Sounding the Alarm for Traffic Safety in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2018

Recently, the Boulder (Colorado) City Council has indicated that improving traffic safety is a significant priority. And rightly so, given the surge in traffic deaths in Boulder in recent years. The City has adopted a “Vision Zero” objective (zero serious traffic injuries or deaths).

However, the Boulder program is the same old song and dance that Boulder and most every other American city have been engaged in to “improve” traffic safety. Every few years for the past century, Boulder has “redoubled its efforts” to deploy The Five W’s: (1) more Warning signs are erected; (2) more (or revised) Warning lights are installed; (3) more Warning paint is painted; (4) more Warning education is called for; and (5) more Warning enforcement is urged. But after a century of redoubling our efforts to do those things, Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever. For example, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper recently reported that traffic deaths in Boulder County were higher than they have been since at least 2004. And while Boulder was once again ranked relatively high as a bike-friendly city a few days ago, the ranking curiously but accurately noted that Boulder ranked poorly for bicycling safety.

The Five W’s path to safety has failed.

Such campaigns border on being patronizing. And traffic safety education is a form of victim-blaming.

As far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been VZaround). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. Therefore, adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Like most other cities, unfortunately, Boulder has spent the past century designing streets to enable (and therefore encourage) high speed, inattentive driving.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the “Forgiving Street” design (a design used too often by state and local traffic engineers to “forgive” motorists who drive too fast or inattentively – which thereby encourages speeding and inattentive driving) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. The Five W’s have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to severely diminishing returns.

If we are serious about achieving “Vision Zero,” we need to redesign our streets.

What if, instead of continuing to pursue The Five W’s, we start putting more of the onus on transportation engineers and motorists by designing streets and intersections that obligate slower, more attentive driving?

Such driving is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail health.

How do we humanize streets in this manner? We can, for example, install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped and sufficiently large traffic circles, raised medians and roundabouts – many in Boulder are too small. We can reduce the width of streets and travel lanes. We can shrink the size of intersections. We can remove unnecessary travel lanes – particularly on roads with four or more lanes. We can pull buildings up to streets instead of having them set behind parking lots. We can install more on-street parking. We can reduce the size of intersection turning radii. We can remove a number of town center turn and “slip” lanes. We can reduce the size of shoulders and vision triangles. We can reduce the width of driveways. We can substantially increase funding for the neighborhood traffic calming program to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “give-way” streets.

Inducing slower car speeds is essential for enhancing travel safety, effectively encouraging non-car travel, and improving town center and neighborhood quality of life. There are important reasons why a “slow cities” movement is spreading worldwide.

Boulder is not now politically ready to seriously strive to attain Vision Zero, as there is insufficient political will to do the things listed above. Years after the Folsom Street lane repurposing was put in place, many in Boulder are still screaming mad about it. Some call such traffic safety measures “impede and congest” tactics intended to “annoy” motorists and “force” them to use bicycles or transit.

Why is it not an “impede and congest” tactic intended to “annoy” bicyclists and pedestrians and “force” them to drive a car when it comes to the frequent action to enlarge intersections to have a double-left turn lane? Or install a large parking lot? Is this not a double standard?

Given this lack of political will, the City should suspend the Vision Zero goal until it is ready to deploy the tactics necessary to actually reach Vision Zero.

The 30th Street, Canyon, East Arapahoe, Colorado, and Iris projects should also be suspended for the same reason.

Shame on Boulder.

 

 

 

 

 

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How to Better Manage the Influx of In-Commuters to Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

April 24, 2018

Boulder needs to better address the issue of the large number of regional car commuters coming into Boulder.

That large influx into Boulder from outlying areas – estimates range from 50,000 to 3660,000 in-commuters each day – puts a heavy strain on Boulder. That strain includes:

  • higher levels of car emissions and noise pollution;
  • higher numbers of traffic crashes; and
  • a larger amount of political pressure to continue to ruinously widen roads, expand the size of intersections, and provide more parking in a city already providing excessive amounts of road capacity, intersection size, and the quantity of parking spaces.

Why is there a large number of in-commuters to Boulder?

Clearly, there is a jobs-housing imbalance in Boulder. For decades there has been a very rapid growth in jobs in the city, but due to the high cost of housing and relatively restrictive land use regulations in the city, there are far more jobs than houses in Boulder.

Unaffordable housing in Boulder

While many prefer to work in Boulder but live elsewhere, a very large and growing number of people in the Boulder region desire to live in Boulder but are unable to afford to pay the very high housing costs in Boulder. Many end up accepting a job in Boulder and finding more affordable housing in outlying areas.

However, this is a false economy.

Economist Todd Litman (http://www.vtpi.org/) has shown that “lower-cost” housing in outlying areas is a false economy. The several thousand dollars a household saves when a house is bought (or an apartment rented) in an outlying area is a savings that is outweighed by the costs associated with the household being obligated to make more trips by car (because destinations are relatively remote).

A household in an outlying area is thereby obligated to own, say, three cars instead of two, or two cars instead of one in order for household members to make a relatively large number of car trips each day. The cost of each car owned and operated by a household is now over $10,000 per year. By living closer to destinations, the household can reduce the number of cars it owns. Each car shed represents another $10,000 that can instead be directed to paying rent or mortgage in a mixed use, compact location.

Affordable housing is much more effectively provided by increasing the supply of compact, walkable, mixed-use and higher density housing. More affordability is also achieved by unbundling the price of parking from the price of housing. And by eliminating minimum parking requirements for new development.

How can Boulder reduce the number of in-commuters?

Incentivize more car-pooling

One of the most effective ways to increase the number of carpoolers is to use price signals. For carpooling, the most common signals are to increase the percentage of car spaces that are priced, to toll road lanes, and to create high-occupancy vehicle lanes (both priced parking and tolling are now used on US 36 between Denver and Boulder, but far more roads need such treatment).

Land use patterns also influence the level of car-pooling. Car-pooling is more likely in more compact, mixed-use, higher density land use patterns.

Another needed example of price signals is the use of motorist user fees.

Create More Cost Equity with User Fees

Only a small fraction of the costs imposed by motorists (roadway and parking infrastructure, as well as crash and environmental costs) are paid for by motorists. Gas taxes, for example, pay only a small fraction of those costs. The remainder of the costs motorists impose are paid by everyone, regardless of whether they own or operate a car. They are paid by such things as sales taxes and property taxes.

For more fairness, we can establish additional user fees for motorists. User fees can include (1) a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fee; (2) a more comprehensive market-based priced parking program; (3) priced roads [https://domz60.wordpress.com/2014/03/04/is-tolling-a-good-idea-for-us-36-between-denver-and-boulder/]; (4) pay-at-the-pump car insurance; (5) weight-based vehicle fees; (6) higher gas taxes; (7) mileage-based registration fee; and (8) a mileage-based emission fee.

In order to make new user fees more politically viable, make such new taxes/fees revenue neutral by reducing or eliminating other fees/taxes when the new user fee is instituted.

Because transportation impacts are lower in central locations, town center properties should have lower transportation fees (such as impact fees) assessed by the City of Boulder.

Create conditions conducive to higher transit use

To be viable and more heavily used, affordable and high-frequency train or bus service must be coupled with compact, mixed-use, higher density land use patterns – particularly near transit routes and in town centers. Currently, the Boulder region has very low density, single-use land use patterns that are largely unsuitable for frequent, quality, affordable transit service.

How Can Boulder Create a Better Jobs to Housing Balance?

Boulder needs a lot more in the way of compact, mixed-use, higher density housing – not just for greater affordability but also for a better jobs to housing balance. The demand for such housing is far higher than the supply of such housing in Boulder, which substantially contributes to the affordable housing crisis.

I do not believe that capping or reducing the number of jobs in Boulder is a desirable way to better achieve a jobs-to-housing balance.

Road and Intersection Design

A great many roads and intersections in Boulder are over-sized, largely due to the jobs to housing imbalance, but also due to the large subsidies that motorists have long enjoyed. Such large subsidies artificially induce a large number of car trips that would not have occurred had the subsidies not been in place.

Because it is extremely difficult to institute motorist user fees to more fairly pay for motorist costs and reduce the large number of artificially induced car trips, a more feasible and subtle method is to restrict the size of roads and intersections to a more human-scaled size. Restricting the size of roads and intersections also provides the enormous benefit of effectively promoting public safety (there are a horrifying number of traffic crashes in Boulder that cause serious injuries and deaths). To do this, Boulder needs to shrink (or at least not increase) the size of roads and intersections. Also necessary is a much more thorough application of slow-speed (traffic calming) design in Boulder streets.

Better Manage Parking

Like nearly all cities, Boulder’s land development regulations over the past several decades have required a large number of car parking spaces as a condition for development approval. This has created a massive over-supply of car parking in Boulder, which induces a large number of local and regional car trips (parking guru Donald Shoup calls the abundant free parking provided by such regulations a “fertility drug” for cars).

Boulder needs to reform its parking by converting minimum parking requirements to maximum requirements, price a larger percentage of parking that is free or underpriced today, replace existing surface parking with homes, retail, jobs, civic, and unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing (a powerful affordable housing tool)

Create More Park-n-Ride Facilities in the Region

When the Boulder region more fully implements the above recommendations, there will be a larger need (a larger demand) for more park-n-ride facilities in both outlying towns in the region and in the peripheral locations of Boulder. Parking reform, in particular, is a key way to make this happen.

The Need for Regional Cooperation

Clearly, in-commuting to Boulder is a regional problem that Boulder cannot solve on its own. Boulder needs to partner with outlying cities and counties (including unincorporated Boulder County) so that such entities outside of Boulder’s jurisdiction are also reforming their transportation and land use, as described above for Boulder, or at least supporting Boulder’s efforts to use such tools outside of Boulder (ie, actions by the state or unincorporated Boulder County).

In Summation

There are no quick, easy fixes for this problem. Conventional quick fixes, such as increasing the capacity of intersections or widening roads, only worsen the problem. Mostly, the problem is best addressed more incrementally with price signals and convenience signals that arise from the land use and transportation tools described above.

 

 

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Sprawl, Traffic, Taxes and Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2006

We live in troubled times. Times that require wise, courageous leadership. Here is what I see in our communities, and what I plan to do about it.

Taxation

Taxes are high and are constantly rising because new growth is not paying its own way.

All levels of government are financially strapped. Households are struggling to be able to afford the skyrocketing costs of transportation and rising property taxes.

Aren’t you tired of high and rising taxes?

Transportation

Automakers keep producing gas-guzzling cars. There is no quality transit system. We have no transportation choices. Little Billy and little Suzie cannot safely go for a walk or ride a bike in their neighborhoods because traffic is too dangerous.

Our hard-earned money and national wealth is vanishing. Our money is being used to enrich Middle Eastern oil-producing nations—many of which are not our friends.

Aren’t you tired of our unhealthy transportation system?

The Quality of Our Neighborhoods and Communities

Our farms are vanishing because they are being paved over by sprawling subdivisions.

We keep getting dumb growth instead of smart growth. Our neighborhoods are afflicted by rising levels of noise pollution. We’ve lost the tradition of having neighborhood-based schools, which means our kids cannot get to school on their own. We have forgotten that a high quality of life is a powerful economic engine.

Aren’t you tired of the sprawl? The ugly, dangerous, costly, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development that keeps popping up in our communities?

My Vision

Let’s restore our communities.

  • Imagine communities rich in transportation choice. A place where we and our kids can get around safely by car, by transit, by walking and by bicycle. Communities, in other words, where one has the choice to be able to walk to get a loaf of bread, instead of being forced to drive 4 miles to get that loaf.
  • Imagine communities where our property taxes are reasonable and our government is able to afford to build quality public facilities and provide quality public services.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our beautiful forests, natural areas and farms bulldozed, acre-by-acre, day-by-day, to build endless, sprawling subdivisions.
  • Imagine communities where streets are not choked by rapidly growing numbers of cars.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our roads torn up and widened every year, causing infuriating road construction delays.
  • Imagine communities with pleasant, safe, beautiful, slow-speed shopping streets instead of communities full of 10-lane strip commercial monster roads.
  • Imagine communities with healthy air and water, and neighborhoods that place public parks a short distance from our homes.
  • Imagine communities that provides choices about how to live. Communities where one can happily live an urban, suburban or rural lifestyle.
  • Imagine communities where it is actually legal to build smartly. Traditionally. Sustainably. Where building smartly is the rule, rather than the exception. Local government regulations encourage smart growth, and are not an obstacle to it.  Communities that makes it fast and easy to build smartly, and makes it more difficult and costly to build crud.
  • Imagine communities full of energy-efficient homes and offices.
  • Imagine communities that are quiet. Where one can sleep peacefully each night without being awoken by endless sirens and the roar of traffic.
  • Imagine places with a strong sense of community. Places that are a community, not a crowd.

Imagine communities, in other words, that we can be proud of.

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The Death of Celebration

By Dom Nozzi

April 20, 2018

A friend of mine held her annual New Year’s Eve party this past January. Sadly (and puzzling for her, given the large turnout she has had for her party in previous years), there was small turnout of partygoers to her house. To add insult to injury, many of this relatively small group left early.

The event was a relatively weak celebration due to a lack of collective effervescence or a critical mass of a sufficiently large number of attendees. This was not true in past years, where there WAS collective effervescence due to achieving a critical mass of attendees.

Why did this happen?

In my opinion, much of it can be explained by the fact that in places like Boulder, Colorado (where I live), there has been several decades of a societal worship of a low density spread of homes, rather than a compact living arrangement. The resulting geographical spreading out of our homes isolates us from each other, and makes it very difficult to celebrate.su

There are no main street parades anymore. Emblematically, the New York Islanders hockey team “celebrated” their championship a few decades ago by having their fans march pathetically around a shopping mall because there was no sense of place anymore. No main street for a parade. No there there.

Another outcome of our dispersed, low-density development patterns is that it is increasingly rare to find a crowded, happy celebration of friends.

I’ve lived in Boulder for eight years now, and have yet to find a reliably big, crowded, happy annual celebration.

We have, in short, become a Nation of Loners.

Many of us have become auto-bound nomads roaming around looking for the celebration in their low-density suburbs. More than any other event, New Years Eve parties are one of the very few events in our relatively isolated society where we can expect to find a happy social event attended by a great many of our community friends.

For many, it is our only opportunity to experience such collective joy with friends each year. Being so rare and precious, we find that many will engage in “shopping” for the biggest, best and most fun party. After all, we don’t want to blow our only annual chance for a big celebration by attending a “mediocre” party and missing out on THE New Years Eve party that “everyone who is someone” attended.

Many try in advance to assess which party will be “THE” party. “Will Tim have the best bash this year? Laurie? Frank?”

But this is less reliable than another perhaps more common strategy for finding the “best” New Years Eve celebration: Attending what is expected to be the “best,” and making an assessment at that event as to whether this party I am attending truly is turning out to be a great time.

If not, out the door we go to drive to ANOTHER New Years Eve party that is hoped to be great.

Hopefully arriving before the clock strikes 12!

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Primary Concerns About the Boulder Colorado Draft Transportation Plan

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2014

Here are primary concerns I have about the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (TMP), and transportation reforms that I think are necessary in Boulder. I list below my top three, followed by several additional concerns.

Too little (or nothing) is said about GIGANTISM: Boulder has oversized several roads and intersections. Road diets (right-sizing) are needed for major town center streets: Canyon, Broadway, Folsom, Colorado. A moratorium should be established on street sizing: No future street widening should exceed five lanes. No intersection widening should exceed one turning lane. In the town center, the maximum street size should be three lanes.

A citywide traffic calming (speed reduction) program should be adopted that obligates motorists to slow down and be more attentive based on street design. Tools, again, focus on right-sizing, and include roundabouts, traffic circles, chicanes, narrowing of travel lanes, street trees, shrinking the size of the turning radius at intersections, added on-street car parking, raised medians, and “bump-outs” at intersections and mid-block.

Boulder should move away from the outdated “forgiving” street design. Within the town center, geometries and dimensions of streets shall employ “low-speed” sizing.

Each year, the total number of car parking spaces in the town center shall be reduced to a quantity lower than the number in the prior year. Over-sizing is a fertility drug forjuly-2015-2 cars.

Too little (or nothing) is said about making car parking efficient: Price more parking, share more parking, require more parking cash-out, unbundle the price of parking from housing, and convert minimum parking requirements to maximum parking requirements (probably need to start by applying this to places that are compact, transit-rich, and bicycle and walking friendly, such as the town center, Boulder Junction, etc.).

