Monthly Archives: May 2018

What Are the Design Attributes of a Better Town, Dom?

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2018

A friend of mine wrote to me to ask the following. “Despite the fact that I am heavily reliant on my car, I do agree with most of what you say [in this blog you wrote], Dom. But we do have to have cars, at least to some extent. I’ve often wondered what a Dom-designed town would look like. What is your Utopia, and is it the same as what you think a realistic-Utopia could be (regarding transportation)?”

Here is my response:

My belief that car driving makes us much more mean-spirited than when we walk, bicycle, or use transit is not intended to imply that no one should ever drive a car. It is mostly to warn us that excessive dependence on car travel can create a much less

Man Expressing Road Rage

An irritated young man driving a vehicle is expressing his road rage.

pleasant world, and that we must work much harder to reduce excessive (particularly low-value) car travel (and designing communities that are much less negatively affected by over-designing for cars).

A few design strategies that would help: (1) more toll roads and more priced (metered) parking, (2) converting stroads into streets by reducing their width and beautifying the now slower streets with buildings pulled up to sidewalks, (3) adding more raised medians in the middle of streets, (4) unbundling the price of parking from the cost of housing, (5) allowing employees to opt for parking cash-out, (6) creating human-scale spaces rather than gigantic car spaces (small building setbacks, small streets, small parking lots behind building, small signs, shorter street lights, etc.), (7) mixing housing with offices, retail and other jobs, (8) creating an adequate supply of walkable and drivable housing (currently we have way too much of the latter and way too little of the former), (9) moving away from the failed, unlovable architectural paradigm known as modernism and instead using timeless, classical design.

In general, the older a town happens to be, the better it does in the above features (largely because they were built before we became obsessed with cars and trapped in the happy car downward spiral). Happily, some newer towns are using some of the older, timeless patterns, so they are not awful. Examples of older towns or new towns in the US using timeless principles: Key West, St Augustine, Annapolis, Stapleton near Denver, Old Towne Arvada, Prospect, Savannah, Charleston, Seaside, Haile Plantation, and LoDo in Denver. In each case, the design is intended to make people happy, not cars. The result is charm, low speeds, and sociable ambience that people love experiencing.

Within these places designed for people, not cars, it tends to be inconvenient to get around by car. But that is exactly the way it should be, since fast, oversized metal boxes create a world that humans find repellent.

And a world within which people become frustrated, stressed, and enraged. Those toxic emotions for those trapped in car-happy places are too often when such a person is behind the wheel of a car.

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Filed under Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Sounding the Alarm for Traffic Safety in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2018

Recently, the Boulder (Colorado) City Council has indicated that improving traffic safety is a significant priority. And rightly so, given the surge in traffic deaths in Boulder in recent years. The City has adopted a “Vision Zero” objective (zero serious traffic injuries or deaths).

However, the Boulder program is the same old song and dance that Boulder and most every other American city have been engaged in to “improve” traffic safety. Every few years for the past century, Boulder has “redoubled its efforts” to deploy The Five W’s: (1) more Warning signs are erected; (2) more (or revised) Warning lights are installed; (3) more Warning paint is painted; (4) more Warning education is called for; and (5) more Warning enforcement is urged. But after a century of redoubling our efforts to do those things, Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever. For example, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper recently reported that traffic deaths in Boulder County were higher than they have been since at least 2004. And while Boulder was once again ranked relatively high as a bike-friendly city a few days ago, the ranking curiously but accurately noted that Boulder ranked poorly for bicycling safety.

The Five W’s path to safety has failed.

Such campaigns border on being patronizing. And traffic safety education is a form of victim-blaming.

As far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been VZaround). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. Therefore, adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Like most other cities, unfortunately, Boulder has spent the past century designing streets to enable (and therefore encourage) high speed, inattentive driving.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the “Forgiving Street” design (a design used too often by state and local traffic engineers to “forgive” motorists who drive too fast or inattentively – which thereby encourages speeding and inattentive driving) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. The Five W’s have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to severely diminishing returns.

If we are serious about achieving “Vision Zero,” we need to redesign our streets.

What if, instead of continuing to pursue The Five W’s, we start putting more of the onus on transportation engineers and motorists by designing streets and intersections that obligate slower, more attentive driving?

Such driving is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail health.

How do we humanize streets in this manner? We can, for example, install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped and sufficiently large traffic circles, raised medians and roundabouts – many in Boulder are too small. We can reduce the width of streets and travel lanes. We can shrink the size of intersections. We can remove unnecessary travel lanes – particularly on roads with four or more lanes. We can pull buildings up to streets instead of having them set behind parking lots. We can install more on-street parking. We can reduce the size of intersection turning radii. We can remove a number of town center turn and “slip” lanes. We can reduce the size of shoulders and vision triangles. We can reduce the width of driveways. We can substantially increase funding for the neighborhood traffic calming program to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “give-way” streets.

Inducing slower car speeds is essential for enhancing travel safety, effectively encouraging non-car travel, and improving town center and neighborhood quality of life. There are important reasons why a “slow cities” movement is spreading worldwide.

Boulder is not now politically ready to seriously strive to attain Vision Zero, as there is insufficient political will to do the things listed above. Years after the Folsom Street lane repurposing was put in place, many in Boulder are still screaming mad about it. Some call such traffic safety measures “impede and congest” tactics intended to “annoy” motorists and “force” them to use bicycles or transit.

Why is it not an “impede and congest” tactic intended to “annoy” bicyclists and pedestrians and “force” them to drive a car when it comes to the frequent action to enlarge intersections to have a double-left turn lane? Or install a large parking lot? Is this not a double standard?

Given this lack of political will, the City should suspend the Vision Zero goal until it is ready to deploy the tactics necessary to actually reach Vision Zero.

The 30th Street, Canyon, East Arapahoe, Colorado, and Iris projects should also be suspended for the same reason.

Shame on Boulder.

 

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking