Monthly Archives: March 2010

The Spectacle of the Road-Widening Consensus

By Dom Nozzi

America has long subsidized cars.

Gas taxes pay only a fraction of road costs.

Free car parking. Shoup says 98 percent of all parking is free—he calls free parking the biggest US subsidy. A fertility drug for cars.

Free-to-use roads. Tolls are rare.

The result is a consensus: make cars happy. Even if it bankrupts us. Democrats join hands with Republicans. We all agree: Happy Cars are imperative.

Tragically, consensus also arises from the “barrier effect.” When we pamper cars (oversized and high-speed roads, parking lots, and low-density, dispersed land uses), we recruit new motorists who were formerly non-motorists. This recruits more “car cheerleaders” who increasingly demand politicians create even LARGER roads and parking lots—which further reduces non-auto travel. A self-perpetuating vicious cycle.

The race for Virginia governor in 2009 exemplified this ruinous spectacle. The 7/29/09 Washington Post reported that both the Republican McDonnell, and the Democratic Deeds, are falling over themselves to convince us they are the candidate most likely to widen roads. It IS possible to build our way out of congestion. It IS possible to solve obesity by loosening your belt.

Inconveniently, we learn that “Virginia isn’t quite out of money, but its balances are heading that way.”

No matter that the State is bankrupt. McDonnell announces that we’ll cut public services (“diverting money from schools and other priorities”).

Deeds assures us there is no reason to fear losing our god-given right to happy cars. He is “winking and nodding” on raising taxes.

_________________________________________________

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

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Urban Design

An Evaluation of the Mechanicsville Turnpike, Richmond VA

By Dom Nozzi

In June of 2009, I was asked to join a bus tour in Richmond to determine whether a particular commercial corridor should be included in an upcoming event sponsored by a local sustainability and sprawl citizens group. The event would strive to illustrate examples of sprawl and what Richmond could do about it.

The bus tour starts on the I-195 expressway belt in Richmond, a highway belt that has and continues to induce suburban sprawl, a severing of urban neighborhoods from other neighborhoods and the city center, and draining the (local trip) lifeblood out of the Richmond City Center.

The Mechanicsville Turnpike roadway corridor seems to be a rather classic case of strip commercial development. An “Anywhere USA” Generica. Noteworthy features found on this high capacity, unsafe, high-speed, 5- to 8-lane road predictably include huge retail and office development setbacks (often behind excessively large asphalt parking lots), an absence of a sense of place, and a lack of on-street parking. The hostile nature of the road has clearly contributed to pushing buildings back from the roadway, and making it unlikely that business owners will be willing to bring front building facades and entrances up to the road. Buildings have increasingly turned their backs to the roadway.

The road is punishing and unrewarding, and the dispersal of commercial properties and lack of residential mixed use combines to create a near absence of walking, bicycling or transit use. These features, along with the enormous amounts of surface parking, creates a “park many times” setting, where every trip to another store in the area must be made by car (out on the already overcrowded roadway), rather than a “park once” environment, where people can walk from store to store.

These design attributes makes the corridor unviable for quality transit service. A “Plan B” for a transformation toward transportation choices is thereby effectively foreclosed.

The generic, hostile character is surely one that is unable to induce any level of civic pride in the community. The unpleasant, unlovable roadway, in contrast to more attractive, vibrant streets, makes travel along the corridor seem longer than it really is.

The road is a car-only, car-happy design that delivers a route lacking in any form of transportation choice. The result is a self-perpetuating cycle in which traffic congestion has been responded to by a history of widenings—the addition of travel lanes or turn lanes. Because the resulting bigger road becomes significantly less safe, pleasant or convenient for pedestrians, bicyclists or transit users, the newly widened road recruits new motorists who were, at times, formerly non-motorists, thereby increasing overall auto dependency, and increasing the number of residents urging elected officials to pursue costly, free-flowing, car-happy design. Such design creates additional barriers for non-car travel, which thereby induces even more car dependency and more traffic congestion. Commonly, this downwardly spiraling cycle continues indefinitely (or until the public sector is no longer able to afford to continue the road-widening cycle).

Given all of the above, it goes without saying that the building architecture along the corridor is “icon” (or “franchise”) architecture which is typical for an Anywhere USA development style, as the road is now highly conducive to Big Box retail franchises. Such retailers seek out larger roadways that are able to draw large volumes of cars from a regional consumer-shed.

Similarly, due to the high-speed roadway and large building setbacks, retailers are compelled to employ jarring, sign-cluttered, brightly lit and day-glow colored features necessary to capture the attention of distant, higher speed motorists.

With modestly-sized roadways, Big Box retail is impossible. With large roadways, Big Box is inevitable. The rise of Big Box retail in the wake of the nationwide construction of large roads has led to the creation of “power centers”, where these large retailers become predatory “category killers” that induces retailers to compete with competitors by engaging in a form of “arms race” in which retailers are continuously striving to out-size their competitors. One result of this one-upsmanship is the exponential growth in excessive per capita retail square footage in places such as Richmond over the past several decades.

Clearly, the large capacity of this multi-lane roadway has expanded commercial markets outward from the Richmond urban area, as is seen by the on-going march of new developments (often a conversion of residential to office and retail) and “For Sale” signs sprouting up as one moves from the Richmond center to more remote, single-use locations. Typically, these For Sale signs are an indicator that the landowner is seeking to cash-in on these roadway changes by converting farms to large-scale residential, office or retail pods that can only be reached by car.

The historic and on-going march of residential development in more peripheral locations is largely fueled by the well-known “travel time budget.” Research has found that throughout history and cross-culturally, humans have, on average, sought a living arrangement where the round-trip commute travel time from home to work, school, or whatever is traveled to on a regular basis, is approximately 1.1 hours. Some travel more and some less, but the average is just over an hour. When roads are widened or speeded up, then, the equilibrium point is re-established by homes springing up in even more remote locations from the job or school or activity center location—because the widened road enables the more remote household to continue to maintain the 1.1-hour commute time.

Suggestions for the September Tour-de-Sprawl and the Turnpike

First, I believe that the tour should include a visit to a local example of a walkable, Smart Growth development. If possible, there should be both old and new examples, and an opportunity for the group to get out, walk around and experience how such places “feel.”

Should the community wish to transform the corridor to be more walkable and less sprawl- and strip-inducing, the first step will need to be a transformation of the road. This would probably mean some form of road diet, where travel and turn lanes are removed.

In an interim period before a road diet program can be implemented, it may be necessary to impose growth boundaries as a way to stem sprawl and strip market forces induced by over-sized roadways in the region.

Financial incentives that currently fuel the strip commercial sprawl found along and beyond the corridor will need to be addressed. One change will need to be financial institutions, which need to become more comfortable financing Smart Growth development. Currently, such financing is unlikely as lending institutions tend to prefer conventional, car-oriented development with a track record. Smart Growth projects will need to be shown as profitable in the Richmond area before lending can be expected for such projects.

Another way in which conventional, local financial incentives can be leveraged to induce redevelopment and infill along this corridor is via a “land value tax” (LVT). This tax, according to Wikipedia.com, is an ad valorem tax on the value of land. This ignores buildings, improvements, and personal property. Because of this, LVT is different from other property taxes on real estate — the combination of land, buildings, and improvements to land… Most taxes distort economic decisions. If labor, buildings or machinery and plants are taxed, people are dissuaded from constructive and beneficial activities, and enterprise and efficiency are penalized due to the excess burden of taxation. This does not apply to LVT, which is [set at a fixed rate] regardless of whether or how well the land is actually used… Proponents allege that [the LVT] encourages landowners to develop vacant and underused land [to a higher, more active use] or to make way for others who will. The claim is that because LVT deters speculative land holding [often as downtown surface parking lots], dilapidated inner city areas are returned to productive use, reducing the pressure to build on undeveloped sites and so reducing [sub]urban sprawl. For example Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in the United States has taxed land at a rate six times that on improvements since 1975, and this policy has been credited by its long time mayor, Stephen R. Reed, with reducing the number of vacant structures in downtown Harrisburg from about 4,200 in 1982 to less than 500. LVT is an ecotax because it ostensibly discourages the [the under-use of in-town locations, and, in turn, the financial incentives to build in sprawl locations].

One hopeful trend on the national level is that there is a growing frequency of conventional shopping malls and strip commercial areas to be redeveloped as more walkable (albeit somewhat artificially created) town centers and “main streets” incorporating residences. One reason for the growth in such development is the relative profitability of such developments.

_________________________________________________

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

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

What About Speed Humps?

By Dom Nozzi

I have mixed and declining feelings about the usefulness of speed humps—those relatively large asphalt bumps in the road designed to slow down (calm) cars.

Here is what I had to say in my Road to Ruin book about humps:

“Speed humps also reduce vehicle speeds and at the same time reduce accident rates, or at the least do not increase them, according to the Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE).  Humps cause drivers little or no discomfort if we are going less than 25 mph, and they need to be spaced close enough to each other so that we cannot speed from one to the next. The ITE has found that despite concerns about liability, vehicle damage, and emergency vehicle impacts, these problems have not occurred or have been found to be insignificant when considering the positive effects of humps.”

“In fact, such modest physical reconfiguration of streets has proven the only reliable and cost-effective way to slow and control traffic.  Despite the conventional wisdom, neither stop signs nor posted speed limits affect overall traffic speeds or control speeding.”

However, since I wrote that book, I have come to learn from Dan Burden, the road diet and roundabout guru, that humps tend to be over-used by most communities, and often degrade the quality of a neighborhood street. Dan also makes the important point that unlike horizontal interventions such as chicanes and bulb-outs, vertical treatments such as humps can be quite detrimental to emergency response vehicles. He generally discourages the use of humps, and I agree with him that there are a number of calming treatments that are far superior to humps. He points out that elected officials tend to over-use humps because they are relatively cheap.

And therefore a low-cost way to placate citizens angry about speeding traffic.

In general, I am thoroughly convinced that one of the most effective ways to improve neighborhood and town center quality of life, safety, and economics is to slow motor vehicles using calming methods. I particularly like on-street parking and relatively narrow travel lanes. My favorite street type is the “give-way” street, where motorists are obligated to “give-way” to an approaching car because two cars cannot find the width to pass each other unless one moves aside. This obligates much safer, attentive, slower speeds.

And therefore more humanized vehicular travel that is much more conducive to the human habitat.

_________________________________________________

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

 

 

3 Comments

Filed under Urban Design

Sidewalks and Bike Facilities Are Necessary But Not Sufficient

By Dom Nozzi

Sidewalks and bike facilities are very important. I am an enormous advocate of such facilities, and strongly believe they are necessary.

However, such facilities are NOT sufficient.

Facilities such as bike lanes and sidewalks do not meaningfully induce bicycling and walking by themselves.

Gainesville FL is an excellent example (as are a number of communities I have visited).

Gainesville has one of the most comprehensive and adequately provided sets of bike lanes and sidewalks I know of. The climate is good year-round. The topography is flat as a pancake. And the University of Florida, being the third largest university in the US, provides that city with an unusually large number of young, healthy, fit, poor, educated citizens.

Despite all those things going for it, the number of utilitarian bicyclists and walkers is tiny. I contend it is because Gainesville is an utter failure when it comes to car parking, density/mixed-use, gas taxes, size/speed of roads, size of blocks/connectivity, etc.

If it were true that bike lanes and sidewalks induced lots of bicycling and walking, why is almost no one bicycling and walking (in a utilitarian sense) in Gainesville?

I’ve heard people tell me over and over again that if paths or sidewalks were provided, they’d bike or walk a lot more. I’ve not noticed that being true in the cities in the US that have a failing score on my list of effective tactics (noted above).

It is common for folks to give answers in surveys just because they believe that it is ethical to believe or behave in the way they indicate in the survey. But this ends up mostly being lip service. Almost everyone says they’ll bike/walk/transit more if we put in the bike/walk/transit faculties. But mostly they are not being honest (or don’t realize there are a lot of additional factors that have them decide not to change the way they travel).

My list of tactics mentioned above strives to identify the most effective strategies to induce travel change. Bike lanes and sidewalks are necessary, but not effective enough to be on my Top Ten list. I also didn’t have showers on my list for the same reason. Or bike parking.

One of the reasons I think it is a good idea to not have bike lanes/sidewalks on the effectiveness list is that far too many people think the war has been won if those things are installed (but nothing has been achieved for the items on my effectiveness list).

I’m tired of that. I’m ready for some wise leadership. For a change.

Keeping bike lanes and sidewalks off a tactics list might lead to some serious thinking. America has had how many decades of failure to meaningfully increase bicycling and walking? Isn’t it time for a change in what we do?

_________________________________________________

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

 

 

2 Comments

Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Do Sidewalks and Bike Lanes Promote Walking & Bicycling?

By Dom Nozzi

Quite commonly, we are told that sidewalks and bike lanes will induce more people to walk and bicycle.

However, in my experience (and note that I am referring strictly to utilitarian/commute walking/biking, and not recreational), sidewalks and bike lanes don’t seem to induce a meaningful number of utilitarian trips by pedestrians or bicyclists — particularly in suburbia.

Why?

In my opinion, it is irrational and therefore extremely unlikely that people will opt to walk or bike (even on bike lanes or sidewalks) instead of drive a car, for trips to work or a store or other utilitarian trips. Particularly because, as Donald Shoup so convincingly points out, the free parking spaces that Americans find on nearly all of their car trips are begging people to drive a car.

Another important factor that make bike lanes and sidewalks unlikely to induce new utilitarian bicycle or pedestrian trips are the enormous distances one finds in low-density, single-use suburban settings.

Gainesville FL, where I was a planner for 20 years, had sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere, yet it was VERY rare for me to ever see or hear of someone walking or bicycling for utilitarian purposes (even though we had an enormous number of college students there). In my daily bicycle commuting, I almost always felt that I was one of 3 or 4 bicycle commuters in allegedly bike-friendly Gainesville (where bike lanes and paths are all over the community).

In stark contrast, I have been to communities in both America and Europe (Charleston, Copenhagen, Rome, etc.) where there is an enormous amount of biking and walking. And quite frequently, such places have rather inadequate sidewalks or bike lanes. In my opinion, those places have lots of bicyclists and pedestrians because of their high town center densities, mixed uses, scarce and expensive parking, and short travel distances.

Other examples: Many have observed that in a number of “new urbanist” towns, many continue to drive despite sidewalks and short distances. Or notice that most everyone drives even though their trip is only a few hundred feet in length.

Again, in my opinion, that is largely explained by the abundance of free parking that awaits at the destination.

Too often, I’ve seen elected officials unjustifiably pat themselves on the back for creating a bike-friendly community because they required installation of bike lanes or bike parking. But it was mostly window dressing, because in places like Gainesville, most everyone continued to drive for the reasons I mention above. Politicians are typically unwilling to show the leadership needed to use effective tactics like density, mixed use, efficient parking, etc. Instead, they engage in easy-way-out lip service that buys them votes but doesn’t meaningfully change the community.

In sum, the suburbs are in deep trouble when gas prices go way up again. Their low densities, single-use patterns, and long travel distances means that even with bike lanes and sidewalks, most people will feel obligated to pay a lot more money to buy gas, because the distances are too daunting to walk or bike. Suburbs, to have a future, need to densify or at least create new town centers.

I am in full agreement, despite what I’ve said above, that communities should always require new development to install bike lanes (particularly in suburbia) and sidewalks (particularly in town centers). In fact, I enthusiastically wrote ordinances that Gainesville adopted which required sidewalks for all new development.

I fully agree that people should not be expected to walk on a road due to lack of sidewalks (except, perhaps, in very low-density rural conditions), or be expected to bike without bike lanes (except in low-speed town centers).

If nothing else, such facilities show the community is bike- and ped-friendly. A very important message to send.

It shows that the community respects such people.

 

_________________________________________________

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

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking