What Is a Green, Complete Street?

A green and complete street can have different definitions, depending on scale, region, and use. For this project, combining definitions from  Seattle and Portland provides a solid definition:

A Green / Complete Street is a street right-of-way that, through a variety of design and operational treatments, manages stormwater runoff as a resource, while giving priority to pedestrian and bicycle circulation and vegetated communal space over other transportation uses.


SW Montgomery Green Street, Portland, OR. ASLA 2012 Analysis and Planning Honor Award Winner. Image: Nevue Ngan Associates.

Stormwater runoff is a major concern in most urban areas. Cities are comprised of highly impervious surfaces, preventing rainwater from being absorbed into the ground and filtered by soil and plants, as it is in rural and natural areas. Urban rainwater has one place to go – the storm sewers – and will pick up pollutants along the way. In older cities like Washington, D.C., stormwater is drained through engineered collection systems. In heavy storms, stormwater is then discharged into our rivers.

Many of the nation’s streets have been designed with only the car in mind. As a result, many streets discourage walking and bicycling, making these modes of transit inconvenient, unattractive, or dangerous.

A green and complete street is an integrated approach that provides natural solutions to stormwater and increases walking and bicycling. Treatments may include sidewalk widening, traffic calming, street trees, and improved vegetated planting areas. These enhance the public right-of-way while improving the environment.

NE Siskiyou Green Street, Portland, OR. ASLA 2007 General Design Honor Award Winner. Images: Kevin Robert Perry, ASLA.

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