Monthly Archives: September 2016

Suboptimizing Bicycling Part 2

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 28, 2003

I love bicycling. I have been a lifelong bicycle commuter, wrote my Master’s thesis on bicycle transportation, have been a member of several bicycle advocacy groups, worked professionally to promote bicycling as a town planner, and have had many books and articles published that promote bicycling.

But there is a problem I see here in my city all the time.

We are either removing on-street parking to install a bike lane, OR we are resisting on-street parking due to an existing bike lane. As an urbanist who strongly believes that in cities, the pedestrian is the design imperative, these street design decisions ENRAGE me.

Largely, what has happened in too many communities is that there emerges a strong, pro-bicycle lobby that suboptimizes on their needs to the detriment of other objectives. VERY FEW communities have a pro-pedestrian lobby to counter or at least balance the pro-bike lobby, and even fewer communities have engineers/designers who are well-schooled in pedestrian design.on-street-parking

In the low-speed town center environment, bike lanes tend to be inappropriate (what New Urbanists call a “transect violation”). They are inappropriate for such streets, in part because bicyclists can safely share the lane with motor vehicles. Bike lanes are suburban, large-street facilities.

Bike lanes in that environment are also a problem because they will increase the average motor vehicle speed and will create a street surface that is too wide for a human-scaled, walkable environment.

Ideally for pedestrians, the street cross-section is as narrow as possible. Bike lanes therefore degrade that ideal.

What I try to convince the bicycle advocates of is that an environment that is pleasant for pedestrians is an environment that benefits bicyclists as well. First, a pleasant pedestrian environment is one where car speeds are modest (which bicyclists prefer). Second, a pleasant pedestrian environment will improve the retail/office/housing markets so that those markets are less likely to abandon in-town locations for the remote locations in sprawlsville (which create excessive distances that bicyclists dislike).

It is only in the past 10 years that I have seen the light and realized that my design focus should be on pedestrians, not bicycles.

In the name of better cities (for both pedestrians AND cyclists), I hope a growing number of cities can win the battle to retain the on-street parking in the face of the over-zealous pro-bike lobby.

 

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Abuse from Motorists and Off-Street Bicycle Paths

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 29, 2003

I’ve been a regular bicycle commuter for about 25 years in a number of cities in the US. One of the many things I have learned as a bicycle commuter is that motorists enraged by things that slow them down (slow drivers, bicyclists, etc.) regularly honk their horn at me and other cyclists, throw things at me, or scream at me that I should get off the road and on to the sidewalk where you belong while I’m bicycling on the street.angry-motorist-yelling

And I say this as a bicyclist who essentially never “takes the travel lane,” but who instead hugs the curb.

It is common to hear calls for creating a separated bicycle path parallel to a roadway.

But I believe that there is a quite legitimate fear that should a path parallel and separated from the street were built, two things would happen:

  1. Nearly all motorists would angrily scream at me to get on the path; and
  2. Large numbers of politically-active motorists would begin attending city commission meetings demanding that bicyclists be prohibited from such streets and required to be on the path.

My experience is that even the most mild-mannered individuals are commonly transformed into red-faced ogres who are unable to tolerate anything that might slow them down once they get behind the wheel of a car. I cannot list them by name, but I have heard of a number of places which prohibit bicyclists on certain segments of street (usually bridges).

None of what I say above should be taken to mean that I oppose off-street paths. As Michael Ronkin points out, pro-bicycle communities need a blend of various bicycle facilities. I am a strong proponent of off-street paths when they do not parallel streets (usually, such paths follow rail ROW). Off-street paths are wonderful recreational paths, and “training ground” for novice bicyclists who might one day develop the confidence to become commuter/utilitarian bicyclists as a result. And to do that in America, one must ride in the street.

 

 

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A Line in the Sand for Road Size

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 30, 2003

I was having a conversation with someone who asked me if I agreed that a 4-lane road would ruin the rural character of a rural location. I agreed that a 4-laner would ruin rural character.

I would go beyond that: I don’t believe that a community should ever build a road bigger than 3 lanes.

At some point, a community must draw the line and say that enough is enough. That going beyond a certain road size is too destructive of our community.

Everyone has some idea of some limit. For some, it would be, say, 12 lanes as a limit. For others, it might be 6 lanes. For me, it is 3.street without on street parking

Indeed, when I was a long-range transportation planner for the City of Gainesville Florida, I succeeded in (briefly) having that City insert a policy in its long-range transportation plan that says the City shall never build a road again that is larger than 4 travel lanes (I would have preferred that we limit it to 2…).

Of course, as one would expect in a car-happy city such as Gainesville, that sort of policy only lasted a year or two before it was hastily expunged from the plan by our beloved defenders of cars…

It is not inevitable that a growing community must forever enlarge its roads. If more car volume capacity is felt to be essential, that added capacity can come from more community-sensitive means than conventional widening. Or, I see no reason why a community could not say “We have decided, as a community, that we will NOT go beyond a certain road size in order to protect our health, safety and welfare. If that means that our roads cannot accommodate any additional cars, so be it.”

Such cars can self-regulate themselves by choosing a different route, traveling at a non-rush hour time, or selecting another way to travel.

There is no law that says a community must accommodate an endless stream of forever increasing numbers of cars.

 

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Parks and Recreation Planning for a City

By Dom Nozzi

September 9, 2003

A friend of mine asked if I could help a person with an interesting question: Are there any standards, codes, recommendations for number, location, density of parks? Specifically as it helps with creating more active community environments?

The following is what I told my friend…

Having authored a long-range recreation and parks plan for a college town in Florida about 14 years ago, I can add a few comments about this issue:

  1. A huge percentage of communities can only find the political will to allocate a tiny, token pittance to public parks and recreation — while pouring millions into parking, roads, police, and fire protection. A number of these cities prepare a parks plan that is overly ambitious, thinking that an aggressive parks plan will magically create the money and political will to pay for a decent park program without any political pain such as cutting other services or raising taxes. Such plans are better than nothing, since, on VERY rare occasions, a community might be shocked to learn that a pot of money has come from somewhere – such as a benefactor, a state or federal grant, or a drug forfeiture, etc. A plan in place — even if financially infeasible at the time — would allow such an extremely fortunate community to spend that new money wisely. Mostly though, such plans just collect dust on the shelf because no miraculous Sugar Daddy ever arrives.
  1. Another approach is to define “parks” creatively. I am a big supporter of having a park within walking distance of most homes in neighborhoods. But since communities have spent several decades forgetting about parks (and the public realm generally), there are hardly any neighborhoods that have parks within them. It is unbelievably expensive to retrofit parks into existing neighborhoods. The “creative” approach is to call schools, cemeteries, private fitness clubs, YMCAs, churches and similar facilities “parks.” After all, such places can often be used by the public for recreation. Public schools are particularly appropriate for being called public parks, for a number of reasons. The biggest problem is that public schools tend to be extremely hesitant to have school grounds be considered public parks, since that raises liability and maintenance cost issues.
  1. Perhaps the best hope are these options:

(a) Elect people who sincerely prioritize recreation (i.e., are willing to cut police and fire department budgets, raise taxes, or both.

(b) Establish level of service standards that at least require NEW subdivisions or neighborhoods to incorporate the proper amounts of parks and recreation that is then dedicated to the local government.

National standards from the National Parks and Recreation Association are not very helpful with regard to having parks and recreation facilities within walking distance of parks-161homes. They simply state the nationally-recognized standards for amount per 1,000 people (only quantity is addressed, not location). I do not believe that there are any national recreation standards for walking distance. I suspect that there are only standards at the neighborhood level that have been prepared by some new urbanist design firms, since the new urbanist design is so admirably focused on walkability.

In the end, I’ve concluded that the only real way to have a community properly prioritize recreation in a reactive democracy like ours is to somehow “create the proper crisis.” That is, attempt to convince the community that crime rates are exploding due to lack of parks. Or start calling parks something like the Detroit Police Department Park to leverage dollars from a municipal budget that is bloated already.

 

 

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