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Complete Streets in Wisconsin

Updated: Feb 8, 2022

Bicycler in Madison

One of our areas of focus at Active Wisconsin is helping implement Complete Streets plans, policies, and programs in communities around the state. (Contact us to learn more about Active Wisconsin and join the network.) “Complete Streets” is a people-centered approach to street design that takes into account multiple modes of transportation and user needs. According to the National Complete Streets Coalition, “a Complete Streets approach integrates people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. This helps to ensure streets put safety over speed, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.” A Complete Streets approach can encompass ideas like Vision Zero, Safe Routes to School, Livable Communities, and Health in All Policies, all of which share common goals of safe, healthy, sustainable, and equitable community design.

What are Complete Streets graphic

In 2009, Wisconsin adopted a statewide Complete Streets policy when Chapter Trans 75 was added to the Wisconsin Administrative Code. Trans 75 required all road construction projects using state or federal money to include bike and pedestrian facilities, though there were some exceptions granted for excessive financial or environmental cost. Bike and pedestrian advocates cheered for the Complete Streets law for encouraging active transportation and safety measures for non-drivers, but the law drew pushback from critics who claimed it was impractical, bureaucratic, and expensive. In 2015, Chapter Trans 75 was removed, and Wisconsin became the first state to repeal its Complete Streets law. (You can read more about the history of Wisconsin’s short-lived Complete Streets law on the Wisconsin Bike Fed website.

Regardless, many localities in Wisconsin recognize the importance of Complete Streets and have forged ahead with their own policies, even after the law was repealed. In 2018, the City of Milwaukee adopted a Complete Streets policy that was recognized by Smart Growth America for its outstanding commitment to equity and public engagement.

The beauty of Complete Streets is that it is not a one-size-fits-all approach to street design. While large cities such as Milwaukee have Complete Streets policies that include complex data collection and collaboration across many departments, smaller localities are implementing Complete Streets to improve safety and mobility in their communities. Click on the links below to learn about Wisconsin Active Together communities with Complete Streets:

1000 Friends of Wisconsin and other organizations are continuing to advocate for the reinstatement of Complete Streets legislation at the state level. Meanwhile, as more cities and towns in Wisconsin implement Complete Streets, we are learning about what works at the local level. This important on-the-ground work will hopefully inform the next Complete Streets law so that it can be more comprehensive than the original version, and have support from diverse interests across the state.

If your organization or local coalition is interested in learning more about Complete Streets or becoming a part of Active Wisconsin, email Susan Gaeddert or sign up for our quarterly e-newsletter.

Online resources and information for Complete Streets:

Complete streets graphic

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