Complete Streets Are a Bargain
Normal, Illinois, doesn't sound like a typical spring break destination—but for me, it was the perfect getaway. Along with fellow urban planning students from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I visited Normal in March 2010. We started our day with a walking tour of Uptown Normal and ended it by biking to its neighbor, Bloomington, via the Constitution Trail. The highlight of the tour was the town traffic circle (yes, a traffic circle!) called Uptown Circle, designed by Hoerr Schaudt Landscape Architects, which is a gathering place that captures and filters stormwater and simplifies a complicated intersection. On a sunny afternoon in 2010, it was easy to see why it's the heart of the district.
Normal invested more than $90 million in this neighborhood, spending about half of its investment ($47 million) on a Complete Streets approach that considers all users—people traveling by foot, bicycle, transit, or car—of all ages and abilities. They widened and repaired sidewalks, reconstructed Constitution Boulevard, and built Uptown Circle and Uptown Station, a multi-modal transportation center.
Today, more than 40 percent of all trips in Uptown Normal are by foot or bicycle. Since these improvements, it experienced a boost in retail sales (46 percent) and attracted more than $160 million in private investment.
Perhaps the best outcome of all? "People love Uptown Normal," said Normal Mayor Chris Koos. "They ride the bus, they bike the trail, they shop, they socialize, and they recreate in a wonderful urban center." This project shows how Complete Streets principles can transform a place.
But neither Normal's approach nor its results are unique. More than 700 cities, regions, and states have made a commitment to use a Complete Streets approach.
Examining before and after data from 37 projects redesigned with Complete Streets goals, this study found:
Streets were safer: Automobile collisions declined in 70 percent of projects, and injuries declined in 56 percent of projects.
This safety has financial value: Each collision that a safer street helps to avoid represents avoided costs from emergency room visits, hospital charges, rehabilitation, and doctor visits, as well as the cost of property damage. Within our sample, Complete Streets improvements collectively averted $18.1 million in total collision costs in just one year.
Complete Streets encouraged multi-modal travel: The projects nearly always resulted in more biking, walking, and transit trips.
They are remarkably affordable: The average cost of a Complete Streets project was just $2.1 million—far less than the $9 million average cost of projects in state transportation improvement plans. And 97 percent of Complete Streets projects cost less per mile than construction of an average high-cost arterial.
They play an important role in economic development: These findings suggest that Complete Streets projects were supportive of higher employment, new businesses, and property values. Several projects saw significant private investment since their completion.
Particularly striking is what the projects achieved with a small public investment. For example, Portland, Oregon, spent $95,000 to re-stripe the streets, add plastic bollards, and new signage to NE Multnomah Boulevard. This project created 34 new automobile and 12 bicycle parking spaces. Cycling along the corridor increased 44 percent, and the number of vehicles exceeding the speed limit fell by half.
For some projects, the cost-savings from safer conditions alone justified their costs. For instance, after Reno, Nevada, added bike lanes in each direction and widened sidewalks along Wells Avenue, collisions fell by about 45 percent. The value of Reno's safer conditions within one year's time ($5.8 million) is more than its entire project cost ($4.5 million).
The before and after data shows the extraordinary effect low-cost, thoughtful street design can have on local communities. As more communities implement Complete Streets policies — with an explicit aim to make travel by foot, bike, and transit convenient and safe — we should measure our progress toward those aims and make sure we invest accordingly.
Ready to get started on measuring your community's Complete Streets work? Check out the Coalition's latest guide: Evaluating Complete Streets: A Guide for Practitioners.
This guest post is by Laura Searfoss, Associate, National Complete Streets Coalition.