The “Congestion Objective” in the TMP (no more than 20% of road mileage shall be congested) should be either replaced with less outdated, counterproductive and less outdated measures such as a Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) cap, or should be revised so that the town center is exempt from this objective. Most every change in behavior that a citizen engages in when responding to traffic congestion – such as avoiding rush hour driving, living closer to daily destinations, driving slower, traveling on non-major streets, trip chaining (combining, say, a trip to get groceries with a trip to the doctor), foregoing low-value car trips – is good for the community. By contrast, many (most?) actions a government agency takes when responding to traffic congestion – such as widening a road or intersection, downzoning in the town center, adding more free parking, synchronizing traffic signals for car speeds, converting a two-way street to one-way – is undesirable for the community. The much more progressive way to address traffic congestion is not to reduce it (which is nearly impossible given the HUGE space-hogging nature of cars, and given a healthy city), but to create ALTERNATIVES to congestion so those unwilling or unable to tolerate it can avoid it (via alternative routes, traveling at non-rush hour times, driving on routes optimized by pricing, or traveling by bicycling, walking, or transit).

Replace of the awful, unattractive, dangerous continuous left-turn lanes on east Pearl Street and North Broadway with raised medians coupled with “turn pockets.”

Restore the traditional two-way operation of the one-way loop in the Boulder town center.

Eliminate of any land development code obstacles that may exist for the replacement of asphalt surface parking lots with retail, office, or residential buildings.

Lobby the State of Colorado to pass the law used successfully in Idaho, where bicyclists are able to treat stop signs as yield signs, and traffic signals as stop signs.

Boulder should adopt a “Stylebook” for written and oral communication. “Plain English” rather than bureaucratic jargon, and “unbiased” transportation terminology instead of “biased” terminology. I succeeded in having the Gainesville FL Council of Governments (the DRCOG of that region) adopt such a stylebook, and suggested that TAB push for this more than once at our retreat.

Boulder should lobby the State to be given authorization to toll state roads within city limits.

Increase the use of motorist user fees: Parking, tolls, VMT fee, pay-at-the-pump car insurance, etc.

If signal lights are to be synchronized, they should be based on the speed of buses and bikes, rather than cars. This method is used in Portland OR.

More housing, more mixed use, and more compact land use patterns shall be attained along important transit centers and corridors.

Affordable housing shall be achieved, in part, with more mixed use development patterns (reducing the number of cars a household must own is a powerful way to make housing more affordable).

Service vehicles allowed within city limits should be restricted in size. Oversized trucks and other large vehicles often compel engineers to over-size streets and intersections (because they use the huge truck as their “design vehicle”). That is ruinous and backwards. Huge vehicles should not be determining the size of our street infrastructure. Sizing, instead, should be based on safety for pedestrians & bicyclists, human scale, and overall quality of life. Peter Swift conducted a study in Longmont CO that found car crashes (and the number of transportation injuries and deaths) increased when cities increased the size of their streets and intersections. Ironically, those increased sizes were often pushed by fire/rescue officials seeking to reduce response times for fire trucks. The Swift study found that the lives saved from reduced response times was far less than the number of lives saved by keeping street dimensions small. The focus, therefore, should be on life safety, not just fire safety (which is a subset of life safety).

The need to build extremely expensive street underpasses for bikes/peds should be a signal to us that we have failed in the design of that street (because the street has been made a “car-only” street with too much space and speed given over to cars). A much less costly and more sustainable strategy is to use road diets that make at-grade crossings more feasible (and underpasses less necessary). I acknowledge that underpasses dramatically increase bike/ped travel and are sometimes necessary.

The draft TMP says too little about road diets, slowing cars, transportation user fees, and needed land use reforms.

The creation of “bus queue lanes” (as is used on 28th Street) or “cycle tracks” should not replace on-street parking, and should only be used when replacing existing street lanes, rather than widening the street to find room for such facilities.

The “reduce congestion” phrase, and calling for additional through and turn lanes (page 5-16 of my draft of the TMP) should be stricken.

The plan should openly acknowledge the following:

Transportation tends to be a “zero-sum” game rather than a “win-win” game. That is, when we improve conditions for car travel, we almost always worsen conditions for bike, ped, and transit travel. Economists call this the “barrier effect.” “Happy car design” creates barriers for other forms of travel.

The “travel time budget,” the “triple convergence,” “induced demand,” and the “urban to rural transect” are critically important to understand.

To increase non-car travel, taking away space, speed and subsidies for cars is much more effective than providing bike lanes, sidewalks and more buses.

 

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Too Little Open Space?

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

In March 2018, the “Transportation Psychologist” posted the following photo and comment on Facebook to illustrate the enormous amount of space that a passenger car consumes:

The Transportation Psychologist asked, “If you wouldn’t build your house like this, why would you build your community this way?”

car consumes a huge amount of space

I noted in response that similarly, a great many in Boulder, Colorado fear the loss of in-town “open space.” I often point out that within Boulder (and all other American cities), there is already way too much open space. But that open space is mostly devoted to cars in the form of overwide roads and oversized parking lots.

And since car-centric cities such as Boulder have a very strong interest in minimizing density (largely because walkable density makes car travel much more inconvenient), cities such as Boulder have building setbacks that are far too large — which creates an excess of private yard open space.

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It is Time for Boulder to Put Road Safety Redesign Plans on Hold

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

I am concerned that after an unacceptably large number of traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries, Boulder Colorado is not being serious about its new “Vision Zero” program (achieving zero traffic deaths or serious injuries over the course of a year).

At my last Boulder Transportation Advisory Board meeting in a few days, I made a motion to recommend that Council put the redesign of 30th and East Arapahoe, as well as the Vision Zero plan, on hold until Boulder has the political will to take effective design measures that will advance the essential objectives of increased travel by transit, bicycle, and walking. As well as the need to significantly improve safety, quality of life, and the viability of housing and small-scale retail.

As was the case with all but one of my motions on my five years serving on the Board, that motion failed to get a second, and therefore died for lack of a second.

Indeed, one member of the Board asked “how dare you” make such a motion to delay safety efforts in light of the recent serious traffic crashes. My response was “how dare we” respond to recent serious traffic crashes by only proposing to enact “same old song and dance” tactics that are almost entirely ineffective.pe

As it stands today, that political will to enact effective street design measures (such as road diets or traffic calming on major roads) does not exist, which means the City is wasting the time of staff, citizens, and Council members, as well as wasting money by pursuing a Vision Zero plan.

In my opinion, there are only a few ways to “change attitudes” or find the political will to redesign streets in order to effectively advance the important objectives I mention above.

One is for the City to face severe budget constraints that make it financially impossible to continue to promote easy and high-speed and free-flowing car travel. However, I don’t believe the City will face severe budget constraints for the foreseeable future.

The other is to be like the Chinese and leverage crisis as an opportunity to achieve those things that have been politically difficult. I am disappointed that the uptick we’ve seen in recent years in Boulder regarding serious traffic injuries and deaths has not led to our seeing enough of a crisis to seize the opportunity to adopt effective safety measures. Instead of moving toward street redesign which effectively obligates motorists to drive more slowly and more attentively, Boulder is opting for the same old failed tactics we’ve used every few years for the past century: more safety signs, more safety education (which tends to be victim-blaming), more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement.

It hasn’t worked.

Despite our doubling down on these tactics every few years for the past century. Our roads are now more dangerous than ever.

Without redesigning streets for slow, safe, attentive driving, we will continue to fail to meaningfully improve safety, increase non-motorized travel, protect shops and homes, or improve transportation finances.

Shame on us.

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Safety for Pedestrians

By Dom Nozzi

March 16, 2018

Some believe that our future will be one where most or all cars are self-driving. If that were true, pedestrians could behave more like they did historically. They could cross streets with much less need to be vigilant because they could be confident that self-driving cars would stop when detecting a pedestrian in the street. Such a world would return historic power to pedestrians — power that has been handed over to motorists over the past century.

In my opinion, however, such a world of self-driving cars is unlikely.

I’m therefore much more interested in our ending the practice we have followed for the past century in street design: designing streets to enable and therefore encourage carinattentive, excessively high-speed motoring. If we are serious about making our streets safe — as we must be if we consider ourselves to be civilized — we need to move away from the past century of street safety failure, which has focused, over and over, on more safety lights, more safety signage, more safety education, more safety enforcement, and more safety paint. To be effective, we need to design our streets to obligate slower-speed, attentive driving. That means streets that are more narrow and human scaled in their dimensions, have more friction with things like on-street parking, have a continuous wall of active and abutting buildings and canopy street trees, are more alive with (sometimes unpredictable) pedestrians, and have less of the “safety” features such as tall highway lighting, paint, signs, and clear zones.

