Monthly Archives: August 2011

Is It Good News or Bad News that Gas Prices Will Soon Be Significantly Higher?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Recently, I pointed out to a friend that it will be quite beneficial to our society when gas prices (hopefully incrementally) increase to a much higher level. He responded by asking how people will be able to afford such things as the cost of health insurance and medications? And other essential household costs?

I responded by reminding him that as the writer James Howard Kunstler would say, we are an evil (unsustainable) people who “deserve” to be punished.

Americans have opted to unsustainably live it up by taking actions (such as imperialistic militarism) in which our gasoline has been artificially a LOT lower, for almost 100 years, than they should be from an economic and environmental point of view.

At some point, Americans need to pay the piper for the 100 years of subsidized, artificially low gas prices. In other words, we cannot forever violate economic or environmental principles. Nor can we violate the laws of physics. One hundred years of very cheap gas means that Americans have been conditioned to establish unsustainable lifestyles. Lifestyles that naively assumed cheap gas would last forever. And that, of course, is impossible. By assuming gas would always be cheap, many of us are stuck with lifestyles that cannot survive the inevitable rise in gas prices.

The only thing we can do now to ease the pain is hope that gas prices will rise relatively slowly and incrementally. If it happens slowly, many of us can more feasibly adjust our lifestyles so that we are not as dependent on cheap gas.

News flash: It is not possible for us to forever engage in happy, cheap gas motoring by living in such a way as to make it a requirement that all or nearly all of our trips are by motor vehicle. Such a lifestyle can never be sustainable economically or environmentally.

Unless we somehow violate the laws of physics and find an endless source of no-pollution, cheap energy for our cars, we MUST start moving away from a car-dependent lifestyle.

As an aside, even if we do find this “perfect” energy, we still would have to contend with unaffordable sprawl, loss of sociability, loss of community, 45,000 people dying on highways every year, noise pollution, loss of critical wildlife habitat, and unaffordable household costs associated with needing 4-5 cars per household, among other things.

Are there other ways to cope with the inevitable end of cheap gas? Should we strive to find an endless supply of cheap fuel? Subsidize people who live in remote locations by giving them “gas welfare payments”?

Maybe we should think about changing lifestyles that depend on cheap fuel instead. I don’t see a way around it. We either pay now (by changing our lifestyles more slowly), or pay later (which would be a LOT more costly and painful).

How can people afford to pay for essential household needs if gas prices are significantly higher?

Consider an analogy.

Someone who has lived for their entire lives in a community where natural gas and electricity prices have been very low. Their house, largely because of those low prices, is very leaky. It has poor insulation and very bad energy efficiency design. The household uses an enormous amount of natural gas and electricity because it is so cheap. They then learn that natural gas and electric prices are inevitably going to skyrocket in cost due to resource scarcity and new environmental air pollution regulations. They worry that they will not be able to afford health insurance if their home utility costs go way up.

What do we tell them?

To fight against the environmental regulations to keep natural gas and electric cheap? To keep their fingers crossed that technology saves us by giving us “nuclear power too cheap to meter”?

I would tell them that I hope their utility costs go up relatively slowly so that they will have a better chance to adjust their lifestyle and establish enhanced home energy conservation. They can therefore less painfully adjust to a doubling or tripling of the per unit cost of home energy.

I would NOT tell them to pray for a miracle so that natural gas and electric are forever cheap. A miracle in which they can continue to use huge amounts of natural gas and electric.

Another aside: As many others have noted, when (not if) gas prices become much higher, folks who have a lifestyle that depends on cheap gas will be forced to start making trade-offs. They’ll have to start cutting expenses in their lifestyles so that they can afford to pay for more expensive gas until they are able to adjust their lifestyles to be more sustainable. They will have to eat less at restaurants. Grow more of their own food. Buy clothes less often. End their cable TV subscription. Keep the thermostat lower in the winter by wearing warmer clothes in the house. Find a second or third job to get more income. Get rid of their expensive cell phone service. Sell a car or two so that the household has one or none (way too many low-income American households own several cars today). Stop eating meat. Walk, bicycle and use transit more. Put their pets up for adoption. Find a tenant to rent a room at their house. Sell their home and rent a place in or near the town center. And so on…

Changing lifestyles is the key. Not “DRILL, BABY, DRILL!!!”

_________________________________________________

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

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Filed under Economics, Peak Oil, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Bicycling and the Straw Man Argument

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Earlier in the summer of 2011, what passes for a transportation debate in Gainesville FL caught my attention. It seems that representatives of the “Make Cars Happy at All Costs” crowd (ie, “take all transit, bicycle and pedestrian funds and use them to help us widen all our roads for cars” advocates) have been suggesting that we shouldn’t spend money for bicycle lanes or paths because too few people are bicyclists in Gainesville. And it is impractical, for example, to “carry lumber on a bicycle.”

By arguing this, these dinosaur representatives are trotting out the straw man argument that bicycling cannot replace car travel.

But no one is suggesting that.

No one is suggesting that all car trips should or can be replaced by bicycle trips. That we ask people to lug home a refrigerator on their mountain bike.

Instead, many of us are simply asking that we level the playing field so that motorists are not so heavily subsidized.

These Gainesville “Happy Car” lobbyists make the common – yet quite mistaken – observation that motorists subsidize bicyclists via the gas tax. Yet Todd Litman convincingly shows that it is bicyclists who are subsidizing motorists: http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

I’m sure the Happy Car people would agree that in our transportation system, we should strive for fairness, equity, and an end to market-distorting (socialist) subsidies for any form of travel. The first place to start, as Donald Shoup convincingly shows in his The High Cost of Free Parking, is to end the biggest subsidy, by far, in the US: free parking for motorists. No other subsidy in the US is anywhere near as high as the subsidy motorists enjoy when parking.

Shoup accurately refers to free parking as a fertility drug for cars.

I am not going to delve into other categories of motorist subsidy: free roads, an artificially low price for gas, and an excessively low gas tax.

In these times of dire finances for governments, it is essential that we end socialism for motorists. Economists inform us that socialism inevitably led to bread lines in the Soviet Union. Economists also know that free roads and free parking leads, similarly, to congested roads and congested parking lots. If socialism was bad when the Soviets tried it, is it not also bad when we apply it to motorists?

I should also point out that we have poured trillions of public dollars into trying to “build (widen) our way out of congestion” for several decades. Studies and the several decades of congestion in the US show us that we cannot build our way out of congestion (as Anthony Downs “Stuck in Traffic” points out). The bread lines (road congestion) keeps getting worse and worse.

The Happy Car people seem to have not learned that lesson. Or the failure of economics in the Soviet Union. They insist on believing we can successfully use socialism for happy motoring. On the contrary, as my Road to Ruin book demonstrates, spending public money to widen our roads is ruinously counterproductive. The congestion quickly gets worse after the widening (BECAUSE we widened, NOT because we didn’t widen enough). And the more we spend on widening, the worse our quality of life becomes.

I suspect we’d see a lot more bicycling in Gainesville if we ended welfare for motorists. If we ended market-distorting, Soviet-styled socialism for motoring.

_________________________________________________

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

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Does Car Travel Promote Freedom?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, the executive editor states that ”most people prefer to travel by car because [they
seek]…freedom.”

http://www.npr.org/2011/03/04/134255653/weekly-standard-the-way-we-drive-now

But in what sense is this true? Our nearly single-minded focus on providing for car travel has meant that all other forms
of travel, such as walking, bicycling and transit use, have been made quite difficult, unpleasant, and unsafe (car-happy design is a zero-sum game that makes other forms of travel less possible). This zero-sum game means that for decades now, most Americans can only realistically travel by car. Again, in what sense are Americans “free” if they are forced to travel only by car?

We also learn from the executive editor that “there’s no evidence anywhere in the United States—or the world, for that
matter—that investment in mass transit in recent decades has reduced congestion.”

The proper aim of providing for more walking, bicycling and transit options is not, as the editor claims, to reduce congestion, however. That plays into the hands of the pro-road widening lobby, because even the most effective efforts to provide for non-auto travel are unlikely to reduce congestion. Why? Because cars consume so much space that it only requires relatively few motorists to congest a road, and when motorists do not need to pay a toll to use an important road, there will always be many who are
eager to fill new road space created by those who have opted to walk, bicycle of use transit. Again, since even the best non-auto travel promotion efforts will fail to reduce congestion meaningfully, the road-widening lobby can then respond that since our non-car promotion efforts “failed,” we need to get back to “realistic” tactics like road widening.

No, the proper aim of efforts to promote non-car travel is not to reduce congestion. To state this is a canard. Any city worth
its salt will have congestion. The purpose of promoting non-car travel, instead, is to provide TRAVEL OPTIONS for those who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion, and would like to avoid being stuck in traffic.

Being able to avoid congestion, then, is the true measure of travel freedom. And the true measure of the success of promoting
non-auto travel.

_________________________________________________

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, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Do Bike Lanes Belong in Town Centers?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Are bike lanes always a good idea? In all parts of a city? Even in a town center?

Sometimes, yes. In striving for transportation choice, bike lanes are often an important way to achieve that objective. Particularly when a hostile, high-speed, four- or six-lane highway runs through the town center.

On the other hand, while I have been a lifelong bicycle commuter and have always been an enthusiastic supporter of improving conditions for bicycling, there are important reasons why bike lanes are inappropriate in a town center. They can be, as new urbanists would say, a “transect violation.”

A crucial message in my books and speeches these days is that cities are dying from gigantism. In my view, in other words, the biggest problem in town center design for most all US cities is that spaces are way too big (building setbacks, road widths, surface parking lot sizes, distances from origin to destination, etc.). By far, the most important urban design task for American town
centers to engage in is setting about to shrink the size of over-sized spaces – particularly space allocated to cars.

How do we reverse the gigantism disease in town centers? A “road diet,” where travel lanes are removed from an over-sized road, is an excellent opportunity to reduce sizes to a more human, quality scale.

I am, at times, heartbroken by the squandered opportunity to shrink the size of spaces. It is unforgivable for a city which takes the much-needed step to road diet a street to throw away that golden chance to achieve a more human-scaled street.

The Pedestrian Is the Design Imperative

My broken record message for town centers: The pedestrian is the design imperative. Not bicyclists. Not motorists. Not buses. Not the handicapped.

The quality of life of a town center is directly related to the quality of the pedestrian environment. If your goal is to improve safety, transportation choice, lovability, and overall quality of life, maximizing pedestrian quality comes first and foremost. Only after the
community has achieved as much as it can to promote a quality pedestrian environment should it consider improving conditions for other forms of travel. And in no case should improvements to other forms of travel be detrimental to pedestrians.

Providing for bicycling in a town center is an excellent example of how this essential rule of not harming pedestrian needs can be violated.

A common thought is that a road diet provides an opportunity to install bike lanes on that street. However, doing so can deliver a number of unintended consequences. If a community opts to install bike lanes to help bicyclists in a town center, pedestrian needs are usually degraded in a number of important ways. Which can make the installation of bike lanes a big mistake.

Why Bike Lanes in a Town Center Can Be a Problem

Bike lanes increase average car speeds because of how wide they make the street feel to motorists, and because they reduce the feeling of “friction” for motorists.

By installing bike lanes, the engineers are commonly not able to reduce the curb-to-curb distance of a road-dieted street. The distance therefore remains too wide, and an opportunity to create a modest, human-scaled distance is squandered.

By installing bike lanes, the engineers are usually able to find less room to install more than a trivial number of added on-street parking. And there is very little that is more important to pedestrian quality (not to mention the health of small retail shops) than the installation of on-street parking.

Bike lanes reduce motorist attentiveness by reducing friction. Eighty percent of all crashes are due to inattentive motorists.

Note that town centers typically have a traditional connected grid street system, which means that cyclists not comfortable with sharing a low-speed street lane with cars (on the road-dieted street) can easily use a parallel street on both sides of the dieted street.

Ideally, a high quality design for a town center street will be delivering such a narrow, friction-rich (that is, an interesting and modestly-sized space) cross-section that motorists would be obligated to drive very slowly and very attentively. That makes for a very safe experience for bicyclists to share the lane.

I would not expect all bicyclists to be comfortable sharing the lane with cars on a low-speed street (again, those less skilled can commonly use parallel streets), but let us not forget: the pedestrian is the design imperative in a town center. Not bikes.

_________________________________________________

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, Urban Design, Walking