By Dom Nozzi
The State of Florida pioneered a seemingly beneficial rule that stated a new development could only be permitted if sufficient road capacity was available to absorb the new car trips that would be created by the proposed development.
Sounds wonderful, right? After all, how many of us have been stuck in traffic and cursed the local government for allowing new development without ensuring that the road system was adequate to handle the car trips from the new development?
A few mistaken assumptions are perpetuated by this seemingly desirable rule. First, it perpetuates the myth that it is necessary to maintain or improve road capacity at all costs as a way to retain or promote quality of life. Such thinking is seductive, because, after all, even progressives are against congested roads. However, the counterintuitive reality is that “free-flowing traffic” undercuts quality of life. This is because when car travel is eased in this way, more per capita car trips are created (particularly “low-value” car trips). Creating more car trips reduces the ability to safely or conveniently travel by walking, bicycle or transit. More car trips increases noise pollution and degrades residential quality of life. More car trips significantly increases household costs and therefore reduces housing and household affordability. Ease of car travel increases average car speeds, and increases the instances of dangerously inattentive driving.
A second problem perpetuated by the road concurrency rule is that it furthers the myth that it is possible for us to “build (widen) our way out of traffic congestion.”
But the most catastrophic, unintended consequence of this rule is that the rule powerfully promotes suburban sprawl. Why? Because in-town development, where new development tends to be preferred from a smart, compact development point of view, is significantly discouraged by the fact that in-town locations generally do not have any available road capacity for adding new car trips. The places in a community that tend to have available road capacity?
Dispersed sprawl locations.
The result of this state of affairs is that new development is made much less costly in sprawl locations and impossibly expensive for in-town locations.
A needed reform that Florida adopted, as a result of this unintended consequence, was to create “transportation concurrency exemption areas (TCEAs). By setting up such areas, the State granted local governments the ability to exempt new developments from road concurrency rules in places where new development was desired – such as in-town infill locations.
The important caveat, however, is that in my view, there must be meaningful design rules in place before the reward of transportation exemption is granted. Otherwise, developers are able to build “business as usual” projects that are car-dependent. Developments that will, in other words, create relatively large numbers of per capita or per household car trips.
What design requirements should we require to ensure that new development in these exemption areas delivers walkable, transit-conducive development, rather than drivable sprawl design?
1. First, the area that is exempted from road concurrency must be relatively small. By keeping the area small, the community is able to adopt relatively high-quality, meaningful design requirements for new development. If too large of an area is exempted, such rules must be watered down to avoid being excessively onerous.
2. Within the road concurrency exemption area, allow no net increase in road capacity. No new travel lanes or turn lanes should be allowed. This is because widening a road strongly promotes car trips and strongly discourages walking, bicycling or transit trips.
3. Instead of requiring car parking in the road concurrency exemption area, convert the former minimum parking rule into a maximum parking rule (a parking exemption that takes the position that too much parking is much worse than too little parking). Again, providing abundant and free car parking undercuts the essential objective of reducing car trips (parking is a fertility drug for cars).
4. Require frequent transit service in the road concurrency exemption area — say, a 10-minute transit frequency.
5. Do not allow drive-throughs in the road concurrency exemption area.
6. If a project is over, say, 5 dwelling units or 10,000 square feet, require that buildings be at least 2 stories high.
7. Allow no new cul-de-sacs, unless it is infeasible to do otherwise. Street connectivity must be extremely high.
8. To promote proximity, require that the development provide meaningful mixing of residences with offices, civic, jobs, recreation and retail shops. There should be a minimum number of residential units per “X” square feet of non-residential floor area.
9. Require the fronts of commercial buildings (the building façade) to abut the streetside sidewalk or otherwise be 0-20 feet from the front property line (for both streets if on a corner), and allow no car parking in front of the building.
10. Allow no block faces greater than 400-500 feet.
11. Require curb and gutter.
12. Provide each employee or resident in the project with a free transit pass.
13. Offer parking cash-out for employees in the new development, and unbundle the cost of parking from the cost of the residential units in the new development.
In sum, the above design requirements send a message in a road concurrency exemption area: “We give you an exemption. You give us walkable urbanism.”
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.
Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com
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