Can Sidewalks Be Too Wide?

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 11, 2004

Speaking as someone who works in a city where folks hardly walk at all (Gainesville, Florida), and as someone who is a strong advocate of promoting walking and urbanism, wide sidewalkI am convinced that it is, indeed, quite possible to build sidewalks that are too wide.

If a street is not vibrant or compact or active enough to experience more than a tiny trickle of pedestrian volumes, a relatively wide sidewalk can create a perception that the streetlife is dead, even if it is not entirely dead. A narrower sidewalk can, in such a circumstance, make the street seem more alive, even if the pedestrian volume remains the same. In addition, a relatively wide sidewalk can create an ambience that is not human-scaled and the feeling of being over-exposed — particularly if there are few or no pedestrians using it.

In my experience, pedestrians often enjoy the sociability of walking a moderately crowded sidewalk (often produced by a relatively narrow sidewalk), in stark contrast to our preference when driving a car on a crowded road.paris narrow sidewalk

I would add that some of the best walking experiences I’ve had have been on Charleston
and Nantucket sidewalks (or many ancient European cities), which tend to be quite narrow.

 

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The Importance of a Relatively High Floor Area Ratio (FAR)

By Dom Nozzi

June 11, 2004

What is a “Floor Area Ratio (FAR)”? An FAR of 1.0 means that the developer is allowed to build the equivalent of a one-story building over her entire lot, or a 2-story building over half the lot.FAR An FAR of 2.0 means the developer is allowed to build the equivalent of a two-story building over her entire lot, or a 4-story over half the lot.

An FAR of 0.5 means the developer is allowed to build the equivalent of a one-story building over half her entire lot, or a 1-story over half the lot.

And so on.

I should hasten to point out that while these numbers seem very dense, keep in mind that in almost every case except in, say, the middle of a downtown, an FAR of 1.0 would NOT allow the developer to build one story over the entire lot, as other development code regulations would ALSO require space for landscaping, open space, parking, setbacks, etc. Thus, an FAR of 1.0 would almost never result in a one-story building over an entire lot. It would probably be a one-story over less than the full lot to be able to fit in the landscaping, etc. In effect, what FAR limits do is control the amount of building floor area, and often don’t really tell you how much of the site will be covered by a building.

Walkable urbanism and healthy transit require FARs to be at least 1.5 to 3.0. In Europe, those loveable cities we all love to walk have FARs that are probably well over 3.0. In villageAmerica, as you can imagine, most of our commercial areas have developed FARs of about 0.1 (with most space taken up by surface parking).

Therefore, if a community wishes to encourage more walking and vibrant, sociable urbanism, it should require at least 1.5 FAR. Anything less than about 1.0 locks a community into sprawl, extreme auto dependence and downwardly spiraling downtowns,
because low FARs create unwalkably large spaces that are more car-scaled than people-scaled. People feel more comfortable in the quaint, enclosed spaces created by, say, 2.0 FAR buildings. They feel exposed and in a “no-man’s-land” when FARs are less than 1.0 (which is fine if you are inside an SUV…)

Note that I am NOT suggesting that we require more than 1.5 FAR everywhere in a community. Only in in-town places where more walking and urbanism are being promoted do we want to see 1.5 FAR or more. In suburban and rural locations, it is generally okay to have an FAR of 0.5 or less — unless you are trying to create a walkable neighborhood center (a sea-of-asphalt shopping center that is to be transformed, for example) in the middle of a suburban location.

Here is an excerpt from the Urban Design Toolbox I wrote for Gainesville, Florida that will forever collect dust on a shelf due to its “controversial” suggestions (and despite the Gainesville Plan Board demanding that it be published):

“…  In commercial areas, FAR should be at least 1.0. In office/industrial and mixed use areas, it should be at least 1.25 (Snohomish County WA).  Richard Untermann, a well-known urban designer, calls for FARs of 2.0-3.0 in town centers, and 3.0 for office areas.  San Diego requires at least 0.5 FAR near bus stations.  To increase employment densities, Orlando requires both a minimum and maximum FAR for most commercial zoning.  However, a FAR of 1.0-2.0 is considered ideal for creating transportation choices, yet Gainesville allows less FAR than this in town centers.  Every 20 percent increase in floor space in commercial centers developed as non-office uses is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in ride sharing and transit use…”

I’ve not given much thought to how we should design low-density residential areas, in part because nearly all of the regulations of most all American communities are intended to serve such a lifestyle, which means “we’ve got that covered — no need for more work there.” In effect, what that has meant for me is that I generally assume that the existing FARs that a community has adopted should presumably be appropriate for low-density residential areas.

Note, however, that usually, a community does not have an FAR rule for its single-family areas, probably because generous setback requirements, strict height limits, and the strong market desire for low density means there is very little danger of “too much” floor area in such neighborhoods.

In many cases, the community looking at addressing the needs of various neighborhoods or sub-areas of the community needs to make a decision about what the future intent will be for a neighborhood. Is the intent that the neighborhood remain low-density, smaller and more affordable houses and auto-dependent? If so, it would be appropriate to have an FAR of 0.5 or lower. If, on the other hand, the neighborhood has historically been low density and smaller in house size but is located near a part of the community that is intended to be more walkable and urban (such as neighborhoods adjacent to a transit center or town center), it would probably be appropriate to have higher FARs or no FAR limit so that the neighborhood could incrementally transform into a place that is more walkable, more urban, and perhaps more wealthy (due to the larger size of the homes or the high desirability of the location (in this case, being near all the urban action).

Healthy communities sometimes acknowledge that the historic character of a neighborhood should not be forever frozen in its current character. Sometimes, a neighborhood may have been originally built as a low-density residential area with smaller homes, at a time in which it was remote from the more urban locations of a city. But over time, those urban locations may grow in size or see the emergence of a new “satellite” downtown (such as a shopping center that has been rebuilt to be like a walkable downtown). In such instances, it is usually in the best interest of the city to encourage low-density neighborhoods that are now near urbanized areas to incrementally become more urban and walkable themselves.

In general, such transformation is a response to a market shift. If a historically low-density neighborhood is now within walking distance of where the urban “action” is, there will be more demand for folks who seek a walkable lifestyle to own a home in such a place. Also, when the neighborhoods near an urban center become higher density, they make the urban center more healthy, because a denser neighborhood brings more pedestrians and less cars — and excessive numbers of car trips are deadly to an urban center.

Often, if it is deemed appropriate that a neighborhood should become more compact and walkable, such a neighborhood will incrementally see some of its existing residents, who may prefer a lower-density lifestyle, be replaced by others who DO seek a higher-density lifestyle.

If we didn’t allow this to happen in cities, we’d have farms next door to skyscrapers in downtown NYC.

 

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Plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to Continue Their History of Worsening Gainesville

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2004

At the request of supervisors at the City of Gainesville, Florida Planning Department (FDOT) in the summer of 2004, I attended a Florida Department of Transportation meeting at the University of Florida Conference Center on SW 34th St. The meeting agenda was to discuss plans for road modifications (which the road engineers euphemistically and inaccurately called “improvements”) for SW 2nd Ave between SW 34th St and the University of Florida campus.

The meeting room contained a modest number of citizens and about 45 DOT engineers, which made me feel like I had been transported back to the 1950s and had somehow ended up at an IBM executives convention (a festival of thin black ties, white shirts, pocket calculators and crew cuts).

The presentation by FDOT was perhaps the most dry and emotion-less of any presentation I had ever heard. In a dull, monotone voice, we heard about 50 minutes of what amounted to droning, “fine print” comments. “This meeting is commencing at 7 pm Eastern Standard Time. It is being held in the Hilton Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th Street in Gainesville Florida 32605. This room holds 80 people. It contains fire sprinklers. If you have comments or questions, they must be written down on 5×7 card stock slips of paper using a #2 pencil. The temperature in this room is 71 degrees. The lumination of the overhead lighting in the room is with incandescent bulbs. The ceiling is 12 feet high. The chairs provided in this room are dark blue in color…”

The following is a summary of what FDOT wants to do to my community this time:

  1. Create a 5-lane monster road (with two turn lanes) west of 34th to the Fire Station.
  2. Build an enormous stormwater pond behind the Publix at 34th, which will wipe out a wooded area and a home.
  3. Install highway-oriented (read: 50-foot high) road lighting (DOT is also installing pedestrian lighting as window dressing below what amounts to the towering UFO landing strip lighting).
  4. Significantly enlarging the size (capacity) of the intersection at 34th St & SW 2nd Ave (34th and University intersection has already been made, essentially, an interstate highway interchange).
  5. Install 10-foot wide bike paths on both (?) sides of SW 2nd Ave. I had in the past been loudly, vigorously opposed these paths over the past few years.

