The Persistent Difficulty of Creating Walkable, Lovable Places

Why is it so difficult to create walkable places? Places that we love?

I am convinced a primary cause is that we are trapped — even in Boulder, Colorado — in a self-perpetuating, downwardly spiraling, growing dependence on travel by car.

Many talk out of both sides of their mouths: We want to promote bike/walk/transit. But we also tragically and wrongly think we can simultaneously achieve free-flowing happy cars with plenty of free parking.

We naively think we can attain the latter with very low, dispersed densities. We forget, though, that very low, dispersed densities make bike/walk/transit nearly impossible for nearly all of us.

In Boulder, too many have made the terrible mistake of equating happy cars with quality of life, thinking it will allow us to retain “small town charm.” Instead, it will move us closer to becoming more like Houston.

Livable places and happy cars are diametrically opposite in so many ways.

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” – Enrique Peñalosa

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Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Right-Sizing a Road is Right for Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

Boulder proposes to right-size a portion of four streets starting in the summer of 2015: Folsom, Iris, 55th and 63rd.

Right-sizing a road involves repurposing road travel lanes from car-only travel to other uses such as bicycle lanes or on-street parking. Right-sizing happens on streets that are deemed to be inefficiently and unsafely oversized. Oversized streets tend to create many negative impacts, such as cars traveling at excessive, dangerous speeds. Right-sizing creates “Complete Streets” that can be used for all forms of travel – bicycling, walking, transit, and motor vehicle travel.Road-Diet

Many fear that right-sizing a road will result in unacceptable changes. Here are reasons why fears tend to be unfounded, as well as the many benefits of right-sizing:

  • An enormous number of right-sizing projects have been immensely successful throughout the nation – including in cities that are rapidly growing.
  • Despite the conventional wisdom, providing things like adding bike lanes, building new sidewalks, or improving bus service are not effective ways to effectively encourage more bicycling, walking, or transit use. The key is to reduce the space allocated to motorists, reduce the speed of motorists, reduce subsidies allocated to motorists, and shorten distances to destinations. Right-sizing achieves two of those, which makes the tactic a powerful tool to grow the number of active travelers.
  • Boulder has previously right-sized portions of Baseline, Table Mesa, 13th Street, and North Broadway (Pearl Street downtown was actually closed to traffic to create Pearl Street Mall). In each case, there was very vocal opposition. Nevertheless, the fears expressed did not materialize, and a large jump in bicycling and walking was the result. This tracks national experience, where hundreds of right-sizing projects have succeeded. In nearly all such cases, large majorities opposed the proposal, which was followed by large majorities supporting the right-sizing AFTER they were installed.
  • Opponents of right-sizing tend to throw around alarmist, hysterical, misleading, end-of-the-world comments about right-sizing. That the community proposes to prohibit car travel. Or force everyone to ride a bicycle. But there is an enormous difference between creating a modest delay in car travel versus prohibiting car travel. Indeed, the tactic is much more accurately described as a way to NUDGE people toward more desirable ways of traveling, rather than FORCING them to give up their car.
  • Due to excessive speeds or insufficient space for bicycling, the four candidate roads discriminate against bicycle travel, walking, and transit users. Right-sizing therefore creates more equity. More transportation choice. Roads that are car-only are toxic to communities.
  • Peter Swift conducted a study in Longmont CO that found that efforts to reduce fire truck response times by increasing roadway dimensions INCREASED the overall number of injuries and deaths in a community because the number of injuries and deaths associated with fires is tiny compared to the large increase in injuries and deaths caused by high speed car travel. By increasing car speeds through excessive road sizes, public safety declines. Fire safety is a subset of life safety. To reduce overall injuries and deaths in a community, therefore, suboptimizing on fire safety by speeding fire trucks is counterproductive. On the four candidate roads, there have been 419 car crashes over the past three years. This is far, far lower than the number of fires near these roads over that time period. Right-sizing therefore is a big win for reducing injuries and deaths. As an aside, it should be noted that the Boulder Fire Department is not concerned about the proposed right-sizing, largely because of the installation of a center turn lane.
  • Right-sizing tends to be beneficial not only to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. It is also beneficial to small retailers, residential homes, and overall community quality of life.
  • There tends to be very little loss of road capacity when a road is right-sized. This is particularly true when a road is right-sized from four lanes to three, because the inside lanes of a four-lane street frequently are serving as left-turn lanes. When a car makes a left turn on a road without a turn-lane at an intersection, the road is essentially already functioning as a three-lane road. In addition, right-sizing reduces average car speeds. When cars are moving at slower speeds, they tend to travel closer to other cars on the street, because less stopping or slowing time is needed at lower speeds. When cars are closer together, the road lane is able to handle a larger volume of cars. Road lanes with faster car travel are able to handle smaller volumes of cars.
  • Models used by traffic engineers tend to be unable to take into account “induced” car trips and “discouraged” car trips. Induced car trips are those trips that would not have occurred had the community not previously over-sized a road (or because the motorist is not obligated to pay a fee to use the road). Discouraged car trips are those trips that are relatively flexible. When a road becomes slower, some trips shift to non-rush hour times, or happen on alternative routes. Because traffic models – which engineers use to predict traffic volumes and congestion due to various road configurations – don’t do well in incorporating induced or discouraged trips, such models tend to exaggerate problems such as congestion. In the real world, then, problems associated with right-sizing are much less significant than predicted by engineering models.
  • Commonly, when a right-sizing project is proposed, there are fears of “spillover” traffic on parallel routes. This fear tends to be vastly overblown due to the issues described above. A great many trips on streets are discretionary in the sense that they can happen at non-rush hour times, on alternate routes, or not at all. In other words, not all car trips are emergency trips or otherwise essential trips that must be made on that route at that time. This is a very common misconception, and creates “worst case scenario” thinking that is unsustainable .
  • Right-sizing results in a significant increase in road safety. This is due to lower average car speeds, more attentive driving, and the inability of motorists to weave from lane to lane as they attempt to pass other cars. When there are multiple travel lanes in the same direction, the fastest car sets the pace. Safer roads invite and dramatically increase the use of the road by bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.
  • Commonly, there is a fear that a right-sized road will make it more difficult to enter the road from a side street (due to cars being closer together). In fact, right-sized roads often make entering easier. This is because the entering motorist needs to cross less travel lanes when making a left turn onto the right-sized road (and wait in the left-turn lane if there is not an opening). In addition, slower car speeds on a right-sized road makes it easier to enter the right-sized road, because smaller gaps are needed to safely enter.
  • Motorists are understandably often inconvenienced or annoyed by “flashing light” mid-block crossings for pedestrians. Because right-sizing reduces crossing distances and car speeds, such annoying crossing treatments are less necessary and therefore less used.
  • It is common for opponents of right-sizing to claim that increased congestion from right-sizing will increase air emissions and fuel consumption. In fact, the reverse tends to be the case, because right-sizing commonly discourages trips – particularly “low value” trips such as a trip to get a cup of coffee at rush hour. To the claim that this is an unacceptable form of “social engineering,” it should be pointed out that the massive subsidies provided for the car-dependent suburban lifestyle is the most substantial form of “social engineering” in world history. Right-sizing nudges society towards a more efficient, natural state of affairs.
  • Overall quality of life increases for neighborhoods near right-sized roads, such as reduced air emissions, reduced noise pollution, less regional car trips impacting the neighborhood, and more safety.
  • For the first time in history, vehicle miles traveled (VMT) is leveling off and starting to decline. This trend, which many believe is long-term, means that fears of excessive congestion due to right-sizing should be lower.
  • Right-sizing increases travel by bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. It reduces noise pollution, air emissions, speeding, and fuel consumption. It improves conditions for homes and retailers near the right-sized road. Right-sizing reduces the number or injuries and deaths on the road. It provides more space for landscaping, on-street parking, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, and stormwater management. Right-sizing reduces maintenance costs. All of these benefits improve the quality of life for those near the corridor and community-wide.

The question of trade-offs must be asked: Is the loss* of, say, 30 seconds of your travel time more valuable than reduced injuries and deaths, the reduced air emissions, the increase in bicycle, pedestrian and transit travel, the reduced noise pollution, the improved visual quality, the improved conditions for homes and retailers, the reduced speeding, and the lower cost for local government?

For nearly all of us, I don’t think so.

I think the case is clear that the many large benefits of right-sizing far outweigh the relatively minor increase in travel time. The success and popularity of right-sizing throughout the nation demonstrates this quite well.

* Note that right-sizing does not necessarily result in a loss of any travel time at all. For example, some motorists respond to right-sizing by avoiding rush-hour travel or opt for alternative routes.

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Understanding the Implications of Induced Traffic and the Triple Convergence

By Dom Nozzi

The concepts of induced traffic and the triple convergence are vexing transportation phenomena that – when not acknowledged — mislead a great many people about what should and should not be done to correct transportation problems.

Induced traffic and the triple convergence inform us that many travelers opt not to travel certain routes, opt not to travel at rush hour, or opt not to drive a car IF a route is congested. If the route is less congested (due to a widening of a road or intersection), those discouraged travelers “converge” back on the route, converge back on rush hour, and converge back on car travel.

The road congests again, due to induced traffic caused by the triple convergence. And rather quickly. Unless the community is losing population.

Another way of putting this is that in our world, there will pretty much always be a latent demand for more driving. Much of that demand is discouraged or diverted by congestion. Much of the discouragement goes away when the road becomes less congested.traffic congestion

Roads are not like pipes carrying water. They are more like pipes carrying gas. Expand the pipe and the gas expands to fill the larger pipe. We cannot loosen our belts to avoid obesity. We cannot widen our way (or shift our form of travel) out of congestion.

Commonly, it is claimed that traffic congestion increases emissions and fuel consumption. But Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman convincingly showed about 20 years ago that congestion decreases emissions and gas consumption, despite what we’ve always believed (one of the great many benefits of urban congestion). Why? Because as implied above, congestion imposes what Ian Lockwood calls a “time tax.” And “low-value” car trips (driving across town to rent a video at rush hour on a major arterial, for example) decline.

The key is not to reduce congestion. Congestion is a sign of city vitality. A healthy city cannot (nor should it) reduce congestion. A healthy city must provide alternatives to congestion: convenient bicycling/walking/transit, compact development, pricing roads/parking, etc. And all of these healthy alternatives are much more likely, politically, when there is a lot of congestion. It is no coincidence that those cities with the worst congestion have the best transit.

Congestion, in cities, is our friend. When we make it our “enemy,” we unintentionally join forces with the sprawl/road/car lobby, since the default solution for reducing congestion (the only one that works in the short run) is road widening.

One reason that congestion in cities is our friend is that as Michael Ronkin notes, the most essential and effective way to reduce excessive car dependence (and promote walking/bicycling/transit) is to inconvenience cars. The most feasible way to inconvenience cars is to “let it be” when it comes to congestion. To not bankrupt ourselves and destroy our communities by widening roads/parking lots/intersections to reduce traffic/parking congestion.

Increasing the amount of bicycling and walking in a community will not reduce congestion. Such claims that increasing bicycling/walking will reduce congestion also perpetuates the downwardly spiraling, counterproductive efforts to try to reduce congestion. Those seeking a better community must end their (unintended) alliance with the sprawl lobby. Doing that means letting go of efforts to promote “congestion reduction.”

And embracing efforts to provide ways to avoid the (inevitable) congestion.

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Selecting Sustainability Indicators

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2005, a committee in my community evaluated the value of various “sustainability indicators,” which are measures of trends that show whether a community is advancing or declining with regard to various measures selected by the community to show how well it is doing.Upward Trend

For example, a sustainability indicator might be the amount of gasoline consumed on an annual basis, either for the entire community or per capita.

The committee reviewed all the relevant documents from various community organizations, officials, media, and other sources.

The committee then vetted the indicators, discussed them with regard to the instructions from the Indicators Committee, and then seven members ranked them.

The results were as follows:

#1 Rank: SOx/NOx and other priority air pollutants

My evaluation:

This indicator would be relatively difficult to obtain on a regular basis and air pollution measurements in this sort of community tells us very little, or tells us the wrong thing. For example, higher air pollution levels in a town center could very easily be an indicator of a healthy, sustainable community because it can quite plausibly be due to more people/cars being in the town center. And this increase in the number of people or cars is likely to be due to an increase in town center health, attractiveness, or both. Manhattan certainly has higher Sox/NOx levels than most town centers, but Manhattan is perhaps the greenest city, per capita, in America.

#2 Rank: Total CO2 equivalent emissions

My evaluation:

Again, this data would be extremely difficult to come by, particularly on a regular basis. And might give us incorrect impressions of community health or sustainability. I am certain, for example, that the most UN-sustainable, environmentally ruinous communities in America have (or could have) an impressive collection of LEED buildings (buildings that are highly rated for energy efficiency and other green measures associated with building design), homes using solar energy/water, an impressive tree canopy, etc. Have we achieved sustainability and environmental conservation and a healthy community if all our homes have solar water heaters, but thousands of such homes are in remote, utterly auto-dependent, sprawling suburbs that are served by 8-lane arterials? Hardly. Every single building/home in Los Angeles could be an EnergyStar/LEED building. Every home could be consuming “green” energy. Does this mean that LA is meaningfully healthy?

#5 Rank: Acres of parks & conservation, preservation lands

My evaluation:

The supply of park acreage is very difficult to employ usefully. For example, if urban parks are located on large arterial roads and cannot be reached by bicycle or foot, they will tend to be underused (because of poor accessibility), and therefore not correlated to a more physically fit community. In town centers, parks can contribute to an enormous existing problem: Most all American town centers – despite what he conventional wisdom tells us — has a huge excess of open space (mostly consisting of parking or roads or private yards). Much of this urban “open space” needs to be put to urban uses such as residential, retail or office. Indeed, Steve Belmont (Cities in Full) makes the crucial point that the most important indicator of a healthy city is that lands are being converted from less intense to more intense uses (parking converted to retail, for example). Too often, in-town parks have a deadening effect on a town center. Note that I strongly agree that greenbelt land that rings the perimeter of a community is a very important sign of sustainability and health. Again, would LA be noticeably more healthy and sustainable if it had a big increase in parks? Absolutely not.

#6 Rank: Water quality (TMDL)

My evaluation:

Again, it would be exceptionally difficult to obtain this data. And there are a number of transportation indicators that can proxy for this indicator.

#8 Rank: Total Municipal Solid Waste Disposed & Recycled

Would it matter if the residents of LA all recycled their beer and soda cans? Or is this just an exercise in finding a convenient way of easing our guilty consciences because our lifestyle is so overwhelmingly unsustainable?

#9 Rank: Stormwater runoff

My evaluation:

Very, very difficult to gather data for this. And what would our public policy response be if we saw a declining trend? Put a moratorium on increasing the amount of asphalt parking? Much as I’d love such a tactic, it is a non-starter in American communities. Other conventional tactics, such as requiring the construction of enormous storm basins are commonly counter-productive because they create more unwalkable, car-dependent places.

#10 Rank: Biodiversity

My evaluation:

Again, this would be very, very difficult to gather data for.

In sum, it is crucial that the following criteria be used to select useful indicators:

  1. Tracking. Is the data for the indicator available? And is it easily tracked over time? Is it available on an annual or otherwise regular basis? If not, the indicator is nearly useless.
  2. Relevance. Can the indicator be used to draw conclusions based on the adopted community goals and objectives? Can it be used to make policy decisions? If not, how would the information be used?
  3. Durability. Can the indicator be used for the foreseeable future? Will data for the indicator be available in the future? For example, some indicators, such as lead levels in the air, are interesting, but may not be useful as a future measure of air quality if lead is completely removed from gasoline in the future.
  4. Accuracy. Does the indicator have a measurement methodology that produces accurate data?
  5. Responsiveness. Is the indicator relatively sensitive to subtle changes over time? If not, important changes can occur without being shown by the indicator.
  6. Clarity. Is the indicator readily understandable by the general public? Does it allow for a single interpretation, or is it so ambiguous that several conflicting theories can be used to explain the data?

Given the above six measures of indicator quality, I would suggest the following indicators for a community:

  • Citywide and town center residential density. There is no measure that more effectively creates a sustainable, environmentally benign community, on a per capita basis, than higher density. And nothing more environmentally ruinous than a low-density city. Higher densities are the most effective way to increase transit use/bicycling/walking, improve physical health, increase the number and viability of small & locally-owned/neighborhood-based retailers, discourage sprawl, minimize per capita energy/water use, and minimize per capita air/water pollution. Most, if not all, of the proposed indicators are strongly and directly correlated to residential density.
  • Mileage of travel lanes per capita. An effective measure of community quality of life, potential for sprawl, potential for transportation choice, and degree of tax burden. There is a strong inverse relationship here to a healthy, sustainable community. Less mileage per capita means more health and sustainability.
  • Gasoline consumption per capita. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita consumption indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Total number of town center parking spaces. Nothing degrades the walkable town center lifestyle and town center residential and retail viability more than excess (particularly free, surface) parking. Any net increase in the supply of town center parking puts another nail in the coffin of town center health. Currently, nearly all town centers in America have an enormous excess of town center parking spaces.  For a town center to be healthy, it must be compact, walkable, and cozy – which is delivered by relatively high density. Parking is perhaps the most effective way to minimize density and reduce walkability. Less town center parking is an indicator of a healthier, more sustainable town center.
  • Per capita motor vehicle registration. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita motor vehicle registration indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Average speed of cars on major town center streets. Higher average speeds directly correlate to more sprawl, lower quality of life, less viability for town center residential and retail, and a less healthy town center.
  • Annual number of road diets. This is a very direct correlation to higher quality of life, community health, sustainability, retail and residential health, and minimizing sprawl and pollution. A larger number of diets indicates a positive trend.
  • Traffic congestion in the town center. For locations where the community seeks to promote more infill, residential density, or commercial health, the most effective tool available is a growth in vehicle congestion. Increased congestion is also a powerful disincentive to suburban sprawl. And an effective way to promote transportation choice.

In sum, without adding a number of transportation indicators I suggest above, the proposed indicators I evaluate above from the sustainability indicators committee are “feel good,” lip service measures that will have very little utility for the purposes of measuring health and sustainability, or guiding public policy.

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Traditional, Sustainable, Affordable Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

When I was a town and transportation planner in Florida, I sought to incorporate the following traditional neighborhood development principles into the long-range land use and urban design plans for my community. I was not allowed to do so, but I hope that planners elsewhere will be able to incorporate some or all of this in the plans of their communities…

Cities throughout the country face many of the same problems — increasing traffic problems, worsening air and noise pollution, the loss of outlying farms and open spaces to suburban sprawl, the growing need for costly road widenings and the provision of expensive urban services to such remote development, increasing visual blight, traffic injuries and deaths, wildlife habitat loss, the decline of downtowns, loss of independence for children and seniors who cannot drive, loss of civic pride, a growing household financial crisis, a loss of serendipity, and a loss of a sense of place and community.

City character becomes blurred until every place becomes like every other place — all adding up to no place.

Our streets become increasingly congested and our destinations further and further away. We increasingly spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting at the traffic light instead of socializing with friends at the corner store or playing with the kids at the park.

All the places where people could meet in public and experience a sense of community — the square, the corner pub, the main street — have been replaced by oceans of asphalt for the movement and storage of space-hungry cars.

There were neighborhood design principles that characterized development in the U.S. before WWII. The following principles exemplify these conventions:

* Neighborhoods are limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity.

In general, “limited in size” means that most every form of daily household need is within a five-minute walking radius (approximately one-quarter mile);

* Residences, shops, workplaces, and civic buildings are interwoven within the neighborhood and in close proximity, which creates a vibrant, livable neighborhood featuring transportation choice. This mixed use is primarily achieved by calling for compatibility of scale and intensity;

* Streets are interconnected and the blocks are small. This street pattern, in combination with other design features of the traditional neighborhood development, strikes a balance between the needs of the car, the bus rider, the pedestrian and the bicyclist;

* Civic buildings are given prominent, high-visibility locations that thereby act as landmarks, symbols and focal points for community identity. These buildings are therefore assigned the proper level of community priority and serve as places of assembly for the neighborhood;

* There is a distinct edge, or transition, between the developed area and outlying farmland and greenbelts;

* Public spaces create a pleasant, safe public realm and are formed and defined by the proper alignment of buildings;

* A full range of housing types is provided, which allows all age groups and income classes to be integrated.

A traditional neighborhood also features the following benefits:

* Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

* Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

* Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips. This, in addition to providing proximity by mixing land uses, allows the traditional neighborhood development to achieve a relatively high “trip capture rate,” which vastly reduces the significant transportation impacts the neighborhood displaces to the larger community.

* Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

* Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

* Minimizes strip commercial visual blight.

* Increases citizen access to culture.

* Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

* Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

* Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

For these reasons, City land development policies and land use categories should be revised to make such traditional, “timeless” development more feasible – particularly because such development is highly desirable for the reasons described above, yet there is little or no choice to live in such developments. Important ways to incentivize such traditional developments:

* Adopt a traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance.

* Revise land use categories to make TNDs allowed by right.

* Establish town center design guidelines that will transform centers into walkable, transit-oriented developments (TODs). See the Transportation Element for a description of TOD elements.

* Reduce fees, and the review and approval process, for TNDs and TODs.

The Ahwahnee Principles (adopted in the long-range plans of several communities around the U.S.)

Preamble

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on cars, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to streets and public services, the Haile Village9inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and present, we can, first, infill existing communities and, second, plan new communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to these fundamental principles:

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of each other.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought-tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than highways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Approve proposed accessory dwelling units, such as “granny flats”, carriage houses, garage apartments, and add-ons to a detached single-family residence. When done properly, this allows the city to retrofit higher, more livable densities without harming neighborhoods. Encourage or require a mix of housing types.

Strategies:

* The City will promote a mix of land uses and activities that will maximize the potential for pedestrian mobility throughout the city.

* Buildings should be sited in ways to make their entries or intended uses clear to and convenient for pedestrians.

* The location and pattern of streets, buildings and open spaces must facilitate direct pedestrian access. Commercial buildings should provide direct access from street corners to improve access to bus stop facilities.

* Creating barriers which separate commercial developments from residential areas and transit should be avoided.

* Direct sidewalk access should be provided between cul-de-sacs and nearby transit facilities.

* Traffic calming should be further developed on city streets to enhance the safety of street crossings. Curb radii should be minimized to reduce the speed of right-turning vehicles and reduce the distance for the pedestrian to cross the street. Calming should be used to discourage speeding and cut-through traffic. Street widths should be as narrow as possible.

* The City will encourage the provision of pedestrian scale improvements that fit the context of the area. The color, materials, and form of pedestrian facilities and features should be appropriate to their surroundings, as well as the functional unity of the pedestrian network.

* The City will encourage housing development near major employment centers to foster travel to work by all forms of transportation.

* The City will encourage a variety of housing types and densities, including mixed use developments, that are well-served by public transportation and close to employment centers, services and amenities. In particular, the City will promote the siting of higher density housing near public transportation, shopping, and in designated neighborhoods and districts.

* The City will recognize accessory housing units as a viable form of additional — and possibly affordable — housing, and will develop special permit procedures, criteria, and restrictions governing their existence that are designed to facilitate their development while protecting existing residential neighborhood character.

* Neighborhood streets and sidewalks will form an interconnected network, including auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit routes within a neighborhood and between neighborhoods — knitting neighborhoods together and not forming barriers between them. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be avoided or minimized. Multiple streets and sidewalks will connect into and out of a neighborhood.

* To keep all parts of the community accessible by all citizens, gated street entryways into residential developments will not be allowed.

* On long neighborhood blocks, intermediate connections in the pedestrian network should be provided, with a maximum distance of about 500 to 700 feet between walking connections. In particular, direct walkway and bikeway routes to schools should be provided.

* All multiple-family buildings should be designed to reflect, to the extent possible, the characteristics and amenities typically associated with single-family detached houses. These characteristics and amenities include orientation of the front door to a neighborhood sidewalk and street, individual identity, private outdoor space, privacy and security.

* Home occupations should be allowed in all residential areas provided they do not generate excessive traffic and parking, or have signage that is inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood.

* To foster visual interest along a neighborhood street, the street frontage devoted to protruding garage doors and driveway curb crossings will be limited. Generally, garages should be recessed, or if feasible, tucked into side or rear yards, using variety and creativity to avoid a streetscape dominated by the repetition of garage doors.

* If possible, the view down a street should be designed to terminate in a visually interesting feature.

Converting Conventional Shopping Centers into Walkable Urban Villages

Conventional shopping centers containing only retail, office and service uses, tend to be designed only for the car. Asphalt parking lots tend to be enormous, and push buildings a tremendous distance from the street. This form of “auto architecture” significantly reduces transportation choice, makes access difficult for those without a car, create urban “heat islands” and stormwater problems, and eliminate the possibility of buildings defining a pleasant, human-scaled public realm. The atmosphere tends to be unpleasant. There is no sense of place, sense of community, unique character or sense of civic pride.

Increasingly, however, such shopping centers are being rebuilt to form a pleasant, walkable urban village. Shops, offices, and residences face each other in a compact atmosphere reminiscent of traditional main streets.

Because they promote transportation choice, they equitably allow access and enhance environmental conditions. And they provide a superior quality of life and ambiance that allows them to profitably compete with more conventional centers.

Clustering higher density housing near the walkable urban villages can substantially increase transit use.

Features of a Walkable Urban Village:

* A gridded street network lined with street-facing buildings, and interspersed with squares and plazas.

* A comprehensive sidewalk and street tree network.

* Compact, vertically and horizontally mixed land uses including residences, retail, office, service, and civic activities.

* A “Park Once” environment.

* A strong connection to transit service.

* Bounded by relatively high residential densities.

* A vibrant public realm created by healthy pedestrian volumes, street vendors and performers, a broad mix of uses, and 24-hour activity.

The City should adopt land development regulations that lead to the transformation of conventional shopping centers to walkable urban villages.

Causes of sprawl:

* Widening major roads with travel lanes and turn lanes;

* Free and abundant parking for cars;

* Lack of quality public facilities in core areas, such as schools, parks, and trails;

* Poor codes enforcement in core areas, which leads to excessive noise pollution, car parking problems, unsightly signage, and unkempt homes;

* Poor public schools in the city center, and construction of public schools and community-serving facilities in areas remote from the city center;

* Land development codes which excessively promote the convenience of the car instead of transportation choice;

* Water and sewer extension policies;

* Low-cost gasoline;

* Poor quality transit service;

* Low overall quality of life in the city;

* Flight from crime, poverty, and “auto architecture”;

* For non-residential uses, more convenient access for cars throughout the region due to abundant space for parking, lower costs for building construction, lower land values, and easier access to Interstate highways;

Negative effects of sprawl:

* Increased city costs for infrastructure and services;

* Increased per capita trips by car;

* Increased travel times;

* Increased household expenditures for transportation;

* Reduced transit cost-effectiveness and frequency;

* Increased social costs (increased air, water, noise pollution);

* Loss of farmland;

* Reduced farmland productivity and viability;

* Loss of sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat, or fragmentation of  such areas;

* Loss of regional, community-separating greenbelts and open spaces;

* Increased urban ugliness due to “auto architecture”;

* Weakened sense of community, sense of place, and sense of civic pride;

* Increased stress;

* Increased energy consumption;

* Reduced historic preservation;

* Segregation by income, age group, and race;

* Separates low-skill, high unemployment areas from new jobs;

* Increased fiscal stress for the city;

* Increased rate of inner city decline;

Returning to these design principles is a recipe for a more sustainable, affordable future rich in lifestyle and transportation choice, equity and quality of life.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Does the Price of Gasoline Modify Travel Behavior?

By Dom Nozzi

Studies show that American demand for high-priced gasoline is extremely inelastic (that is, Americans are willing [compelled?] to buy gasoline at their current promiscuous rate regardless of how high the price goes).

Why inelastic?

Because it is currently so incredibly rational to drive a car, even high-priced gas has only a relatively minor impact on changing travel behavior. After all, driving gives you extreme comfort, freedom from criminals, status, speed, convenience, heavy government subsidies, etc. By contrast, taking the bus, walking or bicycling requires one to recklessly and irrationally avoid all these wonderful benefits and instead, risk your life. As for “putting up with extra time,” studies show that Americans hate congestion almost as much as they hate density (which is a related problem in their minds). That is why we have a NIMBY epidemic, and why Americans hardly blink when their federal elected officials spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars each year to make cars happy (less burdened, in the very short term, by congestion, that is). It is also why, at the local level, Americans show “road rage” to the point of shooting people who make a left turn too slowly, and only elect commissioners who promise to spend all our local tax dollars to widen all the roads. I’ll never be mayor…

For all these reasons, I recommend “planned congestion” as a very effective aversive technique for car travel. “Planned congestion” is a tool with which a community makes a conscious decision NOT to widen roads/intersections or synch traffic signals, or engage in other conventional methods to “reduce” congestion.

