Complete Streets


Streets developed with only cars in mind not only limit choice for Vermonters, but can be costly and dangerous for everyone. Fifty-four percent of Vermonters report not having adequate alternatives to driving. By designing streets for all users (transit riders, pedestrians and bicyclists), a complete streets program provides mobility options, gets people out of their cars and ensures folks of all ages and abilities will feel comfortable and safe on the road.

Photo courtesy of Sacramento Area Council of Governments.

Complete Streets is a policy that integrates the needs of users of all ages and abilities into street designs. This means pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists, and public transportation users are all considered when constructing a new road or re-paving an existing one. Roads often cut through towns and leave accessibility holes that can only be traveled by motor vehicles. Complete streets fill in these gaps and produce continuous inviting mobility for everyone.

In Vermont, 93 percent of residents drive when they need to get somewhere. It is important to provide mobility options for the seven percent of Vermonters who do not drive, and alternatives for those who drive because they have no other choice. Opting to leave the car at home is good for the environment – it decreases auto emissions – and for personal health because it increases daily physical activity. By driving less, families also save on fuel and maintenance costs. At the community level, people can have personal, face-to-face connections while on the go. Complete streets makes all modes of transport safe and convenient.

Example of a complete streets crosswalk.

Strategies for complete streets depend on location – a complete street in Monkton will look very different from a complete street in Burlington. How to best accommodate street users depends on each community’s situation. Some communities have included modes like equestrian access and golf carts in their plans. The key, however, is to consider and plan for streets to provide accessibility for everyone.

In order to build complete streets, you should know the needs of your community. For pedestrians, streets should have raised sidewalks and plenty of opportunities to cross safely. This means narrow streets, refuge medians, audible pedestrian signals, bulb-outs at crossings and lower speed limits. Speed limits for local streets should be a maximum of 20 miles per hour or 35 miles per hour on larger roads.

Including bike lanes, designated bike paths, wide paved shoulders, and “sharrows” – arrows on streets indicating a bike-car-share area – accommodates bicyclists. Communities should also provide secure bike storage, especially at public transit stops, near public buildings and commercial or industrial developments.

Public transportation users should have convenient and safe access to public transportation stops. To provide fully accessible streets, all of these amenities should be connected. Pathways for walkers and bikers should clearly lead to transit stops, retail and open spaces, all of which should have bike storage facilities.It might not make sense to build sidewalks along many rural Vermont roads because the connectivity may be low. In these cases, it’s important to create wide and clearly marked shoulders on which people can walk and cycle free of danger.

Complete Streets Policies
On the state and national level, governments are creating Complete Streets policies. New roads constructed with state or federal money will soon be required to have Complete Streets characteristics, like paved wide shoulders on highways. But in order to ensure that local streets are made universally accessible, communities and organizations can create initiatives specific to their town’s needs.

Many city councils around the have adopted resolutions to set guiding principles for all new transportation projects, created internal policies implementing Complete Streets or have included them in their comprehensive plan. Vermont communities can also put forth ordinances and resolutions; rewrite design manuals; issue internal memos from directors of transportation agencies; and executive orders from elected officials. Other Complete Streets campaigns have had success through cooperation with local organizations.

Vermont communities taking steps towards complete streets include:

  • Montpelier Bikes, a biking advocacy group, has worked on developing a complete streets policy for Montpelier, emphasizing the “Five E’s Approach”: engineering of facilities; education; encouragement; enforcement; and evaluation/planning.
  • Hartford, VT’s Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan is a comprehensive assessment of conditions and needs for the entire town, including a facility inventory and assessment, guidelines for designing bicycle and pedestrian facilities, recommendations for bicycle parking, school pedestrian and bicycle transportation, street and driveway crossings, public transportation, special projects and project prioritization.
  • In South Burlington, a suburban style shopping plaza was redeveloped to create a new neighborhood, incorporating convenient access to grocery stores, pharmacies, household goods, and bus transportation and recreation paths.

An ideal local policy, recommended by the National Complete Streets Coalition, would:

  • Include a vision for how and why the community wants complete streets;
  • Make clear the meaning of “all users” – pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit passengers of all ages and abilities, as well as trucks, buses, and cars;
  • Set a clear procedure for implementation;
  • Be adoptable by all agencies to cover all roads and apply to both new and retrofit projects;
  • Complement the context of each individual community;
  • Establish performance standards with measurable outcomes; and
  • Include specific next steps.

Related Issues

Related Tools


Complete Streets: A Guide for Vermont Communities. This guidance document provides information to Vermont communities on the requirements of Vermont’s Complete Streets legislation and how it can be applied in a variety of settings.

Model Local Ordinance on Complete Streets. Developed by the National Policy and Legal Analysis Network to Prevent Childhood Obesity, a project of Public Health Law and Policy.

National Complete Streets Coalition

Complete Streets Resource Toolkit

Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center

Walkability Checklist

Pedestrian and Bicycle Policy Plan. Developed by Vermont Department of Transportation.

Toolbox on Intersection Safety and Design. Prepared for the Institute of Transportation Engineers and the Federal Highway Administration by Brian Wolshon, PH.D., P.E., P.T.O.E. Louisiana State University.