Monthly Archives: April 1998

The Best Way to Educate People That Bicycling is Desirable

By Dom Nozzi

It is quite common in America to believe that the most important way to convince people of the desirability of a behavior is to educate them. “We need educate people that suburban sprawl is bad.” Or “we need to persuade college students to recycle more.” Or “we need to inform the residents of our town that they should not litter.”

I want to be frank. “Educating” people is an exceptionally poor way to modify human behavior. Indeed, it is quite common for a person who disagrees with a community objective (such as, say, reducing energy consumption) to oppose a new regulation and instead claim that we simply need to “educate” people to do the right thing.

However, if we are honest, we will accept the overwhelming evidence that the best education, by far, to convince people that they should behave in a more socially desirable way is to adjust market prices so that the behavior becomes more rational. As an aside, if adjusting market prices is not feasible or appropriate (for example, a local government is usually unable to modify the price of, say, a barrel of oil from the Middle East), a second-best tactic for modifying behavior is government regulation.

When modifying prices or adopting new regulations are NOT pursued as a way to modify behavior, and “education” is instead the tool used, it is a sign that the community is not serious about achieving the objective.

A frequent question in my profession of transportation planning is the question of how to increase travel by bicycle.

In my (dangerous?) opinion, the most effective way to increase the level of bicycling in a communty is to adjust market prices so that it becomes rational to bicycle.

Sure, it can be a nice idea to point out that bicycling is good for your health. Or reduces air pollution. Or saves money. But almost no one is convinced that they should bicycle when they hear such platitudes. Thinking that such messages are sufficient to increase bicycling, again, is a sign that we are not serious about increasing bicycling.

If we are serious about increasing bicycling, we need to modify price signals.

For example, increase the cost of motor vehicle parking, accept traffic congestion as a way to increase the “time tax,” increase the cost to drive on roads (via electronic road or congestion fees), increase the cost of gasoline (via an increase in the gas tax).

Get serious about modifying behavior in a socially desirable way. Opt for price signals (or regulations). “Education” is a feel good tactic that delivers little, if any, beneficial change in behavior.


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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Transportation

The Fairness of Making New Development Behave Itself

By Dom Nozzi

In 1998, there was a great deal of community discussion about a proposed 480-acre “sprawl” development in western Alachua County, Florida.

I find it peculiar that often, in response to a proposal to get residential development or travel by car to “behave” itself, we hear people make the red herring argument that we should not force people to live in a walkable town center of the city, or that we cannot “get rid of all cars.” In fact, the proposals to make residential development, or travel by car, behave themselves is simply a way to create more equity and provide more choices for both residential development and travel.

For about 50 years, we have built little other than low-density, single-use, large lot residential (“conventional”) subdivisions in outlying suburban areas. In addition, we have focused almost all of our efforts on making cars happy. The result, of course, is that throughout America, and including Alachua County, we have little choice in terms of residence or form of travel. We are pretty much “forced” to live in conventional residences in outlying areas, or travel by car for all our trips.

But what about the large and growing number of us who would enjoy the pleasures of a more urbane setting, where we would have easy access to a nearby grocery, various forms of culture, a pleasant public realm, civic events, retail, jobs, schools, parks, sidewalks that lead somewhere, sociable neighbors, and calmed traffic? What about those of us who want the choice to be able to walk, bicycle, or bus to those destinations? Do many of us have a choice to enjoy such things? Do we really “force” people to live in more traditional town center settings, or get rid of their car, if we simply make other residential and travel choices more of an option?

As for “behaving,” it is my opinion that residential areas are “misbehaving” when they, for example, generate a large number of car trips. Such areas tend to be “single-use” (only single-family residential land use), and nearly every trip is too far to travel except by car. The result is that instead of a reasonably self-contained subdivision with a reasonable amount of internalized “trip capture” (due largely to a mix of land uses in the area or development), those trips and costs are externalized on all the rest of us.

Let’s not forget that the reasonable travel distance by car extends out to about 10 miles (it is roughly 3 miles for bus and bicycle, and about one-quarter mile by foot). What are the “externalized” costs that we must bear when a new subdivision does not “capture” a large number of car trips?

Well, within a 10-mile radius (see above), our neighborhoods get more traffic, more air pollution, more water pollution, more noise pollution, more strip commercial development, more decline in neighborhood value, more loss of small business in the core area, more sign pollution, more danger on our streets, and higher taxes to pay for public services like parks, schools, police, fire protection, sewer, water, environmental protection, etc.

So it becomes a matter of equity.

Is it fair for a new, outlying residential area to impose those costs on us? Isn’t it reasonable to ask that new residential development “pay its own way,” by locating in appropriate areas, designing for livability, and paying for some of the costs for new or expanded public facilities and services they demand from us?

I recommend that we try to steer clear of red herrings. It tends to polarize us. I also believe we can all agree that providing residential and travel choices, and insisting on equity, are good things.

To me, the debate should center around what constitutes equity, and how much our local, state, and federal government should put into creating travel choices.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Light Pollution and the “Buildings as Sign” Problem

By Dom Nozzi

There is an “invisible” — yet nevertheless important — quality-of-life issue: light pollution. Invisible because it is rarely discussed as a problem. In my opinion, light pollution has become an epidemic in our communities because, increasingly, retailers discover that excessive lighting is a handy way to attract the attention of the 40,000 motorists driving by each day on arterials. It is also a convenient way to evade those pesky sign ordinances because excessive lighting allows the retailer to make her/his entire building a sign at night. This, then, is the “building as sign” problem that we often see in our towns — especially with chain retailers, who also like to use “icon architecture” to make their building a sign during the day. Solar-Gas-Sation

Light pollution problem has accelerated in recent years as a result of many cities engaging in more effective enforcement of their sign ordinance.

A number of newer gas stations will use a high canopy over the fueling stations. The bright, glaring lights underneath the canopy makes the place look, in the words of Jim Kunstler, like a “UFO Landing Strip” which can be seen from miles around. Other retailers like to line their exterior walls or parking lots with lights that spill upward and across property lines.

Of course, retailers like to grab the moral high ground on this issue by claiming that the sole purpose of all this excessive lighting is for “public safety,” or the “safety of customers.” As a result, citizens and decision-makers often look upon those concerned about light pollution as people who are insensitive to public safety. We often forget, however, that bright lights can make shadows darker, thereby creating better places for criminals to hide, or that glaring lights can cause traffic accidents.

It is only a pleasant coincidence for the retailer that this “safety” lighting happens to make the entire building a glaring billboard to attract customers.

Controlling light pollution is an important element in retaining a pleasant ambiance for our community, not to mention the needs of our wildlife and star-gazing public.

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