Anyone who has tried to walk, run, bike, roller blade, take a bus, or use any form of transportation besides a good old gas guzzler knows that cars are king throughout 99.9% of our great country. Most roads are designed for high speeds, offer no sidewalks, crosswalks, or bike lanes, and frequently do not have protected bus stops. Ironic for a nation that many people claim is "free" and "mobile" - only if you have the ability to drive and finance your own vehicle.
The "complete streets" movement is just one factor of sustainable urban design, but it is a crucial one because it can be enacted incrementally, and it offers remediation for both urban and suburban streets. Essentially, the goal of a complete street is to accommodate multiple forms of transportation in the same cross-section. The elements can adjust by location, and might include sidewalks (narrower or wider), bike lanes, dedicated bus lanes, bus bulbs, planting strips, on-street parking, and more.
Complete streets are, of course, visible all over Europe, especially in places like Paris and London and many of the German cities. There, street sections are not necessarily narrower, but there is less wide-open space for cars and more dedicated areas for parking, walking and biking. One particular element is "bulbing" or "necking down" - streets get narrower at intersections or at crosswalks to discourage speeding. Here in the States, streets tend to be of uniform wide width, and can feel like oceans of pavement for pedestrians trying to cross on foot.
Luckily, there is a National Complete Streets Coalition, which provides tons of information on complete streets legislation and projects. New York City recently released a stunning design manual for complete streets. This 250+ page tome offers dozens of alternatives and lots of images to show off the results. This photo I took shows an example of a completed street, Bleecker Street at Perry Street in Greenwich Village:
To me, this is almost picture-perfect urbanism. The variegated buildings, the street with dedicated bike lane (in bright green, all across NYC) and parking lane, the picturesque street trees, the busy stores and shops, the pedestrians... it exudes a feeling of good urban life.