Monthly Archives: August 2013

Effective Ways to Encourage More Bicycling

By Dom Nozzi

I have over 20 years of experience as a senior city planner, am a lifelong bicycle commuter, prepared a master’s thesis on bicycle travel, and am a published author describing car traffic and sprawl.

I know of no simple, quick, easy ways to induce large numbers of contemporary Americans to engage in more bicycling on pathbicycling. I do, however, know of tactics that can be effective, yet require a number of years, political leadership and wisdom, and enlightened staff and citizens. For these reasons, the tactics are rarely used in America, which helps explain the embarrassingly low levels of bicycling in the US.

In no particular order, effective tactics include (and to some extent overlap):

Affordable housing and transportation choice require that we reduce distances. If we provide more housing and sensitive intermingling of offices, schools and shops with that housing, we will provide more affordable housing because families will reduce their car ownership (owning, say, two cars rather than three) and devote more income to housing. We need to combine this housing strategy with higher commercial intensities, which is primarily achieved by substantially reducing the massive oversupply of parking that nearly all retail locations provide.

The absence of market-distorting subsidies for car travel. By far, the biggest subsidy in America is free parking. One of the most important reasons why most all Americans drive a car for nearly all trips, rather than bicycle, walk or use transit, is that over 98 percent of all trips are to locations w/ free and abundant parking. As Shoup points out, free and abundant parking is a fertility drug for cars.

Similarly, we need to start correcting other funding inequities, because motorists pay nowhere near their fair share of transportation costs. It is commonly believed and utterly false that gas taxes pay the costs that motorists impose on society (such taxes only pay a tiny fraction of those costs). In addition to starting to price a much larger percentage of parking, we need to convert many of our roads to become toll roads. Other tactics include a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, much higher gas taxes, and “pay at the gas pump” car insurance. These pricing tools would provide much-needed fairness and adequate funding in an age where funding unfairness is enormous and transportation funding is entirely inadequate. The tools also effectively nudge travelers toward greener travel. Such fees could replace or reduce existing taxes or fees (a concept known as being “revenue neutral”).

To be safer and more compatible with housing, shops and non-car travel, streets must be designed to obligate slower, more attentive driving. The large speed differential we see on nearly all roads today between cars and bicyclists is an important reason why so few feel safe riding a bicycle. A small speed differential between cars and bicycles can be created by using traffic calming measures such as modest street dimensions and on-street parking.

Many roads, streets, and intersections are too large. They degrade quality of life, reduce safety and force too many of us to drive a car too often. Shrinking roads (by, for example, reducing them from five lanes to three) is an essential way to promote transportation choice. Roads in a city that are five or more lanes in size are incompatible with a quality human habitat, and make it too dangerous for bicycling, walking or transit use. “Road diets” are increasingly used nationally.

When effective tactics are properly deployed for a reasonable period of time, a powerful, self-perpetuating virtuous cycle begins to evolve. When non-bicycling members of the community observe a large number of others bicycling, many are likely to be induced to begin bicycling because of the “safety in numbers” perception, the fact that bicycling seems more hip, “normal” and practical (“If he/she can do it, so can I!”), and the growing awareness on the part of motorists that bicyclists are likely to be encountered (which also increases motorist skill in driving on a street being used by bicyclists).

Note that the above should not be taken to mean that I believe we should “get rid of all cars”, or that American cities should build auto-free pedestrian/bicycle zones. I support well-behaved, unsubsidized car use that is more optional than obligatory. Car use and design that is subservient to the needs of a quality habitat for humans, rather than the situation we find in most all American communities, where cars dominate (and in many ways degrade) our world. A dysfunctional place where cars are so dominating that transportation choice is lost. Where it is not practical, safe or convenient to travel, except by car.

Instead, we need to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars.

