“Complete Street” projects that make streets more hospitable to pedestrians, bicycles and mass transit have a multitude of benefits, concludes Smart Growth America in a new report, “Safer Streets, Stronger Economies.” In a study of 37 projects, the authors found that complete streets tend to result in higher property values, fewer traffic accidents and injuries and more walking, biking and transit usage.
Previous studies of complete streets tended to focus on the health benefits associated with encouraging people to walk and bike more. People who live in walkable neighborhoods get 35 to 45 more minutes of moderate physical exercise each week, reducing their incidents of obesity. Youths who walk or bike to school tend to focus more and perform better in classrooms. The Smart Growth America report focused more on the economics of Complete Streets. Among the findings:
- Fewer collisions. About 70% of projects studied experienced a reduction in collisions, and more than half a reduction in injuries. That translated into $18.1 million in lower collision costs in a single year for the 37 cases studied. “If a Complete Streets approach was used strategically … the savings over time could run into the hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.”
- More walking, less driving. Among projects that tracked pedestrian and biking activity, 12 of 13 projects showed an increase in walking and 22 04 23 showed an increase in cycling. Among those that tracked driving, 19 of 33 projects had fewer cars than before, 13 had more, and one did not change.
- Positive impact on local economy. Although results were mixed, the redesigned streets tended to report an increase in the number of businesses and the number of people employed. Of the ten projects that reported before-and-after data for property values, eight reported an increase in property values while two reported no change. In two-thirds of the studies for which comparable data was available, property values outpaced that of the city as a whole. In one project, Dubuque, Iowa, property values increased 111%.
- Lower construction costs. The construction cost of upgrading streets to “Complete Streets” costs less per mile than average arterial cost per lane mile.
Not all Complete Streets are created equal, however. As with roads and cars, streets that add to pedestrian, bicycle and transit networks create more value than stand-alone projects. States the study: “The real value of a transportation system is in creasing an interconnected network, whether designed for people in cars, on transit, walking or bicycling. Building facilities without connecting them reduces their utility.”
The study did not calculate the Return on Investment of Complete Streets versus conventional road-building projects. Nevertheless, it concluded: “For transportation professionals the clear implication is that Complete Streets may be one of the best transportation investments they can make. These projects should be allowed to compete and be evaluated against other projects on the bsis of their low costs and the benefits they provide.
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