The Persistent Difficulty of Creating Walkable, Lovable Places

Why is it so difficult to create walkable places? Places that we love?

I am convinced a primary cause is that we are trapped — even in Boulder, Colorado — in a self-perpetuating, downwardly spiraling, growing dependence on travel by car.

Many talk out of both sides of their mouths: We want to promote bike/walk/transit. But we also tragically and wrongly think we can simultaneously achieve free-flowing happy cars with plenty of free parking.

We naively think we can attain the latter with very low, dispersed densities. We forget, though, that very low, dispersed densities make bike/walk/transit nearly impossible for nearly all of us.

In Boulder, too many have made the terrible mistake of equating happy cars with quality of life, thinking it will allow us to retain “small town charm.” Instead, it will move us closer to becoming more like Houston.

Livable places and happy cars are diametrically opposite in so many ways.

“A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” – Enrique Peñalosa


Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

4 responses to “The Persistent Difficulty of Creating Walkable, Lovable Places

  1. How do you convince people this is true? I live in a small town that is the crossroads for 2 state highways. Traffic is probably the number 1 complaint of living here. But most people also want it to be more bike-pedestrian friendly (we don’t have a single bike lane, even though the lane widths of Main Street at 18′ wide in some locations. There is a plan, but no funding yet for a bike lane). But most people don’t understand that you cannot reduce the ‘traffic’ while at the same time providing better infrastructure for bikes and people. The idea that we even have a traffic problem here makes me laugh too. In the afternoon commute there is some congestion downtown. But at 7PM you can walk down Main Street and hardly see a car, or a pedestrian, which I think is a bigger problem than figuring out how to move cars through town more quickly between 4 and 6 PM. People here also want to preserve our small town charm. That will never happen if we continue to prioritize cars over people.

  2. Thanks for reading my blog and posting your thoughts, Paul. I sympathize with the difficulties in your town. It is the same story nearly everywhere else in America. The biggest problem, I believe, is that car travel is so strongly self-perpetuating. Once a community sees a fairly large number of residents adopt car travel, political pressure quickly and seemingly endlessly strengthens to demand elected officials widen roads and provide more free parking and reduce development densities (higher densities make car travel very difficult and costly, which is the primary reason folks oppose higher densities). Each of these counterproductive demands make travel by walking, bicycling or bus more difficult, which recruits even MORE people to travel by car. Which means even MORE political pressure to pamper cars. Fortunately, the younger generation seems to be wanting to drive less and live in town centers. But going forward, I think our best chance of reversing this ruinous path is that it simply becomes too unaffordable to widen roads and expand parking. That day seems to be approaching, fortunately. Future generations will have much work to do to redesign our roads and communities so that they promote quality of life for people rather than cars. It will be a slow, painful transition. We’ve dug ourselves into a deep hole by spending hundreds of trillions of public dollars under the assumption that we will always be able to make car travel happy.

  3. Fortunately there is no way to reduce the traffic here from a road design standpoint. There is no room to widen the roads without tearing down a significant number of buildings which I don’t see happening. The only way I see to improve the traffic situation is to provide more housing downtown so that more people can live downtown and access all it has to offer without needing to drive. However, it’s hard to convince people this is the case. Especially people that fear any growth out of fear of change, or fear of worsened traffic conditions.

  4. Fear of more congested streets, fear of a lack of parking, or both, is what I believe is the main reason why people (especially those who live in drivable suburbia) oppose development. Another reason is that nearly all of the development that has occurred over the past century has been auto-oriented, modernist design that tends to be utterly unlovable. The car-centric, modernist architectural paradigm needs to be abandoned.

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