Monthly Archives: October 2021

Suggestions for Accessibility for a New Town Center Conference Center

By Dom Nozzi

Introduction

An essential ingredient for a town center to be healthy is to be compact, human-scaled, and accessible. For the town center, then, this means that the pedestrian must be the design imperative. By deploying this objective, transportation accessibility and therefore transportation choice is maximized for bicyclists and transit users as well as pedestrians.

Accessibility is an essential objective, since essential destinations – when they feature good accessibility – can be safely and conveniently enjoyed by all citizens, including children, seniors, the handicapped, the poor and others without access to a car. This principle guards against a development design that can only be reached by those with the use of a car.

High accessibility is therefore inclusive and community-building.  Low accessibility is exclusive and isolating.

Accessibility Tactics

Consider, below, a proposed new conference center in Greenville, South Carolina. These are some of the design features we must strive for if we expect to achieve adequate accessibility for the development.

*The conference center must be required to lease parking spaces it needs from the underused bank parking garage [as an aside, for Greenville to promote a compact, walkable town center, it needs to own and lease parking spaces within a multi-story parking garage to a large range of town center private uses such as offices, retail, and culture]. The conference center should not be allowed to create any new off-street surface parking. If the center builds a multi-story parking garage, the first floor must be wrapped with retail.

*The conference center must be designed to keep blocks relatively modest in length (a maximum length of 300 to 500 feet). If this cannot be achieved with driveways or streets created by the center, mid-block cross-access must be created for pedestrians and bicyclists.

*The conference center first floor must be faced with ample window space at eye level. Large expanses of blank wall should not be allowed.

*The conference center needs to be exempt from landscape requirements, car parking requirements, and setbacks. Buildings for the center must be brought to a build-to line no further than 20 feet from the street curb. No motor vehicle parking, blank walls, or HVAC equipment is allowed to front the public sidewalk. Building facades that abut the public sidewalk must use weather-protective awnings.

*Floor area ratio (FAR) must be relatively high. Building height for actively used floors should not exceed five stories.

*Streets serving the center must contain priced on-street parking, shall be no more than two lanes in width, must be two-way in operation, and shall not include turning lanes. Very low design speed geometry must be used for streets serving the center. For streets not built or controlled by the center, the center shall provide assistance such as funding to retrofit existing streets serving the center but not under the control of the center. Retrofitting shall be as described in this section. In addition to street and turning radius dimensions being low speed, other infrastructure shall also induce low speeds. For example, any traffic signals (preferably post-mounted), signage, or street lights shall be relatively short (at a human scale of no more than 10 feet in height). Street trees shall be used for shade and enclosure canopies. Alignment of street trees, other vegetation, sidewalks, and streets shall be formally rectilinear rather than informally curvilinear. Any use of plazas or squares shall be hardscaped (rather than grass-surface) and flanked on all sides by active retail. Low-speed street design shall not include speed humps.

*Public art sculpture is strongly encouraged.

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Who Needs Enemies?

By Dom Nozzi

I have noticed something tragic about the many, many concerns I’ve heard from neighborhood residents all over the nation about proposed development – including Boulder (of course). And now in the historic neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina where I currently live. EVERY neighbor seems to think they know EXACTLY what should be done regarding the development to “protect” the neighborhood.

And EVERY angrily demanded change leads to one or more of the following for the residents at the new development: More per capita car ownership, more per capita car travel, higher speed car travel, and housing that is more expensive.

They do this by DEMANDING more parking. Bigger setbacks. Shorter buildings. Less density. No on-street parking.

In their rush to achieve those “victories,” they forget to demand one of the most important design features: buildings that are compatible with the traditional design of the neighborhood. This is an especially sad thing to neglect when the neighborhood is historic. Oops.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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Should We Fear Niwot’s Curse?

By Dom Nozzi

In Boulder CO, according to local lore, Chief Niwot said, “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.” This is known as Niwot’s Curse.

One of my Boulder friends wholeheartedly subscribes to this adage, and regularly laments the nearly monthly ranking of Boulder as the city with the highest quality of life in the nation. She worries that the top ranking will mean even more people will move to Boulder and ruin its stellar beauty.

I chide her by letting her know that it appears her dream is to have Boulder regularly ranked as having the LOWEST quality of life in the nation.

The fact is, I inform her, is that to this day, Boulder is nearly always ranked number one for being the best city — as exemplified by the rankings and the crazy high housing prices – which happens to be a very reliable indicator that Boulder is experiencing anything BUT “destruction.” After all the “destructive” growth over the past 20 or 30 years, Boulder is a much more pleasant city today than it was 20 or 30 years ago: More and better restaurants, more and better retail, more and better trails and paths, better urbanism, more people on sidewalks and bicycling, and more and better cultural events.

What Boulder is failing to do to protect itself from declining – which nearly all cities in the world have failed to do since about the 1940s — is that in its obsession with stopping “growth” or “density” or “tall buildings” and – significantly – easing car travel, is to guard against the REAL threats: enlarged roads and intersections, and land development regulations that continue to allow various and sundry modernist crapola (ie, hideous buildings that no one loves and everyone wants to see demolished as soon as possible).

If Boulder Council got its head out of its wokster ass, it would put those protections in place. By doing so, it would not matter one bit that top rankings were inducing more and more to move to Boulder. Indeed, a lot more in-migration would dramatically improve the city quality of life with such development regulations.

I’d go even further. Having more and more moving to Boulder would actually help Boulder quality even WITHOUT those protections, as we know from city growth around the nation. All cities that become more compact due to growth see less per capita car trips, more small and locally owned shops and restaurants, more intellectual firepower, better transit, and better culture. This has not only been shown throughout the US, but much more clearly in countless European cities – cities that are FAR more dense with population growth and yet have far higher quality of life.

A common worry: people not liking the idea of Boulder “losing its small town feel” and seeming more like a “congested big city” if its population doubled or tripled? I and millions of others agree that “small town” is better than “big city.” But losing “small town feel” and feeling like a “big city” does NOT come from population growth. It comes from the consensus in Boulder and nearly all other cities that we must widen our roads, enlarge our intersections and replace historic charm with butt-ugly modernism.

In sum, if Boulder put its many big, oversized roads and parking lots on a diet, shrank its oversized intersections, eliminated the requirement that requires new developments to provide parking, used remote, electronic parking meters to price nearly all free parking in Boulder – particularly on-street parking — kept new residential and commercial growth in human-scaled, compact, mixed-use patterns, and replaced its blighting modernist buildings with lovable traditional design (not to mention adding a requirement that all new buildings must use traditional design), it could have four or five times more people and still be loved by the entire community because it is thereby able to retain its small town feel. It’s traditional charm. It’s romantic human scale.

This is not rocket science. All we need is the political will. Which, tragically, is likely to only come from a HUGE crisis like a staggering economic depression, a massive housing affordability crisis, a crushing medical obesity epidemic, or a major roadway death epidemic.

Sadly, none of these will likely be significant enough to give Boulder a huge, much-needed kick in the ass in our lifetimes.

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Quality Urban Design and Transportation Starter Kit

By Dom Nozzi

The Rise and Fall of Urbanism in the US (Duany in Boston, 1989)

Transect

https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/04/13/great-idea-rural-urban-transect?fbclid=IwAR3vOm2epWUbvyoYtxYOIsSeTl2nFyflCpULWIBGJraDINx4NJt3Ak1iaso

Growth Ponzi Scheme (Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns)

https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme?fbclid=IwAR2vrHPno2453uVUjNFPwDqOWVdevu6O0njbODkxXyWxswpl3fqMOHiVX4c

List of example new urbanist towns.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_examples_of_New_Urbanism

STROADs (Chuck Marohn and Strong Towns)

Woonerf

Walking tour of Wall St AVL: https://youtu.be/KuDh3YsJcec

Not Just Bikes

https://www.youtube.com/c/NotJustBikes

Classic, Life-Changing Books in Transportation

Arnold, Henry F. (1993). Trees in Urban Design, 2nd Edition.

