Complete Streets and Economic Development

Complete Streets have a reputation for improving the health of communities and the people who live in them.  Turns out, Complete Streets are good for your wallet, too.  This is why businesses, residents, and municipalities all have compelling interests in ensuring complete streets elements are incorporated in streetway design.

Simply put, Complete Streets can help businesses profit. Employers can take advantage of increased productivity and reduced number of sick days from employees who bike or walk to work. Healthier employees also mean lower healthcare costs.

Complete Streets also bring revenue to communities. A study by the Victoria Transport Institute found that pedestrian consumers spent around 50% more money at local businesses in a downtown shopping district than customers who drove in. The same result was found in Portland, where bicyclists outspent drivers over the course of a month. Bicyclists tend to spend less per visit, but make more frequent trips. Non-motorized travel affords more opportunities to stop in various businesses along the way to a destination. Driving trips tend to be more geared toward a single destination.

Pedestrian Odyssey

Trans4Mers took advantage of Kalamazoo’s walkable downtown on our 2013 Transportation Odyssey (Photo: Gary Howe)

We talked with Rory Neuner from Lansing’s Westside Commercial Association (WCA) about local business reaction to a buffered bike lane and a 4-3 road conversion (downsizing vehicle lanes from 4 to 3) along the city’s Saginaw street corridor. Completed in October 2012, the project was enabled by Complete Street ordinances at the state level and in Lansing. “The WCA’s business members are enthusiastic about the bike lane,” Neuner said, adding that several businesses along the corridor see the bike lane and lane conversion as a way to slow down traffic and get more notice from passing vehicles and bikes. She added that neighborhoods enjoy the bike lanes and road conversion because it makes the area feel less like a freeway and more like a community.

LMB  Saginaw street bike lane

The Saginaw street bike lane nearing completion in late 2012 (Flickr: League of Michigan Bicyclists)

Communities that provide Complete Streets elements to residents and businesses see several benefits. Complete Streets have been shown to raise property values both in residential and commercial areas. One study found that in Chicago, homes with a high walks score were worth on average $4,000-$32,000 more than homes that were not walkable. Another found that property values close to Indianapolis’ Monon Trail were 11% higher than identical homes a half-mile away. Residents and business owners aren’t the only ones who should be happy with increasing property values: for municipalities, this means increased revenues from property taxes.

In addition to increasing local property values, communities implementing Complete Streets benefit from the perception of being pedestrian and bicyclist-friendly. Communities can attract and retain individuals who are basing decisions on where to live, work and play on accessibility, notably older residents and millennials. This growing trend is also reflected in tourism, which is a major revenue generator for many Michigan towns and cities. It’s not hard to imagine why: pedestrian travel and bicycling allows tourists a much more intimate connection with their destination and a slower-paced and more relaxed experience. The same holds true for trails and paved pathways that connect complete streets.


Bike Path Odyssey

Bicyclists navigate the TART Trails in Traverse City (Photo: Gary Howe)

As Michigan looks to revitalize its communities, Complete Streets offer multiple benefits to local businesses, residents, and the community as a whole. While the health and social benefits of complete streets may be more visible, vital economic benefits await communities investing in non-motorized transportation for all users.


Written by: Jeff Prygoski, Trans4M Fellow

One Comment on “Complete Streets and Economic Development


Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s