Monthly Archives: August 2010

Why Are Cities That Engage in Effective Car Reduction Tactics Still Seeing Significant Car Dependency?

By Dom Nozzi

Why is it that in many developing nations, the growth and level of car dependency is high, despite their having many conditions that discourage high levels of car use?

I believe that in our age, technology, relatively high income, and inexpensive energy means that the apparently hard-wired desire to have car-based mobility will make car reduction tactics almost irrelevant, in the short term, in developing nations.

Societies today have been conditioned by media, dispersed development, free roads, and free parking (at least in the newer parts of communities) to believe that cars are a convenient necessity. Indeed, in my experience, even in American places where cars are discouraged by high parking costs, road fees, parking/road scarcity, mixed use, higher density, etc., an enormous number of Americans don’t think it is even hypothetically possible to live without a car (a book I recently read is called “How to Live Well Without a Car”).

Like compact, walkable, traditionally mixed-use neighborhoods, most Americans cannot even conceive of living without a car (even if it were cheap and convenient to do so). The inconceivability of living without a car suggests that we won’t see substantial reductions in car use until at least two things happen: (1) Car use is significantly more expensive than it is today; and (2) a new generation is born into that expensive car world.

Regardless of the relative ineffectiveness we are seeing in our efforts to reduce excessive car dependence, I join other smart growthers in promoting a reduction in car dependence. Like most all new urbanists, I don’t believe our objective is to eliminate the car from our world. My goal is to reduce the prevalence of “low value” car trips (driving a car to rent a video at rush hour, for example), and use equitable pricing and urban design tactics to make car travel more of a choice rather than a necessity.

I am thoroughly convinced that the design needs for most people not driving a car are utterly at odds with the needs of motorists (most of us, when not in cars, hate huge, high-speed roads, highway lighting, huge parking lots, billboards, etc.). For the time being, therefore, it is essential that we use people-oriented (instead of car-happy) town design tactics to avoid having the needs of car travel dominate (and degrade) our world – even if our design tactics are not resulting in a significant reduction in car dependency.

By not using traditional, timeless, walkable town design strategies, our communities quickly become auto-friendly wastelands that no one can love – largely because of the enormous space and speed needs of motorists, and the self-perpetuating vicious cycle that these needs create.

Without discouraging cheap, easy, convenient car travel, our communities quickly become unlovable places.

Developing nations, apparently, must go through the same agonizing, costly, ruinous decades of car-dependent development before they learn the lessons that some of us have already learned here in the US.

Again, car discouragement tactics are typically not significant enough to overcome the hard-wired desire for car-based mobility, the cheap oil, the media, the technology and the relative wealth – all of which strongly compel societies in developing nations (as well as Americans) to become car dependent. Because car travel is so seductive (convenience, speed, protection from weather, free parking/roads, status, cargo hauling, crime protection, etc), most of us cannot resist it. And until higher oil prices or declining economic conditions make cars impossibly expensive, it will continue to be rational for many to become or remain motorists, even with discouragement tactics in place.

My hope: Oil will soon become a lot more expensive so that the toxicity of excessive car use (and infrastructure needs) will not further ruin communities. That developing nations not be set on a path to follow the US in creating unlovable, unsustainable places as the US has so tragically done.

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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, Peak Oil, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Plan B: What I Plan to Do If Collapse Seems Certain

By Dom Nozzi

There is a growing number of books published in recent years that expect significant turbulence or collapse for transportation/government/society/economics in the US in the near future. A few of the books I’ve recently read on this grim topic:

The Town that Food Saved

The Big Short

The End of Oil

Why your world is about to get a whole lot smaller

$20 Per Gallon

Running On Empty

Reinventing Collapse

The End of America

The Coming Economic Collapse

Twilight in the Desert

The Collapse of Complex Societies

Collapse

Also, in recent days, this…

Michael Ruppert on why Peak Oil will result in societal/government/economic collapse soon…

http://www.cctv.org/watch-tv/programs/author-and-peak-oil-activist-michael-ruppertAnd a prediction about the likely (?) collapse of the Stock Market…
 July 04, 2010
Strategies:  A Market Forecast That Says ‘Take Cover’ 
By JEFF SOMMER
A proponent of the Elliott Wave theory for market forecasting sees trouble ahead: a slide worse than the Great Depression or the Panic of 1873.

Given all of this, I’ve given some thought to what sort of “Plan B” I envision for myself. How can I be more resilient to future changes and uncertainty – without opting for extreme measures such as selling all my possessions and living as a hermit in a cave?

Here is a “work in progress” list of what I’ve come up with so far…

1. Downsize my possessions so that I’m more mobile and nimble.

2. Live in a walkable place (compact enough to allow me to walk to both recreation and things I need regularly: grocery store, doctor, dentist, friends, household retail, hardware, etc.). A place that I like so much that I want to live in the community for the rest of my life.

3. Cash out (liquefy) my investments (before the stock market tanks), and pay cash (to avoid a mortgage) for a pre-1930 house with a yard large enough for a vegetable garden, in a walkable neighborhood (preferably a house that is reasonably self-sufficient for energy and water). Even if the housing market & economy ALSO crashes, at least I’d have a roof over my head.

4. Have a life partner. And reliable, trustworthy friends who live nearby.

5. Continue cultivating pursuits that don’t require gas or electricity, such as hiking, socializing and reading.

Despite all I’ve read that suggests a grim future, I’m not much of an “End of the World” type person. I intend to continue doing the best I can by living a healthy, enjoyable, low-impact, low-energy lifestyle (including teaching classes & other things to communicate and listen). It is likely, after all, that even if one is successful in “building a lifeboat” to weather a future collapse, how gratifying would life be if one lived on an island, when all around was economic, social, and governmental misery? How, for example, would such a person protect themselves from desperate, marauding hordes of people wanting to steal from you because they did not prepare in advance?

 

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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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Lessons Learned as a Town Planner

By Dom Nozzi

My academic background is one in which I originally obtained a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, but realized that I have strong opinions and a desire to help elected officials make better decisions about how to improve the quality of life. Working with test tubes in a lab did not seem like a very effective way to achieve that. Because I’ve always read a lot and have a bit of knowledge in a lot of topics, I came to decide that town planning will be a satisfying way for me to best use my skills and interests. This is because the profession tends to be relatively “generalist” rather than “specialist” – a planner, more so than most professions, is expected to be a jack of all trades. And because at least in theory, planners are expected to provide expert, professional advice to help decision makers make decisions.

I was ultimately to learn that this is commonly not the case, particularly in the public sector.

After graduate school and a master’s degree in urban planning, I was hired by Gainesville FL to be a planner. I eventually became a long-range senior planner and retired from that job in 2007 after 20 years in the profession. Since then, I’ve been semi-retired as an independent town planning/transportation consultant. I write, give speeches, and read about urban design. I love doing each of those three things. Ironically, while I initially loved being a town planner early in my career, I eventually came to despise the job because I eventually realized that the “smart growth,” new urbanist principles that I love and strongly advocate are strongly opposed by almost all local governments and their professional staff – which meant that to perform my job the way my supervisors expected me to do my job made me part of the problem (I was to write and administer development regulations that actually undermine smart growth principles). I was even banned from giving speeches by the Gainesville city manager.

My planning job consisted of my writing land development regulations, long range town plans, preparing professional recommendations to my city about the benefits and costs of a proposal to rezone land in the city (by a property owner), making presentations to the elected and appointed officials, and preparing planning reports. Mostly, the work I was asked to undertake largely focused on making cars happy. For example, I was obligated to telling developers they must provide a huge amount of parking. I needed to request that developers install shrubs to benefit the view of the motorist from her car (no matter that the road is too wide and too high speed and too dangerous to walk or bicycle on – “greenery” was seen as the only necessary path to quality of life). I was also required to insist that developers must keep residential densities and commercial intensities inappropriately low (which is necessary to retain “free-flowing car traffic”). I was also tasked with the overriding need to reduce the negative impacts of cars on neighborhoods (mostly by requiring walls, screens, berms and huge, unwalkable building setbacks).

Based on my experience, I would strongly recommend that students interested in promoting quality of life, or sustainable (smart) development seek out an academic emphasize on design, rather than my academic emphasis on policy. And the design I would recommend students concentrate on is traditional, new urbanist town planning principles – an emphasis that strives to return to the timeless tradition of designing for people, not cars. I believe there are websites such as cnu.com where you can find listings of schools throughout the world which specialize in traditional, new urbanist design. The University of Miami School of Architecture is an outstanding example of such a school in the US, as is Notre Dame. I would also recommend books listed on my walkablestreets.com website.

Ultimately, students and aspiring town planners may find, as I did, that a job in the private sector would be much more pleasant and rewarding than a job working as a planner for a public agency (city, state, county, etc.), as the later tend to be strongly opposed to the planning principles I recommend.

In the public sector, elected officials tend not to have the courage to stand up to enraged, screaming NIMBYs bent on fighting smart growth (or ANY growth, no matter how beneficial). They tend, in other words, not to have the backbone necessary to be leaders. The result is that planners employed by most towns are almost exclusively asked to be reactive. To put out fires. To minimize anger from citizens. Avoid, at all costs, upsetting ANYONE. Just do what you are told, which translates into “covering your ass.” In other words, to do nothing. To design nothing. To be proactive about nothing. To be a boring, milque toast bureaucrat that speaks for 45 minutes but doesn’t say anything beyond unintelligible jargon and bureaucratese – words that provide protection against angry citizens, because no one besides the bureaucrat knows what the words mean. Or because the words are so vague and equivocal that they don’t amount to anything.

In general, a private sector planning job is the place to find work that is meaningful in improving community quality of life. Private sector jobs that are most likely to be rewarding in this sense would mean seeking to be hired by a firm using new urbanist principles, such as those listed on my walkablestreets.com website.

It is the private sector that performs proactive, design-based planning and design today. In the public sector, planners must only react to what developers have proposed. To be single-mindedly focused on ensuring that the development will make cars happy. And to under no circumstances express an opinion about community planning.

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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 Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Congestion and Level of Service

By Dom Nozzi

Congestion

“Induced traffic” represents new car trips created by, for example, a road widening that would have not occurred had we not widened the road. The “triple convergence,” as described by Anthony Downs, occurs when, for example, a road is widened, which attracts new car trips to the widened road that were previously using other routes, attracts car trips during rush hour that were previously avoiding rush hour, and/or were non-car trips that are now car trips due to the widening.

Both induced traffic and the triple convergence inform us that many travelers opt not to travel certain routes, opt not to travel at rush hour, or opt not to drive a car if a route is congested.

If the route is less congested (because of a recent widening, or because some motorists have become transit users, pedestrians, or transit users, for example), those discouraged travelers “converge” back on the route, on rush hour and on car travel. The road congests again. And rather quickly. Unless the community is losing population.

Another way of putting this is that in our world, there will pretty much always be a latent demand for more driving. Much of that demand is discouraged or diverted by congestion. Much of the discouragement goes away when the road is less congested. Roads are not like pipes carrying water. They are more like pipes carrying gas. Expand the pipe and the gas expands to fill the larger pipe. We cannot loosen our belts to avoid obesity. We cannot widen our way (or shift to non-car travel) out of congestion.

Many claim that less congestion results in less auto emissions (less air pollution). However, Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman convincingly showed about 20 years ago that congestion reduces emissions and gas consumption on a regional basis, despite what we’ve always believed (one of the great many benefits of urban congestion). Why? Because as implied above, congestion imposes what Ian Lockwood calls a “time tax.” And “low-value” car trips (driving across town to rent a video at rush hour on a major arterial, for example) decline.

Again, the key is not to reduce congestion. Congestion is a sign of city vitality. A healthy city cannot (nor should it) reduce congestion – at least not by using the conventional tactics such as road widening or synchronized traffic signalization. A healthy, sustainable, livable city must, instead, provide alternatives to congestion: convenient bicycling/walking/transit, compact development, pricing roads/parking, etc. And all of these healthy alternatives are much more likely, politically, when there is a lot of congestion. It is no coincidence that those cities with the worst congestion have the best transit.

Congestion, in cities, is our friend. When we make it our “enemy,” we unintentionally join forces with the sprawl/road/car lobby, since the default solution for reducing congestion is road widening.

One reason that congestion in cities is our friend is that the most essential and effective way to reduce excessive car dependence (and promote walking/bicycling/transit) is to inconvenience cars. The most feasible way to inconvenience cars is to “let it be” when it comes to congestion. To not bankrupt ourselves and destroy our communities by widening roads/parking lots to reduce traffic/parking congestion.

Increasing the number of bicycle or pedestrian trips not only will not reduce congestion. Such claims that increasing bicycling/walking will reduce congestion also perpetuates the downwardly spiraling, counterproductive efforts to try to reduce congestion. Those seeking a better community must end their (unintended) alliance with the sprawl lobby. Doing that means letting go of efforts to promote “congestion reduction.”

And embracing efforts to provide ways to avoid the (inevitable) congestion.

Level of Service

When we take actions to ease car travel, there is no win-win. Providing for cars is a zero-sum game. That is, each time we make car travel easier, we make travel more difficult for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. Providing for cars is also a recipe for downwardly spiraling quality of life for the community.

Transportation “level of serivce” (LOS) conventionally measures how “free-flowing” the car traffic happens to be on a road. Sometimes, this is measured by how many traffic light phases a car must wait for before passing through an intersection (the degree of delay, in other words), or a measure of the total number of cars that use a road each day compared to the size/capacity of the road.

Using transportation LOS as our measure implicitly assumes that congestion is an accurate assessment of quality of life. But using LOS as a yardstick perpetuates this ruinous assumption that free-flowing traffic and quality of life are one in the same.

In fact, when one observes which cities have the worst congestion, it would seem that the reverse is the case. That higher congestion levels commonly means a more impressive, attractive community.

We need to ask other, more appropriate questions to measure quality of life: How healthy is the retail? The downtown? Are large numbers of tourists interested in visiting? Are there lots of bicyclists? Transit users? Pedestrians? How expensive is downtown housing compared to similarly-sized cities? (the higher the expense of downtown housing, the higher the downtown quality of life). Are residents proud and protective of their city?

In my view, asking about LOS is nearly irrelevant to the question of healthy transportation and quality of life. Indeed, a good argument can be made that there is a negative correlation between using LOS as a measure and the quality of the transportation and community.

An unintended consequence of using transportation LOS is, as I mention above, perpetuating the asking of the wrong question. Asking about LOS distracts us from asking better questions along the lines of those questions I suggest above.

Asking the right question is often the crucial first step in taking beneficial actions (or, in science, solving puzzles in the field of research). Long ago, we didn’t reduce the cholera epidemic by measuring how many prayers were said. We learned through science that it was better to ask how we could reduce contamination by bacteria.

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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, Urban Design, Walking

The “Our Own Worst Enemies” Trio

By Dom Nozzi

For decades, we have engaged in the same old story. The same old song and dance. The same old profoundly counterproductive national efforts that are not only bankrupting us and destroying lives, but significantly worsening problems we say we are trying to correct.

Sure, most of us are aware of the catastrophic national blunders we are tragically– intractably – committing. Foolishness that is ruining us. The massive corn subsidies, property taxation that discourages town center development, capital punishment, free parking for cars, local government laws against “smart” and walkable development, tax exemption for churches, laws that promote centralized rather than decentralized power generation, subsidized gasoline, and on and on. The list is nearly endless. We can all name a host of ways in which our governments are worsening our prospects.

But there is a mighty trio of actions we have long taken that are most likely to bring the American Empire to its knees. Even Obama, a president who came to power proclaiming hope and change, has deemed it fit to substantially ramp up these three ruinous juggernauts.

Road Widening.  With the national economy tanking and gasoline prices more likely to skyrocket than ever before, Obama chose to include, in his “stimulus” package, an enormous allocation of public dollars to widen FREE TO USE highways throughout the nation. What can be worse for the long-term prospects of the US than to do something (widening roads) that will inevitably increase car and oil dependency significantly, fuel substantial new suburban sprawl, induce more Americans to drive more miles, destroy in-town quality of life, and ramp up carbon emissions? See, for example, Newman & Kenworthy’s 1989 classic Cities and Automobile Dependence. Also see Downs Stuck in Traffic (1992).

The Drug War. American has apparently learned nothing from the failed alcohol prohibition years. We continue to treat drugs as a moral problem rather than as a medical and social problem. For several decades, we have poured billions into fighting a “war” against drugs. Each year, politicians garner enormous numbers of votes by vowing to be “tougher on drugs.” The result of this unaffordable “war” is an epidemic of drug prohibition-induced crime in most cities, prisons bursting at the seams due to world-leading incarceration rates of “drug offenders” (and a resulting bankrupting of local, state and national government due to enforcement & incarceration efforts), deadly and widespread violence and gang warfare in drug-producing nations such as Mexico, the promotion of a black market and organized crime in the US, an increase in the availability of (and reduction in the price of) illegal drugs, a maintenance of drugs that are dangerous because they are unregulated, and a significant loss of civil liberties. In short, a replay of the alcohol prohibition years. See, for example, James P. Gray’s Why Our Drug Laws Have Failed (2001).

The War Against Terror. Is there anything more counterproductive than spending hundreds of billions of public dollars to prosecute a war in Afghanistan? A war that has undoubtedly spawned countless new terrorists who are now committed to violence against the US for as long as they live. A war that has wiped out villages and killed an appalling number of civilians and American troops. What is our objective in that land? Why are we there? What constitutes “winning”? Why do we expect to “win” in a country that is known throughout history to have defeated numerous and more powerful nations? A place known as the graveyard of empires. See, for example, Richard N. Haas, “Rethinking Afghanistan,” Newsweek Magazine, July 18, 2010.

As Pogo once pointed out, we have met the enemy, and he is us. Who needs enemies when we have ourselves? Will we ever stop being trapped in the downward spiral of the same old song and dance?

 

_________________________________________________

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 Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design