Speeding in Boulder CO

By Dom Nozzi

June 30, 2018

Yesterday on a NextDoor email list in my town of Boulder CO (a list that I can barely stand to look at given the proliferation of moronic, mean-spirited, misanthropic, selfish views expressed there – particularly when it comes to transportation or urban design), there was a comment posted about two young deer that were killed by a motorist on Iris Avenue here in town.

Some of the comments in reply talked about how we need to urge people to pay attention and not be speeders. One blamed it on people moving here from out of town.

The following is what I posted in response to such comments.

Speeding on Iris is almost entirely due to the high-speed geometrics of Iris. It has nothing to do with people moving here from elsewhere. Big intersection turning radii, clear zones, overly wide travel lanes, and most importantly, a four- and five-lane road cross section.Double-Left Turn Intersection 2 Pearl n 28th by Dom Nozzi

Iris was scheduled recently to become a three-lane instead of a 4- or 5-lane street, which would have made it a much safer street, a street with more attentive motorists, a street with less speeding, and a street much more conducive to nearby residential, but the shamefully hostile reaction to the Folsom Street road diet means that the Iris project has been shelved and Iris will remain a roadway with large numbers of dangerous, speeding and inattentive motorists.

The “Vision Zero” project Boulder has recently started (striving for zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries) will largely be applying the century-long, ineffective tactics to roads such as Iris: more warning signs, more warning lights, more warning education, and more warning paint.

It is time to demand the City use effective safety tactics: redesigning streets to obligate safer, slower, more attentive driving, rather than the century-long design to induce inattentive, higher-speed driving.

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Boulder’s Most Needed Transportation Reforms

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2018

As I stepped down after my five-year term on the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) in March 2018, I left with the following thoughts about the most pressing transportation reforms needed by Boulder – a city that is surprisingly behind the times regarding transportation despite its progressive reputation.

First, I was often attacked for being “anti-car” and convincing the city to take harmful transportation actions. This is laughable. The role of TAB is completely reactive. TAB serves only as a rubber stamp for proposals by the city, and never has the opportunity to proactively suggest transportation reforms to the city.

The following are transportation reforms I would have suggested for Boulder had I ever been asked (I was never asked, which is telling). This is based on my living in Boulder for several years and my 35 years working academically and professionally in transportation.

The Five Warnings Don’t Improve Safety. Over and over again, for a century, Boulder has applied more Warning paint, added more Warning signs, used more Warning lights, pushed more Warning education, and adopted more Warning enforcement. It hasn’t worked. Streets are more dangerous than ever. Warnings don’t work partly due to diminishing returns caused by excessive, redundant warnings that now clutter our streets.

Redesign Streets. Design streets to induce slower, more attentive driving. Phase out “forgiving” design. Restore and make permanent the funding for traffic calming design (a citywide effort to create narrower/greener streets, traffic circles, roundabouts, smaller intersections, curb bulb-outs, slow streets, chicanes, etc.). Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases.

Ratchet Down Use of Underpasses and Overpasses. With the possible exception of the Boulder Creek Path, underpasses or overpasses provide very little bang for a very expensive buck. Money saved by building less underpasses or overpasses can fund a great deal of traffic calming for many years, provide a lot more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and substantially improve neighborhood quality of life. Deciding underpasses or overpasses are needed should be a message that streets and intersections are too large. They also show that the City has given up on EVER humanizing and greening that street.

Provide Parking Efficiently. Underpriced/free parking is a fertility drug for increasing the number of car trips. Parking also makes an area less compact, less walkable, less safe, and more of a dead zone. In the Boulder town center, new parking should only occur within parking garages, and only to replace existing surface parking spaces (ie, no net increase). Excessive parking is a problem citywide, and must be controlled by converting minimum parking requirements to maximums. The City must annually survey the total number of parking spaces in the town center to ensure that the total number is not increasing over time (it should be decreasing). Free or underpriced parking artificially encourages car use and promotes excessive provision of parking. Improve fairness in funding via increased use of user fees such as parking, a VMT fee, and pay-at-the-pump car insurance. Require that the cost of parking be unbundled from the price of new housing.

Install Beautifying Raised Medians. Too many Boulder streets have dangerous, ugly continuous left-turn lanes. North Broadway, east Pearl, and Arapahoe are examples where “turn pockets” can replace continuous left-turn lanes.

Restore Two-Way Streets. Many cities throughout the nation have converted one-way streets back to two-way operation because it is now widely known that one-ways are extremely dangerous, inconvenient, deadly for retail and homes, and induce excessive driving. The one-way loop in town center Boulder should be restored to two-way operation.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. The City should either hire one or more people to monitor such conditions on a regular basis, provide an easy and high-visibility way for bicyclists and pedestrians to report on problems they encounter, or both.

Control Size. The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. In other words, because most all AmericansArapahoe Ave Boulder CO

travel by car, one of the most common desires expressed by citizens is larger parking lots, wider roads, and bigger intersections. Yet this constant refrain has left Boulder with oversized spaces that are dangerous and utterly lack any sense of charm – what I call the “gigantism” disease. The u

rbanist (and the transportation engineer) must therefore regularly urge their community to resist this temptation, as smaller, human-scaled spacing is a fundamental key to lovability, public health & safety, and happiness. Given this, Boulder must hire one or more enthusiastic new urbanist transportation engineers who have a track record in reducing transportation infrastructure sizes.

Keep Service Vehicles Small in Size. Overly large fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles obligate traffic engineers to use excessive (and therefore dangerous) street and intersection dimensions to accommodate oversized vehicles. This can be avoided by ensuring that fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles are relatively small in size.

Require City Staff to Use Plain English and Avoid Biased Terms. Boulder transportation documents and presentations should not use language that is biased toward car travel. Use “plain English” as much as possible. Adopt a plain English and Unbiased Communication Stylebook.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. Boulder has a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Adopt the “Idaho Law.” Cities in Colorado such as Aspen have adopted the “Idaho Law” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. This simply makes legal what the vast majority of cyclists already do, and encourages more cycling by making cycling much more advantageous.

Remove Barriers to Conversion of Surface Parking Lots. The conversion of parking lots to buildings should be extremely easy. In the town center, remove any regulatory barriers to that conversion by eliminating parking requirements, softening stormwater requirements in the town center, etc.

Fee-in-lieu of Parking.  To reduce the enormous and wasteful amount of space consumed by surface parking lots, allow developers to pay a fee-in-lieu of parking and use that revenue to create public parking (preferably in space-efficient stacked parking garages).

 

Background

Human-scaled streets and intersections. Many roadways and intersections have grown enormous in size in Boulder. Roads such as East Arapahoe, Canyon, Colorado, 28th Street, and Baseline now have such a large number of travel lanes and turn lanes that pedestrians and bicyclists must now cross an enormous distance made more daunting by the high speed car traffic on these roads. Anything more than 3 or 4 lanes is extremely dangerous to cross, and these roadways now contain up to 7 or 8 lanes. This oversizing has been driven by an effort to promote “free-flowing” traffic – even at rush hour. Given the enormous size of cars (a person consumes 17 to 100 times more space in a car than in a chair), and the large number of regional commuters coming to Boulder each day, retaining “free-flowing” traffic — even at rush hour — is a recipe for finding yourself oversizing streets and intersections. Boulder has certainly done that. By doing so, Boulder now has a number of oversized roads that are too big for a city, too big for safe bicycling or walking, and too big to have any reasonable chance to achieve “vision zero” for crashes (reducing the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero). To put the oversizing problem in perspective, if we want to carry 50,000 people per hour in each direction of a road, we’d need one lane worth of road if they are carried by train, two lanes if carried by bus, and 18 lanes if carried by car. Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases, and transform or repurpose oversized roads and intersections (no more than one turn lane at intersections, no more than two travel lanes in the town center, and no more than four travel lanes outside town center). Neck down streets and intersections with bulb-outs, circles, roundabouts, and raised medians.  Canyon and Broadway in the town center should be transformed into two travel lanes, bus pull-outs, and left turn pockets.

Adopt effective traffic safety tactics to Replace Forgiving Design. At the dawn of the auto age a century ago, nearly all American cities – including Boulder — adopted forgiving roadway design. Forgiving design “forgives” a motorist for driving too fast or not paying attention by increasing the width of travel lanes, adding travel lanes, and removing “obstacles” from the areas flanking roads (trees, buildings, etc.). The naïve thought was that this would reduce the number of things motorists would crash into. The unintended consequence, however, was that this design significantly increased motorist speeding and inattentiveness, as a motorist tends to drive as fast and as inattentively as the roadway design allows. The result of forgiving design is that there is an epidemic in motorist speeding and inattentiveness – aggravated by the concurrent epidemic in sleep deprivation that causes most all of us to occasionally fall asleep at the wheel. For improved safety, use design that obligates motorists to be more responsible for (and attentive to) driving safety by, for example, reducing the emphasis on victim-blaming warning signs, flashing lights, street paint, education, and traffic signals, and putting much more emphasis on street design that obligates slower speeds and attentive driving. Such traffic calming tactics involve creating more modest street dimensions (via such things as on-street parking, bulb-outs, traffic circles, etc.). Phase out “forgiving” street design.

Humanize streets. Use traffic calming tactics to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “Give-Way” streets. Install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped (and sufficiently large!) traffic circles and roundabouts. Restore annual City funding for the neighborhood traffic mitigation (traffic calming) program.

Provide parking more efficiently. Require businesses above a certain size to only offer priced or cash-out parking, substantially increase the percentage of parking that is priced citywide, convert minimum parking requirements to maximum parking, allow most or all business parking to be shared, create a fee-in-lieu of parking in the town center, remove barriers to replacing excess surface parking with buildings, allow no net increase in town center parking.

Improve pedestrian safety and street aesthetics where there are now continuous left turn lanes. Install raised medians at East Pearl Street, Broadway (Meadow to US 36), and Arapahoe Ave (turn pockets/raised medians). Raised medians should be designed to be “mountable” by large service vehicles and emergency vehicles.

Convert one-way to two-way. To substantially improve retail and residential health, improve comfort and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce wrong-way travel, reduce out-of-towners getting lost, reduce motorist aggravation, and reduce motorist travel distances, the one-way loop in the town center should be restored to two-way operation.

Improve funding, fairness in funding, and reduce motorist subsidy. Institute user fees via tools such as (but not limited to) priced parking, tolled roads (congestion fee), pay-at-the-pump car insurance, VMT fee, weight-based fee, mileage-based registration fee, and a mileage-based emission fee.

Don’t let service vehicles drive street design. As Peter Swift showed in his Longmont CO study, over-sized streets and intersections leads to an increase in vehicle speeds and motorist inattentiveness, which leads to an increase in injuries and deaths caused by the increased number of car crashes. This increase in injuries and deaths far exceeds the number of injuries and deaths avoided by larger fire trucks and faster fire truck speeds.

Openly acknowledge that car travel is a zero-sum game. Transportation decisions should be guided by the premise that improvements for car travel & parking, and the absence of motorist user fees, induce new car trips and nearly always reduce travel by walking, bicycling and transit. Conversely, shrinking the size of roads and intersections, and adopting motorist user fees, reduce car trips – particularly low-value car trips.

Revisit the TMP objective limiting congestion to no more than 20 percent of road mileage. This objective undermines several important Boulder objectives (quality of life, compactness, affordability, transport choice, etc.). Better measures include bike/ped/transit level of service, VMT, or trips generated.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. For too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban. And that it is never acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact, walkable development. Anywhere. The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial). One of the most effective ways to substantially increase the amount of walking, bicycling and transit use in Boulder, and one of the best ways to have those forms of travel be safer, is to create such walkable, compact, slow-speed neighborhoods where it is easy to walk or bicycle or use transit for most all daily or household needs.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. It is very difficult for even the most concerned transportation staff to monitor bicycle and walking conditions so they may be corrected in a timely way. [Note: A few years ago, I took it upon myself to inventory dangerous driveway and sidewalk “lips” that can easily upend a cyclist who is not paying attention. Attached is that inventory. I submitted it to staff and they gave me a response about which ones they could and could not address. In any event, this is an example of the monitoring that Boulder needs.]

 

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Elephants in the Room on “First and Last Mile”

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

A recent concept that has emerged in transportation planning is known as “First and Last Mile.” It refers to the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by transit (usually a bus or train). In many cases, people will walk or bicycle to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a transit trip (the “first or last mile”), the origin or destination may be very unsafe or unpleasant to walk to or from, or bicycle to or from.

When this “first and last mile” is unpleasant or unsafe, people are discouraged from using transit.

