Should Neighborhoods Be Given the Right to Vote on Land Use Changes?

By Dom Nozzi

In the fall 2015 elections, Boulder citizens will be voting on Ballot Issue 300, “Neighborhoods’ Right to Vote on Land Use Regulation Changes.” It is a form of direct democracy. Many citizens in Boulder have lost confidence in the ability of their elected representatives to “listen” to neighborhoods and vote accordingly.

But there are reasons our society is a representative democracy rather than a direct democracy. Direct democracy does not work – particularly in a complex society such as ours. If it did, we would simply need computers to measure public opinion on community issues rather than electing representatives.

Direct democracy is a form of “mob rule.” Emotions and lack of knowledge will mean that citizens will regularly vote against their own best interests.saintreportpicture3

Had direct democracy been used in Boulder in the 1970s for the conversion of Pearl Street Mall into what has become a much loved pedestrian mall, it would have never been approved, as it would have lost badly in a direct vote. There would be no Boulderado hotel – perhaps the most loved building in Boulder today, no Holiday neighborhood – an excellent and admired example of a walkable mixed-use neighborhood, much less residential and office development in downtown Boulder, and no Mapleton neighborhood – a charming and attractive Victorian neighborhood that is so cherished by so many that its homes are exceptionally expensive.

There are many additional reasons why direct voting as proposed by Measure 300 is a bad idea.

For example, the town planning profession is trivialized by suggesting that no advanced knowledge is necessary to make intelligent decisions about community development.

If direct voting is a good idea, why are we not, say, having a neighborhood vote on whether a community tax increase should apply to the neighborhood?

Is Boulder comfortable with its taxes being increased substantially to pay for such a large increase in community voting and added time needed by staff to prepare such votes?

Renters will not be allowed to vote.

In a society such as ours where there are enormous, counterproductive subsidies in place that distort the “signals” we citizens get, it is inevitable that many votes will be counter to neighborhood and community interests. For example, very high subsidies for car travel (free parking and underpriced gas) lead many to be artificially over-wedded to car travel.

“Right to Vote” will give even more advantages to more wealthy, large developers who are powerful enough to mount successful campaigns to prevail in a neighborhood vote (compared to smaller, less wealthy, local developers). Similarly, more wealthy neighborhoods will be advantaged over less wealthy neighborhoods for similar reasons.

Measure 300 really does nothing, when it comes right down to it, to protect or promote quality of life. It turns out that it is a “no growth” effort masquerading as a community benefit.

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Getting Around without a Car

By Dom Nozzi

For me, getting around without a car is much easier than most think.

To start with, it is usually a good idea to live in a college town, where one typically finds relatively good facilities for walking, bicycling, and transit (which tends to be coupled with the “safety in numbers” benefit: studies show that when a lot of nature coast rail trailpeople are bicycling, it is much safer — and more enjoyable).

Because Boulder, Colorado is relatively compact in terms of where places are located (and is not overloaded with high-speed, multi-lane roads that are too dangerous to bike), it is fairly easy for me to get nearly everywhere I need to go by bike. Or walking. If distances are too long or weather is unpleasant, there is a great bus system here (best of any city the size of Boulder in the nation, and I have a free bus pass).

And when there is no bus service, it is easy for me to share a ride with someone else going to the same place. This is particularly easy when I am in a relationship and my significant other and I are sharing her car and its expenses.

I have never had to do this, but another option is the growing availability of car-share companies such as Zip Car or Uber.

Why did I choose to be car-free? Well, it makes me quite secure, financially (I was able to retire at age 47!). Cars cost a lot more money than most realize. In addition, when I drive a car, it induces stress, high blood pressure, and hostility in me. bikes save cars fattenSo I feel those things much less by not driving. Also, I am naturally more physically fit by not driving (a big cause of our obesity epidemic is excessive car travel and resulting inactivity). I like the fringe benefit that bicycling or walking puts me in a happy mood. And I am able to be much more sociable than if I am inside a high-speed metal box.

In sum, I was MORE than happy to trade off a slight increase in travel inconvenience for all of the benefits I list above.

I often wonder why so many Americans have NOT made the choice I have made.

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What is Causing the Fierce Opposition to Right Sizing Folsom?

By Dom Nozzi

In my opinion, there are three things that are primarily creating the extreme opposition to right-sizing Folsom Street in Boulder, Colorado.

40 people without blk text

  1. When people travel inside huge metal boxes, they inevitably are slowed down on roads, even if there are only a few other metal boxes out there (because the boxes take up so much space). The result is that pretty much every time a person drives a car, they are frustrated by being slowed down, so for their city to deliberately slow them down even MORE is an outrage!
  2. The local newspaper has spun this project to make it seem like there are only trivial, inappropriate reasons to do the right-sizing: slightly widen existing bike lanes, and FORCING EVERYONE to stop driving and start biking. This spin understandably provokes rage, as the benefits seem minor and only benefits a tiny number of people. But doing so ignores the many other benefits: far fewer crashes and near misses, far less speeding, calmer traffic, less air emissions, better environment for businesses and homes, safer for walking, discretionary car trips are reduced, and more space for beautifying the street. The newspaper also runs a steady drumbeat of letters by folks who are SCREAMING about the catastrophic, 24/7 gridlock (I have been on the street all days of the week and all hours of the day and have seen no real congestion). The result is that many who read the letters are convinced that there IS 24/7 gridlock and therefore conclude that the project is an utter failure (and state they are no longer driving the road to patronize businesses).
  3. We lead extremely busy lives these days, so losing even 30 seconds on the road is utterly unacceptable.

In Boulder, I have learned that nearly everyone (including those who should know better) has made the tragic mistake of equating free flowing car travel and easy parking with quality of life. That helps explain why opposition to density and tall buildings is so severe here (such development will crowd streets and parking, which therefore is a degradation of our quality of life).

Forgotten, of course, are the many awful impacts of happy driving and happy parking. Happy driving delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, reduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.

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Filed under Bicycling, Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Walking

What’s with the Double Standard on Right-Sizing a Road?

By Dom Nozzi

Over the past several weeks, there has been an avalanche of letters attacking the City proposal to right-size Folsom. Hundreds of opponents filled the Council auditorium to denounce the idea at multiple meetings. The complaints have been repetitive: There are no metrics telling us whether the projects have succeeded or not! Not enough involvement by stakeholders such as businesses and neighborhoods! Not enough public involvement! No studies showing whether they will work! It will cause terrible congestion and air pollution! No before and after studies! Pro-bike bias! Waste of a huge Folsom-N.-rendering_web-400x267amount of money!

First of all, citizens should know that City staff has done many studies and public meetings that are alleged to be lacking. Far more than most other transportation projects conducted in the past.

Second and much more importantly, I am utterly shocked by the double standard here. I have been working professionally and academically in transportation for over 30 years, and I have never seen this level of enraged opposition, calls for studies, and requests for more public input. One would think that the City was proposing to bring about the end of the world.

The double standard is that I don’t recall ANY opposition when the City has proposed to install a second left-turn lane at an intersection (which has been done several times in Boulder), among many other pro-car projects. No calls for studies. No demands that stakeholders be involved. No metrics telling us if the double-left had the intended benefits a year later. No before and after studies. No cries that it will increase air pollution or car dependence. No demands that the double-left turn be tested first before it is made permanent. No whining that the double-left turn is a big waste of money (for the record, double-left turns cost a lot more money, generally, than right-sizing).

Few people, if any, attend meetings to oppose such an enormous expansion of an intersection.

