Monthly Archives: February 2013

Will We Change Our Behavior to Avoid Extinction?

By Dom Nozzi

There is a profound paradigm shift going on in transportation planning. The conventional thinking (that I reject quite vigorously) concludes that the way to effectively ease congestion, excessive energy consumption and air pollution problems is to: 1. Increase road capacity by adding travel lanes and turn lanes and one-way streets; 2. Enhance “free-flowing” conditions for cars with timed signal lights, wider streets, and other techniques that reduce “friction”; 3. Provide abundant and free parking at all urban destinations so that people will not have to “hunt” for a place to park; 4. Build cleaner, more fuel efficient vehicles. You will notice that none of these techniques do anything to modify unsustainable American behavior towards more sustainable behavior. Nearly all engineers and politicians in America have always believed it is “unAmerican” to do things to modify behavior so that behavior is more socially responsible and sustainable. Instead, the engineer does what he or she is trained to do, and that is to tinker with the technology to solve problems. When all you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails. Engineers tend not to have any training in human behavior. Such behavior modification, traditionally, is not thought to be compatible with a “free” society, after all. Only totalitarians would do that, after all. It is the thinking of many utility company engineers, who generally believe the solution to energy and water problems is to increase the supply of energy and water, rather than employ effective conservation strategies. The newly emerging paradigm in transportation and environmental management, by contrast, is that solving problems by increasing supply (rather than reducing demand) is not sustainable. We must do things that modify behavior (sometimes called “demand destruction:) so that behavior is more sustainable. One very effective way to do this is with pricing, and if the market cannot properly price scarce or vulnerable ecological and other resources, we need government to step in. When it comes to transportation, we need to use both pricing and scarcity to modify demand toward sustainability. What conventional engineers and elected officials did not know (or were happy to ignore) is that, say, increasing road capacity (road widenings, turn lanes, etc.) or providing more free and abundant parking (and other forms of transportation subsidies) totally swamps any gains we might realize in terms of reducing “stop and go” traffic, or in terms of getting more “free-flowing” traffic. Why? Because increasing transportation facility supply makes it easier and cheaper to unsustainably drive a car everywhere, which modifies behavior in an unsustainable direction. We do nothing to discourage “low priority” motor vehicle trips, such as a drive across town on a major road to rent a video. With the heavy subsidies to enhance supply, we almost beg people to make such trips and live in remote, sprawlsville locations. As a result, many recent studies are finding that increasing supply (primarily by widening roads with more travel lanes or turn lanes) eases congestion for only a tiny period of time, after which the congestion becomes worse than before we spent millions of public dollars to “correct” the problem. The most concise, profound explanation of this comes from Anthony Downs, who calls it “The Triple Convergence” in his book, Stuck in Traffic. The Triple Convergence inevitably emerges when we add capacity to our transportation system, so every time we add capacity by widening roads, we make induce new traffic jam on huge hwycar trips that would not have occurred had we not increased road supply via widening. Indeed, within a few years, congestion often becomes worse than before the road widening was created. An important corollary here is that transportation drives land use. It is our transportation system that will determine if we have sprawl into our outlying, environmentally sensitive areas¬—not regulations, land use plans, or enlightened politicians. Increasingly, therefore, honest and informed researchers and planners are referring to the problem of “induced demand,” in which we always see more vehicle trips created after widening roads. Apparently it is “okay” to modify demand when it moves us toward unsustainable consumption… These informed researchers and planners increasingly call for “planned congestion,” in which we allow congestion to “worsen.” Because of the “time tax” created by congestion, “planned congestion” tends to be a very effective way to get compact development, discourage sprawl, reduce air pollution, and reduce gasoline consumption. Because congestion discourages motor vehicle trips (and encourages bicycle, bus, carpool and walking trips), research now shows that more congested areas (on an area-wide basis) produce less air pollution and gas consumption. Because this seems so counter-intuitive and non-sensical, politicians, engineers, and real estate people (who benefit from unsustainable transportation and sprawl) can get away with claiming that road widenings, turn lanes, and free and abundant parking will reduce air pollution and gas consumption. But it is just not true. This misguided conclusion ignores the behavior-modifying effects of increasing the transportation facility supply, which utterly overwhelms the minor benefits to individual cars of enhancing free-flowing traffic. When we take into account the system-wide impacts and behavior modification that occur when we do things like widen roads, we find that the emperor is wearing no clothes. Transportation is truly a zero-sum game. Nearly always, if not always, when we make it easier to drive a motor vehicle, we make it harder to travel another way, which profoundly modifies behavior. We should not be fooled into thinking it is inevitable that we are all doomed to live a life of extreme auto dependence, wherein we are forced to make every trip, no matter how trivial, by car. So in conclusion, we need to be very, very careful when we hear claims that it is best to solve congestion, energy, and air pollution problems by making it easier and cheaper to drive a car. My opinion is that the millions we spend to do that only make things worse. Long ago, I read a profound, disconcerting quote on the behavior modification issue. Unfortunately, I do not have the name of the author: “Throughout history, whenever a culture had to make a decision between fundamentally changing its behavior, or to become extinct, it has always chosen extinction.” Let us hope that we are the first not to follow that path. _________________________________________________ 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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The Counterproductiveness of Adding “Nature” to a Town Center

By Dom Nozzi

I have a view that seems counterintuitive to many, and therefore tends to draw indignant ire from many intelligent, well-meaning environmentalists who seek to create a better city.

My seemingly shocking view is that introducing nature into a town center nearly always degrades the town center. I say this even though I have a degree in environmental science, which gives me a thorough understanding of the importance of protecting and restoring natural ecosystems.

I also say this even though in childhood, one of the most profound, critically important, priceless experiences I had was to be able to play in the neighborhood woodlands. I did that all the time. In fact, the main inspiration for my becoming a city planner was that I wanted to be in a job in which I could work to see that future generations of kids had that same opportunity. My childhood experience with nature made me realize that not having that exposure to nature would lead to an awful, sterile, barren childhood. Indeed, a research study once evaluated a large number of variables to determine if there was a correlation between childhood experiences and wanting to conserve the environment as an adult. The study found that there was one variable that stood out head and shoulders above the others. Adult conservationists typically were able to engage in unstructured, unsupervised play in natural areas near their home when they were kids.

For the above reasons, as well as a strong interest in promoting transportation choices in cities, I am a leading advocate for establishing urban greenway trail systems in cities. Greenways provide an effective way to allow kids (and adults) to have easy walking/bicycling access to the natural world, on a regular basis, right outside their back door. I know of nothing that is better able to create the army of conservationists than greenways.

However, I must add an important qualifier on the topic of introducing nature to a town center. The urban town center habitat (in contrast to the suburban and rural locations of a community) must be compact and walkable if it is to be a high quality urban habitat. That means that if we are to introduce nature into the urban world, we must be as careful as if we were planning to introduce human activity into a sensitive wildlife habitat.

In the case of the town center human habitat, the introduced nature must, again, be compact and walkable. In other words, small, vacant woodlots, plazas, squares, piazzas, utility corridors, creek corridors, and other similar, relatively small spaces are perfectly compatible with walkability. One can Piazza Napoleone, Luccaeasily walk from origin A to destination B without an enormous amount of physical exertion. By contrast, putting a golf course or even a 50-acre park in the middle of a city creates an utterly unwalkable condition, as the distance between Point A and Point B then becomes too excessive to easily walk.

Central Park in New York City is an exception that can work because that city has extremely high densities and a quality transit system that means you can easily walk or ride to all of your daily needs along the perimeter of the park without having to cross it on foot. In cities with much smaller densities (and nearly all American cities have quite low densities compared to New York City), big open spaces in the town center would create unwalkable spaces that would degrade the urban habitat.

The key for nearly all American cities, then, is to preserve and create compact urban open spaces while retaining walkability. Greenway trails that wind their way through neighborhoods, as well as small parks and squares, are compatible.

Big, unwalkable parks are not.

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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, Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

The Counterintuitive Impacts of Traffic Congestion and Road Widening

By Dom Nozzi

The conventional wisdom claims that widening a road will reduce traffic congestion and fuel consumption.

The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Newman and Kenworthy are the scholars to read on this issue. Their studies persuasively show that the reverse of the conventional wisdom is true.

Research has found that cross-culturally and throughout history, humans, on average, will live in a place that creates a round-trip commute time of approximately 1.1 hours per day. Therefore, when we widen roads, the faster commute time that is briefly created will enable more dispersed residential sprawl to get us back to the 1.1 hour equilibrium.

People, in other words, drive longer distances (and drive more often) when a road is widened. In a growing community, that means the congestion is not reduced. And the increased driving increases the amount of fuel consumed.

This sprawling, dispersing impact of road widening is inevitable, regardless of how aggressive your land use plan is in controlling sprawl.

In many locations within the US, we have seen an upward trend in the number of roads that are now highly congested. This has happened despite the fact that this country has spent trillions of public dollars over the past several decades to try to reduce congestion by widening roads. Given the growth in congestion traffic jam on huge hwy (and the failure to reduce congestion in the long run) despite all the widenings, this strategy has failed catastrophically. It is perhaps the most costly, misguided and damaging action taken in human history.

Indeed, the trillions we have spent to widening roads has actually created new car trips that would not have occurred without the widening — thereby validating both the studies of Newman & Kenworthy, as well as the “Triple Convergence” described by Anthony Downs. The Triple Convergence states that when a road is widened, three things inevitably occur. First, motorists who had been taking alternative routes to avoid the congestion now converge back on the widened road. Second, motorists who were avoiding congested times of day now converge back on such rush hours. And third, motorists who had opted to use transit, walk or bicycle to work start converging back to driving by car after the road widening.

In a growing number of American communities, the response to congestion is to let it be. This approach is known as “planned congestion,” and is the preferred strategy for such communities because of the enormous costs of widening roads, the benefits of congestion, and the counterproductive consequences of widening. I am an enthusiastic supporter of planned congestion for several reasons. Fighting against congestion by widening a road is part of the road-building, home-building and auto-maker lobby paradigm, because they know that if we try to fight congestion, we will get more road widenings, more cars, more car travel and more sprawl.

One of the many benefits of congestion is that, as transportation planner Ian Lockwood says, congestion creates a “time tax” for motorists. That is, the motorist pays a “fee” when they are slowed down. That “fee” is the time they lose in congestion. Conversely, then, the “time tax” created by congestion contracts our residential patterns as people seek to maintain that 1.1 hour equilibrium I mentioned above.

In our political climate, it is nearly impossible to use much more efficient and effective tactics: that is, to have motorists pay the real cost of their travel through high gas taxes or congestion (toll) fees. Instead, we keep motorists on welfare by not having them pay directly for the roads they drive on, or the time of day when they drive. All of us pay directly for water and electricity and food based on how much water, electricity and food we consume. Why not take the same approach with driving?

Because it is so politically difficult to directly charge motorists on welfare for their driving, the easiest way to control excessive driving (particularly at rush hour) is to indirectly charge the motorist by letting congestion happen. By not widening the road. By not adding turn lanes. By not timing traffic signals.

As Walter Kulash says, fighting congestion by widening a road is like loosening your belt to fight obesity.

 

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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 Energy, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectors are Necessary, but Not Sufficient

By Dom Nozzi

A large number of residential neighborhoods can substantially reduce the highly inhibiting large travel distances bicyclists and pedestrians must travel to get to and from destinations. For example, the end of a cul-de-sac or dead end street may be very close to an office park or a shopping center, but the bicyclist or pedestrian must often back-track and get onto a major road in order to get to such a destination because the direct route would require a person to cross over private property.

The solution recognized by many is to create a publicly-accessible bicycle/pedestrian “connector” path that provides such a short-cut link to these nearby destinations. Many, however, are convinced that such connectors are sufficient, in and of themselves, to create a large increase in the amount of bicycle and pedestrian commuting.cul-de-sac connector

As a vigorous advocate of increasing bicycling and walking trips (and reducing car trips), I am a strong supporter of such connectors.

However, bicycle and pedestrian commuting much more importantly depends on streets being connected. Adding bicycle/pedestrian connectors in a disconnected cul-de-sac neighborhood will help somewhat, but connected, gridded streets without cul-de-sacs or dead ends are much more effective in reducing travel distances for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Connector paths AND more connected streets in neighborhoods are essential, and we must work to create more of each. But connected streets are far more important than connector paths. Connector paths are necessary but not sufficient.

Connector paths, alone, are not a silver bullet. We will never see more than a pitiful amount of bicycle commuters in disconnected, cul-de-sac’d neighborhoods. It matters not a whit whether we have three non-street connectors or hundreds in such neighborhoods (not to mention long-distance off-street bicycle and pedestrian paths). By building disconnected streets, people living in such a neighborhood are inexorably doomed to be utterly dependent on car travel. The only salvation for such a neighborhood is to figure out how to incrementally connect the streets in the neighborhood.

Again, I’m a big supporter of connector paths (and will be on the front lines fighting for them). But installing such paths in an existing neighborhood almost always results in vicious, angry opposition by neighbors who fear such a path will deliver “undesirable” people. Even if we can succeed in winning the ferocious political firefights that nearly all of the connector path retrofit projects promise, we’d still find that they are not the limiting factor for bicycle and pedestrian commuting. Like a motorist, a bicycle or pedestrian commuter needs to get to thousands of destinations — not just the one or two that a connector can provide — which means that there is no way around this conclusion: Unless the streets are connected (and the traffic calmed/slowed, and the car parking prices/limited, by the way), bicycle and pedestrian commuting ain’t going to happen in a meaningful way.

_________________________________________________

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, Urban Design, Walking