Monthly Archives: July 2016

What Direction Should the State of Florida Take With Regard to Local Government Planning?

By Dom Nozzi

September 25, 2003

The State of Florida contains an agency called the Department of Community Affairs, which provides directives and guidance to city and county governments in Florida regarding town planning, transportation and land development. That agency therefore plays a crucial role in how development and transportation should occur in Florida.

What should this guidance consist of?

As a 20-year long-range town planner in Florida, here are my thoughts on the matter.

First, planning directives from the state planning agency need to be more directive than to just call for communities to establish a “vision.” But instead of taking a heavy-handed approach in which the state dictates how communities should be developed, there should be a strong statement that calls for communities to:

(a) Create plans and regulations that promote lifestyle choices. All communities must provide ample opportunities for living an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Currently, nearly all communities only allow for the suburban choice. We must be clear that one size does not fit all. We need a tiered regulatory system that applies appropriate regulations for each lifestyle choice, instead of providing only suburban design regulations. We need to make urban and rural lifestyles legal again (in appropriate locations).urban-to-rural-transect-Duany-Plater-Zyberk-sm

(b) Create a transportation system that is rich in transportation choices. Again, this needs to be a tiered approach where one size does not fit all locations. In core (urban, compact) areas, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Streets are modest in size, calm in design speed and no more than three lanes in width. Roads get progressively larger and higher in design speed as you move outside of core. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), in particular, needs to radically change their approach to design so that state roads are context-sensitive when going through communities. FDOT must become a helpful partner with local communities, instead of an adversary only looking out for the needs of the state.

In many communities, being serious about controlling sprawl and protecting or restoring quality of life will require a long-term healing process. Damage wrought in the past by building monster high-speed roads will often need to be incrementally reversed by putting many of these roads on a diet (ie, removing unnecessary, toxic, dangerous travel lanes).

In the interim, as communities struggle to correct the design of their streets and roads, an urban growth boundary will probably be required. Without a strong boundary, no plans, regulations or strong elected officials can stop the sprawl tidal wave induced largely by big roads in a community.

(c) Many important efforts are necessary to reverse our long-standing pattern of being our own worst enemies. The Florida Growth Management Act (which dictates rules for plans that local governments in Florida must adopt) needs to be revised so that road “level of service” (the level of congestion found on a road) is not applied in urban areas. The State concurrency rule that obligates level of service for urban roads is a powerful sprawl engine (because “adequate” road capacity tends to only be found in outlying areas rather than within towns).

In addition, public schools must end the practice of inducing sprawl by curtailing the widespread construction of new schools in outlying areas. An important element is this is to revise school standards that make walkable, in-town, neighborhood-based schools difficult or impossible (such as large ballfield requirements).

Large emergency service vehicles must not dictate excessive road design standards by being the standard that engineers use to design roads (the “design” vehicle). Doing so promotes high and dangerous car speeds.

Similarly, modest, human-scaled streets and building design must be made legal again in the urban portions of a community.

In sum, a strong stand must be taken by planners that we stand for CHOICE, and that one size does not fit all.

 

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Big Box Church

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 11, 2003

As I write this, the current controversy in Gainesville FL is that the local community college downtown is trying to demolish two historic homes in a walkable, historic neighborhood abutting them. I’ve not heard this, but will be surprised if the college doesn’t end up putting in surface parking once they obliterate the houses. It is causing quite an outcry from the neighborhood and from the historic folks.

The University of Florida (and the Shands/Alachua General Hospital complex east of the university) has done their part to undermine nearby neighborhoods. Much of Shands/AGH is now surface parking. Quite a large number of historic homes were leveled to put in those seas of asphalt.

These days, one of the most common issue we city planners see raised in our planning newsletters and magazines is the emergence of the “Big Box Church” (the godly version of Big Box retailers such as Wal-Mart). There have been a lot of articles published in the church-campus4professional planning literature about churches growing enormously in size. To be healthy is to have lots of parishioners, which means that many churches now strive to serve a huge region. That, of course, means huge parking lots are imperative. Combined with recent US Supreme Court rulings and congressional action which severely restricts local governments from regulating churches (due to alleged “freedom of religion” intrusions), most communities (including Gainesville) are terrified of imposing even the most trivial land development regulations on churches. There is now much less planners can do anything to protect neighborhoods by restricting how much parking a church can have, or imposing noise limits on them, or even imposing special landscaping or building location or zoning rules. Homes near these new mega-churches now have little or no protection against loud churches or parishioners speeding through the neighborhoods or parking in people’s front yards.

There has been much talk about the downtown Episcopal Church here in Gainesville having problems and thinking about re-locating to Sprawlsville.

Why?

Not enough parking for the parishioners.

I’m sure they pray about leveling City Hall to install a new parking lot…

In the past (decades ago?), churches and hospitals and small schools were healthy and walkable for neighborhoods. In fact, like public grade schools, I’d argue that human-scaled, walkable, neighborhood-based colleges, hospitals and churches are essential ingredients in a healthy neighborhood. But the fact that we now must assume that everyone will drive everywhere means that such places MUST level buildings in order to install more and more surface parking.

Tragic.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design

How Road & Intersection Size Influences Development

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 3, 2004

In 2004, I came across the following comments on an email list I subscribed to regarding urban design. The comment were written by Seth Harry:

“No, we can’t expect commercial to stay off them [big roads], and that is all the more reason to be mindful of how we design our arterial networks, both in terms of specific design of the actual street, and the network itself, such that we don’t automatically load all of our trips onto a few, overscaled arterials that represent an irresistible invitation to the huge box retailers.”

“The other part of the equation, however, is that fact that all of our housing developments also now typically empty out directly onto those same large scale arterials, with no intermediate street networks to diffuse and disseminate that traffic (and thereby creating more viable opportunities for smaller, more locally-focused retail to occur).  By putting all of those cars directly out there on the highway, we are inadvertently sending them out there at the mercy of those same mega-boxes.  As I referred to the occupants of those cars during a recent regional planning initiative —  Those aren’t just cars, those things represent self propelled “free-ranging consumers…” just looking for place to land and spend their money.  And there are all too many mega-retailers just waiting to accommodate them…”

Here are my thoughts about Seth’s comments, including my concerns about 4-lane vs 2-lane streets and the influence they have on future development:

Over the years, I have seen countless studies and books that touch on this crucial question of whether the size and character of roads (and intersections) determines the land uses that develop along it. Indeed, I find the question so crucial that I put a great deal of effort into trying to clearly show how road design DOES drive land uses adjacent to it, and start off with this point in my speeches.

Nearly all transportation engineers, chambers of commerce, citizen activists, and elected officials DENY that roads determine land use. Instead, most people naively believe that land use plans or development regulations or elected officials or enlightened staff can save us from ruin even if we build a monster road.

Here is what Walter Kulash, one of my heroes, has to say on this question:

Containing this type of use of 50/50 [50 mph and 50,000 cars per day] streets is far beyond the will and ability of the typical local government. The 50/50 arterial is a gift-wrapped, gold-plated, gift to strip development. Once in place, almost no power on earth will stop its march toward strip commercial. Time spent berating local governments (counties and admin-ajax (7)cities) for not doing better with these monstrosities (and I’ve done my share of this) is satisfying to the critic, but is unproductive. Once in place, it is too late to do much about the 50/50 arterial. – Walter Kulash

Walter Kulash was formerly a principal and Senior Traffic Engineer with the Orlando-based community-planning firm of Glatting Jackson Kercher Anglin Lopez Rinehart, Inc. A licensed professional engineer with an academic background in engineering at North Carolina State University and Northwestern University, Mr. Kulash has worked on traffic and transit planning projects throughout the U.S. and Canada. Clients include private developers, local and state governments and non-governmental agencies.

Since the early 1990’s, Mr. Kulash has specialized in the rapidly emerging field of “livable traffic” design. This view of traffic engineering recognizes that the narrow traffic planning goals of the past few decades—moving the most traffic at the greatest possible speed—are giving way to a far more inclusive view. In the new view of traffic engineering, traffic performance is balanced against other desired qualities of the street, such as its value as an “address”, its retail friendliness, and its role as a premiere public space of the community.

Some recent projects for private developments that incorporate principles of livable traffic include neotraditional communities throughout the U.S. and Canada, community shopping centers that serve as centers of walk-in communities, resort villages, outdoor shopping villages and “park once” districts. Some recent projects for public agencies include city-wide mobility plans and reintroducing walking to formerly automobile-blighted areas.

Recent projects for non-governmental agencies include downsizing of road plans, re-introduction of on-street parking in shopping environments, substituting the improvement of existing streets for new freeways, and university campus mobility plans.

My observation as a planner (and that of Kulash and many others) is that big, multi-lane, high-speed roads make it CERTAIN that the road will be forever hostile to residences and transportation choices. The only things that can emerge and thrive along such “car sewers” is single-occupant vehicle travel and strip commercial development (with accompanying billboards, glaring lights, etc.).

By stark contrast, roads that are 2 or 3 lanes and designed for slower car travel will inevitably deliver residential development, higher densities, more locally-owned retail, less Big Box retail, and transportation choice. Big Box is only possible when big roads are built. Big roads ENABLE Big Box.

Indeed, Big Box can only survive if it has the 4- and 6- and 8-lane roads that allow them to take advantage of a HUGE regional “consumer-shed.”

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation