A Policy That Connects People to Their Streets

Complete Streets are streets that everyone can use.

To be considered complete, streets should be accessible to people of all ages and physical abilities, and accessible to people using different modes of transportation, including walking and biking.

The California Complete Streets Act of 2008 (AB 1358) defines Complete Streets as "a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, including bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, motorists, movers of commercial goods, pedestrians, public transportation, and seniors for safe and convenient travel in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context."

A Policy That Connects People to Their Streets

The establishment of the California Complete Streets Act was a game-changer for urban planning statewide, allowing street and community designers to implement changes that made streets easier and safer to navigate. 

The underlying meaning of the Act was clear: Not only do Complete Streets help protect our environment from harmful gas emissions, Complete Streets are needed to create healthier communities that benefit from more physical activity opportunities through transportation (including recreational transportation).

The creation of Complete Streets in a community also offers potential boosts to the economy. Streets built for all types of users enhance business opportunities. If customers can arrive to their destination easily, through multiple modes of transportation, the more likely they are to spend money during their journey.

Through the Community Transformation Grant (CTG), funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention through the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency, the San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) developed a draft Regional Complete Streets Policy which aims to align Complete Streets work in the county with the requirements of the California Complete Streets Act.

The local policy ensures that each new project takes a balanced approach with all transportation users in mind, starting from the beginning of planning. Access and safety considerations are crucial aspects of the Complete Streets Policy. The policy ensures that streets actually are connected to other streets as ways of passage, enabling users to navigate their routes without confusion or interruption. Neighborhood character and needs are also considered.

The proposed local Complete Streets efforts include a technical assistance program so that communities can rely on expert advice when beginning their Complete Streets planning.

“The Complete Streets policy we have created has been widely accepted, and that’s because of all the groundwork that was done in creating it, and by using the national Complete Streets standards to form local policy,” said Stephan Vance, the senior regional planner at SANDAG who led efforts to develop the policy. 

Community involvement was crucial, he said.

“What really helped make this policy happen was community engagement,” Vance said. “We held a community workshop and heard some outstanding insights from people. This is a policy that is responsive to the needs of the people. And the technical assistance we received on the national level from the CTG grant was invaluable.”

Vance says the policy is a tool for collaboration among local municipalities, and from that collaboration will come real-life examples of Complete Streets in action.

“The idea is for the policy to create a seamless path from planning to public use,” Vance said. “And from that public use will come improved health, by its nature. As we move forward, this will change the physical environment of San Diego County. It will help people live their everyday lives a little better.”