Significant restrictions and higher prices for parking are also relatively effective ways to influence travel behavior. In Gainesville, Florida, very high parking costs and parking inconvenience on the University of Florida campus led to a nation-leading increase in bus ridership by UF students in the late 1990s.

As Donald Shoup points out, higher priced parking overwhelms higher priced gas in terms of impact on your pocketbook. After all, even with a gas guzzler car and gas that costs, say, $4 per gallon, howmuch would it cost to drive across town? But look at how quickly the price of that trip goes through the roof if we jack up the price of parking from, say, $1 to $10 per time parked across town (which is M~ SUN0805N-Gas 5quite fair, given the public and private costs to provide parking).

This is not to mention the highly effective nature of “congestion fees,” in which you charge motorists fees based on when they are driving on major roads that tend to become congested, and even better, to charge fees that vary throughout the day (higher fees charged when the road is more congested).

For the record, I am not recommending that Americans “give up their cars.” I just want the cars to behave themselves — by driving more slowly and attentively in towns, and by having their drivers pay their fair share.

Fairly priced parking, parking scarcity, and congestion fees are very durable (in terms of modifying behavior), if designed correctly. They effectively send a very loud signal each day: If you choose the socially irresponsible, unsustainable travel behavior, you will pay through the nose. If not, you are free from such payments and can instead use your hard-earned money to spend a romantic weekend in Paris…  The message is especially clear if you see your fellow citizens zipping along in the tolled or high-occupancy vehicle lane next to your bumper-to-bumper congested “free” lane, or if you see your co-worker chuckling over his/her higher paycheck because he is not needing to pay for his workplace parking space with his paycheck, since he/she gets to work by bus, and has “cashed out” their “free” job site parking space.

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation

The Folly of Double-Left Turn Lanes

There is a troubling, counterproductive “solution” that continues to be employed for addressing congested intersections – even in communities that are otherwise progressively promoting transportation choice. The “solution” is to add a second left turn lane to an existing left-turn lane when there is a perception that the number of motorists waiting in the single left-turn lane has grown too large.

Conventional traffic engineering claims that creating a double-left turn lane at an intersection is an double left turn lane intersection boulder“improvement” that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion. And that a double left turn does not conflict with the transportation plan objective of promoting pedestrian trips.

On the contrary, I believe that double-left turn lanes will INCREASE emissions and will REDUCE pedestrian trips.

Double left-turn lanes cause serious problems for scale and safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, but have been shown to be counterproductive even if we are just looking at car capacity at an intersection. Adding a second left turn lane suffers significantly from diminishing returns. That a double-left turn does NOT double the left turn capacity – largely because by significantly increasing the crosswalk distance, the walk cycle must be so long that intersection capacity/efficiency (for cars) is dramatically reduced.

Cities across the nation are facing severe transportation funding shortfalls, yet at the same time, they are often building expensive and counterproductive double-left turn lanes.

Why? Probably because of the absurdity that transportation capital improvement dollars are in a separate silo than maintenance dollars, and that the former dollars are mostly paid by federal and state grants.  Of course, double-left turn lanes also destroy human scale and obliterates the ability to create a sense of place, but those are much more difficult arguments to make.

A colleague of mine adds that double-left turn lanes are an abomination. He adds that “they are a sign of failure: failure to provide enough street connectivity, so that when drivers do come to an intersection, it is gigantic, so it can accommodate all the left turns that had not been allowed prior to that point. Many trips on extra wide arterials are very short, and involve three left turns: one left turn onto the arterial and one left turn off the arterial: there trips could and should be made on connected local streets.”

How can a city claim it is short on transportation funding when it is building such counterproductive facilities? Double-left turn lanes…

  • Increase per capita car travel and reduce bike/pedestrian/transit trips.
  • Increase GHG emissions and fuel consumption.
  • Induce new car trips that were formerly discouraged (via the “triple convergence”).
  • Promote sprawling, dispersed development.
  • Discourage residential and smaller, locally-owned retail.

Cities need to draw a line in the sand: Place a moratorium on intersection double-left turn lanes and eventually removal of such configurations. Double-lefts are too big for the human habitat. They create a car-only atmosphere.

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Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation