Moving Towards Equity in Complete Streets | Illinois Prevention Research Center | University of Illinois at Chicago

Assessing equity in complete streets policies

Moving Towards Equity in Complete Streets

Historically, streets were designed to move a high volume of cars efficiently, with little regard for other types of transportation. This street design has made it difficult and unsafe for people to walk, bike, or take public transit for transportation and recreation.

In contrast, streets designed using Complete Streets principles enable all people, regardless of age, ability or mode of transportation to travel efficiently and safely across all roadways. Communities can adopt a Complete Streets policy which directs planning, transportation, and/or public works department staff members to design, operate, construct, and maintain streets that are safe for all users. Dr. Jamie Chriqui who co-leads the Illinois PRC PAPRN+ project, and her team studied the content of over 800 such Complete Streets policies from communities nationwide. Since minorities, the elderly, children, people of low income and people with disabilities are often disproportionately affected by unsafe and incomplete streets, Chriqui’s team examined the policies for the presence of equity-related language, or language promoting fairness in mobility, access, and quality of transportation options regardless of age, ethnicity, income, location, or physical limitations.

As of 2015 only 1 out of 5 Complete Streets policies mentioned equity.

Complete street example

Example of a complete street. This image was created using StreetMix. Available at:

Chriqui and her team also conducted interviews with planners, transportation/engineering/public works officials, and advocates located in communities with Complete Streets policies that include equity-related language to determine how they were prioritizing equity. The results were summarized in a report. Based on the interviews, 6 key themes related to prioritizing equity in transportation emerged:

  1. Communities agreed that focusing on equitable transportation access was the “right thing to do.”
  2. Stakeholders should communicate with each other about what equity means.
  3. Communities are trying to equitably implement Complete Streets transportation projects in all neighborhoods.
  4. Equity can be prioritized through other community policies (i.e. transportation plans, Safe Routes to Schools policies) or programs (i.e. bike share programs).
  5. Funding and staffing resources are keys to Complete Streets project and equity prioritization.
  6. Prioritization of projects is often based on the most pressing needs like failing or crumbling transportation infrastructure.

“. . . being able to live everywhere, and being able to work everywhere, is what equity is about when [it] come[s] to transportation.”– A Housing Advocate

According to the report, to support equitable implementation of Complete Streets policies, communities should:

  • Educate and engage stakeholders and community officials to talk with each other about what equity means in their community.
  • Ensure an equitable allocation of funding to provide equal opportunities for people to walk, bike, or take public transportation.
  • Advocate for funding for transportation projects as a whole.
  • Measure and evaluate Complete Streets projects to determine if they are having their intending effects and vulnerable populations are benefiting.

Complete Streets should ensure that all community members have the same opportunities to access goods, jobs, services, and live a healthy lifestyle. To learn more about the study please visit the Examining Equity in Complete Streets Policies website.

Additional resources:

About the image.   The image at the top of this page is an example of a complete street, titled Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn by by New York City Department of Transportation, licensed under CC BY 2.0

Acknowledgments. Support for this study was provided by Healthy Eating Research, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, at Duke University (Award RWJF 72335 Sub 383281); the National Cancer Institute, National Institutes of Health (Award R01CA158035); and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Physical Activity Policy Research Network+ Collaborating Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago (Award U48DP005010, SIP14-025).


This post was written by Emily Thrun, MUPP, an urban planner with 6+ years of experience evaluating the impact that land use and transportation policies have on supporting active communities and reducing health disparities.