Belmont, Steve (2002). Cities in Full

Downs, Anthony (1992). Stuck in Traffic

Duany, Andres, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Jeff Speck (2000). Suburban Nation

Durning, Alan (1996). The Car and the City

Jacobs, Jane (1961). The Death and Life of Great American Cities

Kuhn, Thomas (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions [not about transportation and urban design, but a powerful explanation about why it is so difficult to overthrow the dominant, conventional paradigms]

Kunstler, James Howard (1998). Home from Nowhere

Levine, Jonathan (2006). Zoned Out: Regulations, Markets in Transportation and Metropolitan Land Use

Newman, Paul & Jeffrey Kenworthy (1989). Cities and Automobile Dependence

Norton, Peter (2008). Fighting Traffic

Oldenburg, Ray (1991). The Great Good Place

Owen, David (2009). Green Metropolis

Putnam, Robert (2000). Bowling Alone

Shoup, Donald (2005). The High Cost of Free Parking

Traffic Engineers Who Get It

Walter Kulash- Glatting, Jackson in Orlando FL. 407.843.6552 wkulash@glatting.com

Ian Lockwood-Glatting, Jackson in Orlando FL. 407.843.6552 ilockwood@glatting.com

Dan Burden-Walkable Communities, Inc. in High Springs FL 386.454.3304 (Dan is a SUPERB speaker). I would strongly recommend inviting him to speak in your community, even if you don’t hire him as a consultant. dan@walklive.org

Rick Hall-Hall Engineering in Tallahassee FL. 850.222.2277 rickhall@hpe-inc.com

Peter Swift-Swift & Associates in Longmont CO. 303.772.7052 Phswi@aol.com

Rick Chellman-White Mountain Surveying in Ossipee NH 603.539.4118 chellman@worldpath.net

GB Arrington-”TOD” expert. Parsons Brinckerhoff in Portland OR 503.274.2298.

Whit Blanton-Cities That Work in Orlando FL 407.893.8175 wblanton@CitiesThatWork.com

Patrick Siegman-Siegman & Associates in Palo Alto CA. 650.462.5915 siegman@sirius.com

Fred Dock-Barton-Ashman in Minneapolis MN. 612.332.0421 frederick_dock@parsons.com

Reid Ewing-Center for Urban Transportation Research in Tampa FL 305.355.5255 rewing@transect.org

Michael Wallwork-Alternate Street Design in Orange Park FL. 904.269.1851 wallwork@mediaone.net

Danny Pleasant-Charlotte NC dpleasant@ci.charlotte.nc.us

Michael Ronkin 541.914.1401 michaelronkin@gmail.com

Stu Sirota- Parsons Brinckerhoff in Baltimore MD 410.752.9627 stuart@tndplan.com

Wade Walker- Glatting, Jackson in Orlando FL. 407.843.6552

Todd Litman-Victoria [British Columbia] Transportation Policy Institute in Victoria BC Canada 250.360.1560 litman@vtpi.org

Road Diet bibliography

Burden, D. and P. Lagerwey. Road Diets: Fixing the Big Roads http://www.walkable.org/assets/downloads/roaddiets.pdf [improved/maintained capacity, improved safety, list of examples]

Gates, T. J., Noyce, D.A., Talada, V., & Hill, L. (2007). The safety and operational effects of “road diet” conversions in Minnesota. Washington, D.C.: Transportation Research Board. http://pubsindex.trb.org/document/view/default.asp?lbid=801948 [crashes reduced, list of examples]

Kittleson and Associates: Road Diet White Paper: http://www.ashland.or.us/Files/Road%20Diets%20White%20Paper.pdf [improved traffic flow, reduced speeding, reduced crashes, more attractive, list of examples]

