I've criticised the concept of Complete Streets before. This is the idea that a street is not 'complete' unless it meets certain criteria - namely, that it accomodates everyone. But, I dislike using the word 'complete' because it implies the idea that a street can reach 'completeness', which could mean one of three things:
1. A street is 'complete' when it contains as many elements as possible - such as travel lanes, trees, parallel parking, bike lanes, cross walks, trash cans, benches, etc. You end up with a very wide street in an attempt to fit everything in, which wastes a lot of space. As a 'fit-as-much-in-as-possible' street seems expensive to build (with all of those elements) and typically ends up very wide, I think a more apt name for this style would be a 'fat street':
The idea that a street is complete because it contains every essential element is very subjective. What elements are essential for a street to be considered complete?
For example, where I grew up in Australia, most homes had a defined front border that separated the property from the street - either the building or front fence was built right up against the sidewalk. To me, a street only looks 'complete' when it is perfectly framed with a border:
When I moved to Arkansas, virtually no one had front fences (apart from the odd exception), so every street felt 'unframed' and incomplete in comparison. For the longest time, the incompleteness of the unframed streets irked me, because it was unfamiliar and took getting used to:
If you asked me several years ago to draw a Complete Street before I ever heard of the term, I would have definitely framed the street with front fences, because that is all I knew, and it would have felt incomplete otherwise.
2. A street is 'complete' when it is in its final state - hence, it has 'completed' development. This is a preposterous definition, because our cities are always evolving, and never truly brought to a stage where they could be called 'complete' and never to change.
3. A street is 'complete' when it completely accommodates everyone. This is usually the definition given by urbanists who are living somewhere where walking or bicycling is either unpleasant or dangerous, and automatically assume that streets are for motorised traffic only unless otherwise explicitly marked. So that these urbanists get their fair share of the transportation pie, their definition of a 'complete' street is usually any street with a dedicated sidewalk and, if wide enough, bike lanes.
Yet, the street I lived on until recently had no sidewalk - just a single flat paved surface with no markings, and I am fine with that. Kids play basketball in the street, people walk and ride bicycles, and vehicular traffic is slow and infrequent so there is no need to segregate uses:
You might be shocked to hear that I consider the above street to be perfectly pedestrian-friendly. There is no need to add a pitiful little strip of people-only space (a sidewalk), when it functionally acts as a shared space anyway, with a single shared surface where no users are given priority over another.
The idea of a Complete Street as one that accommodates everyone is the definition given by Smart Growth America. I understand the reasoning behind this, as much of what Smart Growth America's Complete Streets campaign tries to do is to convince residents and developers living in a totally car-oriented environment that by not accommodating people walking around, they are not accommodating everyone and their street is therefore inferior and incomplete. 'Everyone' is a rather safe word - I would rather just throw my intention out there and say that all streets must accommodate people walking - because the term 'everyone' can be abused. Who is 'everyone'?
Even when a street meets all of these definitions and does its best to have all of the elements (sidewalks, cross walks, traffic lights, trash cans, bicycle lanes) and accommodates everyone (pedestrians, motorists, bicyclists, transit riders) it can still ultimately fail at being a pleasant place for people.
Rather than focus on Complete Streets, we should focus on building streets for people - People Streets, Humane Streets - and more importantly, focus on giving people a reason to be out and walking about - such as having things worth visiting within walking distances.