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Boulder and Vision Zero

By Dom Nozzi

April 10, 2018

For me, the reason this photo is so powerful is that it is emblematic of a number of troubling and tragic aspects of American transportation.VZ

The photo shows that as far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, ALL US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder CO (my home city) – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been around). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” I say that because:

  1. Despite the fact that all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had an objective of zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries for a century, our roads are more dangerous than ever.
  2. The reason our roads are more dangerous than ever is because all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have managed their roadway systems for the past century with three overriding goals: (a) Maximizing motorist speeds; (b) Deploying the failed Forgiving Street design strategy; and (c) Stubbornly sticking to the same old song and dance of more safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement for safe roadways.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the Forgiving Street design (a design used by all federal, state, and local traffic engineers) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. More safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to greatly diminishing returns.

Given these three goals/strategies Binghamton, Boulder and all other US cities have been saddled with for the past century, it is nearly certain that our roadways will continue to grow increasingly unsafe and our ability to achieve Vision Zero will continue to diminish.

I remain convinced that Boulder should put our Vision Zero objective on hold unless or until Boulder is politically ready to adopt effective tactics to reach Vision Zero. As it stands now, Boulder is not politically ready, and having a Vision Zero objective under such conditions will give the City’s Vision Zero program a black eye.

What are the effective tactics for achieving Vision Zero?

  1. Abandon the deadly objective of maximizing motorist speeds and using Forgiving Street design. Such a goal and design substantially undermine a large number of important Boulder transportation, safety, and quality of life objectives. Replace this with the goal of designing roads to obligate slow, attentive driving — driving which is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail development. In other words, transform roads into streets. This is most effectively achieved by removing excessive travel lanes (ie, road diets and various horizontal traffic calming treatments such as bulbouts and raised medians), removing turn lanes, reducing the width of travel lanes, reducing the size of shoulders and vision triangles, eliminating super-elevations on turns, removing double-yellow lines, installing more on-street parking, reducing the size of turning radii, reducing the width of driveways, installing more canopy street trees, and pulling buildings up to front sidewalks. See this, for example.
  2. Remove more of the large financial subsidies for car travel to further reduce excessive, low-value car travel. For example, eliminate minimum parking requirements and reduce the amount of underpriced or free parking. There are many more ways to reduce subsidies that I will not list here.

By using these effective tactics for reducing the speed, space, and subsidies that we pamper motorists with, Boulder and other cities will have a much better chance of achieving Vision Zero.

 

 

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Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

Is Enthusiasm a Four-Letter Word?

By Dom Nozzi

April 3, 2018

On 11/23/17, H. Dewey Jones expressed alarm that the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) for the City of Boulder CO “is dominated by bicycle enthusiasts,” as if this is nefarious. Only by appointing more “auto enthusiast” members will TAB not be skewed toward continuing its War Against Cars.

Mr. Jones can relax.

All TAB members also drive cars. I don’t mean to worry you, Mr. Jones, but all members are also “walking enthusiasts,” “transit enthusiasts,” “affordable housing enthusiasts,” “child enthusiasts,” senior citizen enthusiasts,” and “traffic safety enthusiasts.” In other words, all current TAB members strive to find a balance between all forms of travel and all demographic groups. Finding this balance requires tradeoffs. An important role that TAB plays is to advise Council on the proper mix of tradeoffs that best allow Boulder to meet its many important objectives. TAB also evaluates costs and benefits of various options. Fairness, safety and cost-effectiveness are some of the guiding measures.

For the past century and up to the present day, despite what Mr. Jones implies, Boulder has over-catered to the needs of cars. Roads such as 28th, 30th, East Arapahoe, Broadway, Canyon, Iris, Valmont and Colorado are mostly or entirely car-only roads, and attest to pethe bias toward cars.

Over the past century and up to the present day, countless bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed by motorists (including over the past year or so) in Boulder. Not a single motorist during that time has been killed by a bicyclist or pedestrian. Seems like a war against bicyclists and walkers rather than a war against cars.

Mr. Jones wants to balance TAB “to better represent auto users.” For fairness, I think TAB membership should also include more members who are “speeding enthusiasts” or “cell phone use while driving enthusiasts.” Otherwise, TAB will be too skewed toward saving lives.

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Transportation, Walking