Monthly Archives: October 2011

The Suburban War on Walkability

By Dom Nozzi

New urbanists point out that there are several different “lifestyle” choices that members of a community seek out, and that these choices generally correspond to various geographic locations within the community.

What one finds in a community, generally, is that those seeking a more walkable, compact, higher-density, and sociable lifestyle tend to live in or near the community town center. Others seek a more “drivable” lifestyle which features lower densities, larger setbacks, homes separated from jobs and shops, and shorter buildings. This more spread out development pattern tends to be found in more remote locations.

Areas, in other words, surrounding the more walkable, compact town center.

Another lifestyle tends to be that which seeks “rural” amenities such as farms, small towns, and environmental conservation areas.

It is important, from the point of view of diversity, sustainability, and equity, that all of these lifestyle choices be provided for by the community. Unfortunately, most American communities have severely eroded this choice of lifestyles by adopting development regulations throughout the community that are one-size-fits-all.

And that one size tends to be suburban.

New urbanists rightly seek to restore the timeless tradition of providing for not just the suburban lifestyle, but also the rural and walkable lifestyles.

A serious problem persists, however.

For most all of the 20th Century and continuing on into the 21st Century, America has been aggressively a one-size-fits-all suburban nation. This mindset is self-perpetuating in many ways. Most importantly, the mindset is perpetuated due to America’s heavily-subsidized roads, parking lots, gasoline, and financing. These huge subsidies have led to over-sized, high-speed roads and parking lots, as well as low-density and dispersed single-use development patterns that substantially reduce travel choices so that today, most Americans find that car travel is the only reasonable way to travel for almost every trip.

Consequently, most all Americans have a drivable, suburban mindset. Which means, oddly and tragically, that many who live in walkable, compact American town centers have lifestyle preferences that are more centered on driving than walking. Many expect to find an out-of-place suburban lifestyle preference to be provided for in inappropriate community locations such as a town center.

While such people often enjoy the walkable, sociable, convenient amenities of their town center location, they bring their incompatible suburban values with them to a town center location that should be serving a walkable lifestyle rather than a drivable lifestyle. They want big building setbacks. Extreme privacy. Low-density, one-story housing. Seas of free parking. Wide and high-speed roads. A requirement that offices and shops be located far away from their residential neighborhood, rather than embedded within the neighborhood. And they assume that these suburban features can only improve their town center location.

Who could oppose larger building setbacks, for example?

Unbeknownst to them, they seek community elements that undercut the ability to provide a quality walkable lifestyle. A walkable lifestyle that seeks and needs modest (or no) building setbacks. Higher density, multi-story housing. Scarce, out-of-the-way (and priced) parking, narrow and slow-speed streets. Relatively high levels of convivial sociability. And neighborhoods that incorporate relatively small, walk-to shops and offices.

Because such a high percentage of Americans like suburban attributes, many of those who move to a town center (and often end up enjoying the compact, walkable attributes of the town center) often bring with them the incompatible desire for a suburban lifestyle. And by insisting that they “have their cake and eat it, too,” the suburban mindset – in a town center – ends up degrading the walkable, compact lifestyle that many properly seek to find in a town center location. When communities cave in to suburban demands by providing for the suburban, drivable lifestyle in a town center, they tend to degrade and reduce the availability of a walkable lifestyle in the community, because the above-cited suburban attributes are entirely incompatible with a walkable lifestyle.

Fairness, sustainability, and diversity are thereby lost.

One result of this state of affairs is that the walkable lifestyle is increasingly unavailable — to the point of being nearly extinct in American communities. So much so that because there are millions seeking such a compact lifestyle, it has become so rare that the tiny slivers that somehow remain in American cities are almost always unaffordably expensive because there is far more demand for walkable housing than there is a supply of it in America. Walkable housing gets fiercely and competitively “bid up” in price because there are far more buyers than sellers.

Ironically and paradoxically, many intelligent, well-meaning community activists seeking a better community quality of life end up harming quality of life in instances where they passionately insist on incorporating suburban values in compact town centers. Their suburban mindset blinds them to the needs of a walkable lifestyle. It is a mindset which assumes it is “common sense” that abundant, spacious landscaping be provided everywhere. That “crowding” be avoided by keeping residential densities low. That “free-flowing” traffic be maintained by widening and speeding up roads.

The suburban mindset is utterly incapable of seeing that these “common sense” interventions are harmful to non-suburban lifestyles. That not all want a suburban lifestyle. That there are actually others in the community who seek a non-suburban lifestyle.

It is essential, then, that we “let the city be the city.” Only in outlying areas is it appropriate and fair for the drivable suburban (or rural) lifestyle to be provided for. Let cities provide for all lifestyle choices – not just the suburban one.

_________________________________________________

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

Why Many Environmentalists Counterproductively Support Excessive Parking for Cars

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Why do so many environmentalists and many other well-educated people (who should know better) so often express strong support for local laws which require new developments to provide excessive, ever-higher amounts of parking for cars? Isn’t it obvious by now, after decades of research, experience and studies, that required parking promotes excessive car use, stormwater runoff problems, loss of wildlife habitat, suburban sprawl, loss of walkability, loss of civic pride, and loss of beauty? Why, in other words, do so many argue for parking rules that are so profoundly counterproductive to their interests?

Is there anything under the control of city hall that is more ruinous to a community or its natural environment than the parking requirements imposed by local governments?

If there are, I am unaware of them.

Why, then, do so many conservationists and informed citizens strongly urge the adoption of laws calling for higher and higher amounts of required parking?

The explanation I repeat over and over again in my books, blogs and presentations is that decisions by elected officials and citizens, for several decades, have created a nation where nearly all of us (including environmentalists and other educated folk) are almost always forced to drive a car for most all of our trips.

That means we are compelled by the travel conditions we face to INSIST that free or low-cost parking and free-flowing (and free-to-use) roads be provided in abundance. We have, after all, a personal stake in low-cost, convenient car use. And because the over-provision of roads and parking for cars is a zero-sum game, it becomes increasingly difficult for anyone to travel without a car. That means American communities see an ever-growing army of car cheerleaders who demand that their elected officials provide free-flowing roads and free, abundant parking.

Who can blame us? We are understandably convinced we can’t travel without such things.

Because nearly all of us – including environmentalists and other enlightened folk – are part of this transportation reality, it has become a political and intellectual consensus that we must bankrupt ourselves to make our cars happy. The people who should know better, then, are compelled to rationalize the indefensible.

Importantly, as the Soviets learned with their infamous bread lines, the solution to long bread lines is NOT to provide more free bread. The solution, as all first-year economics students know, is to charge money for the bread so that the bread is not excessively consumed or wasted (and attract a nearly endless line of people seeking bread).

Likewise, the solution to a perceived lack of parking in America is NOT to provide more free parking (via local laws requiring developers to provide abundant parking as a condition for development approval). It should be obvious to us that providing more free parking results in the same tragic failure that the provision of more free bread caused in Europe. In both cases, the result is more congestion, longer lines, and more misery.

If we all agree that socialistic economics of bread lines is an unworkable failure in Soviet Russia, why do we think that we can make an exception to this simple economic principle for car parking in the US?

It becomes a self-perpetuating vicious cycle that we trap ourselves in. We are so trapped in the tragedy of thinking more free bread (or in this case, more free parking) is a solution to congested parking that even intelligent environmentalists scream for higher and higher amounts of required car parking.

Given the above, communities quite commonly require way too much off-street parking with their minimum parking laws. And many so-called environmentalists applaud loudly.

Perhaps my most important achievement as a senior town planner in Gainesville, Florida, was to convince the city that today, the biggest danger that new development will pose for the community is the provision of TOO MUCH parking by the development, not too little parking.

As a result, I convinced the city to invert its parking requirements. The minimum parking requirements are now maximum requirements for much of the city (the developer can choose to provide anywhere from zero parking up to the former minimum amount of parking required). Which, one would think, would be appealing to the political right, as this new law essentially says, “let the market/developer decide how much parking to provide, not the socialistic government.”

By maintaining the status quo “minimum required parking” law found in 99 percent of all communities in America, we end up with town centers and other locations that look like bombed-out war zones that few humans would find to be a tolerable place to live in or be proud of. Plenty of affordable housing for cars, but misery and disgust for humans, as the infamous and relatively recent photo of downtown Houston shows…

I remain optimistic, however. The rapidly growing cost of gasoline, growing concerns about global warming and peak oil, and the increasingly unaffordable cost of providing abundant, free off-street parking (and big roads) is forcing a growing number of communities and its thought pioneers to revise their earlier, unsustainable views about the “necessity” of making cars happy.

When we run out of money (and space), as they say, we are required to start thinking.

_________________________________________________

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, Economics, Environment, Peak Oil, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Asking Candidates for Elected Office About Proper Transportation Design

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Recently, I submitted a set of questions for Boulder CO city council candidates to respond to. The questions are intended to give voters an idea about where the candidates stand on issues important to voters.

I have long believed that the forms of transportation we provide in our communities is the lynchpin for transportation choice, lifestyle choice, quality of life, economic health, and civic pride. I therefore felt that questions directed to candidates should focus on learning their views on whether they support or oppose quality transportation design.

The questions I submitted:

Do you support humanizing & calming Boulder transportation by putting overweight roads on a diet (ie, removing and narrowing travel lanes)?

Redesigning streets to obligate motorists to slow down & be more attentive (via “friction”-based traffic calming)?

The restoration of the inner loop one-way street in downtown to two-way travel? (a conversion which is happening throughout the nation)

Installation of more raised medians on Boulder streets? (to slow traffic and provide safer pedestrian refuge areas for street crossings)

Incentivizing the removal of town center off-street surface parking in our town center?

Discouraging single-occupant travel via such programs as cash-out parking and the efficient pricing of parking, and downsizing city fire trucks?

Others I neglected to submit:

Do you agree with me that turn lanes are generally inappropriate in walkable, low-speed town centers, and that any existing turn lanes should be removed?

Do you support compact development tactics that promote transportation choices, such as higher density residential development and mixed use?

Do you agree with me that in town centers, streets should be no larger than three lanes in width?

Do you agree with me that in town centers, parking for cars should be scarce and priced? That there be no requirements by developers that off-street car parking be provided as a condition for new development?

Do you agree that we should, when possible, unbundle the price of car parking from the price of housing?

Do you agree that compact, mixed-use development and unbundled parking is an effective tactic for providing affordable housing?

_________________________________________________

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

How Can Quality-of-Life and Sustainability Advocates Galvanize Support for Their Cause?

By Dom Nozzi

Advocates for quality of life and sustainability — with regard to how we design our communities and our transportation system – often scratch their heads over the lack of enthusiasm from citizens to protest serious harms being committed in communities, and a lack of passion to support like-minded political candidates for elected office.

Where, for example, is the quality-of-life version of the fervent anti-abortion movement? Or the traffic calming version of the right-wing Tea Party?

How, in other words, do we motivate the political left wing to march in the streets? To boycott? To dedicate their lives to ending the ruinous destruction wrought by state departments of transportation and their over-sized monster roads?

Recently, a friend and political ally indicated that he was optimistic when 85 people in his community quickly volunteered to help counteract a right-wing effort to roll back conservation efforts in his community by vowing to attend future county commission public meetings on the topic.

Fine.

But in my experience, out of the many who solemnly swear to join his cause, only a tiny number will actually show up for any meetings. Soon, no one for “our side” will attend the meetings.

“Volunteering to help” is just too easy. Long-term commitment is much more difficult to inspire – particularly on the political left.

What can be done to galvanize the political left? To sustainably energize those who seek better community design, more humanized, walkable streets, or more effective conservation of our sensitive natural areas?

