Elisabeth Haub Law School of Law
Pace University
Land Use Law Center
Supervisor: John R. Nolon, Distinguished Professor
Blog No. 14 of the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
Editor: Brooke Mercaldi
Contributing Author: Robert O’Connor [*]
Complete Streets: Protecting Public Health

In light of COVID-19’s particular danger to those with underlying medical conditions, many communities are using their capital budgets and zoning requirements to improve public health and resiliency. Communities can improve public health by integrating more physically active options into everyday activities such as travel to and from public spaces, shopping destinations, banks, restaurants, and other areas of recreation. Municipalities can achieve this integration and promote active living by adopting code provisions and techniques that expand multimodal transportation and enhance accessibility and safety of existing pedestrian routes.

Active living can be defined as “a way of life that integrates physical activity into daily routines.Walking is one of the most common forms of physical activity among adults in the United States. By providing more opportunities for walkability or the use of bicycles, municipalities can decrease dependence on vehicles and increase public health.

Complete Streets policies have been proven to improve public health and safety. Complete Streets involve creating a network of “streets designed and operated to enable safe use and support mobility for all users.” The purpose of a Complete Streets provision is to increase safe travel opportunities for pedestrians, bicyclists, public transportation riders, and motorists, including children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities. Features of Complete Streets policies include inclusive roadway design, lane striping, bicycle lanes, paved shoulders suitable for bicyclists, pedestrian safety signs, crosswalks, pedestrian control signals, bus pull-outs, curb cuts, raised crosswalks, ramps, and traffic calming measures.

In 2015, Smart Growth America, a non-profit entity dedicated to fostering safe, equitable, and sustainable community growth, researched the outcome of 37 Complete Streets projects nationwide. Smart Growth America found that overall Complete Streets projects measurably improved safety for users and increased biking and walking. In the Town of Hamburg, New York, vehicle collisions decreased by 57 percent after implementing a Complete Streets project. Several municipalities saw an increase in pedestrian activity as more trips were taken by bicycle or by walking. Some municipalities reported an increase in bicycle trips of over 600%.

Complete Streets are chiefly funded by municipal budgets, but increasing zoning ordinances encourage private developers to integrate their streets and sidewalks into the municipal network. The city of Troy, New York adopted code provisions that apply to private development projects in addition to public projects. In 2015, Troy’s program, developed by a coalition of citizen groups and various stakeholders, was named one of the best by the National Complete Streets Coalition.

Troy’s municipal code defines “Complete Streets” as “streets that are designed and operated to enable safe access for all users, in that pedestrians, bicyclists, motorists and public transportation users of all ages and abilities are able to safely move through the transportation network.”

Recognizing a need for delegation and enforcement, Troy has appointed a citizen-run Complete Streets Advisory Board to which quarterly reports on upcoming projects and program results are provided. The feature that sets Troy’s policy apart is its application to “all privately constructed streets, parking lots, and connecting pathways.” In addition, project compliance, whether public or private, is determined based on completing and filing a checklist form. This way, the land use review and approval process is capable of building out its safe streets policies as private development occurs.


[*] Robert O’Connor graduated from the Elisabeth Haub School of Law in May 2021 and was a Land Use Law Center Volunteer.
Brooke Mercaldi is a second-year student at the Elisabeth Haub School of Law and Research Assistant to Professor Nolon.

The previous blogs in the series are listed here:

  1. Reframing Sustainability: Introducing the Land Use, Human Health, and Equity Project
  2. Planning for Public Health: A New Beginning for Land Use Law
  3. The Role of Density in Combatting Climate Change and COVID-19
  4. Novel Coronavirus Claims Implicate Age-Old Property Rights Questions
  5. State & Local COVID-related Emergency Powers: Individual Rights
  6. COVID-Related Land Use Regulations and Judicial Deference
  7. Mediation of Eviction Disputes May Hold the Key to the Survival of Small Businesses
  8. Using Zoning to Help Eliminate Food Deserts: A Few Steps Forward
  9. Urban Heat Islands and Equity
  10. Urban Heat Island and Equity: What Can Local Governments Do?
  11. The Recovery Lease: Preventing Evictions of Commercial Tenants During the Pandemic
  12. The Role of Hazard Mitigation Planning in Promoting Public Health and Resilience
  13. Hazard Mitigation Planning: A Case Study