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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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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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.

Really?

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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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

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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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