Small Speeds and Small Sizes

By Dom Nozzi

Several decades ago, as cars were first emerging in America, there was a large backlash against the growing car menace, and there was a very strong and nearly successful push to require all new cars to be built with a governor that would keep the maximum speed of cars down to an extremely modest speed.

To improve the quality of life in neighborhoods and cities, I love the idea of designing cars so that they can only be driven at a very low maximum speed. High speed car travel is extremely toxic to cities and neighborhoods, partly because they powerfully induce community dispersal, isolation of people from others, promote non-local Big Box retail, and catastrophically degrade community and neighborhood quality of life.

My core message in my writings and speeches is that we must return to the tradition of slow(er) speed travel. An essential companion to the crucial need for slower speed travel, however, is something we should not lose sight of:

We need substantially smaller vehicles.

A golf cart would be a good start…

The gargantuan space consumption of motor vehicles destroys the intimate, human-scaled, charming, romantic, walkable dimensions and spacing that nearly all humans find lovable (as shown, partly, by the places we most love to visit as tourists). The huge space consumption by cars (a person in a car takes up 19 times more space than a person in a chair) inevitably causes cities to become afflicted by the gigantism disease.

Tragically, it is nearly impossible for designers to build quaint, lovable places when the enormously-sized cars of today are a part of our world. And that explains why, over the past several decades, Americans seem to have completely lost the capability of creating such places. It is only the historic places built long ago that demonstrate these much-desired community and neighborhood traits.

Massive parking lots. Massive building setbacks. Massive highways. Massive distance from Point A to Point B. Result: A dangerous, unsustainable world that no one can love.



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.


Or email me at: dom[AT]

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1 Comment

Filed under Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

One response to “Small Speeds and Small Sizes

  1. yason

    I’m curious: what would be the average speed limit in downtown areas in America?

    In Helsinki it has gradually been decreased to 30km/h (about 20mph) in the very downtown and 40km/h in the surrounding areas. Add 10km/h to each to get the actual speed that cars can drive without fear of a ticket. That’s still fast enough to kill a pedestrian and fast enough to not be able to accommodate bicyclists, but at least the cars will be stopped again at the next red lights. Cobblestone with random bumps helps, too. Cars don’t want to stress their suspension too much.

    The downtown speeds would come down automatically if we only had fewer lanes. If you have 2-3 lanes each direction you can pretty safely (i.e. without soon killing pedestrians) drive 40-50km/h among other cars. If we left one lane for cars and turn the other lanes into parking spaces and widened sidewalks people could pretty much just walk around everywhere, without the need for pedestrian crossings. The cars would slowly flow around, which is pretty much the right speed for anyone who insists on driving in downtown where there’s plenty of good public transportation.

    * * *

    Other than that, I’ve sadly witnessed several new developments that are detrimental to human-size traffic and environments. I know one new building that has absolutely no front whatsoever: just a huge brick wall without even entrances or windows. The buildings of that particular lot are actually behind the huge wall that conveniently separates the yard from the looks of any pedestrian. If they built prisons like that there would be no escapes. I’ll try to go and shoot a picture of this monstrosity, especially as it’s located next to an old block where buildings house business right on the side walk level. The contrast is striking.

    Another peeve of mine is a huge junction that is primarily designed for cars. I must admit, the junction is convenient to drive through and turning to different directions is easy with plenty of time and space to find the correct lanes. Also, there’s congestion only on peak hours (but then again, Helsinki has no congestion if you’ve only ever visited any other city of a decent size…) However, try passing the damn junction with a bike. In Finnish tradition, there are separate pathways for combined pedestrian and light traffic (bicycles, mopeds), but due to the junction’s two-level construction you need to climb four huge slopes in the worst case. The pathways snake up and down over railway tracks, under second-level ramps, and over other lanes. Not only that but the route consists of several tight turns and branches/crossings so you can’t really ride down the slope and get the half of the next climb for free. And you’ll also get lost. There’s signage on the pathways but I’ve never managed to do the junction without erring to a wrong path at least once.

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