In my opinion, a way must be found to instill a secular version of religious fervor in liberals and leftists. Marxism was able to do that in the past, but the socialism he and his advocates preached has been almost entirely discredited or become irrelevant today.

Another handy motivator is a compulsory military draft, which the war-mongering US has learned to avoid forever more in its on-going efforts to retain public support for American “global policeman” actions around the world. The mandatory draft during the Vietnam atrocity inspired long-term fervor and effective protest to stop that madness. War hawks have learned not to make the mistake of instituting a draft again.

What are some of the remaining tactics and events most likely to motivate progressive advocates in the future?

1. An enormous (and preferably abrupt) increase in the cost of gas, utilities or food. The important caution, however, is that these can lead to reactionary, militarized, autocratic politics.

2. A severe economic recession or depression, although Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs instructs us that progressive politics often plays second fiddle when one needs to first figure out how to put food on the table.

3. Severe traffic congestion, although this can counterproductively and ruinously lead uninformed communities to widen the road. Road widening as a response to congestion, however, is now much less likely given the extreme financial crisis being suffered at all levels of government.

4. A martyr, although people to be influenced must first be supportive of the action urged by the martyr. Ghandi instructed us that non-violent protest is useful for catalyzing action, not for changing minds.

5. Creating a local and much-loved “commons” at the local level.

I learned about the concept of a “commons” from All We Share, a book recently written by Jay Walljasper.

Creating a “commons” is, in my view, perhaps the most effective and therefore important tool available to progressive advocates seeking better community and transportation design (most of the others on the list above are outside of the control of advocates, after all).

What are examples of a “commons”? Communities create a commons when they establish a well-used pedestrian mall (a town center street where cars are prohibited), a public square, a public park or trail, a public meeting hall, and even a public sidewalk.

It is, in other words, a place where members of the community freely, easily and regularly meet to share conversation, fun, passion, politics, community celebration, and an appreciation for their community or its natural environment.

In Boulder, Colorado where I live, examples of a commons include Pearl Street Mall, the Boulder Creek Greenway Path and the well-used, publicly-owned greenbelt trails. Each of these much-loved community features have effectively built an army of people motivated to attend Council meetings and fight for those “commons” places.

They fight out of a passion for the public square or the forest or the trails or the lake they have grown to appreciate and love after spending time in such a commons. Who in Boulder, in other words, can fail to see how so many of its citizens have been forever galvanized to fight to protect Pearl Street Mall? Or the Boulder Creek Path? Or have a long-term commitment to wanting to see MORE such places created in Boulder?

As a result, for other communities aspiring to achieve the many admirable accomplishments Boulder now enjoys, courage and wisdom is needed to create a much-loved and well-used commons, where progressive politics and progressive evangelists can be nurtured and motivated to attend meetings. And work to elect sympathetic political candidates. An important reason I fought for the Hogtown Creek Greenway when I was a planner living in Gainesville, Florida was to create such a commons to build a progressive army willing to yell and scream at commission meetings.

A commons is a powerful way to recruit progressive action, educate citizens, keep issues in front of the public, and provide motivation that arises from a deep love and need to protect the commons.

What are the potential places where a “commons” can be created in your community? Does your town center have a short street section that can be converted into a car-free pedestrian mall? (at least temporarily) Can an underused public park be made more of a popular commons by scheduling frequent programs such as concerts or festivals at the park?

Without such a commons, the political left has very little ability to meet, agitate, educate and motivate.

With a commons, advocates for progressive change are much more likely to realize durable, long-term success.

A well-used pedestrian mall or greenway trail, after all, is much more likely to build a sustainable army of evangelists for better streets and healthier creeks than pamphlets, door-knockers, phone calls, or even efforts to elect champions for a better community.

After all, if there are insufficient numbers of galvanized citizens in the community – borne of a “commons” for many issues on the political left – even election of a “savior” will do little good.

Creating a commons should be at the top of any agenda to create long-term support for a better community.

_________________________________________________

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment, Politics, Urban Design, Walking