Monthly Archives: July 2018

Elephants in the Room on “First and Last Mile”

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

A recent concept that has emerged in transportation planning is known as “First and Last Mile.” It refers to the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by transit (usually a bus or train). In many cases, people will walk or bicycle to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a transit trip (the “first or last mile”), the origin or destination may be very unsafe or unpleasant to walk to or from, or bicycle to or from.

When this “first and last mile” is unpleasant or unsafe, people are discouraged from using transit.

Therefore, the thinking goes, to meaningfully increase transit ridership, it is very important to ensure that this transition zone be safe, convenient, and pleasant for the pedestrian and cyclist seeking to use transit.

Lafayette, Colorado recently proposed modifications near its transit stops to improve this “first and last mile.” As is so often the case, the city was proposing the same old song and dance. The same old ineffective ideas. Wider sidewalks. More bike paths.

Therefore, I must again point out a few elephants in the room. Here is what Lafayette SHOULD be calling for to meaningfully improve the “first and last mile”:

The disconnected street pattern found in Lafayette needs more street connectivity. Without connectivity, pedestrians and bicyclists are often obligated to travel out of their way or travel on hostile, unpleasant roads.

Oversized roads and intersections need to be shrunk down in size to more human-scaled, slow-speed geometries. Such oversizing is extremely intimidating, dangerous, and unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists. They destroy the human-scaled sense of place that draws walkers and bicyclists.

Buildings set back from the street by a large asphalt surface parking lot must be pulled up to the streetside transit stop. Not doing so prevents place-making, and creates a highly inconvenient and unsafe distance between buildings and the transit stop.

The study appears to disregard the zero-sum nature of this issue. Unless road design reverses the century-long effort to ease high-speed, high-volume, inattentive car travel, efforts to promote better and more common walking, cycling, and transit use will remain marginal and our low levels of per capita walking, cycling, and transit use will be perpetuated.

I’m sorry that despite our safety and non-car travel promotion crisis, Boulder and Boulder County are not being bold.

One of the primary problems caused by our century-long effort to build oversized, high-speed, high-capacity roadways is that because these roads and intersections become too dangerous to bike or walk on, too many are obligated to drive to transit stops. The large number driving to transit stops recruits even MORE to drive to the transit stops because we have been obligated to build big and dangerous asphalt parking lots to surround the transit stops (to provide motorist access to transit).

It would have been far better to have compact, higher density housing, offices, and retail abutting the transit stop. Doing so makes it substantially easier and safer to walk or bicycle to the transit stop because distances are much smaller and there is no need to cross large parking lots of bicycle on oversized roads or intersections.

Doing so is also a powerful way to engage in place-making – that small-town, human-scaled, slow-speed charm that so many of us desire and that is so increasingly rare these days.

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

Motorists Should Feel Inconvenienced

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2018

A common complaint that one hears – particularly in American cities – is that “parking spaces are too small” or “the roads are too congested” or “this driveway is too narrow.” General complaints about how inconvenient it is to drive a car. Is it not obvious that something must be done to make it more convenient for me to drive my car??

But in a well-designed town center, the space-consumptive motorist SHOULD feel inconvenienced. Why? Because motor vehicles consume an enormous amount of space, and herculean efforts to provide such space inevitably destroys the essential need for human scale.

For about a century, conventional traffic engineers have been too focused on the opposite: conveniencing car travel. The loss of human-scaled, slow speed, vibrant spaces is the result in nearly all American cities. Engineers tend to be single-mindedly striving to attain the objective of car movement and fail to know of the ingredients of a healthy city.

Because they have such a profound influence over the design and health of a city, I believe traffic engineers should be required to have studied walkable urban design. Or that urban designers should simply replace traffic engineers in city transportation design.

Not doing so will lead to the continuation of a century-long ruination of healthy, lovable, safe communities. The loss of communities designed for people, not cars.

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

The Backlash Against Road Diets

By Dom Nozzi

May 16, 2018

In May 2018, Citylab.com published an essay entitled “How to Kill a Bike Lane.” It was one of the most depressing articles I have ever read.

Road diets (usually removing 2 car travel lanes on a 4-lane road for enormous safety, retail, and neighborhood benefits) is suffering a severe backlash by frustrated, angry, heavily subsidized, entitled and pampered motorists all over the nation. Losing a few seconds or minutes of motorist travel time appears, in America, to be utterly unacceptable, even though it saves human lives, promotes small-scale retail, beautifies the street, and enhances housing quality of life.

Here in Boulder, huge numbers are still furious after an attempted road diet was crushed by motorist rage a number of years ago, as can be seen in the weekly published newspaper letters to the editor that continue to appear to this day (many of their arguments are identical to those found in this article). “Vision Zero,” which Boulder recently adopted, is a sham when one sees such hostility from the community.

Speaking as someone who has been academically and professionally involved in transportation for 38 years, I can say that I know of no transportation reform that is anywhere near as beneficial and cost-effective as a road diet. It is extremely telling, then, to consider how grim our future is when we learn how extreme the community opposition to road diets tends to be.

In my many years of academic and professional work, I have seen no term that is better or more commonly used than “road diet.” The article I refer to above, at one point, refers to a community that calls it “road toning.” That is a goofy term, in my view. I do not at all believe the problem is based on not picking a term that resonates. I think “road diet” and even Boulder’s use of “right-sizing” is fine. Road diets are brutally attacked throughout the nation regardless of the term used, or how much public education or data gathering the community engages in (Boulder did about 10 times more educating and data gathering than I have ever seen anywhere in the nation, yet huge numbers angrily attacked the City for doing a poor job on those two fronts).

The fact of the matter is that for people used to traveling in ridiculously oversized metal boxes that inevitably lead to frustrating slow-downs (even when roads are 20 lanes wide), a loss of 3 seconds in travel time is far worse than saving lives or making a community less car happy and more people-friendly.

How many hundreds or thousands of family members and friends will have to die on car-happy Boulder roads before the community says “ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!”? A huge number have died over the past few years in Boulder, but that does not seem to bother very many at all in Boulder, given the on-going crusade to keep motoring a happy way to travel.

Lots of folks in Boulder HATED the term “right-sizing.” Many said it sounded like corporations cutting jobs. But no one suggested a better term in Boulder. I think many were looking for a way to scapegoat the project by latching on to the idea that the term was offensive. It was too embarrassing to say that their 60 seconds of lost time was more important than saving lives or improving shops or neighborhoods near an oversized road.

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