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How Complete Streets are Sustainable

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Why Complete Streets? 

Traditional streets put the needs of vehicles first. From the early days of our nation, streets were designed and built first for horses and wagons, then for horse-drawn carriages, and then finally for automobiles. With the advent of transit, such as trolleys, we squeezed them on to streets as well, taking the bustle of traffic as a sign of prosperity.

Our forefathers would be enchanted by, but could not have imagined, the variety of vehicles we have today and and how many of them there are. Streets of old Fort Lauderdale, originally designed for single-file passage in both directions, now need to accommodate trucks and buses that are as wide as two and three carriages or Model-Ts. Bicycles were always more of a piece of sporting equipment than they were transportation in sprawling Florida, and streets in our part of the country were never designed with them in mind. Even with 20th century upgrades, the emphasis was on the technological wonder that is the car. Our nation has a love affair with them. Big as a Lincoln Continental or small as a SmartCar, they have given us the freedom and means to build our economy-- especially in a state that is 447 miles long! And when manufacturers put air conditioning in cars, we South Floridians never looked back.Complete Streets Policy Cover

Marvels such as they are, cars have just a few kinks: they run on a limited natural resource, they are expensive to acquire and to operate, and they can be dangerous. If you recall that sustainability is where people, planet and profits come together, then the conclusion must be that designing our streets for cars and other combustion-engine vehicles as the only transport, or even the primary transport, is not sustainable.

While we direct American innovation at improving the cars themselves, many people are taking a look at alternatives. We are lucky that in Fort Lauderdale, we have the perfect environment for these alternatives to be practical and convenient. Yet for the alternatives to work here, or anywhere, we need to spend this century making our streets work for everyone. That's where complete streets comes in.

What is Complete Streets?

Complete Streets is a concept, a policy and ultimately a physical place. Conceptually, a Complete Street is a street that maximizes safe flow of many kinds of traffic all at the same time, without compromising the attractiveness, safety, and function of the street for travelers, residents, businesses or the municipality. It provides equal access for pedestrians (including walkers of all abilities), cyclists, mass transit riders and commercial or individual drivers. Complete Streets make traveling by any means easy and safe, with particular attention to safe crossings and access to storefronts and homes. Streets are improved to ease the flow of everything from transit vehicles to stormwater.

From a policy point-of-view, Complete Streets is a set of planning guidelines which a city, county, state or other government agency can adopt. The policy serves to direct all future street projects, and implementation becomes the joint responsibility of urban planners, transportation planners, infrastructure managers, sustainability specialists, and even urban foresters.

As a place, Complete Streets are hard to describe, because no two really need to look alike. A central tenet of Complete Streets is that they should fit the particular look and requirements of their neighborhood. You will usually see some mix of: sidewalks or walking paths; bike lanes or paved shoulders; lanes for buses, trolleys or other mass transit vehicles; medians to allow resting and with features to slow traffic at key stopping points; an increased number of crossings and transit stops; innovative signals to increase accessibility for people of all abilities; improved drainage and swales; and green infrastructure. 

Why are complete streets sustainable?

Complete Street address all three aspects of sustainability: people, planet and profit.

For people:

  • Encourage heart-healthy activities like walking and cycling.
  • Supports the ideas of community building and placemaking, and increases the livability of a neighborhood.
  • Improves the efficiency of streets so that people can get where they need to go easily and conveniently no matter their mode of transport.

For the planet:

  • Removes vehicles from the road, reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and improving air quality.
  • Allows for customization of each street to include elements such as pervious paving to reduce stormwater runoff, and highly reflective paving to combat the heat island effect.
  • Incorporates GHG absorbing trees and planted areas, which also provide habitat for wildlife.
  • Support urban design concepts such as: mixed use development, transit-oriented design, and densification.

To support the local economy:

  • Alleviates congestion to makes businesses more accessible and walking safer and more pleasant. This increases foot traffic to retail and also increases the attractiveness of local buying.
  • Allows for some street improvements at relatively low cost to taxpayers, and has a better long-term return on investment because of increased durability.
  • Has been shown to create more jobs than traditional street maintenance, construction or improvement projects.

What is Fort Lauderdale's position on Complete Streets?

In 2013, the City of Fort Lauderdale adopted a Complete Streets policy to guide planning and decision-making, as well as crafted a Complete Streets Manual to guide implementation. Our policy was ranked third in the nation by the National Complete Streets Coalition.

You can get more information and see plans on the Transportation and Mobility Department's Complete Streets webpage.

More Information

The following are resources for learning more about Complete Streets as a sustainable initiative.

completestreetsNational Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC) - Complete Streets: Green Streets

NCSC is a program of Smart Growth America. This web-page goes into detail about the relationship of Complete Streets to sustainability. The larger website includes a primer of Complete Streets ("A to Z") and access to educational presentations, research, sample policies, and award-winning examples.


dot fhaFederal Highway Administration - Public Roads - Street Design: Part 2-Sustainable Streets

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Federal Highway Administration provides an overview of sustainable streets and includes several interesting examples of Complete Streets around the country.


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