Monthly Archives: July 2012

Transportation is Not a Win-Win Game

By Dom Nozzi

There is a common tactical mistake made by communities which seek to achieve the worthy and increasingly essential objective of increasing the amount of travel by bicycle, transit, or walking. Most all elected officials and their transportation staff will operate under the assumption that transportation is a “win-win” game. That is, that it is possible to encourage more travel by bicycle, transit or walking, and at the same time be able to improve (or at least not make more difficult) travel by car.

But this is utterly naïve. It shows that the community is not serious about effectively promoting transportation choices.

Meaningfully increasing bicycling, transit or walking is not a matter of adding bike lanes, bike paths or bike parking. It is not a matter of adding more bus stops or increasing the frequency or quality of buses. It is not a matter of building more sidewalks or adding sidewalk benches and landscaping.

Each of these additions are certainly a pleasant enhancement for the community (primarily because it sends a visible message that these forms of travel are acknowledged and respected), but they have almost no ability to increase the levels of bicycling, walking, or transit use in the community. They are, in other words, necessary but NOT sufficient.

Because accommodations for easy, low-cost car travel is entirely incompatible with bicycling, transit, and walking (because of the danger and inconvenience that car-friendly roads and parking creates), providing bike lanes or bus shelters or sidewalk landscaping does nothing to convince a person to drive a car less often.

The car is so dominating and has been overwhelmingly catered to and subsidized for so many decades that the only effective way to increase bicycling, transit use, or walking is to TAKE AWAY FROM THE CAR.

That is, communities MUST put roads on a “diet” (typically, by converting a road from 4 lanes to 3 lanes). Communities MUST reduce the amount of free car parking that consumes the majority of most city town centers by removing parking and properly pricing what remains (by installing, for example, user fees such as parking meters). Communities MUST structure a more fair way of having users pay for their travel, rather than having the entire community subsidize car travel (by increasing the gas tax, installing electronic tolls on roads, etc.).

Nearly all American communities fail to take steps to take away from the car. And this is, by far, the primary reason why Americans drive cars more than anywhere else in the world. Why hardly anyone bicycles, uses transit, or walks, despite bike paths, bus shelters, or new sidewalks.

Even in “progressive” communities, it is fervently believed that reducing traffic congestion (or at least not worsening it) is beneficial for the community and its citizens. “We must reduce congestion to reduce air pollution and reduce gas consumption!”

They say these things in part because it seems to be irrefutably true. But it has been clearly demonstrated (by researchers such as Newman and Kenworthy) that easing traffic flow INCREASES air pollution and gas consumption on a regional basis, because people drive more often and drive greater distances when car travel is made more pleasant.

It is counterproductive for a community to strive to reduce traffic congestion.

Why do Americans so rarely use the effective tool of taking away from the car? Because most all of us drive a car for nearly all of our trips, and both elected officials and their transportation staff are scared to death to use tactics that are widely known to increase bicycling, transit use, and walking. Because doing so, it is thought, will elicit the wrath of motorists.

So we continue to install bike lanes, bus shelters, and sidewalks. And nearly all of us continue to drive a car.

Inevitably, Americans will drive cars quite a bit less, because it is inevitable that gas prices will continue rising substantially, and the national and world economy will continue to be anemic. Tragically, however, being passive and waiting for such inevitabilities to substantially revise American car travel behavior will not occur soon enough. Passively waiting will lead to much more pain and anguish, as Americans have not been able to more incrementally transition to a world where car travel is not so much an essential part of our daily lives.

Instead, the transition will be much more abrupt (and our communities much less well-designed for bicycling, transit use or walking) if we sit back and let higher gas prices reduce our car travel. And the abruptness will lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I therefore believe it is imperative that we actively and aggressively opt for actions which take away from the car. We need the courage to use road diets and having motorists pay their way. Not install more bike lanes. Failing to find the courage will result in a very painful future.

_________________________________________________

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, Peak Oil, Politics, Road Diet, Urban Design, Walking

What Is “FAR”?

By Dom Nozzi

“FAR” is a land development regulation used by planners and developers, and is found in most town zoning regulations. It refers to the “Floor Area Ratio” of a development. As an example of how FAR is used, an FAR of 1.0 allows a single-story building to cover an entire plot of land, or a two-story building to cover half of the land in question. An FAR of 2.0, therefore, allows a two-story building to cover an entire plot of land, a four-story building to cover half of the land, or an eight-story building to cover a quarter of the land. And so on. NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard) in communities throughout the nation tend to be well aware of FAR regulations, and often counterproductively fight aggressively to minimize the FAR ratio. I recommended relatively high FARs in town centers or other places where compact, higher-density development is desired because it is well known by researchers that low FARs kill transportation choice. Walking, biking and transit are nearly impossible when FARs are low. I also happen to believe that higher FARs are much more charming and lovable (when done right). Most NIMBYs improperly assume that higher FARs mean that all greenspace on a lot or in a neighborhood would be consumed by asphalt or buildings. Ironically, the places that most all of us love most (including NIMBYs) are those places with relatively high FARs (much higher than NIMBYs want when they yell and scream at public meetings). It would be nice, in site plan review, to do two things: 1. Invite citizens randomly throughout the community to attend the public meeting (as suggested by Andres Duany) so that you reduce the NIMBYism associated with the typical scenario where only those living close to the project are invited. A broader geographic range of citizens attending development review meetings is much more likely to elicit support for a fuller range of community quality of life objectives, rather than more narrow, emotional, counterproductive NIMBY sentiments. 2. Figure out a way to allow citizens who attend (or vote at) the development review meeting to somehow FEEL what the design will be like. This can be done either by having people visit a representative site so they can feel it and see it with their own eyes, or prepare quality 3-D images for the presentation. Just stating what the FAR will be for the project with a number (“this project has an FAR of 2.0”) can easily terrify those who are not designers. _________________________________________________ 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, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Traffic Light Synchronization is NOT a Good Idea

By Dom Nozzi

Traffic light synchronization seems like a common sensical, no-brainer “solution” to relatively cheaply reduce air emissions and gas consumption. It seems so obvious that even highly intelligent progressives and environmentalists (nearly all of them) STRONGLY support this tactic. Michael Vandeman, in his article, “Traffic Light Synchronization — An Air Quality Benefit, or a Sop for Motorists?,” points out that many are misled when it comes to traffic light synchronization. “[W]hen a proposal sounds reasonable, and is at the same time extremely popular, scientific accuracy is often forgotten. In this case, none of the researchers [for synchronization] considered the possibility that making it easier to drive might cause people to drive farther and more often, cancelling the alleged benefits. They were apparently so eager to help their fellow motorists…that they neglected to apply strict scientific standards to this research.” Those who trumpet the alleged benefits of synchronization fail to take into account about the “induced demand” that Vandeman rightly points out. That is, they forget that the amount of travel by car is higher or lower based on the ease of car travel and the cost of car travel. The easier and cheaper we make car travel (As Jevons Paradox shows us. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox), the further people will travel by car and the more frequently that car travel will occur. In other words, if gas costs $20/gallon, people will drive less. If streets are congested or traffic signals force one to engage in start-and-stop driving, people will drive less. When people drive less, air pollution and gas consumption are reduced. Because traffic synchronization makes cars happier and thereby encourage more driving, air pollution and gas consumption are increased, not decreased (as most assume). Therefore, despite the overwhelming conventional wisdom, traffic synchronization does NOT reduce air emissions or gas consumption. Vandeman agrees when he points out that it seems like common sense that synchronization is a good idea. “Everybody knows that a motor vehicle pollutes more in stop- and-go traffic than in smooth-flowing traffic. This fact has been used to justify expanding freeways, synchronizing traffic signals, and a multitude of other measures to speed up traffic.” The big mistake, according to Vandeman, is to inappropriately generalize. “[I]t is not valid to generalize from a single vehicle on a single occasion to a whole street full of vehicles over a long period. Newman and Kenworthy demonstrated why congestion relief in the form of roadway expansion actually worsens emissions and fuel consumption: although an individual vehicle may benefit, that effect is far outweighed by the fact that making traffic flow freely encourages people to drive farther and more often and makes it much less likely that they will choose to travel via public transit, bicycling, etc. In other words, highway expansion doesn’t simply speed up individual vehicles, leaving the number of trips and VMT constant. If it did, it would be beneficial…Similarly, synchronizing traffic signals doesn’t just speed up existing trips. By making it easier for people to make long trips by automobile (while providing no benefit, or negative benefit, for bicycles and buses), could cause an increase in trips and VMT that would outweigh the alleged benefits.” Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, adds a cautionary note. “Road widening and traffic signal synchronization are sometimes advocated as ways to reduce traffic congestion, and therefore energy consumption and pollution emissions. However, research suggests that at best these provide short-term reductions in energy use and emissions which are offset over the long-run due to Induced Travel. Field test indicate that shifting from congested to uncongested traffic conditions significantly reduces pollution emissions, but traffic signal synchronization on congested roads provides little measurable benefit, and can increase emissions in some situations. (See: http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm59.htm#_Toc193865016) This induced demand is the reason we cannot build (widen) our way out of congestion (because widening a road induces MORE car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened). If it is agreed that we cannot build our way out of congestion (or loosen our belt to solve obesity), why do some of us think we can synchronize our traffic lights out of congestion? The tragedy is that many communities — which have many vigorous advocates of synchronization, including “environmentalists” and other intelligent people who should know better — spend millions of public dollars to worsen transportation conditions, quality of life, air pollution, and gas consumption? In my view, proponents of synchronization are sadly wasting public dollars by moving communities further away from important community objectives. Traffic synchronization may be popular and may seem like an irrefutably good idea by most people, but the unintended consequences described above point out that synchronization is highly counterproductive to the objective of a more sustainable, pleasant community, less pollution, less gas consumption, and more transportation choices. _________________________________________________

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 Enemy 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, Energy, Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking