Issue Brief


Complete Streets: International Best Policies and Practices

International Affairs Issue Brief

Publish Date: August  01,  2009


As the world becomes more urbanized and populations age, it becomes increasingly important to develop effective urban planning policies that can safely accommodate the needs of all users: automobiles, public transportation, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, older people, and people with disabilities. This can be done by designing "complete streets," which incorporate sidewalks, bike lanes, crosswalks, pedestrian medians, bus lanes and shelters, and other features to encourage all means of transportation. The adoption of complete streets policies could also result in a reduction of carbon emissions, dependency on crude oil, and a reduction in obesity rates as people bike and walk more rather than drive.The Netherlands has created "woonerf" streets, which give permanent priority to pedestrians and bicyclists, and implemented traffic calming measures such as winding and narrower streets.

Key Findings

  • The Netherlands has created "woonerf" streets, which give permanent priority to pedestrians and bicyclists, and implemented traffic calming measures such as winding and narrower streets.
  • Tokyo's Shibuya ward includes an intersection that temporarily stops all traffic to allow for pedestrians to cross from all sides and angles.
  • Vauban, Germany, is an innovative "car free" city, incorporating mixed-use design and streets solely for pedestrians and bicyclists. The converted army base, a suburb of Frieburg, includes a tram stop to promote use of public transportation.
  • New Delhi has developed a new master plan for 2020, which calls for mixed-use design to encourage a pedestrian-friendly environment and reduce the dependency on private automobiles.
  • "Puffin" crossings (Pedestrian User-Friendly INtelligent) in the United Kingdom detect when pedestrians are present and guarantee them the right of way to completely cross the street. This allows everyone to cross streets at their own pace, rather than at a predetermined time limit.
  • Paris implemented a "Green Neighborhoods" program in 2002 to promote complete streets. The program reduced parking availability, trimmed roads to include dedicated bike and bus lanes, raised bus platforms, and introduced the Vélib bike-rental program at rates ranging from €1/hour to €29/year. Combined, these changes have led to a 20% reduction in private automobile use.
  • Seoul has initiated "road diets" on their streets, in which car lanes are replaced with bike lanes, which both acts as a "traffic calming" device while also giving designated routes for bicyclists.


Whereas American cities are designed for the automobile, many international cities have been designed for pedestrians, bicyclists, and public transportation. With less incentive to walk, Americans in sprawling areas tend to weigh as much as six pounds heavier than those of denser and more livable communities. The above international initiatives demonstrate some of the goals that are part of the six-year $500 billion renewal of the Surface Transportation Act. The proposed bill would require adoption of complete streets policies and create a national "Office of Livability." This would help American communities to become more livable and promote healthier lifestyles through effective transportation and land-use policies.

Further Reading / Sources

Mitchell, K. U.S. Department of Transpiration, Federal Highway Administration: "Old World Ways," Public Roads 70, no. 5 (March/April 2007)

Pucher, J, (2003) Promoting Safe Walking and Cycling to Improve Public Health: Lessons from the Netherlands and Germany. American Journal of Public Health 93, 1509-1516.