Therefore, the thinking goes, to meaningfully increase transit ridership, it is very important to ensure that this transition zone be safe, convenient, and pleasant for the pedestrian and cyclist seeking to use transit.

Lafayette, Colorado recently proposed modifications near its transit stops to improve this “first and last mile.” As is so often the case, the city was proposing the same old song and dance. The same old ineffective ideas. Wider sidewalks. More bike paths.

Therefore, I must again point out a few elephants in the room. Here is what Lafayette SHOULD be calling for to meaningfully improve the “first and last mile”:

The disconnected street pattern found in Lafayette needs more street connectivity. Without connectivity, pedestrians and bicyclists are often obligated to travel out of their way or travel on hostile, unpleasant roads.

Oversized roads and intersections need to be shrunk down in size to more human-scaled, slow-speed geometries. Such oversizing is extremely intimidating, dangerous, and unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists. They destroy the human-scaled sense of place that draws walkers and bicyclists.

Buildings set back from the street by a large asphalt surface parking lot must be pulled up to the streetside transit stop. Not doing so prevents place-making, and creates a highly inconvenient and unsafe distance between buildings and the transit stop.

The study appears to disregard the zero-sum nature of this issue. Unless road design reverses the century-long effort to ease high-speed, high-volume, inattentive car travel, efforts to promote better and more common walking, cycling, and transit use will remain marginal and our low levels of per capita walking, cycling, and transit use will be perpetuated.

I’m sorry that despite our safety and non-car travel promotion crisis, Boulder and Boulder County are not being bold.

One of the primary problems caused by our century-long effort to build oversized, high-speed, high-capacity roadways is that because these roads and intersections become too dangerous to bike or walk on, too many are obligated to drive to transit stops. The large number driving to transit stops recruits even MORE to drive to the transit stops because we have been obligated to build big and dangerous asphalt parking lots to surround the transit stops (to provide motorist access to transit).

It would have been far better to have compact, higher density housing, offices, and retail abutting the transit stop. Doing so makes it substantially easier and safer to walk or bicycle to the transit stop because distances are much smaller and there is no need to cross large parking lots of bicycle on oversized roads or intersections.

Doing so is also a powerful way to engage in place-making – that small-town, human-scaled, slow-speed charm that so many of us desire and that is so increasingly rare these days.

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Motorists Should Feel Inconvenienced

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2018

A common complaint that one hears – particularly in American cities – is that “parking spaces are too small” or “the roads are too congested” or “this driveway is too narrow.” General complaints about how inconvenient it is to drive a car. Is it not obvious that something must be done to make it more convenient for me to drive my car??

But in a well-designed town center, the space-consumptive motorist SHOULD feel inconvenienced. Why? Because motor vehicles consume an enormous amount of space, and herculean efforts to provide such space inevitably destroys the essential need for human scale.

For about a century, conventional traffic engineers have been too focused on the opposite: conveniencing car travel. The loss of human-scaled, slow speed, vibrant spaces is the result in nearly all American cities. Engineers tend to be single-mindedly striving to attain the objective of car movement and fail to know of the ingredients of a healthy city.

Because they have such a profound influence over the design and health of a city, I believe traffic engineers should be required to have studied walkable urban design. Or that urban designers should simply replace traffic engineers in city transportation design.

Not doing so will lead to the continuation of a century-long ruination of healthy, lovable, safe communities. The loss of communities designed for people, not cars.

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The Backlash Against Road Diets

By Dom Nozzi

May 16, 2018

In May 2018, Citylab.com published an essay entitled “How to Kill a Bike Lane.” It was one of the most depressing articles I have ever read.

Road diets (usually removing 2 car travel lanes on a 4-lane road for enormous safety, retail, and neighborhood benefits) is suffering a severe backlash by frustrated, angry, heavily subsidized, entitled and pampered motorists all over the nation. Losing a few seconds or minutes of motorist travel time appears, in America, to be utterly unacceptable, even though it saves human lives, promotes small-scale retail, beautifies the street, and enhances housing quality of life.

Here in Boulder, huge numbers are still furious after an attempted road diet was crushed by motorist rage a number of years ago, as can be seen in the weekly published newspaper letters to the editor that continue to appear to this day (many of their arguments are identical to those found in this article). “Vision Zero,” which Boulder recently adopted, is a sham when one sees such hostility from the community.

