Complete Streets

Photo from

Photo from

I’ve heard the term “complete streets” thrown about, including recently by the Urban Land Institute panel. Shortly after their visit city council scheduled a vote about “complete streets.” I found a couple of links that helped, like this one from Smart Growth America and this one from Streetswiki. I also found a photo album of images of various “complete streets.” But what exactly is a “complete street” and what did the city council just vote on? For that answer, I turned to Caroline Cooley, president of Bike Walk Knoxville and she enlisted Monika Miller to help out.

Here’s Ms. Cooley:

The Complete Streets Ordinance was passed by the City Council on first reading and vote on Tuesday October 14th. This is great news for a city which still has many “incomplete” streets left over from a time when streets were designed for cars only, and little thought was given for those who get around without a personal motorized vehicle, whether it be by choice or by necessity.  In contrast, complete streets are designed to enable safe access for users of all ages and abilities.

Caroline Cooley Addresses the Knoxville City Council to Advocate for a Complete Street Policy

Caroline Cooley Addresses the Knoxville City Council to Advocate for a Complete Street Policy (Photo: John Owens)

A Complete Streets Resolution was passed by the Council in 2009 and since then the city has strived to follow Complete Streets principles with many of its road projects. Bike/Walk Knoxville presented a workshop on Complete Streets to City Council in February encouraging council members to pursue the more formal and binding ordinance, which would institutionalize these policies.  As the ordinance states, “[The city] shall adopt a Complete Streets Policy committing the City, to the maximum extent practical, to plan for, design, construct, maintain, and operate all streets to reflect Complete Streets principles and provide for a comprehensive and integrated street network that accommodates all users and modes.”

James White Parkway, South of the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum,

James White Parkway, South of the Civic Auditorium and Coliseum, Knoxville: Disastrously Incomplete Street

City Council unanimously approved the ordinance on first reading as they understand the numerous benefits of Complete Streets for our community. Complete Streets policies allow for planning, design and construction of road projects that fit the context of the local community. This means that children will be able to walk or bike safely to school in the parental responsibility zones. Seniors can continue to live in their own neighborhoods where they are able to walk (or bike!) to destinations or use appropriately designed bus stops. Networks of Complete Streets connect neighborhoods thereby enhancing livability and promoting incidental exercise. It was timely that last week the Urban Land Institute recommended that Henley Street be transformed into a Complete Street.  Large streets such as Henley Street can become vibrant and inviting.

A complete street in Copenhagen. (Photo: Matthew Blackett via Flickr)

A complete street in Copenhagen. (Photo: Matthew Blackett via Flickr)

If the ordinance passes on second reading, the city is not required to immediately retrofit roadways, but when a new or retrofit project is planned Complete Street principles will be utilized. However, new subdivisions in the City of Knoxville fall under the jurisdiction of subdivision regulations, which are currently being revised by the Metropolitan Planning Commission. Bike/Walk Knoxville encourages the public to stay engaged with this important issue, knowing that if we had these policies all along, our neighborhoods and shopping centers would already have sidewalks and accommodations for cyclists.

Simply because the ordinance passed on the first reading does not guarantee its final passage. The second reading is on Tuesday, October 28th at 7:00 pm at the City County building.

Please join Bike/Walk Knoxville for the 3rd annual Ride with Elected Officials. Mayor Rogero and several council members are planning to attend. This would be a great time to thank them and show your support for cycling and walking.

Ride with Elected Officials

Tuesday, October 21st at 6pm

Bike Zoo, 5020 Whittaker Dr


I hope to see you there.

Caroline Cooley, Bike/Walk Knoxville President



  1. Jean Galyon says:

    I appreciate so much all the research and thought that go into your blogs. This idea at least initially is especially appealing for Henley Street. I can start dreaming about it now!

  2. Bill Lyons says:

    The Cumberland Avenue Corridor project is a major example of application of the complete street concept. If all goes well we hope to be under construction with phase 1 in January, 2015. If you are not familiar please check it out at the links below.

    This went through a major public process in 2007. The phrase we used was “Transform the corridor from a place to drive through to a place to drive to.” There was significant pushback to reducing traffic lanes in this manner but we landed in a good place.

    • Just John says:

      Mr. Lyons–

      Thanks for mentioning the Cumberland Avenue project. I am really looking forward to walking the new street there when it is done. Do you know when the contract will be opened for bids ? The Cumberland Connection blog’s most recent update is from August 29.

      Thank you, as always.

      • Bill Lyons says:

        John, They are scheduled to be opened at the end of October. And you and everyone else can call me “Bill” here and elsewhere. Thanks.

        • Just John says:

          Thanks for the reply. Cumberland Avenue is a city street, but it’s also Tennessee State Road 1 and US highway 70. How did the City of Knoxville overcome what must have been opposition from TNDOT to succeed with the road diet plan ?
          Thanks !

  3. Just John says:

    This is excellent news.

    Let’s take a look at the picture at the top of the blog, and see what we can hope for:
    — It has on-street parking, both to give people a place to store their cars while shopping, and to place a big heavy buffer between the moving street and the pedestrians;
    — It has pedestrian bulb-outs, in which the sidewalk bulges outward into the parking lanes at intersections and narrows the length that someone must walk in the street when crossing it;
    — It has little bicycle lanes, so that people who cannot or choose not to drive cars can still use the street safely, rather than either race within traffic or dodge pedestrians on the sidewalks;
    — It has, in the distance, a bus that can pull out into the parking lane to pick up and drop off passengers, rather than blocking traffic; and
    — It has things that make people want to be there–street trees, places to sit, and places to actually visit.

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