At TCAT we’re often asked which Complete Street policies in Canada are the best. While we don’t rank the strength or effectiveness of Canadian policies, we do track and categorize them. We also define what Complete Streets are and provide information on the growth trajectory in Canada.
The most frequent way that Complete Streets policies are currently incorporated in Canada, as shown in the chart below, is into Transportation Master Plans, followed closely by Official Plans (Land Use Plans), with Guidelines and Active Transportation Plans being the next most common policy documents. The Official Plan is the only one of these that has the backing of law.
Other notable legally binding Complete Streets policies in Canada are Ontario’s Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe, Vancouver’s Complete Streets Policy Framework and Related By-law Changes, and Greater Sudbury’s Complete Streets Policy City Council Resolution. More detail on these below.
There is a wide variation in how clear and effective Complete Streets policies are. Establishing Complete Streets policy within the most legally binding legislation is important, as is the policy language that’s used. An implementation plan is also critical. The National Complete Streets Coalition identifies 10 elements of an ideal Complete Streets policy that can be a useful guide for municipalities in developing their own effective policy.
Below are some examples of these 10 elements within Canadian Complete Streets policies.
1. Vision and intent: how and why the community wants to complete its streets
- Ontario’s Growth Plan (2017) sets out a clear vision for the need for Complete Streets. “A comprehensive and continuous active transportation network will offer a viable alternative to the private automobile for personal travel. Using a complete streets approach to roadway design, reconstruction, and refurbishment will ensure that the needs and safety of all road users are considered when planning and building the street network.” (3.1)
- City of Greater Sudbury’s Complete Streets Policy (2018) also has a well-articulated vision: “Greater Together (2015), the Corporate Strategic Plan for the City of Greater Sudbury contemplates a sustainable approach to how the City plans and delivers infrastructure that includes a variety of transportation modes. A priority of Greater Together is for the City to provide quality multimodal transportation alternatives for roads, transit, trails, paths and sidewalks that connect neighbourhoods and communities in Greater Sudbury. An action of Greater Together is to develop a Complete Streets Policy for the City.”
- The City of Courtenay’s transportation strategy (2014) describes how to apply complete streets principles while addresses road capacity deficiencies: “Each road network improvement is to be designed, constructed, and maintained in accordance with complete streets principles. While the need for a particular project may be driven by road capacity considerations, the benefits should be felt by all road users.”
2. Diverse users: benefits all road users equitably, particularly vulnerable users
- Ontario’s Growth Plan (2017) incorporates a strong directive for municipalities within the Greater Golden Horseshoe to build streets that meets the needs of all road users. “In the design, refurbishment, or reconstruction of the existing and planned street network, a complete streets approach will be adopted that ensures the needs and safety of all road users are considered and appropriately accommodated.” (126.96.36.199).
3. Commitment to Complete Streets in all projects and phases
- Ontario’s Growth Plan (2017) acknowledges the need for a Complete Streets approach during all phases of project delivery. “Using a complete streets approach to roadway design, reconstruction, and refurbishment will ensure that the needs and safety of all road users are considered when planning and building the street network.” (3.1)
- The City of Vancouver describes how its Complete Streets approach will be woven into new projects while considering the overall network: “When planning a Complete Street it is important to consider its role within a Complete Street network and identify appropriate goals for the street. While each context will be unique, the general approach will be to consider which modes are desirable and how much space is required to accommodate them. Then the existing street width will be evaluated to see if the available right of way is adequate for these desired modes. If the space available is limited, staff will explore opportunities for road space reallocation, additional building setbacks for redevelopments, and redistribution of some modes to other streets while considering the broader Complete Street network.”
4. Clear, accountable expectations: makes any exceptions specific and sets a clear procedure for granting them
- Ontario’s Growth Plan (2017) directs municipalities to ensure that active transportation networks provide “safe, comfortable travel for pedestrians, bicyclists and other users of active transportation”, including “dedicated lane space for bicyclists on the major street network” or, if not feasible, to provide “other safe and convenient alternatives” (188.8.131.52). This could be strengthened by specifying what would be considered “not feasible”, e.g. on corridors where specific users are prohibited (e.g. 400 Series Highways or pedestrian priority areas).
5. Network: need for comprehensive street connectivity
- Ontario’s Growth Plan (2017) offers some improvements to better integrate transit, walking and cycling. For example, the Plan states that access to Major Transit Station Areas should be multimodal (184.108.40.206g) and link to nearby trip generators, and their design should include sidewalks, bicycle lanes and secure bicycle parking, where appropriate (220.127.116.11). These policies could be strengthened by clarifying the phrase “where appropriate.
- City of Vancouver’s plan acknowledges the importance of network considerations: “Transportation function within a broader network, recognizing the need to maintain coherent networks with sufficient capacity for transit and goods movement, as well as for people, walking, cycling, and driving.”
6. Jurisdiction: requires inter-agency coordination
- The City of Greater Sudbury’s policy describes the need for interdivisional cooperation: “Since street design has a direct impact on the work, interests and operations of numerous City divisions, it is anticipated that the Guidelines will provide an integrated approach to inform, streamline and better coordinate decision-making and commenting when reviewing development applications and linear infrastructure capital projects. The Guidelines are intended to further help to prioritize the many demands placed upon our streets.”
7. Design directs use of latest and best design criteria and guidelines and sets a time frame for implementation
- The City of Greater Sudbury directs the development of its own guidelines and provides a timeline (below in 10): “The development of comprehensive Complete Streets Design Guidelines (Guidelines) and a corresponding Implementation Strategy will provide the City of Greater Sudbury with a consistent and transparent approach to the design of the public right-of-way that integrates the City’s key policies, bylaws, standards and guidelines and uses the latest best practices in integrated transportation corridor design.”
8. Land use and context sensitivity: considers current and expected land use and transportation needs
- The City of Vancouver sets out 10 key principles for designing Complete Streets, describes the need for using different design approaches (or typologies) based on context, provides reference to internal City design guidelines as well as external guidance (e.g. NACTO, TAC, CROW).
9. Performance measures
- The City of Greater Sudbury policy lays out a plan for evaluation: “To effectively monitor and evaluate implementation of the Complete Streets Policy, staff will report annually to the Operations Committee regarding:
- Steps taken to implement the Complete Streets Policy;
- Key performance indicators, which will evolve as the policy becomes more established throughout our capital plans; and
- Developments in other communities, lessons learned and other steps we could apply in Greater Sudbury.”
10. Implementation steps: specific project selection criteria to encourage funding prioritization
- The City of Vancouver’s Complete Streets Framework is intended to help the City to more efficiently deliver its transportation projects and strategically prioritize transportation related investments: “In the fullness of time, the City will work towards all City streets being more ‘Complete’. However, given limited resources, staff will identify and prioritize exploring Complete Streets concepts that have the greatest benefit or that can be efficiently delivered in coordination with other work. These include projects that:
- Significantly improve safety or increase sustainable mode share, i.e. existing streets with multiple demonstrated safety issues for one or more types of road user, or where particular deficiencies hinder the potential for significant increases to more people walking, cycling, and/or transit use.
- Coordinate with street rehabilitation or other infrastructure projects.
- Leverage opportunities from rapid pace of redevelopment on adjacent properties.
- Deliver best practices on newly constructed streets, particularly those with a high number of destinations.
- Serve destination-rich streets, i.e. existing commercial and mixed use areas that generate large numbers of trips, and which often serve as neighbourhood ‘hearts’ and gathering places.
- Repurpose underused asphalt, i.e. reclaiming space on streets with unnecessarily wide lanes or surplus motor vehicle capacity.
- The City of Greater Sudbury clearly articulates the next steps following policy adoption: “Resolution THAT the City of Greater Sudbury approves the Complete Streets Policy as outlined in Attachment 1 to the report entitled “Complete Streets Policy”; AND THAT Infrastructure Capital Planning staff be directed to prepare a business case to develop the Complete Streets Design Guidelines and Implementation Strategy to be considered as a budget option during the 2019 budget process; AND THAT staff be directed to report to the Operations Committee in 2020 on the development of the Complete Streets Design Guidelines and Implementation Strategy, with recommendations on any support which may be necessary for implementation, as outlined in the report entitled “Complete Streets Policy”, from the General Manager of Growth and Infrastructure, presented at the Operations Committee meeting on June 18, 2018.”
- The City of Courtenay’s transportation strategy (2014) includes a Complete Streets implementation toolbox that clearly articulates next steps for designing road corridors in accordance with “Complete Streets” principles:
- “Develop a complete streets policy for Courtenay:
- Pedestrian, cyclist, transit, and motorist needs to be routinely accommodated in all road reconstruction and new construction projects.
- Operations and maintenance activities to consider the needs of all users.
- Exceptions should be clearly stated and approved by Management.
- Update the Official Community Plan to include complete streets concepts.
- Adopt the road classification system presented in Section 8 of this report and apply the system to the city’s existing road network.
- Adopt the conceptual road cross-sections presented in Section 9.1.2 of this report as a general guideline for new and existing corridors, recognizing the need for flexibility and creativity in responding to site specific conditions and right-of-way constraints”.
- Consider opportunities to incorporate “green infrastructure” in all road projects”.
- “Develop a complete streets policy for Courtenay: