Monthly Archives: September 2021

My Town Is Being Ruined Because Too Many People Are Moving Here!

By Dom Nozzi

One of the most common fears I hear expressed by friends and family about the state of affairs in their community is that “there are too many people moving here!”

The seemingly self-evident assumption that underlies this all-too-common lament is that “too many people” will destroy quality of life.

But the influx of more people is not the problem in these places.

The problem in nearly all cases is the influx of more people into a place with development regulations that deliver car dependency.

Therefore, the solution is not to stop the influx of people. Indeed, most all cities – particularly in America — can benefit from a big influx of people. The solution is to adopt development requirements that produce compact, lovable community design that meaningfully reduces car use.

The good news is that we already know the development (and transportation) regulations that effectively bring us a lot less car use. The Dover-Kohl urban design firm has shown the way for many years.

This is not rocket science.

While I agree an influx of people can negatively affect economic issues such as affordable housing — particularly if we design for walking — the problem of affordable housing is manageable with proper urban design. So manageable that the substantial benefits of a larger number of residents to a community far outweigh the downsides of a loss of affordable housing.

This is true as long as community development regulations obligate much of the new housing that may be needed for such new residents be designed in compact, walkable patterns.

 The problem and tragedy is that for the past century, we’ve thrown away the timeless tradition of designing our communities for happy people. Instead, for that past century, we have conducted a ruinous experiment (increasingly out of obligation): designing to make cars happy.

Since cars and people have different – in many ways opposite — needs and objectives, we inevitably foul our own nest by focusing on accommodating cars.

That means pretty much all our cities are dying from gigantism, being spread too thin, being infested with massive roads and parking, suffering from increased transportation-related danger, a loss of a sense of community or sense of place, a loss of beauty, a loss of affordability, a loss of human scale, a loss of civic pride, a loss of sustainability, and a loss of travel independence for those who cannot drive (mostly seniors, disabled, kids).

Nearly every city (particularly post-1940 sections of cities) is a dreadful place that no one can love (except, perhaps, inside our privatopian house and motor vehicle cocoons).

We COULD have spent the past century building compact, walkable communities that humans have always loved (old Siena, old Paris, old Key West, old San Francisco, old Florence, old Venice, old Frankfurt, old Assissi, old Innsbruck, old Bologna, old Milano, old Barcelona, old Croatia, old Zurich, old Bonn, old Amsterdam, etc.).

Instead we are left with cities that should mostly be demolished so that we can rebuild them the way we did prior to about 1940. We have left the worst legacy of any generation in world history.

Even though we are the most wealthy generation in history.

Someday I hope we regain our sanity.

But for the past century we have lost our minds. And as Kunstler says, we have wasted trillions of dollars engaged in building the catastrophically-failed car-dependent experiment.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Civility Needs to Go Viral

By Dom Nozzi

Civility needs to “go viral.”


Because in my experience, there has been a steep decline in civility in American society for several decades.

The first and most powerful step in restoring a reasonable level of societal civility is to put our big city “stroads” on a road diet. A “stroad” is a delightful term coined by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and refers to those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) gets combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places). They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. And they are the futon of transportation” because, just as a futon is neither a particularly good bed nor a particularly good couch, a stroad is neither a particularly good road or a particularly good street.

Greenville makes this step obvious. Motorists are obligated to drive 15-25 mph smoothly on appropriately road dieted Main Street. This is contrasted with the 45-55 mph speeds motorists are allowed and enabled to drive on Greenville’s many stroads. Of course, on a stroad a motorist is not driving at those higher speeds smoothly. Instead, the stroad inevitably forces motorists to engage in “jack rabbit stop and go” travel, where motorists engage in short bursts of excessive speeds followed by frequently repeated stops and slow downs.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone expects a slow speed road to be frustrating and unpleasant to drive on (“WE ARE VERY BUSY AND NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FASTER!”), driving on Main Street in Greenville versus driving on the Greenville stroads leads to far better and more enjoyable motorist experiences.

On slow speed Main Street, nearly all drivers are more courteous, more calm, more relaxed, more happy and smiling, more polite, more well-mannered, more patient, and filled with civic pride.

The drive, even though slow in speed, FEELS like it goes by relatively quickly. This is because the drive is more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. Some drivers don’t want the driving experience to end.

On higher speed stroads, by striking contrast, drivers are more hostile, angry, stressed, impatient, hot-tempered, enraged at any fellow citizen who DARES to get in the way by driving or turning too slowly, and ashamed to live in a city with such an oversized, strip-commercial roadway blight (this is exemplified by the fact that no one takes their out-of-town guests to show off the higher speed stroad, whereas many show off Main Street to their guests).

The drive, even though higher in speed, FEELS like it takes a relatively long time. This is because the drive is ugly, frustrating, and stressful. Drivers can’t wait to get off the stroad.

The unpleasant, stressful, angering, impatient, hostile, uncivil, short-tempered emotions induced by stroads spills over into the stroad-driving motorist’s life beyond the unpleasant stroad experience and into the realm of family life, work life, social life, and interactions with fellow neighbors and other citizens.

Stroads in Greenville include – but are not limited to – the following:

Augusta Avenue

Peter Hollis Boulevard

McDaniel Avenue

Academy Street

Stone Avenue

Buncombe Street

Rutherford Street

Richardson Street

Poinsett Highway

Pleasantburg Drive

Laurens Road

Mills Avenue

Church Street

In sum, converting stroads to streets is an effective way to substantially promote civility (and happiness!) in American society.

We start doing that by removing excessive numbers of lanes on stroads.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Noise Pollution Assaulting Our Greenville SC Home is Intolerable

By Dom Nozzi

I’m sorry, but I’ve had it with the house we bought a few weeks ago in Greenville SC. The noise pollution coming from nearby Butler Avenue is three times higher than any I’ve ever experienced in all the places I have lived. And the fact that we have emergency vehicle sirens screaming down Butler multiple times a day makes an already unacceptable noise problem SIGNIFICANTLY worse. The unbearable noise is degrading the property values of all homes near Butler. Complaints have arisen from more than one of my neighbors about the sirens. My stress level is skyrocketing. The unending noise is making me short-tempered, hostile and a generally unpleasant person to be around. I find myself angrily screaming at my partner Maggie on many occasions. And I have been obligated to wear ear plugs in several instances – that is, when I cannot suppress the stubborn desire to sit on my front porch to read.

I did not sign up for this.

The professional literature, as an aside, shows a clear connection between noise pollution, and a number of medical and societal maladies such as high blood pressure, heart disease, mental illness, depression, inability to engage in conversation, foul mood, fatigue, loss of sleep, anger, poor concentration, productivity losses at the workplace, cognitive impairment, tinnitus, hearing loss, and failed relationships.

We also know from many studies that excessive noise leads to a substantial decline in residential and retail property values. One inequitable, downwardly spiraling aspect of this are studies showing that homeowners abandon their porches and other rooms near the roaring roadway and incrementally migrate toward rooms as far from the inhospitable, anti-urban road as possible – in other words, a flight from the front of the house to the back of the house.

To add insult to injury, I must also mention that every afternoon we have a high-speed, very loud convoy of 25 to 35 USPS vans racing down our street to get to the big USPS facility down the street from us. The mail delivery employees are racing to end their shifts for the day. I have gone to the USPS facility five times and requested that I be able to speak to the postmaster about having the vans redirected one block off of our street so that they use two larger roads – two non-residential, commercial streets – instead of our residential street. Each time I’ve spoken to staff at the USPS, I am told it is not possible to redirect the vans off of our street, even though this is clearly possible. And clearly called for, given the noise pollution and safety hazards posed by the speeding vans. Each time I ask to speak to a supervisor and each time I am assured I will get a call back from the postmaster. I have still not gotten a call.

Maggie and I have started to place our garbage carts near the middle of our street in a “tactical urbanism” effort to slow down speeding vehicles (it is not just the USPS vans) on the street to slower, safer, quieter speeds.

A few days ago, I met a Greenville elected official for the first time, and complained to him about the out of control siren use in the city by emergency vehicles. I’m sure that went in one ear and out the other.

Yesterday I posted a note to the neighborhood Nextdoor email list that I would like to hear from anyone that knows of a house in the neighborhood that will be listed for sale in the future. My quest is to move to a home that is not being severely degraded by noise pollution the way my newly-purchased home is being degraded.

As an aside, I believe that like the requirement that new homeowners be warned that they are buying a home affected by such natural hazards as a floodplain, it should now also be required by law that homebuyers be warned that they are buying a home that is being regularly subjected to extreme levels of noise pollution.

I have professional and academic expertise in noise control, as I have advanced degrees in town planning, transportation, and environmental science. This led my former employer to have me prepare a noise control ordinance for a city with a larger population than Greenville. I am very well aware of the fact that those living in or near a town center need to expect a higher ambient noise level. That is a basic, understandable trade-off for living in a town center that offers the convenience of many nearby destinations.

On the other hand, I am also well aware of the fact that our society has far higher levels of noise pollution than are necessary for a city. Levels that have been worsening severely over the past several decades (my research has led to me to learn that noise pollution is one of the very few forms of pollution we are losing ground over). It is simply not true that a functioning, healthy city must accept the ever-worsening levels of noise pollution that city dwellers are now subjected to.

Healthy cities, in fact, can and do function much better with far lower levels of noise pollution. For starters, it is well known that public safety and economic health are in no way jeopardized by a reduction in the deafening roar of ever louder and almost continuous emergency vehicle sirens. Nor is city health in any way compromised when we install effective traffic calming tools to slow speeding motor vehicles (motor vehicles are by far the leading source of urban noise pollution). Effective tools? On-street metered parking. Road diets. Landscaped bulb-outs. Raised medians. Chicanes. Canopy street trees. Shorter signal lights, signs, and street lights. Smaller turning radii.

As I understand it, a number of homeowners in our vicinity (likely including the former owners of our home) were not able to continue tolerating the noise and danger problems associated with motor vehicles. Rather than do what most all citizens do – which is to decide “there is nothing that can be done about noise pollution, so we will continue to accept lower and lower quality of life expectations” – some in our vicinity have opted to sell their homes so they can move to a place without a 24/7 roar. I have learned both academically and professionally that countless citizens either leave a home in or near a town center, or never consider living in such a location due to their (accurate) perception that cities are failing to do anything to stem ever-worsening noise pollution, vehicle danger, and oversized, unsafe roadways that are (unnecessarily) severely degrading our town centers.

Across the street from us, the City inexplicitly allowed a financial institution to install a four-lane, 24-hour-a-day drive-through. The parking lot on the other side of the bank is a vast, sea-of-asphalt parking lot that dwarfs the size of the bank, and as Donald Shoup says (see his The High Cost of Free Parking), artificially breeds far more car trips than would have occurred had there not been such an oversized, free-to-use parking lot. This highway oriented breeder of day- and night-long car traffic in front of our home pumps toxic fumes onto our front porch all the time. It has produced queues of cars hundreds of feel long in front of our house. And it regularly brings in drivers completely distracted, as I see many filling out their deposit or withdrawal forms as they approach the drive-through. This is particularly unsafe when the driver is in a hurry. Or when seniors or children are on the sidewalk. The design of the financial institution is much better suited to a 10-lane suburban strip commercial roadway than a neighborhood and what should be its safe and quiet streets. Indeed, there is very little that is more UN-neighborly than the design of this bank.

I do not at all believe it is unreasonable to expect to be able to live in a half-million dollar house (or even a more modestly-priced house, for that matter) that does not suffer from deafening roadway noise 24/7. In fact, such an expectation is a basic, fundamental human right. A right that is being unceasingly violated – mostly by a failure to control dangerous, noisy suburban design in the urban area.

All of this is unacceptable.

For a number of days now, I’ve started looking online for houses for sale in the neighborhood. By far my leading criterion for a house to buy is that the home is at least one or two blocks away from a major car sewer highway. It is not just the high-speed freeway near our home. I have also learned there are other roads in Greenville acting like dangerous, deafening interstate beltways: Academy, Pete Hollis, Buncombe, Augusta, McDaniel, Stone, Rutherford, Poinsett, Pleasantburg, and Laurens.

I need to be able to find a home at least a block or two from all of these ruinous highways. Countless other homeowners and renters in Greenville have arrived at the same conclusion. The long-term result of the creation of these monster roads – besides inducing large numbers of deadly crashes and ramping up the number of trips that must be made by car – is a decline and residential abandonment of homes in neighborhoods near these over-sized roadways.

Each time such roads are created, their effect is not unlike the impact of aerial bombing runs on the nearby neighborhoods. Each time elected officials make a decision to install such highways, they are in effect destroying nearby neighborhoods that have the misfortune to be close to such roadways, and are also condemning their city with a future of declining property tax revenues, a growing number of motor vehicle crashes, increasing noise pollution, a decline in walking, bicycling and transit use, and an increasing levels of motor vehicle use.

In sum, such decisions show that these elected officials are engaged in serious malfeasance as elected officials, and should be removed from office.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

On Changing the Deadly Road Design Paradigm

By Dom Nozzi

Traffic engineer Charles Marohn is doing heroic work. Tellingly, he gets significant pushback when he repeatedly insists that conventional engineers should be held responsible for recommending roadway designs they know are unsafe in their never-ending efforts to promote higher-speed, higher-volume roadways.

 I faced similar pushback from my colleagues in my town and transportation planning career. It is a threat to a worldview that engineers and planners have subscribed to their entire lives. And as Kuhn notes in his Structure of Scientific Revolutions, nearly all of these conventional thinkers will go to their graves subscribing to that paradigm, regardless of the evidence and logic of the situation.

An important way out of this tragic, downward spiral that conventional traffic engineers are promoting is for citizens and elected officials to give traffic engineers permission to revise their design paradigm. Without such permission, engineers face termination, reprimand, or hostility if they step outside the accepted paradigm.

Why is permission not granted?

Because citizens and officials are trapped by a single-minded, 100-year campaign to create a car-dependent world that requires maximum motor vehicle speeds and maximum motor vehicle roadway volumes. Most citizens and officials have almost no choice but to make nearly every trip by car, which tends to obligate them to insist that free-flowing, higher-speed motor vehicle travel be enabled by engineers. Anything else is seen as a dire threat to their way of life.

The double standard is that such citizens and officials often DO often want engineers to step outside the danger-promoting paradigm if the neighborhood of the citizen or official is to be affected.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Controlling Noise Pollution

By Dom Nozzi

Emergency Medical Services (EMS) vehicle sirens are an enormous noise pollution problem in cities and it is getting worse all the time. Motor vehicles (not just EMS) are the biggest source of noise pollution in cities.

Motor vehicle noise pollution goes way down when car speeds are lowered using traffic calming design for streets.

Studies show that neighborhoods tend to notice traffic being a problem far more if motor vehicle speeds are high compared to car volumes being high. In other words, high car speeds are much more of a nuisance and danger than high volumes of cars.

Controlling sirens, unfortunately, is extremely politically difficult. Which elected official, for example, wants to be seen as being in favor of babies dying in burning buildings? Some communities, however, have been fortunate to have elected true leaders who successfully demand their fire chiefs and cops and medical service administrators reduce the frequency and volume of sirens, and the type of calls that require use of sirens. This essential and growing need to reduce excessive high-volume siren use is particularly important at night and in residential areas.

Failure to establish policies that create a more tolerable (ie, more modest) level of siren use is essential for protecting quality of life in a city.

Flashing lights should be seen as sufficient in most of the mileage traveled by EMS vehicles. Controlling the size of fire trucks and buses, by the way, is also very important for improving community safety.

With excessive, high-volume siren use, a community can seem to be in a war zone, and it is probably not be a coincidence that “war zone” siren use helps artificially amplify citizen perception that crime and fires and medical emergencies are extremely rampant and out of control. By artificially inducing this sort of citizen hysteria, elected officials are more likely to feel the political pressure to pump ever more government revenue into these emergency service departments to contend with what is likely to be seen as a widespread and growing number of emergencies that seem to be raging in the community.

This all-too-common response tends to lead to a self-perpetuating downward spiral of ever-increasing allocation of public dollars to address what appears to be an intractable and substantial public safety concern – a concern that tends to be disconnected to real-world safety concerns because it is based more on excessive siren use than on actual safety issues.

It might very well be the case that controlling siren noise in the ways I suggest above is not feasible for the foreseeable future in a society that has gone overboard on safety. Ironically, going overboard on public safety tends to REDUCE overall public safety in several ways.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized