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Streetscape design

Evidence Rating

Scientifically Supported

Streetscape design improvements (e.g., Complete Streets) accommodate the needs of all users and enable pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and motorists to share and use the street. Improvements to streetscape design can include increased street lighting, enhanced street landscaping, increased sidewalk coverage and connectivity of pedestrian walkways, bicycling infrastructure, street crossing safety features, and traffic calming measures. Streetscape design improvement projects typically include elements from more than one of these categories; these projects can be implemented incrementally or comprehensively (SGA-Complete streets).

Expected Beneficial Outcomes (Rated)

  • Increased physical activity

  • Increased pedestrian and cyclist safety

Other Potential Beneficial Outcomes

  • Increased active transportation

  • Reduced obesity rates

  • Improved sense of community

  • Improved neighborhood safety

  • Reduced stress

  • Reduced vehicle miles traveled

Evidence of Effectiveness

There is strong evidence that streetscape design improvements increase physical activity, particularly when implemented as part of a multi-component intervention (CG-Physical activity, , CETRT, CDC MMWR-Khan 2009). Street crossing safety features and traffic calming measures, often components of streetscape design improvements, have also been shown to reduce traffic speed and increase pedestrian and cyclist safety (, , Retting 2003, MN DOT-Stine 2014).  

Traffic calming measures have been shown to increase walking and bicycling (Winters 2010, Morrison 2004). Street-scale urban design projects can provide a safer, more inviting environment for outdoor physical activities (CG-Physical activity). Living in neighborhoods with greater street connectivity, more streetlights and bike paths, and related environmental characteristics is associated with higher levels of walking, increased physical activity, and lower rates of overweight and obesity (, Reynolds 2010, Lee 2012b). Environmental improvements that make neighborhoods more walkable are also associated with lower body mass indexes (BMIs) among children (Duncan 2014).

Connected sidewalks, street crossing safety features, and bicycle lanes can reduce injury risk for pedestrians and cyclists (Reynolds 2010). Additional benefits of streetscape design improvements may include improved green space, increased sense of community, and reductions in crime and stress (CG-Physical activity). Improvements to streetscape design that increase sidewalk connectivity or improve bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure are also a suggested strategy to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) ().

Costs for infrastructure improvements vary significantly both by locale and type of improvement, for example the median cost is $340 for a striped crosswalk, $16 per linear foot for an asphalt sidewalk, and $89,470 per mile for a bike lane (UNC-Bushell 2013).

Impact on Disparities

No impact on disparities likely

Implementation Examples

Complete Streets policies are an example of comprehensive approaches aimed at improving streetscape design to encourage walking and other alternative modes of transportation. As of 2013, Complete Streets policies are in place in 29 states and Washington DC (NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014SGA-Complete streets). The National Complete Streets Coalition and Smart Growth America highlight 10 best Complete Streets policies of 2012 in a 2013 report (NCSC-Seskin 2013). Active Living By Design and Active Living Research also highlight many communities implementing Complete Streets policies and individual streetscape design improvements (ALBD, ALR-Complete streets).

Walk Friendly Communities is a national recognition program that supports and encourages efforts to enhance safer walking environments, which include streetscape design improvements. Walk Friendly Communities have been recognized in 32 states. Seattle, WA is the only platinum level community; 15 communities are recognized as gold, 14 as silver, 25 as bronze, and 17 as honorable mentions (WFC-State map).   

Implementation Resources

LHC-Toolkit 2009 - Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). Action strategies toolkit: A guide for local and state leaders working to create healthy communities and prevent childhood obesity. Princeton: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF); 2009.

WHO-Edwards 2008 - Edwards P, Tsouros AD. A healthy city is an active city: A physical activity planning guide. Copenhagen, DK: World Health Organization Europe (WHO-E); 2008.

SGA-Complete streets - Smart Growth America (SGA). National Complete Streets Coalition resources.

Gilpin 2012 - Gilpin J, Costakis C. Montana complete streets toolkit: for cities, small towns and tribal communities. Bozeman: Alta Planning + Design, Montana Nutrition and Physical Activity Program (NAPA), Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services (DPHHS); 2012.

NCSC-Seskin 2013 - Seskin S, Gordon-Koven L. The best Complete Streets policies of 2012. Washington, DC: National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC), Smart Growth America (SGA); 2013.

UNC-Bushell 2013 - Bushell MA, Poole BW, Zegeer CV, Rodriguez DA. Costs for pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure improvements: A resource for researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Highway Safety Research Center; 2013.

ChangeLab-Zimmerman 2013 - Zimmerman S, Kramer K. Getting the wheels rolling: A guide to using policy to create bicycle friendly communities. Oakland: ChangeLab Solutions; 2013.

AHA-VFHK toolkits - American Heart Association (AHA), Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). Voices for healthy kids (VFHK): Toolkits to make the healthy choice the easy choice in the places where children live, learn and play.

CDC-DNPAO data - Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Division of Nutrition Physical Activity and Obesity (DNPAO). Nutrition, physical activity and obesity: Data, trends and maps online tool.

LHC-Rockeymoore 2014 - Rockeymoore M, Moscetti C, Fountain A. Rural Childhood Obesity Prevention Toolkit. Leadership for Healthy Communities (LHC). 2014.

US DOT-PBIC Sidewalks - US Department of Transportation (US DOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center (PBIC). Sidewalks and walkways.

ChangeLab-CS - ChangeLab Solutions. What are Complete Streets (CS)?

Citations - Evidence

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

Brownson 2006* - Brownson RC, Haire-Joshu D, Luke DA. Shaping the context of health: A review of environmental and policy approaches in the prevention of chronic diseases. Annual Review of Public Health. 2006;27:341–70.

Morrison 2003* - Morrison DS, Petticrew M, Thomson H. What are the most effective ways of improving population health through transport interventions? Evidence from systematic reviews. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2003;57(5):327-33.

Retting 2003 - Retting RA, Ferguson SA, McCartt AT. A review of evidence-based traffic engineering measures designed to reduce pedestrian-motor vehicle crashes. American Journal of Public Health. 2003;93(9):1456-63.

CG-Physical activity - The Guide to Community Preventive Services (The Community Guide). Physical activity.

CETRT - Center of Excellence for Training and Research Translation (CETRT). Find interventions. UNC Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention (HPDP).

CDC MMWR-Khan 2009 - Khan LK, Sobush K, Keener D, et al. Recommended community strategies and measurements to prevent obesity in the United States. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). 2009;58(RR-07):1-26.

Reynolds 2010 - Reynolds CCO, Winters M, Ries FJ, Gouge B. Active transportation in urban areas: Exploring health benefits and risks. Vancouver: National Collaborating Centre for Environmental Health (NCCEH); 2010.

Wilson 2011a* - Wilson LA, Giles-Corti B, Burton NW, et al. The association between objectively measured neighborhood features and walking in middle-aged adults. American Journal of Health Promotion. 2011;25(4):e12-21

Cochrane-Bunn 2003* - Bunn F, Collier T, Frost C, et al. Area-wide traffic calming for preventing traffic related injuries. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. 2003;(1):CD003110.

Morrison 2004 - Morrison DS, Thomson H, Petticrew M. Evaluation of the health effects of a neighbourhood traffic calming scheme. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. 2004;58(10):837-40.

Winters 2010 - Winters M, Brauer M, Setton EM, Teschke K. Built environment influences on healthy transportation choices: Bicycling versus driving. Journal of Urban Health. 2010;87(6):969–93.

Lee 2012b - Lee RE, Mama SK, Medina A V, Ho A, Adamus HJ. Neighborhood factors influence physical activity among African American and Hispanic or Latina women. Health & Place. 2012;18(1):63–70.

UNC-Bushell 2013 - Bushell MA, Poole BW, Zegeer CV, Rodriguez DA. Costs for pedestrian and bicyclist infrastructure improvements: A resource for researchers, engineers, planners, and the general public. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Highway Safety Research Center; 2013.

Salon 2012* - Salon D, Boarnet MG, Handy S, Spears S, Tal G. How do local actions affect VMT? A critical review of the empirical evidence. Transportation Research Part D: Transport and Environment. 2012;17(7):495–508.

Duncan 2014 - Duncan DT, Sharifi M, Melly SJ, et al. Characteristics of walkable built environments and BMI z-scores in children: Evidence from a large electronic health record database. Environmental Health Perspectives. 2014;122(12):1359-1365.

MN DOT-Stine 2014 - Stine P, Holdhusen B, Noyce D. Safety impacts of implementing Complete Streets. Minnesota Department of Transportation (MN DOT), Research Services & Library, Local Road Research Board (LRRB). Technical Summary:2013-2031TS. 2014.

Citations - Implementation Examples

* Journal subscription may be required for access.

ALBD - Active Living by Design (ALBD). Increasing physical activity and healthy eating through community design.

SGA-Complete streets - Smart Growth America (SGA). National Complete Streets Coalition resources.

NCSC-Seskin 2013 - Seskin S, Gordon-Koven L. The best Complete Streets policies of 2012. Washington, DC: National Complete Streets Coalition (NCSC), Smart Growth America (SGA); 2013.

NCSL Winterfeld-Obesity prevention 2014 - Winterfeld A. State actions to reduce and prevent childhood obesity in schools and communities: Summary and analysis of trends in legislation. National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL). 2014.

WFC-State map - Walk Friendly Communities (WFC), Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center. Walk friendly communities state map.

ALR-Complete streets - Active Living Research (ALR). Promoting activity-friendly communities: Complete streets.

Date Last Updated

Oct 21, 2015