_________________________________________________

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, Politics, Road Diet

Policies in Our Plans Won’t Save Us

By Dom Nozzi

Nearly all of our elected officials and many of our citizens have convinced themselves that widening roads and extending utilities are technical decisions and therefore non-political. “We’re just protecting public health and safety, or providing jobs for poor people, or helping the economy.” They either don’t realize or deliberately hide the fact that such decisions are profoundly political, and are the most powerful factors driving sprawl, economic decline, harm to quality of life, and environmental destruction.

People that make the mistake of thinking that such decisions are technical rather than political perhaps comfort themselves by agreeing to adopt land use policies that discourage sprawl or environmentaladmin-ajax (2) destruction. They perhaps believe such words are effective in stopping undesirable community development actions. That road widenings or utility extensions have nothing to do with inducing such things as sprawl development.

In theory, a community long-range plan could state something like “The City shall not add road capacity” or “The City shall not extend utility service beyond the urban service line.” But in the real world, it is nearly impossible, politically, to adopt such policies. Adopting such policies takes politicians with courage and enlightenment, and we simply do not have such a thing.

So we continue to fool ourselves by thinking that a policy such as “The City shall prohibit sprawl” or “The City shall create a greenbelt” or “The City shall create large-lot zoning” will save us, not realizing that the critical land use and quality of life political decisions were already made when we decided to widen a road or extend a sewer line, and that such “technical” decisions will overwhelm any chance of non-infrastructure policies having a chance to be effective. These non-infrastructure, feel-good statements only have a chance if we strongly intervene on the marketplace by our infrastructure decisions.

An example I see a lot in my work is the relentless avalanche of re-zoning petitions planners get from people who have a single-family house along a widened, unlivable street. Naturally, the house now has much more value as an office or retail building (after all, who’d want to live along a hostile, high-speed street?), so it is to be expected that the decision to create the speedway has set into motion the never-ending political pressure to beat planners and elected officials over the head until the re-zoning is granted (and we take a step toward more strip commercial). The alternative we often see is decline or abandonment of the home.

Sure, we could have a long-range community plan policy that says we shall not allow strip commercial, and we shall protect residential along this street, but who are we kidding? Who’d want to live in such a home? It is unfair not to grant the re-zoning in such a case. So incrementally, regardless of who our elected officials are, we get sprawl and strip when we decide to make the street a speedway. That decision is, in the larger sense, not a technical decision. It is a political decision that indirectly says the community has opted to create strip commercial sprawl. When the decision to widen the road is made, it is merely ineffective lip service to have long-range community plan policies that say strip commercial sprawl won’t be allowed.

In sum, communities need to figure out a way to stop the decisions that drive bad land use — things like road widenings and utility extensions. The question, then, is what tools we have to make the right decisions and prevent the ruinous decisions – the decisions that seem technical but are actually political. The long-range community plan is not that tool unless that plan is adopted by a community that consistently elects wise, courageous leaders. Because we are a reactive society that usually only takes such action when a serious crisis emerges, it is my opinion that only major crisis or significant discontent is experienced by the community. Such things as a substantial economic downturn, an enormous increase in gasoline prices, or severe traffic congestion.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Impact of Road Widening on the Local Economy

By Dom Nozzi

For nearly a century, road widening has been touted as a powerful stimulus for the local economy.

However, by striking contrast, I have learned the opposite.

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my many years as a city planner is that quality of life is a powerful economic engine, and that the “habitat” intended to make cars happy is, conversely, one of the most powerful ways that quality of life in a community is damaged.

Road widening, as my book Road to Ruin illustrates, is the best invention humans have come up with (short of aerial carpet bombing) to destroy community quality of life. Widening a road inevitably creates a “For Cars Only” ambience. It creates a “car habitat” that screams “CARS ARE WELCOME. PEOPLE ARE NOT.”

The car habitat makes for a world that repels humans. Huge asphalt parking lots. High-speed highways. Sterile dead monstor hwyzones which form “gap tooth” tears in the fabric of a town center. Large amounts of air and noise pollution. Awful levels of visual “Anywhere USA” blight. Worsened safety — for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, that is.

