Monthly Archives: April 2009

Gigantism and Solving Traffic Congestion

 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

Gigantism is killing American cities, as it killed the dinosaur and the Roman Empire. On average, a person consumes 17 times more space when driving the average car than a person sitting in a chair. That is an enormous, unsustainable consumption of space.

 

It helps explain why (a) It only takes a tiny number of people to congest a road; (b) An important reason why, therefore, we can’t build our way out of congestion; and (c) Why it is counterproductive for transit/bike/pedestrian advocates to state that their solutions will reduce congestion—the size issue makes it essentially impossible to reduce congestion in a city that is not losing population. richmond2-overpass-607

 

The key is to design communities so you can avoid congestion if you don’t like it. For example, congestion avoidance can be created by providing alternative travel routes, providing residential property  that is close to work/shopping/recreation, imposing congestion fees, etc.

 

Some people claim that the relatively large size of cars today means we need to encourage smaller cars to help us on congestion or other transportation issues. However, even smaller cars congest a road rather quickly because even a subcompact consumes quite a bit of space (compared to transit, walking or bicycling).

 

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” car trips (going out to rent a video at rush hour, for example).

 

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). A 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 “behavioral” economists to fix our transportation system (and elected officials with the wisdom and leadership willing to let them).

 

Gigantism comes even from small cars. We must stop pursuing the impossible task of reducing congestion (actually, congestion provides cities with a lot of benefits—as I note in my other writings). The task is to create ways to avoid the congestion when it inevitably comes.

 

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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

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Urban Design, Walking

Stimulus Spending on Roads

 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

In an otherwise admirable Washington Post essay, E.J. Dionne [“Obama’s Manna”, op-ed, Dec. 5, 2008] informs us that there is “nothing wrong with spending on roads…” when it comes to a possible Federal stimulus package.

 

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, as Dionne puts it.

 

Why, then, after several decades of ruinous failure in trying to build our way out of congestion, would anyone wanting to be “forward-thinking” even consider widening roads? (as is the case with a great many stimulus road projects) huge-highway-full-of-cars

 

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 road widening binge. Namely, by engaging in a nation-wide road narrowing (“road dieting”) program.

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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

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Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia

Suggestions for the Obama Administration to Promote More Bicycling in America

By Dom Nozzi

 

Over the course of George Bush’s eight years as president, there has been very little hope for positive change with regard to increasing the amount of bicycling in America—given the lack of interest on the part of the Bush administration to promote anything other than what they perceived as the “American Dream” of happy, low-cost, convenient motoring.

 

Now that we have elected Barack Obama, we find that the new administration is much more likely to engage in beneficial changes with regard to transportation. Those seeking to promote higher levels of bicycling have therefore become more vocal and optimistic.

 

cul-de-sac-connectorObviously, it is important that tactics used to promote more bicycling be as effective as possible. What are the most effective strategies to promote more bicycling? I would start with the following.

 

First, establish federal rules and assistance to substantially reduce free car parking, and assist local governments in establishing car parking cash-out programs. Free, abundant car parking is a fertility drug for car travel, and makes it irrational to travel in other ways.

 

Second, shortening travel distances is essential. Most of American is laid out in dispersed, suburban patterns that create travel distances that are only reasonable for car travel. Therefore, the federal government should do what is necessary to assist local governments in increasing their residential densities in appropriate locations, as well as more “mixed use” development (mixing housing with job centers, retail, parks, and civic institutions).

 

Third, increasing the gas tax could be enormously helpful in sending a powerful price signal that begins to inform motorists of the high costs they are imposing on society (road construction & repair, air & water pollution, noise pollution, sprawl, injuries & deaths, cost of protecting international oil resources, loss of town center health, loss of community quality of life, to name a few). Gas taxes help reduce “low-value” car trips and reduce gasoline consumption. Such taxes also keep more American dollars at home, rather than further enriching “petro-regimes” abroad. It is crucial, however, that increased gas tax revenue be kept away from exceptionally counter-productive road widenings.

 

Fourth, lets not forget the pressing, nation-wide need to re-design our car-happy urban streets so that they are Complete Streets accommodating all users—not just cars (in other words, correcting the mistakes we’ve made for so many decades). Primarily, we do that by narrowing them (mostly by road dieting them), and slowing down motor vehicle speeds.kids-biking

 

Fifth, the federal government needs to provide funding to local government so that full-time staffing is provided for the promotion of bicycling. Traffic engineers expected to promote bicycling tend to be too busy with car travel matters to devote sufficient time to bicycling.

 

Now more than ever, we need a Plan B for our transportation system. Cars are rapidly becoming dysfunctional.

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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 Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Escaping Congestion and Attentive Driving

 

 

By Dom Nozzi

 

Over the past few months, I’ve come across two important pieces of information. 

 

(1) I’ve heard Andres Duany make this first point in a speech long ago, but just read it again in a book I started reading (Common Place by Kelbaugh). The author states that “…the Southern California Association of Governments, including some 30 municipalities around Los Angeles, commissioned a computer simulation of traffic in the year 2010. It modeled many possibilities, among them double-decking highways, additional lanes, expanded bus and rail transit service, and staggered work hours. They concluded that nothing that could be done to add capacity to the system would have a lasting effect on congestion—except for one strategy that was not a transportation fix per se. Mixed-use neighborhoods, because they eliminate the need for trips in the first place, were found to offer a permanent solution to traffic congestion…”

 

I have two observations about this crucially important insight. First, as you might guess, I’m not sure why an urban area would want to reduce traffic congestion, given all the important community benefits congestion effectively delivers. To be charitable, it is possible that what is meant here is that mixed-use neighborhoods effectively allow people to escape the congestion that exists. Being able to escape congestion is more achievable, more socially desirable, and a lot less expensive (compared to being able to reduce it). Escape tactics are generally useful for building a quality, sustainable community. Connected and tightly gridded streets. Higher density, mixed-use development. Low-speed street design. Buildings abutting sidewalks. And so on.

 

Secondly, I am firmly convinced that achieving mixed use, higher density development (which is nearly absent in the United Suburbs of America) can only occur when large numbers of residents desire it. And in these days of subsidized cars, suburban homes and gasoline, desirability comes from traffic congestion, toll roads, priced and scarce parking, relatively high gas costs, low-speed roads that are no more than 3 lanes in size, and land development regulations that make such compact, low-speed development legal (such land development regulations are nearly non-existent in America).

 

All of the elements that many of us desire in a community (well-used transit, well-used bike lanes, well-used sidewalks, less per capita Single-Occupant-Vehicle travel) come after we put the necessary pre-conditions in place (density, mixed use, expensive parking & driving). Better transit, more bike lanes, more sidewalks will be ineffective as ways to induce more transit use, bicycling and walking. I believe that communities largely assume that more buses, more bike lanes and more sidewalks will result in more transit use, bicycling and walking because those factors are more under the control of a local government. The truly effective tactics are less under the control of local government. If all you’ve got is a hammer, all your problems look like nails…

 

(2) According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 80 percent of all car crashes are due to inattentive drivers.

 

Knowing this, what would be the worst possible way to design streets?

 

How about using a street design theory that encourages motorists to drive without paying attention—that is, a design that “forgives” a motorist for driving inattentively?

 

What has been the street design paradigm for the past 100 years?

 

The “forgiving street” design paradigm.

 

Oops.

 

Is it any wonder why we have an epidemic of inattentive driving in America? Isn’t it inevitable that “forgiving street” design has created a road safety nightmare?

 

The bitter irony is that this paradigm is what traffic engineers are taught is the primary means of creating traffic safety. But what should have been obvious is that forgiving street design enables drivers to be “forgiven” for driving too fast, too recklessly, and too inattentively. The result of forgiving streets is that we have an epidemic of inattentive drivers putting on make-up, talking on the cell phone, and casually driving 80 mph. And that means we have are seeing declining driving skills and a growing number of crashes on roads that are increasingly unsafe to walk or bicycle on (or drive a car on).

 

The idea persists because it is commonly thought that safer streets would be those where we assume drivers are inevitably incompetent morons. So we design the street so that we reduce the consequences of driving like a moron. Common sense, right? It becomes a powerfully self-fulfilling prophecy. Forgiving streets have spawned an exponential growth in moronic driving. Americans are now perhaps the worst drivers on earth.

 

I don’t buy the argument, by the way, that American drivers are genetically predisposed to drive like morons to explain why American driving is so awful. It is nearly certain that bad driving in the US is almost completely due to the consequences of driving on forgiving streets.

 

Isn’t it highly probable, in other words, that after 100 years of designing forgiving roads, traffic engineers have been responsible for an enormous growth in the amount of inattentive driving by motorists?

 

Isn’t it time we strive for improved driving skills, rather than assuming moron drivers? That we adopt the Moderman concept of “naked streets” if we truly want more traffic safety in the long run? Or what I call “attentive streets,” where we obligate the motorist to pay attention?

 

 

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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 Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design