Speaking as someone who has been academically and professionally involved in transportation for 38 years, I can say that I know of no transportation reform that is anywhere near as beneficial and cost-effective as a road diet. It is extremely telling, then, to consider how grim our future is when we learn how extreme the community opposition to road diets tends to be.

In my many years of academic and professional work, I have seen no term that is better or more commonly used than “road diet.” The article I refer to above, at one point, refers to a community that calls it “road toning.” That is a goofy term, in my view. I do not at all believe the problem is based on not picking a term that resonates. I think “road diet” and even Boulder’s use of “right-sizing” is fine. Road diets are brutally attacked throughout the nation regardless of the term used, or how much public education or data gathering the community engages in (Boulder did about 10 times more educating and data gathering than I have ever seen anywhere in the nation, yet huge numbers angrily attacked the City for doing a poor job on those two fronts).

The fact of the matter is that for people used to traveling in ridiculously oversized metal boxes that inevitably lead to frustrating slow-downs (even when roads are 20 lanes wide), a loss of 3 seconds in travel time is far worse than saving lives or making a community less car happy and more people-friendly.

How many hundreds or thousands of family members and friends will have to die on car-happy Boulder roads before the community says “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”? A huge number have died over the past few years in Boulder, but that does not seem to bother very many at all in Boulder, given the on-going crusade to keep motoring a happy way to travel.

Lots of folks in Boulder HATED the term “right-sizing.” Many said it sounded like corporations cutting jobs. But no one suggested a better term in Boulder. I think many were looking for a way to scapegoat the project by latching on to the idea that the term was offensive. It was too embarrassing to say that their 60 seconds of lost time was more important than saving lives or improving shops or neighborhoods near an oversized road.

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What Are the Design Attributes of a Better Town, Dom?

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2018

A friend of mine wrote to me to ask the following. “Despite the fact that I am heavily reliant on my car, I do agree with most of what you say [in this blog you wrote], Dom. But we do have to have cars, at least to some extent. I’ve often wondered what a Dom-designed town would look like. What is your Utopia, and is it the same as what you think a realistic-Utopia could be (regarding transportation)?”

Here is my response:

My belief that car driving makes us much more mean-spirited than when we walk, bicycle, or use transit is not intended to imply that no one should ever drive a car. It is mostly to warn us that excessive dependence on car travel can create a much less

Man Expressing Road Rage

An irritated young man driving a vehicle is expressing his road rage.

pleasant world, and that we must work much harder to reduce excessive (particularly low-value) car travel (and designing communities that are much less negatively affected by over-designing for cars).

A few design strategies that would help: (1) more toll roads and more priced (metered) parking, (2) converting stroads into streets by reducing their width and beautifying the now slower streets with buildings pulled up to sidewalks, (3) adding more raised medians in the middle of streets, (4) unbundling the price of parking from the cost of housing, (5) allowing employees to opt for parking cash-out, (6) creating human-scale spaces rather than gigantic car spaces (small building setbacks, small streets, small parking lots behind building, small signs, shorter street lights, etc.), (7) mixing housing with offices, retail and other jobs, (8) creating an adequate supply of walkable and drivable housing (currently we have way too much of the latter and way too little of the former), (9) moving away from the failed, unlovable architectural paradigm known as modernism and instead using timeless, classical design.

In general, the older a town happens to be, the better it does in the above features (largely because they were built before we became obsessed with cars and trapped in the happy car downward spiral). Happily, some newer towns are using some of the older, timeless patterns, so they are not awful. Examples of older towns or new towns in the US using timeless principles: Key West, St Augustine, Annapolis, Stapleton near Denver, Old Towne Arvada, Prospect, Savannah, Charleston, Seaside, Haile Plantation, and LoDo in Denver. In each case, the design is intended to make people happy, not cars. The result is charm, low speeds, and sociable ambience that people love experiencing.

Within these places designed for people, not cars, it tends to be inconvenient to get around by car. But that is exactly the way it should be, since fast, oversized metal boxes create a world that humans find repellent.

And a world within which people become frustrated, stressed, and enraged. Those toxic emotions for those trapped in car-happy places are too often when such a person is behind the wheel of a car.

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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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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

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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