Thursday, October 23, 2008

Complete Streets: What They Are and Why We Need Them

A national movement is gaining momentum calling for “complete streets” that are designed for all types of users of all ages and abilities, pedestrians, cyclists, transit, trucks, cars, wheelchairs, skateboarders etc.

In addition to accommodating all users, complete street designs incorporate landscaping, trees and other features which provide both aesthetic and functional benefits, ultimately creating a sense of place that attracts all the users it was designed for.

The City of Tacoma is currently engaged in a study to incorporate complete street principles in the 16 Mixed-Use Centers. Tacoma’s Mixed-Use Centers are areas (primarily the neighborhood business districts) that are planned for high density housing, commercial revitalization, pedestrian friendly development and frequent transit service.

A number of recent planning processes have highlighted the benefits of and need for complete streets including Angelou Economics economic development strategy, the Downtown Plan Update, Destination Downtown, the Transportation Element of the Comprehensive Plan, and the Green Ribbon Taskforce.

The complete streets study identifies four street typologies, each with their own characteristics and uses. For more information on preliminary findings and designs here.

Main Streets (think McKinley, Proctor and 6th Ave.): High density people intensive retail uses oriented to the street. Street design emphasizes walking and highlights transit and bike access while promoting traffic calming. Two lanes streets (25 mph), short blocks with generous sidewalks.

Avenues (think S. Tacoma Way, S. 19th and Portland Ave): Commercial, office and mixed uses with buildings oriented to the street and parking in the rear. Street design emphasizes mobility and balances safety and service for all modes. Three to five travel lanes (35 mph) with on-street parking. Encourage mid-block crossings with medians and pedestrian islands on longer blocks (500’-600’).

Transit Priority Streets (think Tacoma Ave., Division and Pacific): High density people-intensive uses. Mixed use buildings oriented to the street. Street design promotes frequent transit service (bus and streetcar) and a high quality pedestrian environment with curb bulbs and regular pedestrian crossings.. Two shared travel lanes (25mph) with on street parking where appropriate. Bikes are accommodated on parallel streets.

Urban Residential Streets: Primarily Multifamily residential uses with limited commercial/ mixed uses. Street design promotes ‘livable streets’ with wide sidewalks, public art, seating, pedestrian scale lighting, attractive landscaping, bike lanes. Two travel lanes with slow travel speeds. Angled or parallel parking on street for visitors, residential parking in nearby lots/garages.

The purpose of the complete streets study is to inform a City Council policy discussion of the opportunities and challenges in Tacoma. The project will develop guidelines for complete streets that, if approved, would be used to direct future street improvements within the Centers.

California's Governor Schwarzenegger signed the Complete Streets Act of 2008 (pdf) into law on September 30. The law requires cities and counties statewide to incorporate complete streets when updating their general plans. Learn more at

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