Monthly Archives: December 2008

Where Are We on Neighborhood Noise Pollution?

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By Dom Nozzi

As a city planner and as a homeowner, I’ve come to understand how critically important-yet hidden as a “dirty little secret”-noise pollution control can be to protect and promote the quality of life of a neighborhood. Often, we hear people say that they desire to live in an outlying part of the city-in contrast to our centrally-located neighborhoods–because they seek a “quieter” residential area.

In essence, then, uncontrolled noise pollution can not only harm our quality of life, but reduce property values in our downtown neighborhoods because they have become a less sought after place to live.

Noise pollution is not visible to the eye, tends to be highly subjective, frequently occurs when the “perpetrator” is not home to control it, and often goes away before it can be confirmed by the police. In addition, it is inherently a low priority for a police department (the majority of complaints are for barking dogs, which are usually not seen as important compared to, say, a burglary). As a result, many suffer noise pollution in silence, thinking that it does no good to complain or that others will not agree that it is a problem. Yet studies show that people consistently rank noise as an important quality of life issue. When noise levels are consistently high, humans suffer from stress and stress-related illness.

Perhaps our biggest concern is that over time, as noise pollution becomes more prevalent, our expectations of how quiet our neighborhood should be will go down. We complain less, and just try to live with it-to the detriment of our quality of life, our health, and our neighborhood.

Throughout my life, and despite coming from a large, noisy family, I’ve always been deeply appreciative of the peaceful, relaxing, enjoyable experience of a quiet place. Perhaps as a result of this background, and my education in environmental science, I was selected a few years ago to re-write my city’s noise ordinance.

While re-writing, I learned quite a bit about the types of noise problems being experienced in Gainesville – where I lived at the time. For example, an important motivating factor in the city writing its first noise ordinance in 1972 were the problems being created by the roar of motorcycles. The technologies and lifestyles in the 1990s have created new and growing noise control challenges that we must contend with.

When I re-wrote the ordinance in 1992, an important reason for the need for an updated ordinance was the noise being created by live music. But there are several additional noise sources emerging.

Loud car and home stereos are becoming popular, as are power tools for landscaping or other home improvements. These sorts of noises are especially annoying early in the morning or late at night, which is why the ordinance I wrote is more stringent at those hours.

Other recent sources that have affected our neighborhood are police helicopters, emergency vehicle sirens, shopping center parking lot vacuum trucks, banner planes for University of Florida football games, burglar alarms, and barking dogs (the latter two a growing problem as a result of the growing concerns about crime).noise

Certainly, when we live in the center of the city, we should naturally expect higher noise levels than in outlying areas. It comes with the territory. However, I do not think that we should passively accept all forms of increased noise pollution in our neighborhood, because some of the increased noise problem is not an inherent part of city life, nor is it impractical to control. For example, vacuum trucks–a pet peeve of mine–are not an essential part of shopping centers and will not lead to the downfall of the shopping center (or the city) if better controlled.

In my research of what other communities around the country are doing to control noise, I learned that it is not realistic to expect your law enforcement agency to give much priority to noise control. As a result, communities that are serious about noise control and quality of life will establish a special noise enforcement department staffed with people who work full-time to control noise.

We can also do our part to be courteous to our neighbors. Keep stereos and TV’s at a modest volume. As for entertainment and power tool activity, remember that it is not polite to engage in those activities late at night or early in the morning–especially a weekend morning. Be sure not to leave your dog alone out in the yard for several hours where the dog is barking up a storm. Parties should be careful with loud, late-night music. And be sure to set up your home or car burglar alarms properly so they don’t blare frequently and for a long time while you’re away.

In sum, be a leader in restoring the tradition of behaving in a civil manner. Your neighbors will appreciate it.

If we work together as a neighborhood, and be courteous toward our neighbors, we can dramatically improve the attractiveness of our neighborhood.

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

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My Picasa Photo library

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My Author spotlight

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Filed under Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia

Creating a Community Vision

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  1. By Dom Nozzi
  2. Throughout the nation, there is a growing interest in, and concern about whether the community has a clear, proud, effective vision that will lead to a quality future. Oftentimes, this interest and concern is borne from citizens who look around their community and are appalled by the changes that have occurred due to new development. “Where is the vision?,” they ask, when they see the growth of an Anywhere USA strip commercial corridor being created on one of their major roads. “Do we have a plan? Do we have development regulations to protect and promote our quality of life? What will this community be like 20 years from now? Will my children be safe and happy?”Below is a checklist that can be used to determine whether a community will be able to establish and maintain a vision that delivers a quality of life in the future.   
 
 
 

 

  1. Has your community elected a courageous, wise elected leader (or leaders)? Such people have a clear vision for the future of the community, have hired the staff which is effective in achieving the vision, and are willing to make decisions that will make some people unhappy. (If you are not making some people unhappy, you cannot expect to achieve anything meaningful. You are not a leader.)
  2. Does your community acknowledge that the lynchpin for a quality future is a strong, overriding focus on seeing that future design is making people happy, not cars? A community with vision should have a plan for putting some of its overweight roads on a “diet” (by removing unnecessary, ruinous travel lanes). The focus on making cars happy has been the default strategy in nearly all development that has occurred in the United States since approximately WWII. Without courageous, wise leadership, future development in your community will continue with this status quo, and will result in a downwardly spiraling quality of life. Designing for cars instead of people defines an absence of vision. And an absence of leadership.
  3. Do your elected officials insist that the staff within the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and the state Department of Transportation adhere to the community vision? Typically, the staff from these three agencies tend to have the most powerfully negative impact on a community vision because they tend to suboptimize on their narrow agency agenda instead of the broader community vision, and these three agencies have a long, powerful, relentless history of creating a car-happy community of big, high-speed roads and other elements that subvert a walkable, charming, high quality of life for people.
  4. Does your land development code acknowledge that one size does not fit all? That the full range of lifestyles must be provided for in the community? Not just the suburban, car-oriented lifestyle, but also the walkable urban lifestyle and the rural, pastoral lifestyle. As the Toronto planning director once said, the greatest threat to cities in North America is suburbanization. Suburban design should be one of many lifestyle choices, not the only choice.
  5. Does your community use a “transect-based” regulatory system that enables #4 above? That is, creating urban, suburban and rural zones in your community, and applying calibrated, appropriate regulations for each zone that are designed to maximize the quality of each zone for that lifestyle. Transect-based regulations help unify “overlay” plans, which have proliferated in recent decades as a way to try to customize regulations for special places in the community. This proliferation often results in an enormous number of overlays throughout the community, which becomes confusing, contradictory and difficult for administrative staff and developers. Instead of one transect vision, there are several. Transect planning consolidates all the “urban” overlays into one or two regulatory zones. All of the “suburban” overlays are placed into a second or third zone, and all of the “rural” overlays are placed into a subsequent zone. Roadway design is also context-sensitive. There are rural, suburban and urban road design specifications.
  6. Does your community benefit from a charrette process? That is, a visioning process in which an intensive, relatively brief education and design session is accomplished by expert urban designers, architects, planners and citizens to create a neighborhood, community-wide or regional vision.
  7. Is your community proactive or reactive? For several decades, American communities have been reactive. Passively sitting back with regulations designed to prevent things from happening when a development proposal is brought in by a private developer. The rare proactive community, by contrast, has established a strong, positive vision that is strictly and proudly followed by elected officials, staff and developers. Developers know, up front, what is generally planned for an area – particularly in terms of the street layout and design, building disposition, and the mix and location of uses intended for the area. That is, a clear vision has already been established for the area to be developed. Investors are therefore more confident in investing.
  8. Has your community coupled transect planning and a proactive method of regulation with “form-based” codes? Form-based codes are primarily focused on the form and design of buildings and streets. The traditional codes used in nearly all American cities are use-based codes, which are primarily focused on separating “incompatible” land uses from each other. The use-based approach creates no vision for the neighborhood or community. Such codes also promote a maximum separation of houses from offices and parks and culture and shops. While this was fairly important over 100 years ago, it is much less important today (because many workplaces are now relatively compatible—or can be designed to be more compatible—with homes). Use-based codes, by separating uses, promote auto dependency and make walking, bicycling and transit very difficult, if not impossible. Form-based codes acknowledge that over the course of time, a quality of design for a building and its disposition on the property it sits on is much more important for quality of life than what goes on inside the building. Buildings and streets, moreover, tend to have a much longer life span than land uses, which further increases the importance of getting the design of buildings and streets right, instead of the location of land uses.
  9. Have your elected officials shown enough courageous leadership to give your government staff “permission” to propose visionary plans and regulations? Nearly always, the staff has the knowledge necessary to be visionary and describe what a community needs to do to achieve its vision, but never proposes such strategies because they do not feel as if they are allowed to do so by elected officials. Officials must be willing to stand behind staff when staff is challenged (usually by developers or property owners) about visionary plans or regulations that are consistent with the community vision. Without leadership, a community often finds itself in the position of frequently hiring out-of-town consultants to prepare a plan. While this can sometimes be beneficial in jump-starting a better community path, it can also be easily ignored by elected officials and staff who are not vested in the ideas of the plan.
  10. Has your community hired one or more full-time urban designers to help promote the vision? Without such staff, a community can lose focus on the vision over time, or not be assisted in imaging possibilities. Or not have the skills needed to review development plans.
  11. Is your community vision graphics-based? Images, drawings, and photographs are much more assessable to non-professional citizens. Images are easier for citizens to understand than numbers or written (often jargon) words. They therefore more clearly convey to the largest number of citizens what the vision looks like.
  12. Is your vision based on a long-range, 20- or 50-year time horizon? If not, your vision may be too timid. As Andres Duany reminds us, with time, anything is possible. Don’t limit yourself to only those things that can be financed or otherwise achieved in a few years.
  13. Are the local government attorneys in your community willing to work to find a legal basis justifying aggressive visions? Often, public sector attorneys are overly conservative and unwilling to support design concepts for fear of losing lawsuits. A confident legal staff can be a powerful tool in achieving goals.
  14. Has your community acknowledged that quality of life is a powerful economic engine and a win-win strategy? As Richard Florida points out in his Rise of the Creative Class, the tradition for communities striving to promote economic development is to become more of a “doormat.” That is, attract jobs to the community by lowering regulatory standards. Or lowering taxes. Or providing subsidies. Increasingly, however, this is a losing strategy for economic development (and one that counterproductively lowers community quality of life). Increasingly, the most effective strategy for economic development is to protect and promote the quality of life of the community. Doing so not only is beneficial to existing residents. It also helps retain quality people to stay in the community (instead of repelling them with an awful quality of life – often referred to as “brain drain”). Furthermore, a high quality of life tends to attract quality people from other communities. The result is that increasingly, job-producing companies are re-locating to communities with a high quality of life (instead of places with low taxes and meaningless development regulations). A great many companies now know that such communities will mean it is easier to retain and attract quality employees who will have a positive impact on the productivity of the company.

With the above criteria in place, a community can position itself to create and maintain a vision for a quality future. Is your community ready?

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

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https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Stimulating Roads

In an otherwise admirable essay, E.J. Dionne [“Obama’s Manna”, Washington Post op-ed, Dec. 5] informs us that there is “nothing wrong with spending on roads…” when it comes to a possible Federal stimulus package by the Obama administration.

 

Really?

 

There is certainly nothing wrong with repairing roads. And yes, it is appropriate that stimulus spending be forward-thinking, and bring long-term payoffs, 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? Is there anything more backward-thinking and counter-productive?

 

It is now abundantly clear that road widening powerfully induces more suburban 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. traffic-jam-on-huge-hwy

 

Given this colossal squandering of countless trillions of public dollars to worsen our communities for so many decades, is there anything worse than spending Federal stimulus dollars on than 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 on what Mr. Dionne calls long-term payoff. For starters, that means a large portion of stimulus should be directed to restoring the woeful, limping national passenger rail system in America. And ending the car welfare program caused 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.

 

In these perilous times, we must be looking forward, not harkening back to failed programs. Otherwise, we have learned nothing.

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Peak Oil, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Should We Impose an Excise Tax on Large Vehicles?

 
 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

Should we impose an excise tax on large vehicles? The idea makes some sense if we believe large vehicles are a big part of our traffic congestion “problem.”

 

But actually, it may not be.

 

On average, a person consumes 19 times more space (!!) in an average-sized car than a person sitting in a chair. That is an enormous, unsustainable consumption of space. Helps explain why (a) It only traffic-congestion2takes a tiny number of people to congest a road; (b) Why we can’t build our way out of congestion; and (c) Why it is counterproductive for transit/bike/ped advocates to state that their solutions will reduce congestion—the size issue makes it essentially impossible to reduce congestion.

 

Yes, gigantism is killing America, as it killed the dinosaur and the Roman Empire. And yes, we need to be concerned about over-sized vehicles.But I don’t believe that a big part of the congestion problem is over-sized motor vehicles, because nearly all motor vehicles used today are detrimental to the human scale that makes for pleasant neighborhood and community design.

 

Even if we all drove “subcompact” cars, we’d still have traffic congestion.

 

No, the key is to design communities so you can avoid congestion if you don’t like it (alternative routes, living close enough that you can walk, congestion fees, etc.).

 

So an excise tax on large cars will not help much to reduce congestion or other transportation issues. The problem, in my opinion, is our underpricing of all car travel/parking, which leads to overuse of car travel, and an inducement of “low-value” (video rental at rush hour) car trips.

 

Gas taxes are slightly better, as is pay-at-the-pump car insurance—both of which send a price signal to people that driving less means lower costs, thereby incentivizing less driving (particularly less “low-value” driving). The problem with both of these tactics is that they are not differentiating between car trips. Trips at non-rush hour and on little-used roads are more desirable from a societal point of view than trips at rush hour on heavily used roads.

 

Because of this, congestion/toll fees tend to be best, as they can be calibrated to charge more or less, based on where and when you are driving. In the end, we need market-schooled economists to fix our transportation system (and elected officials with the wisdom and leadership willing to let them).

Yes, there are important reasons to charge a special tax on larger vehicles (such as the safety problems they create, the larger road dimensions they induce, and their tendency to suffer from poor fuel efficiency), but when it comes to congestion, the problem is mostly due to how we inefficiently price and manage all vehicles.

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Urban Design

The Parking Problem

By Dom Nozzi
 

 

 

Local governments intervene strongly and disastrously with regard to the provision of parking by the private sector. 

Nearly all local governments have laws that require all private (and public) development to provide “adequate” parking. Doing so tends to powerfully underprice parking. Business people are not given the freedom to decide how much parking they need to be profitable and competitive. Instead, they are forced by government to provide what is typically excessive amounts of parking.

Of course, the ”free” parking that is provided over 98 percent of the time is not actually “free.” Instead, the cost is hidden. Business people large-employee-pk-lot-less-than-50-percent-for-spacesmust buy the land for parking and maintain the parking. Those costs end up increasing the price of the goods and services we pay businesses who are forced to provide such parking by local government.

And as Donald Shoup informs us, free parking is a “fertility drug” for cars. That is, more people drive a car than would have done so had there not been subsidized parking. Shoup indicates that parking is, by far, the largest subsidy in America. Because government laws requiring parking have distorted the parking market, businesses feel compelled to provide “free” parking.

Government must therefore eliminate the parking requirement law, and correct its decades-long mistake by again intervening in the market to adopt laws that require businesses to provide less parking, and charge market prices for those who use the parking (by using, say, parking meters). At private employment places such as a large office building, government must incentivize or require ”parking cash-out” to correct prior market distortions.

In sum, parking problems are almost entirely based on the inefficient pricing of parking, rather than a supply insufficiency. Improper pricing of parking distorts the market for driving and parking a car (which signals us to drive and park a car excessively and inefficiently).

 

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Urban Design