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Complete Streets

This page provides examples of complete streets ordinances and policies adopted by local governments in Washington State, as well as information about the state’s Complete Streets Grant Program.



Overview

“Complete streets” refers to the concept that roadways should be designed with all users in mind, not just motorists. Communities around the country have long accommodated various levels of infrastructure for alternative transportation modes, including bicycles, walking, and transit, as a means of promoting health, safety, and sustainability. Along with integrated land use and transportation planning, and electric vehicle usage, complete streets is a key strategy for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.

The state legislature passed the Complete Streets Act in 2011 (codified in RCW 47.04.320-.340), encouraging local governments to adopt their own complete streets ordinances that would provide safe access to all “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.

New in 2022, RCW 47.24.060 requires WSDOT projects over $500,000 to incorporate the principles of complete streets into facilities that provide street access on state highways projects routed over city streets where the design phase of the project begins on or after July 1, 2022.  WSDOT must consult with the impacted local jurisdictions to confirm existing and planned active transportation connections.


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 grant program is managed by the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB). Cities or counties must be nominated by an approved state agency or nonprofit organization, which are identified by the TIB. For more information, including eligibility, prior grantees, a list of nominating partner agencies, and a database of jurisdictions with downloadable complete streets ordinances, see TIB's Complete Streets Award webpage.


Nationally Recognized Complete Streets Program Examples

A number of cities and counties in Washington have adopted complete streets ordinances or policies, some of which have received recognition from the National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) over the years. 

NCSC emphasizes 10 elements that serve as a national model of best practices to create a policy that can be implemented at any level of governance, in any type of place, including establishing commitment and vision, prioritizing diverse users, applying to all projects and phases, allowing only clear exceptions, adopting excellent design guidance, measuring progress, and creating a plan for implementation.

The following jurisdictions have been highlighted for their complete streets programs:


What to Include in a Complete Streets Program

Below are some issues a city, town, or county should address in its complete streets programs, policies, and ordinances.

Defining a “Complete Street”

According to Smart Growth America (SGA):

Complete Streets is an approach to planning, designing and building streets that enables safe access for all users, including pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and transit riders of all ages and abilities.

SGA notes that the approach emphasizes the needs of those who have experienced underinvestment or whose needs aren’t met through a traditional transportation approach (e.g., older adults, people living with disabilities, and people who don’t own cars). It also stresses that not all complete streets look the same due to local context and needs — a city center will include different solutions than a rural community. These solutions may include sidewalks, bike lanes, special bus lanes, transit stops, crosswalks, accessible pedestrian signals, curb extensions, narrower travel lanes, and more.

The development of any complete streets policies should start with engagement with the public and various departments (i.e., fire, public works, and planning) that may be needed to implement the policies as a means of identifying the local context and goals for the program. Most local complete streets definitions identify the users they apply to and under what circumstances the program should be applied.

Examples

  • Deer Park Municipal Code Sec. 12.32.020 — Focuses on changing the decision-making process so that all users are routinely considered in road design and construction projects. 
  • Longview Ord. 3413 (2019) — Includes among its standard list of users “freight vehicles, conventional and self-driving vehicles, motorcyclists, public transportation riders and vehicles, school buses and riders, and devices that propel individuals of all ages and abilities.”

Identifying Design Guidance

Implementation relies on using the best and latest state-of-the-practice design standards and guidelines to maximize design flexibility. As such, jurisdictions should develop or update their design guidance to advance their policies. Some programs include specific complete streets design criteria or standards, while others reference best practices.

Examples

  • Arlington Complete Streets Program — Includes links to several related city documents as well as visual examples of complete streets and a program schedule. Section 3.0 of the city's 2018 Complete Streets Policy offers detailed design guidance.
  • Clark County Complete Streets Guidelines (2020) — Covers intent, users, implementation plan, design guidelines, accountability plan/performance measures, and project partners.
  • Kenmore Municipal Code Sec. 12.45.030 — Mandates the city maintain complete streets design criteria based on best practices and guidelines from the Association of State Highway Transportation Offices (AASHTO), National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), Institute of Transportation Engineers (ITE), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), and WSDOT.
  • Longview Ord. 3413 (2019) — Establishes Longview Municipal Code Ch. 12.70 and mandates that the city maintain complete streets design criteria based on best practices and guidelines from national organizations (i.e. AASHTO, ITE, NACTO, FHWA) and WSDOT, as well as the city’s complete streets advisory committee; comprehensive plan and zoning map; and the Longview School District school walk route maps.
  • Renton Ordinance No. 5517 (2009) — Establishes policy and updates street design standards, which can be found at Renton Municipal Code Sec. 4-6-060 The city’s street design standards and development requirements for street improvements include appropriately scaled sidewalks related to the urban context, a range of landscape buffers, and more, to be developed with complete streets principles.

Identifying Exceptions

All modes may not be appropriate for all streets and roads depending on local needs and context. What’s appropriate for an urban context may not work in a more rural setting. Right-of-way constraints and surrounding land uses will also vary from project to project as will accommodations for freight and emergency vehicle operations. Local policies often include language to clarify these exceptions, with a particular emphasis on need, costs, and safety.

Examples

  • Pierce County Ordinance No. 2014-44s — 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.
  • Seattle Ordinance No. 122386 (2007) — Exempts from complete street principles repairs made pursuant to the Pavement Opening and Restoration Rule, ordinary maintenance activities (e.g., mowing), where it is contrary to public safety, or where factors indicate an absence of need. Also see the city’s Complete Streets webpage.
  • Sunnyside Municipal Code Sec. 12.07.060 — Identifies some specific exceptions, including cost exceeding 20% of the total project and isolated projects that would not contribute to the overall transportation network. See also Ord. No. 2015-13 (2015).
  • White Salmon Municipal Code Sec. 12.26.030(A) — Includes fairly standard exceptions: absence of need, adverse impacts to public health and safety, significant impacts on critical areas or neighboring land uses, or site-specific exceptions approved by the public works director.

Developing Performance Measures

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.

Examples

Outlining Implementation

Local jurisdictions should identify when and how to implement their complete streets policies. Some codes are silent on the issue, but others identify key steps to implementation, including revising related plans and regulations, developing new design policies and guides to reflect best practices, identifying funding sources for upcoming projects, and offering trainings to staff and the public.

Examples

  • Airway Heights Municipal Code Sec. 14.10.030 — Incorporates principles into the comprehensive plan, public works standards, parks and recreation master plan, traffic circulation plan, and others.
  • Bremerton Ord. No. 5354 (2018) — Notes that it is the goal of the city to foster partnerships with multiple state and local agencies and organizations when implementing the program. Implementation will also take into account the city’s existing planning documents, including the comprehensive plan, non-motorized transportation plan, and subarea plans.
  • Connell Municipal Code Sec. 12.02.070 — States that the city "will incorporate complete streets principles into the city’s comprehensive plan, public works standards, other plans, manuals, rules, regulations and programs as feasible and appropriate.”
  • East Wenatchee Municipal Code Sec. 12.24.070 — Action to implement the city’s complete streets policy include design standards, sidewalk capital improvement and monitoring program, city bicycle master plan, and transit routes. Also see Ord. No. 2018-16 enacting the chapter.
  • Langley Municipal Code Sec. 15.01.465 — Notes that complete streets may be achieved through single projects or incrementally through a series of smaller improvements or maintenance activities over time.
  • Mountlake Terrace Municipal Code Sec. 19.95.030(E)(2) — Identifies implementation responsibilities for engineering services, community and economic development, and public works departments.

Recommended Resources


Last Modified: November 14, 2022