Monthly Archives: April 2013

Does Traffic Calming Increase Air Pollution?

By Dom Nozzi

In May of 2000, a resident of Boulder, Colorado emailed a fairly common complaint to me in response to my praise of “traffic calming” (which uses street modifications to compel cars to slow down to safe, attentive speeds).

I thanked the gentleman for his comments. I went on to state that I had not spent a lot of time trying to track down every single report about traffic calming. But since I read a fair number of calming reports and have not seen a pollution problem reported, I’ve not had cause to doubt the claim of increased air pollution due to calming until I got his comments.

What I had learned from Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman, however, has made me highly skeptical of claims that suggest there is less air pollution from high-speed, free-flowing car traffic.

After all, it is too simplistic — too narrowly focused — to just think about the impacts of stop-and-start (or slow-and-start) car travel on air pollution emitted by individual motor vehicles. Yes, it is nearly certain that stop-and-start motor vehicle traffic increases air pollution emitted by individual cars in a highly localized, discreet location where the stopping and starting occurs. skycrest_2But this micro focus ignores the important but typically overlooked motorist behavior modification that occurs at the regional level when we widen streets or calm them. For example, how many trips are encouraged or discouraged (especially the low-priority car trips) when we widen a street or install traffic calming measures? How many more or less car trips occur at rush hour? How many more or less will drive instead of take transit, bicycle, or walk?

Kenworthy and Newman make the crucial point that travel behavior changes that we induce through widenings or calming on the scale of a community totally overwhelms any benefits of free-flowing traffic at the micro level of a given segment of street.

Consider the comparison between higher density congested areas and lower density, free-flowing areas. One would expect that the congested areas generate higher levels of air pollution than the free-flowing areas. But we know that people who live in higher density, more congested areas where transportation choice is high have been clearly shown to produce much less air pollution, per capita, and generate much less air pollution, per capita, than those who live in remote locations without a travel choice (those who have no choice but to travel by car). The worldwide analysis of cities conducted by Kenworthy and Newman confirms this.

Yes, on various congested street segments, air pollution is relatively high. But at the community-wide level, air pollution is much lower than cities with lower-density, free-flowing traffic. And this is because of the large reduction in the number of rush hour, major-street car trips that occur due to congestion, traffic calming, and other measures (“low-value” car trips that are induced when streets are widened or made more free flowing).

It is illogical to assume that making car travel easier with higher speed, free-flowing designs will reduce air pollution (and fuel consumption) impacts — given the likely behavior modification that induces motorists to engage in more driving than they would have engaged in had the street been more congested or more traffic calmed.

As Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it is nearly impossible for those who have worked under the traditional paradigm to accept overwhelming evidence or conclusions from the new paradigm. For example, most of us will go to our graves steadfastly refusing to accept the premise that traffic congestion and traffic calming have a number of benefits, even though the evidence is mounting.

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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 Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Sprawl, NIMBYs, and Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard activists who tend to oppose all development of a compact, walkable nature) often cloak their arguments under the moral- BI_Nimby4_aunt high-ground mantle of environmentalism. “SAVE THE TREES!” “PROTECT BAMBI!” Many ecologists and environmentalists (who should know better) also get caught up in the NIMBY hysteria of stopping all development (even development that furthers community quality of life objectives). It has only been recently that the national Sierra Club has admirably reduced their widespread NIMBY efforts and focused more attention on the real culprit — sprawl. In my work as a town planner in Florida, there were several instances where in-town development (even in-town pedestrian paths, of all things!) were hammered by intelligent environmentalists — environmentalists who were comparatively silent in the face of the incremental, relentless, larger-scale ecological destruction that was happening in outlying areas (ironically, such sprawl development was happening at an accelerated pace in part because of the actions of in-town NIMBYism). I don’t necessarily hold up all proposed in-town infill developments as models of sustainable, walkable design. I do think, however, that such infill — in the grander scheme of environmental sustainability — is a much-preferred form of development than dispersed sprawl development because, crucially, the infill development is found in ecologically preferred locations. I much prefer the loss of, say, a few trees in urban, disturbed woodlands (that many environmentalists fight tooth and nail to save), or the loss of a few raccoons and squirrels (that some environmentalists also rally to protect), to the loss of hundreds of acres of nearly pristine woodlands, and high-quality habitat that is home to, say, eagles, fox squirrels, and gopher tortoise. I honestly don’t believe there is a third choice: Loss of neither in-town squirrels or outlying quality ecosystems (the choice that naively believes we can somehow stop population growth). I believe that south Florida is a testament to the belief that there was no third choice. That infamous region — and many others throughout the nation — shows the ruinous results of fighting against in-town, infill development to “save Bambi.” I continue to have little patience for the many otherwise intelligent environmentalists and neighborhood activists who shriek about their no-compromise position of minimizing residential densities. Such activists believe low-density development is the be-all-and-end-all of environmental conservation when it comes to in-town development. There are countless environmentalists who are guilty of this. There is little that I can think of that is a more damaging strategy for quality of life in our future than to persist in the strategy of thinking that low densities will save us. Environmentalists must get on board with the idea that we need higher, livable densities (or, to use a term that is less inflammatory, “more housing”) in proper locations. If this does not happen, we will have no chance of averting a south Florida future… Another way of putting this is that more housing (more residential density) is not the problem. No, the key to a future rich in sustainability, quality of life, transportation choice, and civic pride is to insist on modest sizes. Modestly sized street dimensions. Modest distances between homes, shops and jobs (and, implicitly, modest community and neighborhood size). Modest building setbacks. All of these modest sizes, as our most loved, charming cities show, are best achieved by providing more housing (more density), not less. By stark contrast, sprawl is most accurately defined by large sizes. Big setbacks, huge street dimensions. Monstrous setbacks. All of these undesirable features are mostly likely to be realized when NIMBYs fight for less housing. In other words, “large-size sprawl” is scaled for cars, not people. A deadly form of the disease afflicting most all cities in America. It is the disease of gigantism. _________________________________________________ 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 Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

The Carbon Tax and the Poor

By Dom Nozzi

A great many intelligent people have pointed out the obvious in recent years about our climate change – a change driven by carbon emissions – and our fiscal crisis: It is screamingly obvious that an extremely effective, fair way to reduce carbon emissions (and raise desperately needed govt revenue) is to enact a carbon tax. Increasing the price of Global-Climate-Change3carbon sends a much-needed price signal to people that products, actions and services that directly or indirectly use carbon have an embedded carbon cost. That cost is the climate change and environmental/societal woes hidden by a lack of a carbon tax.

Underpriced carbon is rapidly destroying our world and the future of our species.

An important reason why a carbon tax is equitable is that people using more carbon pay more tax. Such a tax would raise much-needed government revenue by charging people for societally unsustainable behavior.

One would therefore think that political liberals and environmentalists would be 100 percent in favor of a carbon tax. Such people, one would expect, would find such a tax a no-brainer.

But as I often point out, a very large number of desperately needed societal actions are squelched because of the red flag too often raised by liberals and environmentalists: “WE CAN’T DO THAT BECAUSE IT WILL HURT POOR PEOPLE!!!!”

We can’t raise the gas tax…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t put this four-lane monster highway destroying our downtown on a road diet (taking it from four lanes to three, for example)…because poor people won’t be able to get to jobs.

We can’t ease our parking woes, make our town centers more compactly walkable, and substantially reduce the amount of off-street, gap-tooth dead zone parking lots…because charging people money for parking will hurt poor people.

We can’t raise the tax on cigarettes to reduce excessive smoking…because it will hurt poor people who smoke.

We can’t adjust electricity prices to promote energy conservation…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t charge a tax on sugar…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a Pepsi.

We can’t charge a fee for a background check…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a gun.

We can’t charge an impact fee on sprawl residential development…because it will hurt poor people who buy sprawl homes.

[I’ve heard all of the above complaints more than once.]

At the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder Colorado yesterday, I attended a session on how we need to learn to live with global warming because we have passed the tipping point and there is no way we can avoid catastrophic warming in our lifetimes no matter what we do (session title: “Climate Change: Get Used To It”). A question came from someone in the audience: “If we establish a federal tax [like has been admirably done in Boulder and a few European nations] on carbon, won’t it be a very bad idea because the carbon tax would be unaffordable for poor people??”

As you can imagine, the question made my blood boil.

I wanted to leap to my feet and scream to her: “We are driving a car at a high rate of speed towards a fiscal and environmental cliff (given our huge government fiscal woes and our huge climate change woes). Do you mean to say that we should not step on the brakes?? That we instead go over the cliff because poor people cannot afford to brake?????”

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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

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking