Monthly Archives: January 2000

Stopping Development or Ensuring Quality Development is Fair to All?

By Dom Nozzi

Stopping growth and development, despite the conventional wisdom, is mostly what planners and elected officials try to do in high-growth areas.

They try to find as many fees and regulations as possible to punish developers and stop them. But we do the opposite of what we should be doing, because the typical “punishment” is that we force them to build huge parking lots, huge landscape setbacks, and a strict separation of residential and non-residential land uses, while the government spends billions to widen roads. All this does is ensure that everyone is forced to drive a car for everything and guarantees that the development will be loved by cars and despised by people.

No wonder we have a nationwide NIMBY epidemic where neighborhoods fear all new developments. No wonder we have intolerable traffic congestion that gets worse and worse every year. No wonder our governments are bankrupt. No wonder our public planners have no credibility and our developers are the most hated people on earth.

What we need are developers, planners, and government officials who return to the timeless, traditional ways of building communities that are designed to make people, instead of cars, happy.

Sure, things are more difficult when your rate of growth is higher, but a high rate of growth can be wonderful for our quality of life if our design is for people instead of cars. I am strongly pro-growth if it is designed to make people happy by using timeless principles. So no, I do not believe that my position is that we just “stop sprawl,” although that certainly needs to be part of it, since sprawl is part of the make-cars-happy paradigm.

We have workable solutions.

They mostly focus on having growth pay its own way, that it be sustainable, and that it contribute to the overall quality of life. Currently, car-happy dispersed suburban development promotes lifestyles that externalize and export their costly, negatively-impacting behaviors on all of the rest of us with their cocooned “McMansions” on isolated cul-de-sacs (which belch a relatively high number of car trips on the rest of us, and make it more costly to serve).

I am not saying that certain lifestyles should be prohibited. I just want to see that those that enjoy those lifestyles are paying the full cost for them, instead of having me pay some of the cost through higher taxes or a lower quality of life. We also need more choices in housing and transportation, since increasingly, our only choice is the isolating, community- and environment-destroying auto-dependent suburbs, where everyone enjoys subsidies not in the public interest, and everyone is forced to drive a car for every trip.

Let’s return to the days of striving for choices and quality of life for people.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Florida Growth Management Law Fails to Address Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

The Florida Growth Management law, adopted in 1985, requires all cities and counties to prepare long-range plans that ensure that development does not degrade “levels of service” (such as the amount of parks or landfill capacity available per person in a community). These levels of service are intended to be proxies for quality of life.

For a new development to not violate these adopted level of service standards (and therefore be issued a permit to develop), they must show that they are “concurrent.” For a development to “be concurrent” or “meet concurrency” the local government must have enough infrastructure capacity to serve each proposed development (and that capacity is measured by using the locally adopted level of service standards). Specifically, concurrency regulations require that local government has the capacity in stormwater, parks, solid waste, water, sewer and mass transit facilities to serve each proposed development.

The Florida laws that implements these rules are found in Section “9-J5” of state law. 9-J5 goes into great detail and requires an enormous amount of study to determine, precisely, concurrency needs for facilities (primarily adequacy for roads to avoid congestion).

This concurrency seems, on the surface, to be a good proxy for our determining if local governments are “managing” growth, but, in fact, it is an especially inaccurate measure for sustainability and quality of life (and, in fact, moves Florida in the opposite direction by focusing local government attention on such bean counting).

It works okay for, say, parks, but for roads, maintaining per capita road capacity is killing Florida communities and their future. 9-J5 says nothing meaningful about needing to maintain a level-of-service for quality neighborhoods, transportation or housing choice, urban design or community vision, compact development, mixed use, or quality of life. Instead, 9-J5 forces local governments to divert an enormous amount of their time and energy into putting together a huge amount of data that is nearly meaningless for creating quality communities.

This data is not only meaningless, but is often counter-productive.

Because of 9-J5, local governments have far too little time to put together a vision for quality of life and sustainability. Local governments could have time, but it would require more money to hire more planners (and visionary planners, by the way). By requiring local governments to abide by 9-J5, then, local governments are induced to engage in lowest common denominator planning.

The small towns with no planning staff or history of planning are helped to at least start doing something to fight the Wal-Marts, but bigger, more sophisticated cities squander most all of their planning staff time on engaging in massive amounts of numerical gymnastics that don’t help the local government create a better future — and instead does many things to make their future worse.

Almost never do local governments in Florida, under the Growth Management law, ask or expect any visioning or designing for quality of life in the 9-J5 environment. Local governments are so busy that they kill themselves to meet 9-J5 requirements and then delude themselves into thinking that such a number-crunching effort will somehow create a pleasant, sustainable town.

Florida needs to start over again on its Growth Management law.

The law must start finding proxies for quality of life. The road concurrency rule (which is the only concurrency rule that matters in the implementation of this Florida law) means, instead, that mostly, the Florida growth management law cares only that we ensure a quality of life for cars, thereby making it inevitable that local governments will have accelerated sprawl and a lower quality of life more so than had there been no state growth management law.

And what a bitter irony that will be.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Concerns about an Urban Mobility Study

By Dom Nozzi

I just read an “urban mobility study.” I have a few important concerns.

The underlying assumptions in the study seem to be highly flawed, or otherwise questionable. For example, I do not buy the conventional wisdom expressed in the study that congestion results in increased travel time and increased fuel consumption. Newman and Kenworthy are a must read on this issue, arguing persuasively that the reverse is true.

I am a huge supporter of planned congestion for several reasons. Fighting against congestion is part of the road-building, home-building and auto-maker lobby paradigm, because they know that if we try to fight congestion, we will get more road widenings, more cars, more car travel and more sprawl.

One reason I like congestion is that, as Ian Lockwood from West Palm Beach says, congestion creates a “time tax” for motorists. That is, the motorist pays a “fee” when they are slowed down due to lost time (they are “paying” with their time). And in our political climate, it is nearly impossible to have motorists pay the real cost of their travel through high gas taxes or congestion fees.

Instead, we keep motorists on welfare.

The best we can do, therefore, is to indirectly charge the motorist with a time tax by passively avoiding the use of conventional ways to reduce congestion (such as widening a road or intersection). Another huge benefit to congestion is that it is, by far, the most effective way for us to slow or reverse sprawl. Researchers have learned that cross-culturally and throughout history, humans, on average, will live in a place that creates a round-trip commute time of approximately 1.1 hours per day. Therefore, when we widen roads, the faster commute time that is briefly created will enable more dispersed residential sprawl to get us back to the 1.1 hour equilibrium. These impacts are inevitable, regardless of how wonderful your land use plan is. Conversely, then, the time tax created by congestion contracts our residential patterns as people seek to maintain that 1.1 hour equilibrium.

Another highly flawed assumption in the study is that road widenings are one of the tools that can have a long-term beneficial impact on delays caused by congestion. In fact, in an already congested urban area, the triple convergence theory by Downs shows, convincingly, that this will not only be a huge waste of public dollars in terms of reducing delay, but will actually make nearly everything worse.

The study does admit that there has been a very disturbing (to the conventional thinkers) upward trend over the past decade or so in the number of roads in the U.S. that are now highly congested. I am amused that the authors do not draw a connection between this, and the fact that this country has spent trillions over the past several decades to fight congestion — and has failed catastrophically. It is perhaps the most misguided and damaging action taken in human history, yet the authors do not mention that the huge congestion increases occurred concurrently with the widening efforts. They also ignore the recent studies regarding induced traffic, in which it is shown that widenings actually create car trips that would not have occurred without the widening — thereby validating The Triple Convergence and Newman/Kenworthy.

As Kulash says, fighting congestion by widening is like loosening your belt to fight obesity. Or, it is like throwing fuel on a fire in an effort to put out the fire.

Only later, and in passing, do the authors indicate we will need lifestyle and land use changes to help us.

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Cars and Vicious Cycles

By Dom Nozzi

January 11, 2000

Driving cars and the land uses such travel spreads out feeds on itself.

That is, car travel is a zero-sum game in which a car trip has a ripple effect: Each trip discourages others from walking, bicycling or using transit (because such travel is less safe/pleasant), and such trips chase away land uses to remote areas (because in-town car noise is unpleasant, regional consumer-sheds can be served due to cars, and lots of cheap land is needed to provide free car parking).

This, of course, sets into motion more people traveling by car. Very quickly, the roads are filled with car drivers, who quickly become angry with other drivers because the driver is leading a busy life, is late for something, and therefore needs to drive at high speeds. Unfortunately for quality of life and safety, the car allows the driver to drive at high speeds.

The driver typically becomes enraged, because while she/he has the ability to drive fast, so does everyone else (and everyone else is now driving a car, too). The result is that roads and parking lots almost immediately become crowded with impatient car drivers, which creates road rage, because the driver is forced to have to slow down by the space-hogging motorist in front of her/him, who has made a left turn too slowly. Thus, nearly everyone ends up racing their car when they find openings on the road, to make up for the slow-downs.

Which accelerates the cycle: More people travel by car and flee to sprawlsville because it is too unsafe and unpleasant to do otherwise.

Politically, this means that nearly everyone desperately wants billions of public dollars spent for road widenings and parking (when they don’t, of course, live in the neighborhood that is proposed for degradation by the widening or parking), and are aghast when others call for traffic calming and car trip reduction strategies (such as transportation demand management – TDM) to try to reverse the insanity. It becomes a growing, mad dash to foul the nest and ruin ourselves.

And then we have conventional transportation engineers making themselves out to be “far-sighted” and “rational” and “reasonable” and “realistic” when they recommend road and intersection widenings. They trot out a bunch of red herrings and straw men: “We cannot get rid of cars!” “We cannot stop growth!”  “We cannot slow the growth in car travel!”

They even had the audacity to criticize the point that you cannot build yourself out of congestion. The engineer thinks that if we buy that, we’ll face intolerable gridlock.

Pathetic.

And the cycle continues. What a legacy our publicly-funded engineers will be leaving us…

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