to help generate intelligent discussion and better ideas/solutions. You all can throw spears at me instead! :)

Kaid @ NRDCAug 1 2008 03:00 PM

Dan, thanks for the thoughtful reply.

I hope you'll see a substantial dose of pragmatism running through my posts. I'm all about supporting the people in the private sector who are doing things right in the land development field. And I can point you to posts I've written about good examples in small-city and rural America, and even on a military base.

I am pretty much only about getting things done, though sometimes we need idealism to point the way and see how far we can get. Look for a post next week about ten great new developments across the country, none of which would have been possible without enlightened private enterprise.

I'm just as opposed to "obstructionism" as you are. (Read my posts about NIMBYs for confirmation.) And, while NRDC is a big organization with diverse viewpoints and strategies, I know others here who feel the same way.

Your comments are always welcome. No spears necessary . . . yet. ;)

Kris T.Aug 2 2008 03:55 AM


I don't 'blog' very often, but I am doing a bit of research on the internet tonight about an organization who just sent me 'snail mail' asking for contributions. Of course that organization is none other than NRDC. I never paid attention before. But the letter also includes a 'star power' letter from Leonardo DiCaprio. This might fire up a woman, especially with his suave looking photo on the letter, but it does nothing for me. As far as I'm concerned, most of Hollywood is garbage. And those associated with Hollywood, usually either get their likemindedness from Hollywood, or have stuffed it into Hollywoods brain in the first place.

As you can probably tell, I am pretty conservative in most of my ideology. Dems & Reps in Congress are one in the same these days. Very few are REALLY representing the best interests of their constituancy. Anyway, I didn't like the letter I received from NRDC very well since it was asking me to donate to "Save the Polar Bears", when Polar bear populations are actually rising. I love nature and want to be environmentally friendly, but the way many of the 'environmentalists' and 'env. organizations' are pushing things to extremes, I have been like most typical Americans in wanting to push bacck twice as hard. There is little to no evidence that the Polar bear population will become extinct anytime soon other than mere 'speculation' based on 'Global Warming', which just so happens to have strangely changed lately to 'Climate Change'. When a big percentage of scientists (not politicians & movie stars)say we need to 'push the emergency button', then we'll need to take those steps at that point. Until then, we need to do the best we can to help 'vulnerable' or 'near extinct' populations without going overboard. These cycles in climate change and life cycles of animals have been going on forever with or without human intervention. It is really great to help when we can, but the bigger focus should be on leaving a clean environment for our kids and grandkids. Nobody looks at population control of the human race, but if you think about it, the number one factor in destroying the environment is from human population (the more, the quicker destroyed). Look at NPG as a good organizational source of info here.

Anyway, the idea's expressed here about the streets are nice thoughts, but I agree whole-heartedly with Dan here that there are bigger fish to fry and probably much better ways to do this at less cost.

Just my thoughts. Teach me something if you want or can. I am all about learning things I don't know (I listen, even if I don't agree). Thanks Kaid.

Kaid @ NRDCAug 2 2008 09:59 AM

Kris, there's room for divergent views on most of these issues. I won't be pretentious enough to "teach" you anything but, if you keep reading, I hope you'll find something you like.

Barbara McCannAug 2 2008 11:51 AM

Back to the issue of complete streets: Two notes: In addition to the complete streets bill in the House sponsored by Representative Matsui, Sen. Harkin has sponsored a similar bill in the Senate.

And as to the ideas about streets being 'nice thoughts,' complete streets is about real places changing their approach to the very bones of our communities -- the street network. The California State Senate is on the verge of passing a complete streets law. Places with existing policies -- places as varied as Charlotte, NC, Salt Lake City, Chicago, Iowa City, IA, Orlando, FL,and many more -- are finding that taking their EXISTING transportation dollars and thinking more carefully about accommodating all users in all their projects is resulting in fewer crashes, more bicycle, pedestrian, and transit travel, and lower emissions. I don't call that small fish!

For more about real places working on really changing their streets, visit!

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