Monthly Archives: October 2009

Fighting Traffic: The Dawn of the Motor Age in the American City

By Peter D. Norton. Published 2008 by MIT.

Review by Dom Nozzi

This book is provocative, exceptionally enlightening, and a must-read for all pedestrian and bicycle professionals, urban designers, traffic engineers, elected and appointed officials.

Another title that the author could have considered to accurately describe the message of this book is “The Fall of the Pedestrian Street.”

The book is an analysis of how the American street, its perceived purpose, and its design paradigm has been transformed over the past century. Up until the dawn of the 20th Century, the rights of and sympathy for the pedestrian were supreme. Street rules (to the extent that any existed) and street design were focused on pedestrian travel.

The emergence of the motor vehicle, however, radically changed all of this.

Motorists and auto makers united and organized in the first few hwyoverpassdecades of the 20th Century to overthrow the prevailing paradigm of the street. As motor vehicles started to be found on streets, they were quickly seen as inefficiently consuming an enormous amount of space. And combined with their horsepower, weight, and high speeds, motor vehicles were soon killing an alarmingly high number of pedestrians—particularly children and seniors.

Huge numbers of citizens at this time rallied to fight against the motor vehicle. There was a consensus that in a crash, the motorist was always at fault and the pedestrian (particularly children) were innocent. The media regularly faulted motorists for being “speed maniacs.” And “murderers.” Particularly in Cincinnati, there was a strong campaign to require cars to have “governors,” which would not allow a car to be driven over 25 mph.

The growing number of motorists and auto makers became alarmed that the “freedom” and speed of car travel was being threatened by these nationwide campaigns. “Motordom” united, and in the course of a few decades, completely transformed the American transportation paradigm.

First, they succeeded in convincing the public that the car itself was not to blame for crashes. Nor was the problem due to speed. Instead, the motorist lobby succeeded in (falsely) convincing Americans that the problem was entirely due to “reckless” motorists. The lobby also achieved another crucial victory: No longer were pedestrians always innocent in crashes. Increasingly, the lobby convinced us that “reckless” pedestrians were often at fault.

Instead of motorists being vilified as speed maniacs, the new villain became the “jaywalker,” a derogatory term that assigned blame to pedestrians who were irresponsibly crossing streets in unexpected locations (as they had done throughout history). Unexpected, carefree walking had become an incompatible public safety threat in the age of high-speed car travel. It was essential that uncontrolled pedestrians not using their designated crosswalks be seen as irresponsibly unsafe and immoral.

So the paradigm shift managed to reshape our thinking. Cars and car speeds are not a problem. What is needed, instead of slowing cars, is to vigorously prosecute “reckless” motorists and be vigilant in urging pedestrians to be careful. Comprehensive public safety education campaigns must teach all of us (particularly children) to be careful near roads. And to insist that pedestrians (and playing children) be kept out of the way of cars by keeping them off roads—or at least confined to intersection crosswalks.

Thus, the “forgiving street” (what the author calls the “foolproof street”) was born. Dominating street design for nearly 100 years, this paradigm strives to design streets not to be safe and convenient for all users (including bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users), but to keep all non-motorized travelers out of the way of freedom- (and speed) loving American motorists. Streets are to be designed for safe driving at high speeds. And because forgiving street designers assume we will always have reckless drivers, streets must be designed to forgive reckless, inattentive driving. Grade separated intersections are needed. As are pedestrian skywalks. Move street trees and buildings and pedestrians away from the street.

The ultimate result, after several decades of this new motorist speed paradigm, has been an annual roadway death rate that remains extremely high. High levels of speeding and inattentive driving. Streets that are designed and safely usable only by cars, instead of being Complete Streets accessible to all. Unimaginably high levels of car dependency, heavy and worsening congestion, plummeting quality of life, a near absence of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, endless suburban sprawl and strip commercial, and declining downtowns.

I’m certain the author would agree with me that an essential task for safety and quality of life is to return our communities to a lower-speed environment. And this must largely be achieved not through laws against speeders or speed limit signs, but through the design of streets that effectively ratchets down urban travel speed via such tactics as human-scaled dimensions to achieve traffic calming—and Monderman’s “shared space” concept (what I like to call “attentive” streets). High-speed car traffic is simply incompatible with the human habitat.

This is not a call to re-vilify cars, but to reshape our world to obligate motorists to behave themselves.

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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, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Does Land Use Come Before Transportation, Or After?

By Dom Nozzi

I learned over my 20 years as a city planner that city planners react to what private landowners and developers propose to us with regard to development along a roadway.

Public sector planners have very little control as to densities or mixed uses or types of businesses that are proposed along a roadway. Yes, public planners can write development regulations or corridor plans that call for walkable, mixed use, higher density design, but if the roadway is 5 lanes and designed for 45 mph (inattentive, talking-on-the-cellphone) speeds, such regulations will be a moot point, as property owners and developers tend to build to what the market seeks. And when you have a multi-lane, high-speed roadway, the market tends to seek low-density, drivable, parking-lot rich, single-use suburbia.

In other words, transportation determines (drives) land use.

Yes, such suburban areas can incrementally transform themselves to be more urban, compact, walkable, dense environments. But public planners and their regulations and plans will be almost entirely powerless to catalyze such a transformation. The effective catalyst in the case of a suburban environment fed by high-speed, high-volume roadways is for the State and Local Departments of Transportation to make amends for their earlier decisions to build oversized roadways (usually justified on the grounds that the 5 lanes are needed to reduce or avoid congestion—even though we should all know by now that we cannot build our way out of congestion). strip3

Often, the traffic engineer will claim that the proposed large, suburban road is needed because of the land uses allowed by local government in the area. “I’m just meeting the demand created by the land uses on the ground.”

To be fair, some engineers understand that one cannot widen a road to eliminate congestion, but are compelled by their supervisor or elected officials to make recommendations that assume that building out of congestion is, in fact, possible. In this case, the remedy is that supervisors and elected officials must give the engineer the permission to make innovative, effective design recommendations.

Suburban markets (and subsequent strip commercial development) would not have occurred had larger, higher-speed roads not been built in the area in question or elsewhere in the community (not to mention all the underpriced parking provided throughout the community).

So yes, public planners can play a role in proposing regulations or plans that call for walkable, urban, mixed use environments (if their supervisors and elected officials grant permission, that is). But the road must first be redesigned to accommodate walkable, charming transportation choices. A road designed to be conducive to walkable charm creates a market for the construction of buildings and other elements of land use that support walkable charm.

That means, usually, that existing over-sized roads suboptimized for cars go on a “road diet” by having travel lanes removed. It is also quite helpful to supplement the road diet by introducing various slow-speed design tactics such as landscaped or hard-scaped bulb-outs, landscaped or hard-scaped medians, and on-street parking.

I don’t pretend to believe that we can do this sort of road transformation throughout a community in the near future. It took us over 80 years to build this car-friendly mess we are in. We are therefore unlikely to find our way out of this for quite a while. Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics.

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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 Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Context-Sensitive Design for Pedestrians

By Dom Nozzi

Design for motor vehicle transportation is a zero-sum game. Almost inevitably, when conditions for cars are “improved” (“speeded up,” “made more efficient,”, etc.), conditions for all other forms of travel (bicycle, pedestrian, transit) are degraded. As a planner in Florida for the past 20 years (where “growth management” is essentially a code word for ensuring that new development does not delay or slow down cars), “access management” was touted strongly—to the detriment of pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users and overall quality of life.

The first task for a planner or designer seeking to determine appropriate design is to first determine where in the community the design will occur (so that the design is “context sensitive”). One must know if the design is to be applied in suburban/drivable locations, or urban/walkable locations. If the former, access management tends to be appropriate, as the imperative is to minimize car travel delays and maximize car speeds. However, in urban/walkable/compact/mixed-use locations, the pedestrian is the design imperative. In such locations, it is therefore essential that slow-speed and walkable st“attentive motorist” design be emphasized to maximize pedestrian comfort and safety. Access management tends to undercut such a design objective, because motorists can driver faster and less attentively when access management is successful.

And has been pointed out by others, a quality pedestrian environment must include relatively short block lengths, as well as mid-block crossings and cross-access within blocks. Again, access management tends to undercut these essential design tactics in walkable locations.

As an aside, speaking as a bicycle commuter, I tend to find a reduction in driveways to be an inconvenience for bicycling. I understand the safety problems associated with too many driveways, but we shouldn’t forget unintended consequences.

When the words “safety” and “efficient” and “mobility” are used in the field of transportation, such words tend to be euphemisms for higher speed, unimpeded car travel. And the last thing a healthy, low-speed, pedestrian-friendly downtown needs is faster, unimpeded, through car travel. Higher speed (“efficient”) car travel in a downtown (not to mention excessive, under-priced off-street parking) drains the lifeblood out of a downtown.

Again, be careful about where various designs are applied. Avoid “one-size-fits-all” solutions. What is beneficial for higher-speed suburbia is almost always detrimental to lower-speed walkable downtowns, where transportation choice must be emphasized.

Be sure you are context-sensitive—that you are applying the right design tools to the appropriate locations of the community.

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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, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Transitioning to a More Sustainable Future

By Dom Nozzi

I’ve been waiting (and looking) for over 25 years to find effective catalysts to do what needs to be done very soon to transition us to a more sustainable, pleasant future. I have seen nothing that is even remotely effective. With the exception of high energy costs.

Pain? You bet. Our future, tragically, will need to include much bitter medicine to swallow as we must pay for the sins committed by our forefathers and foremothers over the past 80 or so years.

Primarily, those sins include the assumption that we should forever commit ourselves to only one lifestyle: auto-dependent, energy-consuming, high-consumption suburban life.Archer Rd Traffic3

No one thought to do what ecology teaches us for survival: Be diverse and therefore adaptive to an inevitably changing environment, for those species which are not adaptive are in danger of extinction (as are societies/empires).

By not creating or allowing or subsidizing lifestyle choices such as rural or compact urban, we are in a precarious position. Because our community design is not diverse or adaptable in America, a change in one fundamental element of our world—oil prices—means that many of us will be forced to feel a lot of pain in the coming years (we cannot adapt painlessly to a change in oil prices).

For example, those who bought into the suburban American dream are seeing the value of their increasingly dysfunctional home value erode (much more so than housing in more walkable locations). And because they live in a remote place that requires a car for nearly every single trip, such people will have little choice but to suck it up and pay eternally increasing gas prices (not to mention the enormous household expense of having to finance multiple cars for the household—average annual cost for a car is now over $7,500 per year, I believe. I can think of a lot of things that would be better, financially, for a 2-car household to spend $15,000 per year on than depreciating cars).

Are there ways to transition to a more sustainable future, outside of higher energy costs? I don’t know of any. I do know of a number of civilizations which have collapsed because they were not able to adapt quickly.

As was once said by someone who’s name escapes me, whenever a civilization in history has had to make a choice between making a fundamental change in their behavior and extinction, they have nearly always chosen extinction. I’m committed to not choosing extinction, but am realistic enough to sadly conclude that avoiding extinction will mean pain for an unprepared society such as ours (a society with no rail system, and a society with insufficient housing set in compact, walkable, mixed use neighborhoods, for example).

I am committed to transitioning, for example, to a society with rail and walkable communities in the coming decades. Obama needs to immediately commit the US to be on that path (in a “Manhattan Project” sort of way). The sooner we set on that path, the less pain we will feel. But some pain is unavoidable.

Much of our future will be about demolishing white elephant mistakes we’ve made over the past several decades, and building or adaptively re-using more sustainable and more localized patterns. Probably much more re-using rather than new building, as we seem incapable of building walkable, lovable, charming development anymore.

We must also find the leadership to raise gas taxes now, while gas prices are low. Gas taxes are an excellent way for us to see effective demand destruction. By reducing gas consumption, we incrementally make ourselves less unsustainably dependent on increasingly hostile and unreliable oil producers.

Gas tax increases can help nudge us toward being less car-dependent. And gas taxes keep a lot more of our dollars here in the US, rather than enriching “petro-dictators.” My fear about gas tax revenue, though, is that it is likely to be used by Department of Transportation dinosaurs to have us continue to bankrupt and ruin ourselves by widening roads.

Where is Al Gore’s “lock box” when you need it?

 

_________________________________________________

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 Economics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

“Saving” Our Town Centers

By Dom Nozzi

Making cars happy is a vicious cycle. A large percentage of American town centers suffer from excessive and unused “dead zone” parking areas.

The counterproductive “solutions” for a failing town center (and also for relatively healthy town centers)?

Lower parking prices.

Provide more free or underpriced parking.

Provide more road capacity.

The result of this “salvation” is to starve the local government of dollars it might have used to provide quality of life improvements in the town center – such as road diets, streetscaping, public cultural facilities, sidewalk improvements, etc.

Each “car happy” tactic, of course, worsens the quality of life for the town center, which means that there is less interest in people wanting to live in the town center (and more town center residential is one of the most important ways to make a Parking Lot (2)town center healthy and attractive). The continued decline in town center residential, retail and office health sets in motion even more desire to “fix” the town center by trying to make cars even happier in the town center. And so on…

I am amazed that town centers have survived as long as they have, given how much effort we have put into destroying them.

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Filed under Urban Design