Over the next few weeks, we will be presenting a series of posts about the concept of the Complete Streets Networks, an implementation step we have been exploring in addition to the Mobility Element goals and policies. These posts will serve as a supplemental resource to the draft network maps as they are presented for public review. Feedback and questions can be shared on our Online Town Hall or by contacting us.

What are "complete streets?" 

pg. 113

A street network is “complete” when it provides accommodations for all roadway users regardless of travel mode, age, or ability. In the State of California, the 2008 Complete Streets Act (AB 1358) mandates the following:

“…that the legislative body of a city or county, upon any substantive revision of the circulation element of the general plan, modify the circulation element to plan for a balanced, multimodal transportation network that meets the needs of all users of streets, roads, and highways, defined to include motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, children, persons with disabilities, seniors, movers of commercial goods, and users of public transportation, in a manner that is suitable to the rural, suburban, or urban context of the general plan.”

A complete street not only provides a safe space for different modes and travelers, but also enables complete trips in an interconnected transportation system. This may include driving to a park-and-ride rail station, walking to a bus stop, biking from home to work, or many other multi-modal trips. Successful implementation of complete street policies will result in increased options to get from one place to another; less traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emission; more walkable communities; and fewer travel barriers for active transportation and those who cannot drive such as children or people with disabilities. Complete streets play an important role for those who would choose not to drive if they had an alternative as well as for those who do not have the option of driving. The Complete Streets Act specifically encourages an increase in non-driving modes of travel:

“Shifting the transportation mode share from single passenger cars to public transit, bicycling, and walking must be a significant part of short and long-term planning goals if the state is to achieve the reduction in the number of vehicle miles traveled and in greenhouse gas emissions required by current law.”

With the new Mobility Element, we hope to develop a street system that satisfies multiple policy goals. In a city like Los Angeles—with over 6,500 mile of streets, 469 square miles of land, and nearly 3.8 million people—this is a tall order.

Functional Street Classification

CSN I- Gen Plan Circulation Map

A map of the Los Angeles street system

Like many other jurisdictions in the country, the City of Los Angeles relies on a “functional” street classification system to sort streets into classes based on their intended function or “character of service.” These street classifications include arterial (major) streets, residential (local) streets, and collector streets that connect the local streets to the arterial system. Jurisdictions across the United States use the functional street classification system today because they adopted the Federal Highway Administration standards in order to qualify for federal aid during major periods of highway building during the 20th Century. This classification system set a precedent sixty years ago to optimize our street system for the movement of automobiles.  In our post on community feedback, we addressed concerns that we were forgetting about streets that promote efficient traffic flow for cars. However, under our current policies, our streets default to enhancement for automobiles, as performance is measured by vehicle throughput and congestion.

The system measures success by “level of service” (LOS), or each street’s ability to move a certain number of automobiles on a daily basis. This metric for vehicle delay and congestion arose in the context of highway-building, since the main intention of highways and arterial streets is to move large volumes of traffic.  However, the rest of the street network has been traditionally enhanced for the automobile as well. Often, enhancements such as street widenings, signal prioritization, or turn lane additions have resulted in additional demand and congestion, high vehicle speeds, and conditions that are uncomfortable or unsafe for those not traveling by vehicle.  According to the Bureau of Street Services, approximately 2,600 miles (40%) of our streets are considered “non-residential” and have been designed and constructed to carry heavy loads of traffic.  Yet despite these historic roadway enhancements for the car, Los Angeles consistently ranks among the worst traffic congestion nationwide.

Furthermore, the street classification system measures vehicle throughput rather than person throughput. A car with a single driver is counted with the same weight as a car at full capacity. Those traveling by public transit, foot, or bike also are not included in the calculations for congestion and traffic impacts.

What's coming next

In order to make our City’s streets more accommodating to all modes and meet the state’s Complete Streets mandate, we have been exploring ways to change our street classification system. One way to reexamine the system is to change the way we measure the performance of the transportation system. Shifting our metrics away from vehicle delay to alternatives such as safety (collision rates) might better account for the needs of all roadway users.  For example, an increase in vehicle travel time on one particular street may be justified by safer crossing for pedestrians at the adjacent busy intersection.

Another approach to changing our street classification system is to implement roadway enhancements that improve travel for non-auto modes—whether walking, bicycling, or public transit. Over the next few weeks, we will discuss the development of our citywide Complete Streets Networks, which outline modal enhancements for particular major streets that will help “complete” our transportation system. The Transit-Enhanced Network consists of 230 miles of streets, and the Bicycle-Enhanced Network is a 120 mile subset of the 2010 Bicycle Plan. The networks were developed in the larger context of creating complete citywide transportation options, and also considered enhancements for pedestrians, automobiles, and goods movement. Pedestrian needs are closely linked to the Transit-Enhanced Network because of the conditions encountered walking to or from transit services as well as waiting at stops and stations. Every trip, regardless of mode, includes walking, and pedestrians are the most vulnerable roadway users. Pedestrian safety and enhancements, such as a citywide increase in minimum sidewalk widths from 10 feet to 15 feet, will also be discussed later in this series.