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Complete Streets Policies

This page provides examples and analysis of complete streets ordinances and policies adopted by local governments in Washington State, as well as information about the state complete streets grant program.

Overview

“Complete streets” refers to the concept that roadways should be designed with all users in mind, not just motorists. The term was introduced around 2003 in an effort to improve pedestrian and bicycle facilities in particular, and it is now used by many local governments.

In 2011, the state legislature passed the Complete Streets Act, codified in RCW 47.04.320-.340, encouraging local governments to adopt their own complete streets ordinances. In particular, RCW 47.04.320(1) states that such ordinances should “provide safe access to all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and public transportation users.”

RCW 47.04.330 requires the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to consult with local jurisdictions and consider the needs of all users by applying context sensitive solutions when constructing, reconstructing, or making major improvements to streets that are part of the state highway system.

Complete Streets Grant Program

RCW 47.04.320 establishes a grant program to help cities, towns, and counties pay for complete streets projects. To be eligible for a grant, RCW 47.04.320(2)(b) requires local governments to adopt a jurisdiction-wide complete streets ordinance.

Note that the statute specifically refers to an ordinance, so it is unclear whether jurisdictions that adopt a complete streets policy by resolution will be eligible.

The legislature provided $3 million in year one and $14 million in subsequent biennia for the program, which is managed by the Transportation Improvement Board (TIB). Cities or counties must be nominated by an approved state agency or nonprofit organization. For more information, including a list of nominating partners and known eligible jurisdictions, see TIB Funding Opportunity - Complete Streets Award.

Local Ordinances and Policies

A number of cities and counties in Washington have adopted complete streets ordinances or policies. In particular, the National Complete Streets Coalition has recognized Tacoma, Ocean Shores, and Battle Ground for their excellent complete streets policies.

The National Complete Streets Coalition emphasizes a number of important criteria, including incorporating all users and modes, applying to all types of transportation projects, recognizing the importance of a complete street network, using the latest design guidance, identifying specific implementation steps, and creating measurable performance standards to evaluate whether the jurisdiction is meeting its goals. 

Examples

Defining a “Complete Street”

RCW 47.04.320(1) states that such ordinances should “provide safe access to all users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, motorists, and public transportation users.” Local policies typically name all of these users, but some go into greater detail, identifying additional users or specific design elements to be considered.

Examples

Design Guidance

Some ordinances provide guidance on what design standards or best practices should be followed, and even include the specific design elements that should be considered. Ultimately, these standards may need to be incorporated into other local codes, policies, or documents. For more information, see the National Complete Streets Coalition: Reviewing and Updating Design Guidance.

In particular, Tacoma has adopted complete street guidelines for mixed-use centers and residential streets, which was recognized as one of the top complete streets policies in 2010 by the National Complete Streets Coalition and Washington APA.

Examples

Implementation

Local jurisdictions must consider when and how to implement their complete streets standards into street projects. Some ordinances are silent on the issue, but others provide specific criteria for what plans need to be updated and what types of street projects should be included.

Examples

Exceptions

Complete streets are not appropriate in all instances. Sometimes there may not be enough right-of-way or the project might not be appropriate for the surrounding land uses. Certain design elements, such as bulbouts, pedestrian refuges, narrower lanes, and smaller curb radii, can potentially impact the movements of large vehicles such as fire trucks, garbage trucks, and freight vehicles.

Local policies often include language to clarify these exceptions, with a particular emphasis on freight traffic, public safety, and environmental impacts.

Examples

  • Airway Heights Municipal Code Sec. 14.10.040 - On major truck streets, complete street improvements must be consistent with freight mobility. (Standard language used by several jurisdictions.)
  • Pierce County Ordinance No. 2014-44s - County engineer has sole discretion, but includes general conditions that may preclude complete streets. If pedestrian and bike facilities are omitted, the county should consider if those users can be accommodated by nearby facilities.
  • Sunnyside Municipal Code Sec. 12.07.060 - Very specific exceptions, including cost exceeding 20% of the total project and isolated projects that would not contribute to the overall transportation network.
  • White Salmon Municipal Code Sec. 12.26.030(A) - Includes fairly standard exceptions: absence of need, adverse impacts to public health and safety, critical areas, or neighboring land uses, or site-specific exceptions approved by the public works director.

Performance Measurement

For jurisdictions that are working to implement their complete streets programs, performance measurement can help assess how much progress is being made. While transportation metrics have traditionally focused on vehicles, more agencies have begun adopting quantitative standards for transit, pedestrians, and bicyclists.

For further guidance, see Evaluating Complete Streets Projects: A Guide for Practitioners, written by AARP, Smart Growth America, and the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Examples

Recommended Resources


Last Modified: June 08, 2017