Complete Street initiatives “redefine what a street is intended to do, what goals a transportation agency is going to meet, and how the community will spend its transportation money.” These policies stress the need to make transportation accommodations for all modes: bicycles, pedestrians, automobiles, and freight. While Complete Streets works to change the transportation landscape, it also has the potential to “redefine” street space in other ways as well.
Stormwater management, urban biodiversity, and climate change can all be improved through strategic sustainable Complete Street design. Sustainable designs work to incorporate green infrastructure as part of the holistic approach that incorporates ecological elements and savings while improving overall street functionality.
Stormwater drainage is a concern for pedestrians, cars, bicyclists, and water utility providers. Due to the large amount of impervious surface installed in order to make transportation travel more convenient, flooding and combined sewer overflows have increased, creating issues for drivers and water utility companies. Flooding can close roads and combined sewer overflows pollute waterways. In addition, poor drainage can lead to puddling on roadways, which can be dangerous for drivers who may hydroplane, and also inconvenient for bicyclists and pedestrians who may be splashed by automobile traffic passing.
Complete Street designs can incorporate improved drainage options to create safer, more accommodating systems. Firstly, these designs often emphasize road diets so there is less impervious surface, which is better for pedestrians and bicyclists as well as stormwater drainage. Secondly, Complete Street designs incorporate landscaping. By implementing rain gardens or bioswales into complete streets design, the negative impacts of impervious surface can be minimized. These systems reduce flooding on roadways and pollution in local waterways.
Reducing impervious surface through the addition of natural systems is an excellent way to reduce water issues. However, there are other ways to minimize flooding as well. Pervious bike lanes and sidewalks absorb water slowly and filter it slowly back into the earth, much like a natural system. Including bioswales and pervious surfaces into Complete Streets systems creates both an aesthetically pleasing space and minimizes flooding.
Efficient landscape also improves urban species biodiversity. By using landscaping that attracts certain types of insects and birds, a corridor of connectivity emerges. Complete Streets landscaping can act as a natural corridor for animals migrating from one large green space to another. This provides insects and birds with resting areas and nourishment as they move from landscape to another. In this way, Complete Streets truly is a space for all users.
Through the addition of green landscaping and encouraging walking and bicycling, Complete Streets design can minimize climate change. Greenhouse gas emissions from transportation account for roughly 28% of total U.S. emissions. The short trips and safe infrastructure created through Complete Streets designs encourage walking and bicycling which have zero emissions. In addition, the plants and trees used in landscaping absorb CO2 from the air reducing the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.
New Jersey DOT has implemented a statewide Complete Streets policy and 93 municipalities and 7 counties have adopted policies as well. The state also has several other programs that can be used to fund sustainable Complete Streets. This past year, the New Jersey American Water Environment Program awarded four grants totaling roughly $38,000 to be used in green infrastructure:
Complete Streets designs are not just inclusive in terms of modes of transportation, but also can provide benefits for other city actors such as water utilities and even biological species. These designs have the ability to “redefine” the current view of street space as a place for people, bicycles, cars, and natural elements, which connect urban uses to natural systems.