Complete Streets are streets that are safe for all users, regardless of age, ability, income, race, ethnicity, or mode of travel. By using a Complete Streets approach to designing road networks, we can create spaces that allow all users to thrive — not only motorists.
The benefits of Complete Streets are exciting, far-reaching, and well-documented; they are cost effective, sustainable, safe, and promote physical activity and livability. Jurisdictions across North America reference Complete Streets as an effective preventative health strategy, while human-scale design treatments such as street furniture, greenery, and wide pedestrian rights-of-way — a few elements that live at the heart of Complete Streets — are repeatedly celebrated as approaches to animating the public realm and encouraging people to linger.
Complete Streets are just as diverse as their road users. They can take on unique shapes and sizes, and flourish in communities small, large, urban, suburban, and rural. And while Complete Streets must be equitable, anti-oppressive, and adapt to change, there is no singular approach to creating a vibrant and successful Complete Street.
Complete Streets in Canada
Over the last 20 years, Complete Streets have seen an incredible growth trajectory. By the end of 2020, 1,600 communities across the United States had adopted Complete Streets policies (Smart Growth America, 2021). By early 2019, Canada had adopted over 100 Complete Streets policies, with active policies in all 10 provinces and 1 territory (Yukon).
There continues to be growing interest in Complete Streets across Canada. Some Canadian municipalities that have passed Complete Streets policies are Calgary (2009), Waterloo (2010), Edmonton (2013), Ajax (2013), Ottawa (2013), Toronto (2014), Vancouver (2017), Québec City (2017), and Greater Sudbury (2018). In addition to policies, some Canadian cities have produced Complete Streets guidelines, most notably in Edmonton (2013), Calgary (2011), Toronto (2016), and Saskatoon (2017). With the update to the Greater Golden Horseshoe Growth Plan in May 2017, Ontario became the first province to adopt a Complete Streets policy for both new and refurbished streets.
In Québec, Complete Streets are referred to as “Rues Conviviales” (“Friendly Streets”). Québec City adopted a Complete Streets policy in March 2017, while numerous other municipalities in the province have adopted Complete Streets approaches in street redesigns.
It’s important to note that in Canada, most planning regulation is undertaken at the provincial level. As such, Canadian municipalities have less power to pass laws than their American counterparts. However, there are still several ways that Complete Streets policies can be effectively adopted in Canada, such as within Ontario’s Provincial Policy Statement, Official Plans, and Transportation Master Plans. For more information on differences between the 2 nations, see this backgrounder on Complete Streets policy adoption in Canada and the U.S.