I suspected that the 10-foot bike paths will be FDOT’s way of reducing future costs and opposition when they come back to widen SW 2nd Ave.

Inevitable results: More fuel for suburban sprawl to the west of Gainesville, a larger amount of traffic congestion at these intersections within about 5 years, and a reduction in transportation choices (folks shopping at the Westgate Plaza area at the west end of the project will be less likely to be able to walk to retailers across the street from 34th or Carmageddon highwayUniversity. Instead, they’ll need to hop in their cars to cross those stroads as they now do at the Gainesville Mall and Butler Plaza — which is an outright attack against City plans in recent years to make the Westgate area more walkable).

When one local citizen asked why earlier plans to neck down the intersections with bulb-outs (so that the crossing distance would be reduced and the intersections would therefore be more pedestrian-friendly), an FDOT engineer responded that “highway standards have changed recently and such bulb-outs are no longer allowed.”

One wonders what ever happened to “context-sensitive design” FDOT has so proudly proclaimed in recent years.

Is all of this financed and being done by some sort of evil, alien, invading force bent on destroying the City of Gainesville? Should we send in the Marines to ward off this threat to our community?

Nope.

FDOT is a PUBLIC agency and they will be using $15.7 million dollars in PUBLIC tax revenues that we citizens of Gainesville (and others in the state and nation) have paid.

It does not require rocket science to understand why communities like Gainesville are so very often starved for public dollars that we end up cutting corners to deliver ourselves an embarrassing, bare bones, plain wrapper county courthouse and parking garage. We also end up continuing our decades-long neglect of needed citywide streetscape and road-to-street reform projects.  And have the shameful distinction of possessing a community-wide public park system that is the most underfunded of any park system for a comparable city/county in the nation.

When we spend $15.7 million for these SW 2nd Ave “improvements” (not to mention the millions we pour down the law enforcement and emergency service rat hole each  year…), is it any wonder at all why we have NO dollars to improve our buildings and parks, or do AUTHENTIC improvements to our miserable roads?

We have met the enemy and he/she is us.

We continue on the Road to Ruin…at our own expense…

 

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Boulder NIMBYs make quality of life in Boulder worse

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 22, 2015

When it comes to development, Boulder is most well-known for its well-deserved reputation for an extreme, hostile, antagonistic attitude that a large number of Boulder citizens express toward development. This hyper NIMBYism is almost entirely driven by ruinous demands that new development not congest roads or parking. Boulder NIMBYs are convinced that keeping roads and parking uncongested is simply a matter of stopping development (population growth) in its tracks. If that is not possible, to minimize the building height and density. It seems commonsensical: Minimizing people minimizes cars crowding our roads and parking!

This leads to both neglect and incoherence regarding reform of conventional land development regulations here in Boulder.

The fundamental, tragic mistake is that many in Boulder conflate happy, free-flowing, easy parking cars with quality of life. This blunder is highly counterproductive. Happy cars are toxic to quality of life. When cars are inconvenienced and seemingly free to drive or park, quality of life for a city is powerfully undermined, as communities with such an agenda end up with over-sized parking and roads and intersections, excessive and inattentive car speeds, unlovable building design (because there are no coherent, contextual design regulations), sprawl, light and noise pollution, high air emissions per capita, and unwalkably low density development.

Designing roads and parking for happy cars also induces excessive car dependence (yes, even in Boulder), because oversized, high-speed road and parking lot dimensions make 40-peopletravel by walking, bicycling or transit less safe, desirable, or feasible. Coupled with the excessively low densities that NIMBYs demand, and the enormous amount of space cars consume (17 times more than a person in a chair), Boulder’s roads and parking lots quickly and ironically become rapidly congested. This congestion, caused at least partly by NIMBYism, motivates NIMBYs to scream for even MORE opposition to development and compact design.

Which, of course, causes more road and parking congestion…

Allowing planning board and council to apply random, discretionary, subjective demands on proposed development (rather than a predictable, objective form-based code) plays well with those opposing development, as it means further torture and cost increases for developers, yet does nothing to make buildings more lovable or contextual. Ironically, NIMBY attitudes therefore make a visionary form-based development code (which calls for lovable, contextual building design) less possible, even though adopting a good one would, over time, reduce NIMBY hostility.

