Do Complete Streets Really Work?

February 16, 2013 at 3:08 pm 2 comments

By Andrew Richter

With all the debate going on about re-striping roads recently in this area, I want to take a moment and challenge the cost/benefit of this idea.

In going to the complete streets website they list the endless benefits of making roads “available” for “all users.” Here’s question; does anyone challenge their conclusions? Does anyone verify their statistics? Does this policy work everywhere or does it need to be done on a case by case basis?

Well, let’s examine the “benefits”

You will find a link to what I’m talking about here


The core reason for Complete Streets is to improve safety for all road users. In the past decade, more than  500 pedestrians and bicyclists have been killed on Minnesota roads and more than 20,000 have been injured. We can and must do better.

OK let’s stop right there. Where do they get this information from? Of course there is no footnote. In addition, were all of the people killed or injured by cars? Were some of the accidents the fault of the bikers or walkers? I’ve seen bikers run red lights. I’ve seen kids cross streets when the shouldn’t have. And I’ve seen people walking and biking and not pay attention to what they are doing.

Does a complete street fix that? Where is the evidence adding walking and biking lanes reduce accidents?

I don’t know if they do or not, but shouldn’t we ask these questions??

Public health

More than 60 percent of Minnesotans  are overweight or obese and at risk for serious illness, such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. If left unchecked, obesity will add another $3.7 billion  in health care expenses for Minnesotans by 2020 (Obesity and Future Health Care Costs, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota and the Minnesota Department of Health, 2008). By building roads that help support more walking and biking, communities can help create opportunities for people to be more physically active, while improving public health and reducing health care costs.

60%? Again, I’m not sure if that’s right or not or how obese and overweight are defined but I question whether road design effects people’s weight. There are so many factors from heredity, to what kind of job you do, lack of exercise, bad eating habits etc.. Minneapolis has more bikes an d trails that any city I know and I see fat people there all the time. Getting exercise and eating better can be done without a sidewalk on every road.

But, again, is there evidence that people who live on complete streets are thinner? Just asking……

Access and transportation equity

About 40 percent of Minnesotans do not drive, including children, seniors, people with disabilities, and people who cannot afford a car. Complete Streets helps to ensure that everyone has safe access to lead active and independent lives, while ensuring full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Whether you live in the city, countryside, suburbs, or reservation, Complete Streets supports the ability of all people in their local context to have viable transportation choices.

Now again I see no footnote to this 40% figure. I have a hard time believing that is true. A complete street may or may not help these people. If you live in the countryside and have no car, is a sidewalk really a transportation choice? These people do have other means especially in the twin cities. Folks with disabilities have Metro Mobility and there is the bus service of course. I’m not sure a bike lane will help a senior or a person with a disability since I doubt they are riding a bike.

Affordable transportation choices

Rising and erratic gas prices are taking a larger part of family budgets money that goes nearly entirely out of the local economy. Complete Streets helps support options that make communities more resilient to gas price spikes and keep more money in the local community.

Again is this really true? Erratic gas prices definitely hurt family budgets but I haven’t seen anyone trade in their car for a bike. People have bought more fuel-efficient cars or maybe they take one or two fewer trips to the cabin, but I challenge whether making a bike lane is going to get people out of their cars. If you want to get groceries, drag the kids to school or a family gathering, or go on a trip I doubt they walk or bike. Of course in Minnesota you can’t walk or bike year-round anyway.

Cost effectiveness

Road networks typically make up about 30 percent of the land area of cities and account for a significant portion of local budgets. Complete Streets helps ensure an efficiently planned transportation system that reduces gaps, improves traffic flow, and maximizes the investment while also ensuring that we build roads right the first time, rather than having to come back later for costly retrofits.

Costly retrofits? Roads of any kind are going to need work, that’s a fact. And putting up more bike paths and sidewalks ADDS to a city’s expense. They have to be maintained, plowed, resurfaced etc… I’m not sure it improves traffic flow either. I’ve found the new three lane roads around here to be a nightmare. Again, it depends on your city.

Economic development

“Complete” streets are built to fit a community’s context to attract people and encourage business by making sure that our roads are places that people want to be.

Yeah but every community is different. I’m not sure a “complete street” is going to attract business either. Businesses succeed or fail for a million different reasons….not sure if one is a bike lane.

Now let me be clear about something before I get call names or accused of not caring about seniors or some garbage like that. A “complete street” can make sense in some areas. Why wouldn’t you want a sidewalk by a school, or a hospital, a high density hosing area.

But they don’t make sense everywhere. Local governments need to be free to decide if this is best for them (and hopefully the citizens are asked as well but they probably won’t be).

Your local governments are not be given much choice though. This is being pushed as a top-down-one-size-fist-all policy. The state of Minnesota, Hennepin County, MN Dot, the park district, and state aid roads are all pressuring local areas to add “bike lanes” and “sidewalks” regardless if these are used or if citizens want them. You don’t believe me? Take a look at who supports complete streets in Minnesota.

Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
Alliance for Sustainability
American Cancer Society Midwest Division
American Council of the Blind of Minnesota
American Heart Association
Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota
BLEND: Better Living Exercise & Nutrition Daily
Bloomington Councilmember Steve Elkins
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota
Blue Zones — Dan Buettner
Cedar Ave United
City of Rochester
City of Saint Paul
Conservation Minnesota
Dero Bike Rack Company
Driftless Region Bicycle Coalition
First Witness Child Abuse Resource Center
Fit City Duluth
Fresh Energy
Friends of Washington County
Get Fit Itasca
Growth and Justice
Hennepin County Commissioner Gail Dorfman
Hennepin County Commissioner Peter McLaughlin
Howard R. Green Company
Joe Urban, Inc.
Kimley-Horn and Associates, Inc.
Laura Baker Services Association
Local Initiatives Support Corporation
Lutheran Coalition for Public Policy in Minnesota
Minnesota Association of Small Cities
Minneapolis Electric Bicycle Company
Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy
Minnesota Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
Minnesota Council of Nonprofits
Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Minnesota Public Interest Research Group
Minnesota Public Health Association
Minnesota Public Transit Association
Minnesotans for Healthy Kids Coalition
National Multiple Sclerosis Society Minnesota Chapter
Northfield Nonmotorized Transportation Task Force
Now Bikes and Fitness

Parks & Trails Council of Minnesota
Pates Planning and Design
Preservation Alliance of Minnesota
Red Wing Housing and Redevelopment Authority
Saint Paul Councilmember Russ Stark
Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation
Shifting Gears Bicycles
Sierra Club North Star Chapter
St. Paul Smart Trips
The Arc of Minnesota
The Corduroy Studio, Inc.
The Cornerstone Group
Transit for Livable Communities
Transportation for America’s Minnesota Coalition
Twin Cities Bicycling Club
Twin Cities Streets for People
Urban Land Institute Minnesota
1000 Friends of Minnesota

City of Albert Lea
City of Bloomington
City of Duluth
City of Independence
City of Rochester
City of St. Paul
Hennepin County

City of Bloomington
City of Brooklyn Park
City of Eagan
City of Edina
City of Falcon Heights
City of Lake Elmo
City of Richfield
City of Rochester
City of Rosemount
City of St. Louis Park
City of St. Paul
City of Savage
City of Woodbury
Ramsey County

That’s a lot of pressure on your local government…….



Entry filed under: Agenda 21, Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, City Government, County, Environment, Golden Valley, Mayor, New Hope, Osseo, Plymouth, Safety, Transportation.

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. wants2know  |  February 16, 2013 at 4:41 pm

    Great questions!

  • 2. roberta4949  |  February 19, 2013 at 8:16 am

    bravo on good questions, many descriptions on why this or that should be implemented are always in my opinion based on hearsay, inuendos and presumptions. seldom do they seem to give many different ideas, only one, more power to the feds less ot the local people. everytime there is a crisis whether real or imagined I notice they give only one solution more power to the feds, (sustainable development is a federal program through the un) there is never given many different ideas to address a problem or alternatiing opinions from other so called experts. for example are streets in some areas more dangerous to bikers, make a bike lane in areas that they use (there is this one guy I see out riding his bike at all hours of the day/night) but how in the world is anyone going to go to the grocery store to buy groceries?I coudln’t do it, and when the weather is bad? taking a bus is not an option, and besides how can I take my dogs and all my stuff to the trails on a bus? naw I love the freedom my car gives me to just get up and go no matter what time of the day to go somewhere, (maybe this is why they are pushing so hard to make car ownership a pain/costly endeavor? you know because you have the freedom to just leave when you want without them being able to follow you around like some escaped slave or something?) maybe it has moer to do with power then with human or enviromental welfare.


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