Libby Thomas, Senior Associate, UNC HSRC. Road Diet Conversions: A Synthesis of Safety Research, May 2013. http://katana.hsrc.unc.edu/cms/downloads/WhitePaper_RoadDiets_PBIC.pdf [crashes reduced]

McCormick, C. York Blvd: The Economics of a Road Diet. http://la.streetsblog.org/wp-content/pdf/york_blvd_final_report_compress.pdf [congestion not worsened, economics not worsened]

Oregon Department of Transportation. Systematic Safety Measures: Road Diet http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/docs/pdf/RoadDiets.pdf [improved cdns for bike/ped, reduced crashes, better environment for businesses and homes]

Oregon Department of Transportation. Talent Area Road Diet Analysis http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/REGION3/docs/OR99TMRoadDietDRAFT09-04-12.pdf [improved safety, analysis of capacity impacts of going from 4 lanes to 3]

Lane Reduction (Road diet) http://www.pedbikesafe.org/PEDSAFE/countermeasures_detail.cfm?CM_NUM=19 [improved safety, improved conditions for bikes/ped]

Rosales, J.A. Road Diet Handbook – Overview http://www.oregonite.org/2007D6/paper_review/D4_201_Rosales_paper.pdf [improved safety, improved livability, list of examples]

Tan, C. H. Going on a Road Diet https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/publicroads/11septoct/05.cfm [economics improved, improved safety, improved livability, improved traffic operations, list of examples]

S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Proven Safety Countermeasures: “Road Diet” (Roadway Reconfiguration). http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/provencountermeasures/fhwa_sa_12_013.htm [improved safety]

S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration. Evaluation of Lane Reduction “Road Diet” Measures on Crashes https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/research/safety/10053/10053.pdf [crashes reduced]

Welch, T. “The Conversion of Four-Lane Undivided Urban Roadways to Three-Lane Facilities.” Presented at the Transportation Research Board / Institute for Transportation Engineers Urban Street Symposium, Dallas, TX, June 28-30, 1999. http://nacto.org/docs/usdg/conversion_of_four_lane_undivided_urban_roadways.pdf [reduced crashes, traffic calming enhanced, improved emergency vehicle response times]

Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_diet [reduced induced traffic, increased attentiveness, reduced crashes, reduced speeding, improved cdns for bikes/peds]

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Showing Leadership to Transform Main Street in Greenville South Carolina

By Dom Nozzi

I am surprised to have landed in Greenville, South Carolina in June 2021.

I never gave the city much thought in the past. I think, though, that I used to include the city in my occasional “comparable cities” studies when I prepared reports as a town planner for Gainesville, Florida, and wanted the Gainesville City Commission to see what similar cities were doing.

One reason I admire Greenville is that they had the mayoral leadership in the past to remove a four-lane highway bridge that blocked views and pedestrian access for the stunning Reedy Creek Falls in the town center. The highway bridge meant the City was turning its back on the glorious falls. The bridge was replaced by a much-loved pedestrian bridge (see photos).

But by far, the primary reason we fell in love with — and opted to move to — Greenville (from Asheville NC, where we lived for a few months) is that in my opinion, Greenville has created the best main street road diet transformation in the nation (see photos). Prior to the diet, it was a nasty five-laner that induced a large number of car crashes, business and residential abandonment, vacancies, prostitution, drugs, homeless problems, etc. People wanted to be as far from main street as they could.

Since the 1980 transformation, however, the opposite is now the case. Retail shops and residences are booming on Main Street, the street is regularly hosting many festivals and live music shows, the sidewalks are full of pedestrians, the tree canopy is fantastic, and it is safe and easy to ride a bicycle on the street — without bike lanes — because the narrowed, slow-speed street design properly obligates motorists to drive slowly and attentively. Today, it has become a place that most everyone in the community comes to just to hang out. It is a street where citizens know it is easy to find a sense of community. The street understandably inspires a lot of civic pride (each time I tell someone in Greenville how much we love main street, they nearly all nod in agreement).

Real estate ads have transformed in the same way that main street had transformed. Prior to the road diet, no one wanted to live near (or even visit) main street. But in the spring of 2021, we noticed when looking at real estate ads to buy a home in Greenville that every property on or near main in recent months BOASTED about how the property was on or near main street.

There is a statue on North Main St of Max Heller, who was known as the “patron saint of the city’s downtown renaissance.” Heller was the mayor of Greenville in the 70s, and heroically led the effort to bring main street back to life. He was from Vienna Austria, and recognized that main street needed to adopt the street design he knew from Europe. You would not know it today, given the community consensus for love of their main street, but Heller (like every other elected official of a US city) faced ferocious opposition from many in the city when he pushed for a main street road diet. Many assumed, ruinously, that main street needed to be a very wide roadway with abundant, free, off-street parking. That for health, downtown needed free-flowing car traffic and easy parking.

Heller knew that the opposite was the case.

As a true leader, Heller knew that to achieve greatness, a main street road diet would not be supported by all. But unlike nearly all other elected city officials in the US, he would persist in spite of severe citizen opposition. He knew that to be healthy, main street needed to be a place to drive TO rather than a place to drive THROUGH.

A town center can never compete with the suburbs on suburban terms (massive and high-speed roads, dispersed and low-density development, and abundant parking). A town center needs to leverage its strengths where it can outcompete the suburbs (these strengths correspond to what makes a town center healthy): slower speeds, human-scale dimensions, and clustered and compact development patterns. By contrast, oversized, free-flowing urban roads (what Charles Marohn calls STROADS), low-density design, and abundant parking bring the high speeds and dispersal and loss of romantic and human-scaled charm that town centers need to thrive.

Today, main street in Greenville is a testament to Heller’s magnificent leadership. Occasionally, teachers bring groups of school children to visit the Heller statue and hear the story of Heller.

Max Heller statue

“…the least effective leaders were those who followed the will of the people and the precedents set by their predecessors. The greatest [leaders] were those who challenged the status quo and brought about sweeping changes that improved the lot of the [community].”  – Adam Grant

“To achieve excellence should be a struggle.” – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley

“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.” — Elbert Hubbard

Margaret Thatcher once said that consensus is the absence of leadership. One of my heroes – Enrique Penalosa (former mayor of Bogota) – was despised early on in his term. He enacted policies that aggressively inconvenienced cars in his efforts to make people, rather than cars, happy. Many wanted to throw him out of office. But eventually, his policies (which nearly all his citizens strongly opposed initially) resulted in visibly obvious quality of life and civic pride improvements. He went on to become much-loved and honored by most in Bogota.

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Fire Trucks Are Contributing to the Destruction of Our Cities

By Dom Nozzi

Fire departments tend to suboptimize on fire safety. That is, they tend to make all city objectives secondary to fire suppression objectives to the detriment of overall city health.

Because fire safety is a subset of life safety, the narrow Fire Department focus on fire safety results in a net increase in community injuries and deaths.

A key leadership achievement for local government is to establish a policy that limits and reduces the size of emergency vehicles and service vehicles (ie, fire trucks and buses, among other vehicles) bought and owned by local government.

Why?

Because oversized emergency and service vehicles obligate a city to oversize its roads and intersections, which induces dangerous speeding, a higher level of motor vehicle crashes, a reduction in a sense of place due to loss of human scale, and therefore a substantial reduction in quality of life.

When I was writing long-range transportation plans for Gainesville FL many moons ago, I drafted a purchasing policy for the city that would do such a thing. The policy was, of course, removed. Dan Burden notes, unfortunately, that we are losing the battle to restrict the growing size of such vehicles. Those purchasing such vehicles continue to ruinously believe the “bigger the better.”

As Andres Duany notes, such specialists cannot seen the forest for the trees, and their ignorance of the severe negative impacts of their decisions to buy larger fire trucks and buses is destroying the safety, quality of life, and financial health of cities.

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