And worst of all, because a person in a car consumes, on average, about 19 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, places designed for cars lose the comfortable, compact, enclosed, charming, human-scaled, vibrancy-inducing spacing and place-making that so many people love to experience.

As David Mohney once said, the first task of the urbanist is controlling size.

One consequence of this worsening quality of life that comes from widening a road to improve conditions for cars: The quality of the public realm worsens to the point where American society is noted for growing levels of retreating from the public realm and a flight to the cocooning private realm.

Given this, road widening and the substantial increase in auto dependency that the widening induces sends the quality of life of a community into a downward spiral. And that, in my opinion, is toxic to the economic health of a community.

Note that road widening inherently creates increased auto dependency because big, high-speed, “happy car” roads create what economists call a “barrier effect.” That is, big and high-speed roads make it more difficult to travel by bicycle, walking or transit. So wider roads recruit new motorists in a vicious, never-ending cycle of widening, more car dependence, more congestion, more calls for widening, etc.

The end result?

Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Newark, Buffalo, Cleveland.

As Richard Florida powerfully argues in The Rise of the Creative Class, the centerpiece of successful community economic development is recognizing that instead of following the conventional model of drawing businesses by lowering business costs and relaxing regulations, quality of life should be enhanced to attract and retain quality “creative class” employees. It is not a coincidence that Florida describes this form of quality of life as one which includes walkable, vibrant, 24/7 vibrancy (where the car is subservient to the needs of people).

It is also no coincidence that Boulder, Colorado – where I now live – is ranked, over and over again, as the city ranked first in a long list of quality of life measures. Therefore, despite the fact that Boulder assesses relatively high costs on businesses, applies relatively aggressive regulations on businesses (measures traditionally assumed to be toxic to economic health), the Boulder economy is consistently quite healthy. Even in times of national economic woes.

One awful tragedy for the State of Florida is that the 1985 Growth Management law adopted by that state enshrined Community Design for Happy Cars by requiring that future development be “concurrent” with adopted road standards. That is, new development must not be allowed to “degrade” adopted community “free-flowing traffic” standards. In other words, the state requires, under the rubric of “growth management,” that all local governments must be designed to facilitate car travel (too often doing so by widening a road). The apparent thinking is that “free-flowing traffic” is a lynchpin for community quality of life. The be-all and end-all. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth.

It is a law that locks communities into harming its quality of life.

Another telling piece of information about economics: About 100 years ago, households spent approximately 1-2 percent of their income on transportation. Today, about 20-22 percent of the household budget goes to transportation. Transportation costs have, in other words, been privatized, to the great detriment of the economics of households.

In sum, widening roads, drains dollars from a community as the purchase of car-based goods and services (cars, oil, gas, car parts, etc.) largely leave the community, rather than being recycled within the community. Because the “car habitat” and the “people habitat” clash, quality of life is significantly degraded when the community is designed to facilitate cars (by widening roads, most infamously). And that, as Richard Florida clearly shows, undercuts future prospects for community economic health. Finally, household expenses are severely undermined as the growing (and extremely costly) car dependency leads to a declining ability to afford other household expenses.

The key is not so much to “get rid of cars” as to avoid overly pampering them (through such things as underpriced [untolled] roads, free parking and subsidized gasoline) in the design of our community. Doing so quickly leads to the car dominating and degrading our world. Destroying our economic health and quality of life. Cars must be our slaves rather than our masters. They should feel like intruders, rather than welcomed guests. Only then will the future of a community be sustainable and high quality.

It is time to return to the tradition of designing our communities to make people happy, not cars.

___________________________________

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: Car is the Enemy book coverhttp://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover = http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

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

Visit my other sites:

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Best-Ever Lists blog

http://dombestlist.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning 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, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design