Measuring the Impact of Complete Streets


“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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16 responses to “Measuring the Impact of Complete Streets”

  1. I’d be curious to hear from El Sidd on whether or not this is an example of Agenda 21….


    It still seems a bit incongruous for someone who claims to be a Conservative – basically advocating a governmental approach to settlement patterns – as opposed to letting the private sector and free market make such decisions.

    One would think the “value” proposition would be one where customers decide what they want.. and the private sector – then provides it.

    why should government be doing this?

    am I challenging Jim on his conservatism? yes!

    most Conservatives these days would be opposed to the govt dictating how development should occur. These are the same Conservatives who don’t want Uber regulated, either, right?

    so what’s the difference? what justifies the govt controlling how development allocates itself?

    just questions…

    1. Larry, for the 500th time, conservatives are not anarchists. They don’t believe in zero government. They believe in smaller government. But they also believe there are legitimate roles for government to play. One of those is designing, building and maintaining roads and streets.

      It’s not hard, Larry. It’s really not.

      1. Jim – why do you accept without question that the role of govt is absolutely to design, build and maintain roads and land use?

        neither of these two functions seem to be free market critters

        I’d even ask if Smart Growth is a govt concept or a free market concept?

        Smart Growth as far as I can understand it is not at all about “smaller govt” – it’s the opposite – govt on steroids.


        1. Why is does it fall to government to do streets? Sometimes, though not typically, it’s the private sector’s role — when a developer builds a subdivision and/or office park and the streets that serve it. But most of the time only government can balance the competing interests of pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and property owners. Only government can plan for the larger network of roads, streets and highways. When it’s government that builds and maintains the streets, who else is going to do it?

          1. re” But most of the time only government can balance the competing interests of pedestrians, bicyclists, cars and property owners”

            I know I’m being a knuckle head but it does not sound like urban settlement patterns are true free markets. The are actually almost exclusively government-created environments … that, in turn, generate significant economic activity.

            it sounds like the antithesis of free markets.

            it’s not that there are not free-market activity occurring in cities but the whole shebang is sitting on a government-created framework.

            can you agree with this as far as it goes?

  2. Tom Bowden Avatar
    Tom Bowden

    Larry G, you’re overlooking the fact that federal state and local government is deeply involved with planning, design and construction of streets as it is. Jim is simply saying that the complete streets approach can yield lower costs and safer, more vital neighborhoods. What’s un-conservative about that? Conservatives generally accept the legitimate role of government in designing and maintaining infrastructure. The question is how best to use the resources provided by taxpayers. For too long, planners and traffic engineers have designed roads almost strictly for the purpose of moving the greatest number of cars at the highest average speed, with often disastrous consequences. Any good conservative should want their tax dollars spent more wisely. Perhaps you are over generalizing when you assume that conservatives are averse to any form of transportation other than private automobiles. In fact, automotive transportation is one of the most highly subsidized activities there is. Gas taxes and registration fees don’t begin to cover the cost of building and maintaining roads.

    1. Tom – I’m totally onboard with cost-effective planning and use of tax dollars but even Jim has written articles about how govt hinder dense settlement patterns… and roads.. and land-use.. I could go back and dredge them up if you need “proof”.

      second – there are a not insignificant number of Conservatives these days – brethren of brother Jim – who say that government should not be planning “Smart Growth” – that it’s a wrong role for govt and some of them
      say it’s part of the Agenda 21 “plan” which depending on your point of view is a conspiracy involving the UN – or not …

      but seriously -surely you and Jim both have heard the laundry list of wrongs of city government on zoning, cabs/uber, etc…

      I’m just tweaking him a bit … it’s my job here in BR, you know.

  3. Tom Bowden Avatar
    Tom Bowden

    Larry G – for your reading pleasure.

    1. Tom – let me return the favor:


      fascinating … did you know the Episcopal Church built Virginia’s initial roads?

  4. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    VDOT has been on this page for a number of years. That and reducing curb cuts on larger roads. I don’t see this as ideological, but rather, engineering, economics and human behavior.

    But mass transit is financially viable only where there is enough density to support transit, especially transit with reasonably short headways.

  5. well..more than just VDOT involved and VDOT will not put in bike/ped unless the locality pays for it out of their allocations and in some cases won’t put in bike/ped at all..anyhow.

    I’m not the one who thinks this is ideological .. I’m responding to those who say it is – those who say govt-developed zoning and regulations and design standards impose costs on individuals and limit what individuals and the free market can do.

    I just think you have to have govt involved.. and that’s not ideological…just practical.

    1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

      I have a couple lawyer friends in Houston, which has no zoning. They tell me that land covenants are generally used and those provisions are often more strict than comparable zoning ordinances. Having said that, I’ve seen some people try to take zoning to extremes, such as by arguing a homeowner cannot cut down trees on his/her lot where there are no such restrictions in the proffers.

  6. The thing is – urbanized areas are heavily subsidized from one perspective.

    food is grown outside of the city on land not used for settlement patterns
    electricity is generated outside of the city – polluting lands external to the city.

    water is captured in reservoirs external to the city not inside the city

    trash and sewage are transported outside the city on land and waters the city needs to be sustainable as a city.

    transit is often paid for by taxpayers outside the city – as Federal subsidies.

    on the other side – cities often generate substantial economic activity and the taxes go to pay for the other parts of the state – that are economically distressed.

    so … the question is – is it a symbiotic relationship that is a creation of government and not the free market?

    chew on that.

  7. Two things I hate:

    1. Being wrong
    2. Bacon being right

    Both are at play here. Now that I am once again traveling almost 100% of the time I have been paying close attention to walkability in various cities and the value of real estate in those areas. The more walkable / bikeable / complete the streets, the more valuable the real estate compared with similar real estate in the same cities on half-assed streets.

    So, why aren’t residents of incomplete streets clamoring for their streets to be completed?

    What we have here is a failure to communicate.

    1. Is putting govt in charge of “complete streets” – the same corrupt, crony-capitalism, nazi zoning, and incompetent govt we talk about at other times?

      are we saying the same govt that operates METRO and builds the Silver line is the one that should be doing complete streets…??? the same way that does million dollar bus stops… etc, etc?

      it just seems that we lurch from a concept of incompetent and wasteful govt to having the govt in charge of more things..


  8. […] Measuring the impact of ‘Complete Streets’ – “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. (Bacon’s Rebellion) […]

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