Example in this photo: the Boulderado hotel in town center Boulder. The most loved building in all of Boulder has been made either illegal or highly unlikely. Maximum Hotel_Boulderado1-T1building height even in the most urbanized areas of Boulder is now a crazy low 35 feet in the town center (Boulderado is 55 ft). In addition, the building design regulations say almost nothing about creating similar buildings going forward.

By naively concluding that free-flowing car traffic is the path to protecting quality of life, and deciding that the only way to preserve such a nirvana is to stop population growth, Boulder NIMBYs force the City to devote too much time and effort towards development opposition, and too little time and effort toward adopting visionary form-based coding that would deliver a more lovable future.

Instead, Boulder NIMBYs increase the likelihood that development which DOES occur (and it WILL occur, since there are no feasible ways to stop population growth) will be regrettable and unworthy of our affection.

The NIMBYism is therefore self-perpetuating, as it ensures an on-going growth in citizens who oppose development of buildings that are at least partly unlovable due to NIMBY distraction from the important task of creating visionary form-based development codes.

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On Being Attacked for Posting an Article Discounting the Alleged Benefits of Bicycle Helmets

By Dom Nozzi

July 15, 2015

On July 14, 2015, I posted an article that discounted many of the alleged benefits of bicycle helmets on Facebook. The article was published on June 26, 2015 by Lindsey Wallace in The Spokesman Review. http://www.spokesman.com/blogs/transportation/2015/jun/26/why-im-done-wearing-helmet/

The claims made in the article largely track what I have seen academically, professionally, and in my own personal life as a bicycle commuter over the years.

Immediately, Facebook friends inundated my Facebook wall with patronizing, emotionally charged, disparaging, outraged comments that attacked and questioned the article, and were puzzled (to put it politely) by my decision to promote such an obviously flawed report.

What struck me very quickly was the combination of a lack of credentials (credibility) and the UTTER CERTAINTLY of nearly all of those who posted such vicious, abusive comments. It was as if I was promoting a study that claimed that smoking was good for your health or that women should be subservient to their husbands.

As I noted above, many of the points made in the report tracked what I had seen over the years with bicycle research, design and personal experience. Yet people with no academic, professional, or personal background (as bicycle commuters) became apoplectic — red-faced in anger — in their Facebook attacks. One called the report the “stupidest” thing he had ever seen (another friend suggested me or the author were suicidally moronic and supporters of this crazy report would lead to our being weeded out of the gene pool in a “Darwinian” sense). How, I asked myself, were people who had no academic or professional background in bicycling able to trash a report within a few seconds of seeing it, and having therefore not pointed to studies that counter claims made in the report?

Does this avalanche of hostility help explain why so few strategies are effectively employed in the US to grow the number of bicycle commuters?

Who am I – Dom Nozzi – to support the views expressed in the report, and to question the credibility of Facebook friends who attacked the article as well as me?

My credentials, which are almost entirely absent for those friends doing the attacking:

  • Master’s Thesis on the topic of bicycle transportation I completed to obtain a Master of Science degree in town planning from Florida State University. This required years of relatively exhaustive academic research regarding bicycling theory and practice at a national and worldwide level.
  • Approximately 45 years of one to four utilitarian (work, shopping, meetings, etc.) bicycle trips on a daily basis (ie, 365 days per year or about 16,000 to 66,000 bicycle trips) – mostly within a low-speed town center.
  • Twenty years as a professional town and transportation planner for a university town in Florida, where I prepared bicycle-related land development regulations, and long-range citywide bicycle transportation (and greenway path) plans. This required several years of professional research regarding bicycle transportation design and promotion.
  • A year of membership on the Bike/Walk Virginia Board of Directors (an advocacy group for bicycling and walking in Virginia).
  • Reading a vast number of books, articles, reports, and studies regarding all aspects of bicycling.
  • Writing a vast number of essays regarding many aspects of bicycling.
  • Publishing two books that devoted many pages to many aspects of bicycling.
  • Bicycle commuting as a resident for several years in bicycle-friendly towns in the US (Flagstaff AZ, Gainesville FL, and Boulder CO).
  • Bicycling for several days in some of the world’s leading bicycling cities: Amsterdam, Malmo and Copenhagen (I have to wonder how many of my attacking Facebook friends know that only a very small number of Europeans – where bicycling is 3800816936_c845104069
    enormously more common than in the US – wear bicycle helmets? How many know that despite this, the per capita rate of bicyclist head injuries is much lower in Europe than in the US?).

How many of my friends know that the mandatory bike helmet laws that they mostly or entirely support have resulted in such a large decrease in bicycling that overall public health and safety have declined in those places?

How many of my friends know that as I understand it from a few of my colleagues who do/did this work professionally, most professional bicycle planners and engineers employed by cities and counties in the US agree with my position on bike helmets, but are unable to openly state such a position due to the extremely hostile reaction they would get from supervisors, elected officials, and residents? (the abusive, patronizing, dismissive comments from many of my Facebook friends are an example of what one faces when expressing such an un-PC position)

How many of my friends know that much research now shows that “safety in numbers” (SiN) is, by far, the most effective technique for improving bicyclist safety? (and that for better bicycling safety, American needs to find effective ways to grow the number of cyclists).

How many of my friends know that one of leading reasons cited for not being a bicycle commuter is the perceived danger of bicycling? (bike helmets perpetuate this problem by sending a very visible, strong message that bicycling is DANGEROUS!)

How many of my friends know that bike helmets are a form of “blaming the victim” ? (ie, bike crashes are the fault of cyclists, not reckless motorists)

How many of my friends know that research has found that motorists dangerously give less clearance (drive closer) to cyclists who wear helmets?

How many of my friends know that bike helmets do nothing to reduce the likelihood of a cyclist getting in a crash? (some studies have found that helmets INCREASE the likelihood a bicyclist will crash)

How many of my friends know that I wear a helmet for two out of the three forms of bicycling I engage in? (single-track mountain bicycling and long-distance suburban and rural cycling)

How many of my friends know that I am NOT suggesting that NO ONE ever wear a helmet. If a cyclist wants to wear a helmet (and the inconvenience of doing so will not discourage them from regular bicycling), please be my guest and wear one! Many scoff at my claim that wearing a helmet is inconvenient, and therefore insist that cyclists should find it easy to wear one (and even be REQUIRED to wear one). I wonder how many of my motorist friends happily agree to wear a helmet each time they drive a car…

How many of my friends know that a very large number of Americans – particularly women – are concerned about their appearance (particularly their hair), and that helmets tend to make a person look “dorky” and have “helmet hair” when the helmet is removed? Do we know how many are discouraged from bicycling due to concerns about such fashion?

How many of my friends know that an important way to promote more bicycling is to “normalize” it? (that is, to create the impression – by wearing street clothes rather than lycra and a helmet – that bicycling is something that normal — and even hip — people do). Personally, I was astonished by how “normal,” “safe,” and “hip” I felt when I was bicycling alongside THOUSANDS of fellow bicyclists in Amsterdam – All Americans need to experience that feeling.

How many of my friends know that there is very little, if any, evidence that motorists pay higher insurance premiums because – allegedly — bicyclists who don’t wear helmets have astronomical head injury hospital costs? (for the record, the only bike crash resulting in a medically costly head injury in my entire life was one where I was wearing a helmet – I might have been killed that day had I not worn a helmet on that single-track dirt trail)

How many of my friends know that the chance of a head injury for a bicyclist riding in a low-speed town center environment is exceedingly low – much lower than the risks faced by motorists (who do not wear helmets)?

How many of my friends know how many costs and inconveniences and difficulties American bicyclists face in a nation that has spent over a century spending trillions to pamper cars (and encourage the high-speed movement of cars)? How many realize that a bicycle helmet adds yet ANOTHER inconvenience to the already terribly inconvenienced bicycle commuter?

How many of my friends know that bicyclists pay far more than their fair share of road costs, and that motorists pay far less than their fair share? How many know that American motorists are the most heavily subsidized group on earth? How many know that because nearly all motorist parking is provided free to the motorist that the cost of groceries, hair cuts, medical expenses, housing, taxes, etc., are much higher for all of us – INCLUDING, UNFAIRLY, BICYCLISTS? As Donald Shoup points out in The High Cost of Free Parking, when nearly all motorist parking is not paid directly by the parking motorist, that cost is transferred to all of us in the form of higher cost of living.

How many of my friends know that studies show a person – on average – will live longer, healthier lives riding a bicycle (even without a helmet) than a person who drives a car?

How many of my friends realize how inconvenient it is to wear a helmet for the 10 to 30 trips per week that a bicycle commuter takes?

How many of my friends where helmets when they drive a car? I suspect none, even though driving is much more likely to result in head injuries than bicycling.

How many of those attacking me and the bike helmet report — with complete certainty, mind you — have ANY of the above credentials or background? Or anything resembling credentials regarding bicycling research, advocacy, professional work, or personal bicycle travel behavior?

Why is it so brutally obvious for non-bicyclists to know with complete accuracy what makes sense regarding bicycling safety, promotion, and advocacy?

Given the above, I think I have every right to be insulted by alleged bicycling “experts” who attack me and the report as “stupid.”

But I’m not so much insulted as FRUSTRATED, as the attacks exemplify why such a tiny, tiny percentage of Americans (less than one percent?) are bicycle commuters. After all, how is it possible for American communities to substantially increase the number of bicycle commuters when nearly all of us are both utterly uninformed in bicycling and yet utterly certain we are bicycling experts?

 

 

 

 

 

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About Traffic Congestion and Bicyclists at Intersections

By Dom Nozzi

October 15, 2014

Congestion

I serve as a member of Boulder, Colorado’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). In the fall of 2014, I suggested that TAB take a position opposing the City transportation objective that seeks to limit increases in traffic congestion (an objective that I think is undesirable for several reasons – see below).

The Chair of the Board at the time questioned my judgment by saying it was inappropriate for TAB to revise or remove the congestion objective without getting input from citizens or businesses. The City had engaged in a multi-year process of gathering comments from citizens, and there was no call for revising or removing the congestion objective, I was told.

I responded by saying that citizen comments are not always the basis for crafting a new objective for the City’s Transportation Master Plan (TMP), revising an objective, or removing an objective. For example, it was probably not citizens who called for an objective seeking a “reduction in VMT to 7.3 miles per capita and non-resident one-way commute VMT to 11.4 miles per capita.” Or “80 percent of all residents living in complete neighborhoods.” Or “reduce SOV travel to 20 percent of all trips.”

Instead, the task of Council, staff, and advisory boards is to use their knowledge of professional research tempered with citizen desires or comments to craft objectives that will achieve overall quality of life desires of citizens.

I pointed out that the congestion objective flies in the face of several objectives of Council, citizens, and professional research because it results in the following:

  • Increased GHG car emissions and gas consumption (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in GHG emissions and gas consumption)
  • Increased SOV travel
  • Increased regional (in-commute) car trips to Boulder
  • Increased levels of dispersed sprawl (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in sprawl)
  • Reduced amounts of bicycling, walking and transit (citizens have often stated that they would like an increased number of trips by bicycling, walking and transit by Boulder residents)
  • Increased speeding (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in speeding)
  • Promotion of Big Box retail, and a reduction in locally-owned small businesses (citizens have often stated that they would like a reduction in Big Box and protection of small, locally-owned businesses)
  • Harm to residences and local businesses due to big, high-speed roads and the nuisance and danger of high-speed, high-volume car traffic (citizens and business owners have often stated that they would like an improvement in conditions for residences and local businesses)
  • Increased social isolation (reduction in social capital) (citizens in Boulder have often stated that they would like more neighborliness and sociability)
  • Road narrowing is strongly discouraged (citizens in Boulder have often expressed a desire for road narrowing. One example was at the Walk/Bike Summit, where many called for road narrowing.)

Given the above, revising or removing the congestion objective, I noted, strongly supports expressed citizen and business owner desires, and it is therefore appropriate for staff, Council, or advisory boards to call for such a change.

Bicyclists Using Intersections

The chair also stated, in response to staff proposals that a second left-turn lane be added at intersections, that bicyclists would prefer less congested intersections because like motorists, they want to be able to make left turns or proceed forward without missing green lights at intersections.IMG_2987

I responded by pointing out that as a lifelong bicycle commuter and academic researcher regarding bicycle travel, I can unequivocally state that low-speed two- or three-lane roads are far safer and more comfortable for bicyclists than roads widened to several through lanes or multiple turn lanes. An enormous number of bicyclists would feel extremely uncomfortable on big, multi-lane roads or at huge, multi-turn lane intersections, and would therefore never consider using such roads or intersections on a bike.

Nearly all bicyclists pass a waiting line of motorists and queue up at the front of the waiting line when waiting for a signal light to change (partly for safety reasons). Therefore, a long line of waiting cars typically does not force bicyclists to miss signal lights.

Free-flowing car traffic (briefly) created by widening a road or intersection induces a very large “speed differential” between cars and bicyclists. High speed cars are extremely uncomfortable and unsafe for bicyclists. Therefore, an intersection enlarged to two left-turn lanes (to reduce congestion) is extremely undesirable to bicyclists.

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Architectural Style in Boulder Junction, Boulder Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2015

I attended a “joint” advisory board workshop on Thursday the 14th (multiple boards, including planning board, transportation advisory board, etc.) to hear a presentation about creating a form-based code for Boulder Junction in Boulder Colorado. This was followed by a visual preference survey.

It is said that like politics and religion, one should not get into arguments about architectural style. Too subjective. No universal standards. Everyone has a different taste. Quality urbanism is not dependent on building appearance. And so on.

But I cannot resist expressing my views about style, based on what I experienced at the workshop.

Board members were asked to evaluate over 120 (150?) images of recently constructed buildings in Boulder. I don’t know where most or all of the photos were shot, but it looks like they came from Boulder Junction and possibly the Holiday neighborhood.

I have often heard it said that the architecture in the Mapleton Hill neighborhood — as well as the Boulderado Hotel — has the most lovable design, according to a large number of Boulder residents. That architecture is historic, classical, and ornamental. Many with brick or stone facades.

Why was it, then, that of the 150 building photos we board members were asked to evaluate on Thursday, not a single image showed a historic, classical, ornamental style? Or a façade with stone or brick?

The buildings had almost a complete lack of ornamentation. Very few, if any, cornice lines. The window fenestration tended to have no frames or sills or panes (the few I saw were snap-on, I believe), and only a handful showed a vertical orientation. Building facades and shapes were nearly universally flat, stucco, cubical, boxy, bizzare, weird, and often “warehouse drab” in appearance. Roofs were almost entirely flat rather than pitched (flat roofs tend to be a very poor idea in climates where heavy snow is common, and I personally don’t like them for residential buildings. The retail buildings contained almost no weather protection for the abutting sidewalk (almost none had, for example, awnings or colonnades).

We were in effect asked if we preferred modernist style…or modernist style.

I would have given almost every building the lowest possible score except for the fact that many of them were well-situated on their lots (pulled up to the sidewalk to be pedestrian-friendly, for example). Of the 150 images, I gave none of them a score above 3 (the range was -5 to 5).

Is it possible that the residents and architects of the city I love so much have such poor taste in architecture?

Or is it that Dom is just a fuddy duddy? A stick in the mud? An old-fashioned, anachronistic dinosaur that time has passed by?

Since writing this, I learned that the City had previously conducted a visioning process for Boulder Junction, and the agreed upon aesthetic was to emphasize modernist/contemporary style. This apparently explained why the Joint Board workshop showed a narrow, modernist-focused range of buildings. I was told by someone else, however, that the prior Boulder Junction vision process ALSO showed only a narrow, modernist range of buildings to consider. It seems to me that given the extremely hostile reaction we have heard several times recently about new buildings being built at Boulder Junction (“too blocky” seems common) that there may be a large number of people in Boulder who are unhappy about the architectural vision chosen for Boulder Junction. And I think the negative reaction directed against unlovable modernist architecture counterproductively amplifies hostility expressed toward the compact, more affordable development that Boulder and Boulder Junction needs more of. If it is true that many/most dislike the idea of a modernist aesthetic for Boulder Junction – and I believe it is true – I don’t think this is surprising, because it is well known that large majorities of those polled throughout the world (and therefore probably in Boulder) prefer traditional, classical modernismbuilding design over modernist design. One way to measure this (besides the many opinion polls) is to realize that it may not be possible to identify a single city skyline in the world that is broadly loved AND that consists primarily of modernist building styles. Consider this image…

May I suggest that the City of Boulder consider opening up a new, less narrow, less constrained vision process for Boulder Junction that includes a broader range of architectural styles (such as traditional, classical designs)? We need to avoid Henry Ford’s belief that you can have any car color as long as it is black.

Without that, my hope for form-based coding in Boulder to deliver a future with more charming buildings is sadly declining…

 

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