Monthly Archives: January 2020

Tactics for Meaningfully Increasing the Amount of Walking in a City


By Dom Nozzi

August 19, 2019

Boulder Colorado has created a advisory board to make recommendations to elected officials about how to increase the frequency of walking in the city. Unfortunately, the recommendations have been notably timid and ineffective up to this point.

If this board wishes to make recommendations that are effective, here are a few of the most important tactics Boulder will need to deploy if it desires to meaningfully increase the amount of walking in Boulder.

Note first that installing sidewalks (or widening existing sidewalks) does almost nothing to increase walking in a city, other than to pay politically easy lip service to walking. Nor does more paint or signs. All those things do is make people feel like they’ve advanced walking without really doing anything.

Tactics to meaningfully increase walking in Boulder:

* Proximity. Nothing is more important than this for walking. Proximity comes from mixing residences with retail, office, culture, and jobs. It also comes from compact land use patterns. As a CU professor recently pointed out, Boulder’s density is far too low to have any chance of supporting anything more than a tiny amount of walking. Boulder needs to be allowing much smaller sized residences, more ADUs, more co-ops, a much higher number of unrelated people living together, larger building floor area ratios, and increased central area/corridor height limits from 35 feet to 55 feet. It also needs to reform snobbish, low-density single-family zoning to allow much more than just large-lot single-family homes. Building setbacks and green space requirements need to be smaller. Front porches for homes (including those that encroach into front yard setbacks) must be allowed by right. Codes (such as required parking rules) need to be revised to encourage a substantial infilling of buildings to replace existing surface parking lot expanses. Like Cambridge MA, Boulder should tax parking spaces to promote space removal and replacement by buildings.

* Much more on-street parking needs to be installed. This is a quick, low-cost way to reduce crossing distances and obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively. It also promotes more healthy retail (a pedestrian amenity includes activating the street with healthy retail).

* Traffic calming to join the growing worldwide movement toward Slow Cities. Slowing down cars is critical for more walking and safer walking. Over time, this also leads to more compact land use patterns. Calming does not include simply installing speed limit signs that lower speed limits. Slowing car speeds is only effective when we revise street design to induces slower, more attentive driving, and such low-speed design must be installed on arterials and collectors. Designs include on-street parking, landscaped intersection bulb-outs, road diets, more narrow travel lanes (9 to 10 ft), woonerfs, walking streets, connected streets, mid-block street crossings, cross-access, shorter block lengths, and give-way streets. Canopy street trees can also be an effective way to slow cars and create a pleasant, picturesque sense of enclosure. Traffic calming tools should not include speed humps, which create noise pollution, vehicle damage, and emergency vehicle problems.

* Low-speed, human-scaled design. Canopy street trees need to butt up against curbs. Buildings need to butt up against streetside sidewalks (to reduce walking distances and create human scale). Street lights need to be no taller than 10-15 feet to create a low-speed ambience. Signal lights in town centers should be post-mounted at the corners of intersections rather than hanging or mounted above streets. Tall street and signal lights create a high-speed highway ambience that signals to motorists that they should drive fast. Tall lights also kill romantic charm. Advertising signs need to be kept small in size.

* A much higher percentage of parking spaces in Boulder need to be priced. In addition to more paid parking, Boulder needs to start electronic tolling of major streets (or adopt mileage-based user fees). Both of these tactics will reduce low-value car trips, congestion, and solo driving. Over time, they will lead to more compact housing patterns.

* Eliminate required minimum parking regulations. This means that Boulder — like hundreds of other cities — needs to convert minimum parking requirements into maximum parking requirements. In such a change, developers will not cut their own throat by providing insufficient parking.

* Return all one-way streets back to their original two-way design. One-ways kill retail and residential health, speed up cars, create dangerous wrong-way travel for motorists and cyclists, are confusing and annoying for out-of-towners, and make people who are walking feel unsafe. They also induce frustration, impatience and anger on the part of motorists.

* Brick crosswalks and brick or cobblestone streets. These features slow cars and boost ambience.

* Remove turn lanes. In town centers, remove slip lanes, double-left turn lanes and continuous left-turn lanes. Keep intersection turning radii very small. Overall intersection size in town centers must be very small. While roundabouts can be very useful as a replacement for signal lights, they tend to over-size intersections in town centers.

As can be seen above, there is much work that needs to be done in car-centric cities such as Boulder if it expects to see any success at all in meaningfully increasing the amount of walking that occurs in Boulder. It should surprise no one that the amount of walking in Boulder today is tiny compared to where it should be for a city that expects to be healthy.

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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Boulder’s Low Rates of Bicycling


By Dom Nozzi

August 3, 2019

Tragically, and despite conventional wisdom, Boulder transportation is in the Dark Ages.

The city is far behind on many transport issues and stubbornly remains stuck in the outdated thinking of the 1960s and 1970s.

Check out, for example, the “What’s Your Take?” comments by Doug Hamilton and Jeff Shultz from the Boulder Daily Camera Editorial Advisory Board in today’s paper, where they promote the tired, frequent Boulder narrative of promoting easy, unimpeded car travel. If you want to know why the number of bike trips remains stuck at about 2%-5% of all Boulder trips (compared to the huge percentages in places like Amsterdam or Utrecht or Delft), one must notice that for several decades and up to this day, Boulder has ruinously enabled high-speed, high-volume car traffic.

And assumed it could do this while at the same time promoting bicycling.

Sorry, but the fact of the matter is that car travel is zero-sum, not win-win. By pampering and catering to motorists for decades, Boulder has degraded and discouraged and endangered bicycle travel. Boulder cannot have both happy motoring and widespread (and happy) bicycling. Unless Boulder begins to take away Space, Speed, and Subsidies from motorists, bicycling rates will remain embarrassingly low and cycling will remain quite dangerous.

Again, there is no win-win on this. And that means that leadership is needed.


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The Charming Italian Tradition of the Passeggiata – the Nightly Community Stroll

Each evening, between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize, in a nightly ritual called “La Passeggiatta.” Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterward, everyone heads home together for the evening meal. “Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays, entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterward, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.”

For Maggie and Dom, la passeggiata is one of our favorite treats when we visit an Italian town. It is the much-loved evening community stroll, and we love encountering it.

The passeggiata in Palermo mostly occurs on their main walking street (Via Maqueda), and it is an unforgettable, inspiring sight to see.

Via Maqueda is a large street, yet like our recent experience in Bologna, la passeggiata so fills the large street that it is a gridlock of pedestrian congestion that one normally only sees with a road clogged with cars.

But in contrast to car congestion, when everyone is angry with everyone else on the road, pedestrian congestion adds to the sociable joy of being on common ground with other people. As Dan Burden once said, cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.

One of many things that makes me proud to be an Italian is the Italian tradition of la passeggiata.

As I understand it, the size and popularity of la passeggiata on Via Maqueda has been growing over the years (it became a walking street in June 2018). I believe that is because such an event benefits from being a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. That is, because humans are a social species and our world tends to isolate us from each other, something that draws people to sociably be with others is so enjoyable, so rare, and such a “people-watching treat” that others in the city start learning about the enjoyable event and join in. And this growing number of participants induces even more to join as word about it is spread (or people encounter it on their own). And so on and so on.

La passeggiata is, in the words of urban designers, a “social condenser” that most humans seek out to enjoy.

In my view, all cities, to be healthy, should have a nightly passeggiata.

This Italian community evening stroll is usually found on “walking street” that has been closed to cars — but not always… Click here for a video I shot when Maggie and I happily and serendipitously stumbled upon a passeggiata in Palmero.

In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town,  Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging.” Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or “let’s go do some laps.” Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!

According to Miklas, one of “original purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.”

“In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets in particular is Via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.”

“As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much.  Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.”




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The Incremental Uglification of Cities

By Dom Nozzi

There is an adage that has recently emerged that I really like: “I’m already against the next war.” I was reminded of this yesterday when we drove by the hideous modernist building going up on Canyon near the Transit Center here in Boulder Colorado. For me (and surely many others), “I’m already against the next modernist building being built.” Or “I’m already looking forward to that modernist building being demolished, even though the construction  has not finished yet.”

Shame on Council for not putting building design rules in place that would stop the incremental uglification of Boulder.

How to stop the descent into more ugly? Prohibit modernist design. Require timeless traditional design. We have a shining example of timeless right here in Boulder: The Hotel Boulderado. Despite the conventional wisdom, cities are allowed to require timeless design. And there are rules that make it possible.

My visits to the historic center of many European cities make this screamingly obvious. Like millions of tourists throughout the world, I fall in love with the splendor of the historic buildings. And am deeply saddened when I see some of those historic centers incrementally losing their lovable charm when awful modernist buildings that ignore context or basic rules of urban civility are painfully inserted into that historic fabric.

Admittedly, Boulder has very little in the way of an existing supply of historic buildings. But there is no reason the City could not obligate new buildings to use a timeless traditional design so we could incrementally move toward a more generally lovable ensemble of buildings in our town center (the new Elevations/Twitter bank building on Walnut near the Transit Center is an example of something new and timeless). After all, each modernist building that goes up makes Boulder incrementally more ugly and less loved…

A community has the right to promote the beauty of its public realm, and prohibit the degradation of the public realm.

Something else that saddens me: It seems nearly certain that what will ultimately be built (or retained) at the Alpine-Balsam redevelopment site will be largely if not completely ugly modern.

“There is nothing more dated than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.”

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Filed under Politics, Urban Design

Some Reasons Why Boulder Is Not a Bicycle Heaven Like Utrecht in The Netherlands


By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2019

A champion of NIMBYism on the Boulder City Council had a citizen send her a YouTube video about Utrecht, a city Maggie and I recently visited and LOVED, and her comment was that “I had the good fortune to visit Utrecht over the Christmas holidays and see the ongoing efforts and results. Where did they get the money to build it?”

One thought I have in response to her comment is if you enjoyed Utrecht so much, why do you spend much of your time fighting against every step Boulder wants to take in that direction???

I then posted this on the FB wall below her comment:

Boulder is far more wealthy than Utrecht. Over the past few decades, the City of Boulder has squandered millions of dollars (often matching fed and state dollars) to overdesign roads to convenience cars, speed up cars, and encourage motorists to drive inattentively. The result of those millions spent is that our transportation system is now far less safe, far less multi-modal (ie, it is much more of a car-only system), and far less likely to induce the compact, walkable land use patterns that the City master plan calls for. Perhaps the biggest strategic mistake that Boulder and its citizens have made over the years is to counterproductively try to reduce congestion on roads and parking lots by increasing the capacity of those free-to-use facilities. By ruinously equating congestion reduction with quality of life, Boulder has ironically undermined a great many objectives. Such efforts have ironically given us more traffic crashes, more per capita car travel, more air emissions, more noise pollution, more strip commercial, more low-density sprawl, more sign pollution, more ugly buildings and infrastructure, more “heat island” woes, more fuel consumption, a transportation budget that is always requiring the City to push for more transportation tax revenue, and more speeding.

In sum, a quality of life that is degraded on many fronts.

Oh, and by the way, we have done nothing to reduce congestion after all those millions to try to reduce congestion. Oops.

Until Boulder escapes from the ruinous, aggressive efforts to reduce congestion, it will never make progress in moving toward better conditions for each of the many objectives I mention above.

On the same day, a survey went out asking Boulder citizens what they thought about lowering traffic speeds on city roads. Here is my response:

Boulder needs to revise the street design of streets all over town to obligate motorists to drive slower and more attentively. Shame on Boulder for spending the past century using “Forgiving Street Design” to encourage excessive speeds and inattentive driving. Unless Boulder redesigns stroads such as Broadway, Canyon, and Arapahoe (among many other roads too numerous to list here), Vision Zero will be nothing more than lip service for better traffic safety. After a century of Forgiving Street Design, as well as more Warning Signs, Warning Lights, Warning Paint, Warning Education, and Warning Enforcement, isn’t it time to use effective safety and speed tools such as street design?

Boulder needs to show way more leadership on these issues.

And stop being our own worst enemies.

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