Monthly Archives: January 2012

Philadelphia: The Curse of the One-Way Street

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2012, I accept an invitation to serve as keynote speaker for a forum entitled “Walkability: Philadelphia Strides Into the Future.” I give the presentation on a Thursday night at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Square.

My message, in part, is that while the city is already one of the best in the nation for walkable quality (largely due to its high density and proximity of destinations), the city needs to engage in transformative tactics to get to the next level. That the greatest cities share a common trait: they are all world-class places for enjoyable walking.

“It is not about providing more space for pedestrians (such as building new or wider sidewalks),” I point out. “It is about taking away space from cars (via road diets, removal of off-street surface parking, and so on), so that cars are assigned more of their fair share of space, rather than be allocated an excessive amount of space.”

“It is about increasing the cost of driving, so that motorists are paying their fair share of the costs they impose on society.”

“It is about increasing the inconvenience of traveling by car, so that cars do not unfairly inconvenience other users of streets.”

I also note that the pedestrian must be the design imperative. That everything else – cars, transit, the handicapped, even bicycling – come second. When buildings and streets are designed, in other words, the first and primary objective is that the design improves conditions for walking. Only then do we look at providing for other forms of travel, and then only in such a way as to not impede or reduce pedestrian quality. Maximizing pedestrian quality effectively ensures that the community has maximized its quality of life, its economic health, its civic pride, and its sustainability.

I walk for several miles throughout the Philadelphia city center to get a better sense of the walking conditions. Immediately, I notice that the City has converted nearly every downtown street into a one-way street. So thorough, jarring and unpleasant is this conversion that it hits me over the head like a two by four. It is instantly clear to me: for Philadelphia to dramatically improve its walking quality, it must follow the lead of the large and growing number of cities throughout the nation that are converting their one-way streets back to two-way operation.

Philadelphia had made this unfortunate change to one-way streets back in the 1920s.

Why are one-way streets ruinous? Because they inevitably increase car speeds, motorist anger and impatience, and motorist inattentiveness. Streets quickly become a raging, peddle-to-the-metal racetrack of hurried, high-speed cars. Retail shops and residences start fleeing from the newly hostile street. Bicyclists are increasingly pushed onto sidewalks because of the immensely uncomfortable, incompatible danger of trying to share the street with the hurtling cars (bicyclists, in response to one-way streets, also find themselves increasingly riding the wrong way on one-way streets, as do some motorists). Those shops, homes and offices that remain on what are now a form of downtown highways start setting themselves back from the hostility of the street, or turn their backs by boarding up windows, pulling entrances to the side or back, and creating the immense, unfriendly blank walls that are now found on so many of downtown Philadelphia’s streets – thereby killing the energy, vibrancy and interest that a street needs for pedestrian quality.

The incompatibility of bicycling and one-way streets in Philadelphia is evident in at least a few ways. Not only the frequent bicycling on sidewalks I observe, but also the fact that the City has decided to remove on-street parking on many downtown streets in order to install in-street bicycle lanes. Healthy downtown streets have on-street parking on both sides, which slows cars and obligates more attentiveness by motorists. On a well-designed downtown street, car speeds tend to be slow enough that most bicyclists are comfortable sharing the street with car traffic, and on-street bicycle lanes (which detract from creating a human-scaled street environment, and probably increase car speeds) tend to be unnecessary and inappropriate. But when Philadelphia converted to one-way streets, this bicyclist comfort was lost, thereby obligating the need to degrade the pedestrian (and retail) quality of many streets by removing much on-street parking.

Worst of all, the experience for the pedestrian becomes awful with one-way streets. The ambience is quite loud (high-speed cars are the leading source of noise pollution in cites), and seemingly unsafe (high-speed cars seem very dangerous to the pedestrian, and often ARE dangerous due to the tiny reaction times high speeds create). Impatient, inattentive, hurried motorists conditioned to be that way on one-ways also do not tend to be in the mood or have the patience to offer the needed courtesy to pedestrians trying to cross or otherwise navigate on streets.

I acknowledge that many one-way streets in Philadelphia will be very difficult to revert back to two-way, as most streets are quite narrow. Probably only those streets that are three- or more lanes in size can be converted back to two-way, or two-lane streets that have low traffic volumes.

On the positive side, my hat is off to the city of Philadelphia on siren use reduction by police and fire trucks. In my two and a half days in downtown Philly, I hardly heard a single siren. This siren reduction is an enormous boost to the quality of life, the sense of calm and serenity, and the overall well-being of the city. The siren reduction in Philadelphia is in striking contrast to most American cities, where emergency vehicle sirens are nearly constant, 24/7 attacks on eardrums that powerfully create the impression that the city is under siege, or in an active war zone.

While the siren reduction is highly admirable, an essential task remains.

Philadelphia must convert many of its one-way streets back to two-way operation if it expects to get to the next level of quality walkability.

Doing so will enable Philadelphia to attain world-class greatness as a city.

_________________________________________________

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

8 Comments

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

Road Widening: Contemporary Blood-Letting

By Dom Nozzi

A revolution is occurring in the transportation field. After nearly a century of a transportation paradigm that has — as its imperative – the premise that the key to a better future is making cars happy, many are now increasingly seeing the essential need to leave that thinking behind. To beneficially transform our communities by taking the opposite approach: making people, not cars, happy.

But these oftentimes heroic transportation revolutionaries face an enormous dilemma: We have been so thorough in making cars happy for the past several decades that much of our world is designed in such a way that it is impossible to travel without a car.

Tragically, convenient, easy car travel we have bankrupted ourselves in creating is not conducive to creating safe, lovable, human-oriented, sustainable, enjoyable places that induce civic pride (indeed, it is utterly destructive of a better place to live). Those of us who have discovered this, then, are stuck with the enormous task of trying to point out that the path to a better community – to a better future – lies in doing something that at least initially, seems harmful to our happiness: inconveniencing car travel and car parking (and making car use more costly).

How do we make the following message resonate?…

“You have one way to travel, and we propose to improve your community by making that form of travel more difficult and expensive.” This is, of course, not what we actually say, but what we say is generally translated by many to be this message.

Perhaps we transportation revolutionaries are the modern-day equivalent of those who pointed out long ago that the blood-letting thought by the entire medical community to improve human health was actually HARMFUL to a person’s life…

_________________________________________________

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 Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Does Traffic Congestion Increase Fuel Consumption and Air Emissions?

By Dom Nozzi

Advocates for better transportation and better quality of life often make an important tactical mistake. And the promoters of car dependency, road widening, and suburban sprawl have achieved an enormous victory.

Why?

Because nearly all environmentalists and advocates for a better community quality of life have come to agree with sprawl and road widening advocates that efforts to reduce traffic congestion by, say, widening roads or synchronizing traffic signals, is a common sense way to reduce air pollution and gasoline consumption.

Isn’t this obviously true?

After all, such measures to smooth traffic flow and reduce “stop-and-go” traffic improve fuel efficiency and reduces air emissions. A great many studies confirm this.

Right?

Therefore, for decades, environmentalists and quality of life advocates have often joined forces with road widening and sprawl advocates by agreeing that adding turn lanes or travel lanes, or synchronizing traffic signals, is an effective way to reduce fuel consumption and air emissions.

Environmentalists, in other words, continue to oppose road widening because it will promote sprawl, but grudgingly (?) end up admitting to themselves that road widening or traffic synchronization WILL reduce air pollution and gas consumption. Widening a road is not ALL bad.

As a result, the sprawl and road widening lobby has regularly been successful in their efforts to gain political support for widening roads and promoting sprawl. “We need to do it to reduce gas consumption and air emissions!” Most environmentalists, interest groups, and elected officials heartily agree.

There is only one small problem with this “common sense” argument.

It is quite wrong.

In a ground-breaking worldwide study of cities in 1989 (“Cities and Automobile Dependence”), Jeffrey Kenworthy and Peter Newman came to a startling, counterintuitive conclusion: cities that did not spend enormous amounts of money to widen roads and ease traffic flow showed LOWER levels of air emissions and gas consumption than cities which went on a road-widening, ease-of-traffic-flow binge – despite higher levels of congestion.

How could this be?

The reason is that nearly all roads are free to use (there is almost never a need to pay a toll to drive on a road). “Free-to-use” roads inevitably encourage “low-value” car trips. That is, trips that are of relatively low importance, such as a drive across town on a major road during rush hour to rent a video…or buy a cup of coffee.

The most effective way to reduce such “low-value” car trips is to charge motorists for using the road by tolling the road (either with toll booths or electronically). Toll roads are a very equitable “user fee.” The more you use a road, the more you pay. In doing so, motorists are more likely to use the road only for the most important car trips, such as the drive to or from work, or medical emergencies, for example.

When roads are free to use, they become congested quite quickly because of all the “low-value” car trips on the road.

Unfortunately, it is very difficult, politically, to use a toll to charge motorists for using a road. The result is that almost no road is tolled.

Traffic congestion, however, provides a “second best” way to more efficiently use a road by reducing low-value car trips. And congestion occurs without any need for politicians to take wildly unpopular actions.

Traffic congestion shaves off a significant number of low-value car trips by placing a “time tax” on car travel (as brilliantly noted by traffic engineer Ian Lockwood), because when a motorist uses a congested road, they must “pay” with their time, as the congestion will cause delays in their trip.

The result is that a great many motorists find that the congestion is intolerable and decide in both the short- and long-term to do something else. They opt to use a less congested road. They use transit, walk, or bicycle. They travel at non-rush hour times. In the long run, many will move to a location that is closer to their daily destinations as a way to avoid the congestion.

And as Kenworthy and Newman found in their worldwide study of cities, this means that more congested cities see less air pollution and less gas consumption because so many low-value car trips have been eliminated by the congestion.

I should also note that transportation is a zero-sum game: Each time we improve motorist comfort or convenience by widening a road, adding a turn lane, making a road a one-way street, adding more free car parking, or synchronizing traffic signals, we reduce the comfort and convenience of all other forms of travel – transit, walking, and bicycling inevitably become less common because car travel becomes more pleasant, and pleasant car travel makes non-car travel less pleasant and more dangerous. More trips by car – rather than by transit, bicycle, or foot – leads to more gas consumption and air emissions.

Tragically, then, environmentalists and quality of life advocates have ruinously joined forces with the road widening and sprawl advocates to “reduce congestion.” Such efforts, ironically, have led to communities with crushing debt, an awful and downwardly spiraling quality of life, much higher air emissions and fuel consumption, less transportation choice, more car dependency, less civic pride, more sprawl, more highway deaths, and an utterly unlovable city.

It is time to recognize an undeniable truth: The only path to a reduction in car dependence, reduced air emissions, reduced gas consumption, reduced sprawl, more transportation choice, better quality of life, more public health, less traffic injuries and death, less sprawl, a better economic environment, lower taxes, and more civic pride is to take away space from cars by narrowing roads and shrinking parking areas, increasing the cost of car ownership and use, and increasing the inconvenience of driving a car.

Widening roads, adding turn lanes, creating one-way streets, and synchronizing traffic signals are all enormously counterproductive to achieving these essential community objectives.

Traffic congestion, car inconvenience, and higher costs for driving are all friends of a better community, a better quality of life, and a better environment. Don’t continue to let the sprawl and happy car lobby fool you into thinking otherwise.

_________________________________________________

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

Will the “Sustainability Transportation Analysis & Rating System” Help Us Stop Ruining Ourselves?

by Dom Nozzi

Recently, a colleague of mine expressed a great deal of enthusiasm over a new transportation planning tool known as “Sustainable Transportation Analysis & Rating System” (STARS). He felt it would greatly improve long-range transportation planning. That instead of local governments preparing “wish lists” that mostly consisted of counterproductive road widening projects, we’d instead have more beneficial, sustainable and sensible transportation projects due to the new STARS evaluation tool. I told him that I wished I could be as optimistic about STARS. Why am I pessimistic? Frankly, I don’t see why it would be difficult for the conventional road and car lobbies to claim that road widening promotes “sustainability.” Like the lobby has so successfully done for several decades (even most environmentalists still believe this), the road-widening cheerleaders will claim that widening will reduce carbon emissions and promote “access” and “mobility” by reducing car congestion. Ergo, widening promotes sustainability! Even though some of us know that widening worsens congestion, reduces accessibility, reduces mobility, increases carbon emissions, increases gas consumption and increases sprawl, I believe the conventional wisdom will continue to believe (and convince elected decision-makers) that widening will improve each of those measures. Ian Lockwood (and others) taught us how easily the conventional wisdom can use biased terms to fool us. “Improvements” sounds great for all forms of travel, but is a code word for improving conditions for cars. “Traffic efficiency” also sounds great for everyone, but is a code term for faster car speeds. And so on. I’ve seen many “progressive” measures in my career that seemed revolutionary at first, but were then co-opted by the conventional thinkers to suit their purposes. One example: Departments of Transportation (DOT) all over the nation using what they call “context-sensitive design.” In my experience, “context-sensitive design” sounds great. It sounds like we’ll see DOT designing and building roads that respect their context by being slower speed and more narrow when their new, wider roads enter towns. Instead, what we get is trivial window dressing. More shrubs and grass along the median, for example, to make 8-lane superhighways “context-sensitive” when they ram their way through a (formerly) sleepy, low-speed town. In sum, I don’t think we’ll see much in the way of positive changes until we start seeing big price and inconvenience issues for motorists via much higher gas costs, priced and scarce parking, and no money to widen roads. Fortunately, those things are starting to emerge… _________________________________________________ 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 Economics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design