City Leaders Like To Tout 'Complete Streets,' But What Does That Mean?

Nov 27, 2017

There’s a lot of public space in Pittsburgh: parks, plazas, medians. But the public spaces people use the most are streets, which make up nearly half of Pittsburgh’s public space.

In 2015, Mayor Bill Peduto issued an executive order to make Pittsburgh’s streets "complete streets," and in 2016 city council passed legislation to make it so.

But isn’t a street sort of inherently complete? And if not, what makes it complete?

Rebecca Flora is project director at the 178-acre former brownfield, Hazelwood Green. On a recent trolley tour of the site, she pointed out the road the trolley was on, Signature Boulevard.

"This is a complete street," she said. "It allows for separate cycling, pedestrian, and vehicular traffic on the street, and it will be the main access road through the entire length, 1.4 miles, of the site."

But city Transportation Planner Kristen Saunders said a street doesn't necessarily have to have separate areas for bikes, cars, and pedestrians in order to be considered complete. 

"What complete streets really means is that we have to consider all modes when we’re designing a street," she said. "So it doesn’t mean that we have to put all modes on one street, it means we have to consider them."

It’s really all about context, said Saunders, a network of streets that work together to serve all users.

Council’s legislation emphasizes that livable communities are those in which residents' have multiple options to get around safely, and operates on the assumption that a network of those streets improves public health, the economy, safety and quality of life.  

Saunders and her colleagues are currently in the thick of an analysis of all the city’s streets, to figure out what additions or subtractions would make it easier and safer to get around.

The city is also working on a Complete Streets design guide which will lay out best practices for meeting different kinds of transit demands.