I would think that the outcry from a proposed double-left would be furious. After all, double-left turns increase air pollution, car trips, local taxes, regional car trips, car crashes, speeding, inattentiveness, injuries and deaths. They reduce walking trips, biking trips, and transit trips (because the intersection is now much more dangerous to walk through or bicycle through). They are toxic to businesses and homes near the intersection.

double left turn lane intersection boulderBy striking contrast, national studies show that right-sizing reduces air pollution, speeding, inattentiveness, car trips, car crashes, injuries and deaths. They increase walking trips, biking trips, and transit trips. They improve the health of retail and residences (I understand that many businesses in Seattle now ask that their street be right-sized after they have seen their competitors benefit after their streets were right-sized).

Yet in Boulder, we see furious opposition to right-sizing and hardly any objection to a proposed double-left turn. And by the way, unlike right-sizing, double-left turns are NEVER tested first to see if they will work. They are just “rammed down our throats,” as many right-sizing opponents oddly tell us about right-sizing.

Making a road change that eases bicycling and walking is met with fury. Making a road change that eases driving (and discourages bicycling and walking) is met with silence.

Given this, one would think that there is a very pro-CAR bias in Boulder. One also has to ask: Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation

Stimulating Roads

By Dom Nozzi

In December 2008, I read an otherwise admirable essay by E.J. Dionne [“Obama’s Manna”, op-ed, Dec. 5]. He informed us that there is “nothing wrong with spending on roads…” when it comes to a possible Federal stimulus package that the Obama administration was crafting at the time.


There is certainly nothing wrong with repairing roads. And yes, it is appropriate that stimulus spending be forward-thinking, rather than backward-looking, investments.

Why, then, after several decades of ruinous failure in trying to build our way out of congestion, would anyone even consider widening roads?Carmageddon highway

It is now abundantly clear that road widening powerfully induces more sprawl, more car travel, more gasoline consumption, more traffic congestion, more loss of environmental quality, more governmental financial woe, more loss of quality of life, and more destruction of downtowns.

Given this colossal squandering of countless trillions of public dollars to worsen our communities, is there anything worse than spending stimulus dollars on road widening?

In an age of growing concern about Peak Oil, long-term sustainability, and global warming, the absolute last thing we should be doing is building bigger roads.

While transportation needs in America are so enormous that Federal stimulus is highly appropriate, dollars must be properly targeted. For starters, that means the stimulus should be directed to restoring the woeful national passenger rail system. And ending car welfare program by huge motorist subsidies for free use of roads and parking. We can also stimulate long-term sustainability and quality of life by correcting our 20th Century widening binge. Namely, by engaging in a nation-wide road narrowing (“road dieting”) program.

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Filed under Peak Oil, Transportation

War on Cars?

By Dom Nozzi

Many in Boulder seem to believe that City government is engaged in a “war on cars.” Let’s tally the “casualties” over the past century.

Number of motorists who killed a cyclist when crashing into them: An unacceptably large number. Number of cyclists who killed a motorist when crashing into them: Probably zero.1414284640

Taxes and asphalt cyclists (and others) must pay or put up with due to the negative costs of motoring: Very substantial and always increasing.

Taxes and asphalt motorists must pay or put up with due to the negative costs of cycling: Comparatively tiny.

Quality of life harm that cyclists (and others) must bear due to motorist noise and air pollution (cars are the largest source of noise pollution in Boulder): Substantial and uncontrollable.

Noise and air pollution caused by cyclists: Negligible.

Destinations that cyclists (and others) cannot get too because the destinations are too far away or the routes are made too dangerous by motorists: Too many.

Destinations that motorists cannot get too because the destinations are too far away or the routes are made too dangerous by cyclists: None.

Increased cost for groceries that cyclists (and others) must pay at the supermarket so that the store owner can pay the enormous cost to provide a vast sea of asphalt car parking: High and unfair, since the cyclist, pedestrian, or transit user does not need the car parking.

Increased cost for groceries that motorists must pay at the supermarket so that the store owner can pay the cost to provide bicyclc parking: Probably no cost increase.

Hmmmmmm. It appears that there is NOT a “war on cars.” Seems much more reasonable to conclude that there has been a century of all out war against cyclists (and others).

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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


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