Complete Streets: A 180 on design

Feb 04, 2021

Before the turn of the millennium, street design was mostly driven by the needs of cars and their passengers. Sidewalks were often an afterthought and bike lanes were rarely considered.

As a result, communities across Canada are left with road networks that don’t meet the needs of all users – and at a time where Green House Gas reduction and community health are more important than ever.

Enter Complete Streets.

Bowen Road green conflict zone for cyclist safety

[This attention grabbing green strip is called a conflict zone and stands out where the road and bike lane intersect.]

This newly embraced design policy considers all street users. From people walking, taking transit, cycling and driving, the Complete Streets principles help to create corridors that are safe for everyone.

This is a 180 in thinking. Complete Streets isn't strongly influenced by past roadways. Instead, it takes inspiration from the future.

Until recent years, using a bicycle for daily commuting was fairly rare. It makes sense too; Nanaimo has more hills than most people want to pedal over, especially on a cold, wet and dark winter’s day. Now that electric bicycles are more readily available, there’s a shift underway. With variable electric assist, hills are only as much of a challenge as the rider wants, and while these bikes can’t change the weather, LED headlight technology does help to light the way.

A side by side look of Bowen Road before and after updates [A before and after look at the Bowen Road Complete Streets project.]


The importance of walking has also stepped up in recent years. If sitting is the new smoking, then walking to work, school, or the grocery store becomes more than a means of transportation - it is a critical part of maintaining good physical and mental health.

A side by side look of Bowen Road before and after updates

[A before and after look at the Bowen Road Complete Streets project.]

It all adds up to more pedestrians and cyclists on the roads, and a need for safety allowances and improvements. Dedicated sidewalks and bicycle lanes, raised crosswalks, boulevards and buffers, light placement and extra visibility at intersections all play a part in Complete Streets design.

A Complete Streets concept drawing showing safety elements

[A rendering showing how a Complete Streets design looks at multi-modal transportation] 

“If you build it, they will come.” This famous quote from the movie Field of Dreams applies nicely to the Complete Streets concept. At a park, most people won’t grab a compass and trail blaze through dense forest, but once a trail is in place, the park becomes a destination. In a similar way, the more safely connected our infrastructure becomes for all commuters, the more likely different forms of commuting will be embraced.

Imagine a community where all of our streets are safe enough for children to walk to school? Where streets are easy to navigate and travel for anyone with a disability, and that are inviting for seniors to walk and stay active. In 2019, Nanaimo was designated as an Age-Friendly Community by Age-Friendly BC. A part of this designation includes designing streets that are barrier free and accessible for all ages. 

An electric car drives past the bike lane marking beside it.

[The bike lane here is raised to create separation from motorized traffic.]

With Complete Streets, all of this is achieved while still considering the needs of motorists. Our cars may eventually be all electric, but the automobile will likely be an integral part of our transportation network until something revolutionary replaces it.

Of course, we can’t talk about this incredible level of road improvements without also considering budget. Luckily, the costs of this kind of roadway construction is largely the same as a traditional road. Unfortunately, it isn’t feasible to completely overhaul every neighbourhood to these standards immediately, but when it's time for utility upgrades and road replacement, it just makes sense to make improvements.

A side by side look of Bowen Road before and after updates [A before and after look at the Bowen Road Complete Streets project.]


Another part of Complete Streets design which is crucial to success is public consultation. Watch our websites at and for opportunities to have your say. Coming soon will be an opportunity to provide input on updates to Stewart Avenue, as we look at adding some Complete Streets elements in partnership with the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

Complete Streets project links: 

  • To watch this 360 degree video on your mobile device, just open the video, hold the phone in front of you, and turn in the direction you would like to see: up, down and all around. To watch on a computer, use your mouse to click on the screen and drag to change your viewing angle. If you need more time to look around at any point during the video, press pause and explore!






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