Category Archives: Environment

What kind of housing provides true quality of life?

By Dom Nozzi

A “PINO” is a Progressive in Name Only. A person who holds deceptive political beliefs. A person who is engaged in virtue signaling, wherein the person seeks to give others the impression that they are ethical. Or part of the tribe.

Camera guest opinion writer Judith Renfroe questioned how progressives can support more housing, infill, smaller houses, expanded transportation choices, smaller and local retail, and a lower carbon footprint.

My questions to her: In what universe do progressives support preservation of low-density, low-slung, and large-lot suburban housing? Or take a stance that is detrimental to affordable and healthy travel options (transit, walking, bicycling)? Or be anti-walkable city and pro-drivable suburb? Or support such restrictive single-family zoning that house prices continue to skyrocket and middle-income families are increasingly excluded from living in a city where their job is located?

The ideas that the anti-city and pro-car folks such as this author hold on to are absurd.

We are told that it is wrong for some Boulder progressives (the pro-city and pro-housing folks) to be in bed with “evil, greedy developers” who can’t ever be trusted to build desirable developments. That it is progressive and promoting quality of life if we instead “protect neighborhoods from development.” Or “protect our views of the Flatirons.”

Really?

Let’s see if I understand correctly. I’m living in Boulder in, say, 1890. According to the above logic, I must urge my neighbors and my elected officials to “protect our neighborhood” by not allowing an “evil, greedy developer” to build my home. Or any other home for that matter. After all, how can we trust a greedy developer? My two-story home will block my views of the Flatirons. And cause traffic gridlock.

Why, I ask, were developers heroic when you arrived in Boulder but, now that you are here, developers have become greedy and evil? Putting aside the double standard — or the idea that I’ve got mine, so we can pull up the ladder now — let us consider this proposition that your home and neighborhood were wonderful when you arrived.

In the view of a great many in the field of town planning, science, medicine, engineering and sociology, the past several decades have seen the development of single-family neighborhoods that are:

• The most unaffordably expensive in American history, in terms of housing, land consumption, and transportation.

• The most anti-social and suspicious-of-neighbors in American history (Robert Putnam’s research has shown that America is now a nation of loners).

• The most energy-intensive, air-polluting, and consumptive in American history.

• The most unhealthy in American history (studies show low-density neighborhood design triggers obesity, heart disease and diabetes).

• The most architecturally ugly buildings in American history.

• The most restrictive in travel options in American history — only motorized travel is possible.

• The most low-quality in American history — in terms of the durability of building materials used.

• The most isolating in American history — for seniors and children who cannot get around without a car.

Is this the sort of neighborhood design we should be protecting in the interests of quality of life and sustainability? In this age of crisis regarding affordability, climate change, health woes, loss of lifestyle and travel choices, and loss of beauty, shouldn’t we instead be incrementally tweaking the design of the neighborhoods built over those decades so that they instead deliver a better quality of life and more resilient sustainability?

Eighty percent of the land in Boulder is zoned single-family and has many of these features, compared to about 0.1% allocated to a walkable, sustainable lifestyle. Is it possible that the neighborhoods with the features I list above are outdated and unsustainable in a world of climate change and affordability woes? A world where the demand for walkable neighborhoods is enormous (and growing) compared to a tiny supply of such neighborhoods?

Shouldn’t we perhaps reconsider the angrily held view that your neighborhood is wonderful in design and should not be harmed by more housing or compact development? That perhaps maybe a few mistakes were made back when Boulder had a “wonderful small-town character” at the time you arrived here?

Dom Nozzi lives in Boulder.

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There is No Mystery About What Needs to be Done

 

By Dom Nozzi

A friend of mine recently told me, with regard to climate change and excessive energy use, that “[i]t does all seem so overwhelming. I think a lot of people say, ‘What the hell, we are doomed, so I am going to buy the biggest car I can and drive it as much as possible. We are all going to die anyway so why try to make a change? Noting I can do will make a difference anyway.’ I wish we could all do something to make a change, but it is just so complicated, no one knows what to do.”

Here is my response to my friend:

The problem is not that the solutions are a mystery.

A great many of us know what works:

*Adopting a Carbon Tax.

*Establishing “dynamic pricing” of utility charges so that the price per unit of energy goes WAY up after a certain amount is used over the course of a month.

*Creating much larger government subsidies for “green” energy such as solar.

*Cutting the US military budget drastically.

*Putting way more government money into environmental research and the construction of a lot of new passenger rail.

*Pricing much of the “free” parking we have created all over the US.

*Tolling roads that are currently “free” to use.

There are nearly endless additional, effective tools, but I’ll stop there.

No, the problem is not the lack of knowledge about what to do. The problem is finding the political will to do effective things. As it stands now, the two major US political parties (Democrats and Republicans) are almost completely failing to give us leaders to vote for. Corruption is an important reason for that, as are unfortunate government subsidies for detrimental things.

In America, corruption leads to the widespread belief that socialism is a God-Given right when it comes to a great many ruinous features in our society (such as roads and parking and corn and energy). Corruption also leads too many of us to believe that socialism is only bad for things that benefit society (such as education, health, etc.).

As an aside, it is highly unlikely that paying attention to the entertainment, fear, anger, and outrage machine (ie, the US media) will inform us about what to do, or cast such tactics in a favorable light.

The media is almost exclusively striving not to inform us but to enrage us or amuse us or terrify us.

How did the media become this way?

Because the US media is going bankrupt by having to compete with such things as the Internet. They have learned, much to the detriment of our society, that if their reporting ramps up our OUTRAGE TOWARD OTHERS, FEAR OF OTHERS, and ANGER TOWARD OTHERS, they will make a lot of money and therefore sometimes survive – for at least a short while — the factors harming their bottom line. Their mission: to write news that obligates a great many of us to say to others, “OMG, did you hear xxxxxxx in the news???? We must tell everyone we know, and tune in more, or read more to learn more details!!!”

The emotions of outrage, fear, and anger do that better than anything else.

 

 

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Dinosaur Politics in Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 9, 2019

PLAN-Boulder County, the leading advocacy group in Boulder County for what they curiously call “good planning,” has become a dinosaur that leads the charge, ironically, for increasing per capita car use and car dependency, less affordable housing, more remote suburban commuters, more elitism (“pull up the ladder in Boulder because I’ve made it here!”), less traffic safety, and larger out of town retail establishments.

As an aside, one thing that exemplifies the counterproductive nature of groups such as PLAN and Together4Boulder (another local NIMBY group fighting against green/compact cities and for pro-car elitism) is that their messages heavily rely on fear-mongering. Fear is an inherently reactionary emotion in politics — in part because it turns off the rational part of human brains.

Painting all developers and developments as evil – as PLAN, T4B, and others are prone to do — is increasingly naive, mean-spirited, and counterproductive. What such unhelpful criticism leads to is setting up even more obstacles (there is already a great many) to well-managed development – development that can effectively promote a number of important Boulder objectives. Particularly when the development is compact, walkable infill in locations that are places where people find it relatively easy to use transit, walk, or bicycle to get to important, regular destinations.

Enlightened actions – in contrast to reactionary advocacy by PLAN, T4B, and others – promote quality of life in cities such as Boulder by tending to be pro-city rather than pro-suburb. That means supporting (in the many appropriate locations found in Boulder) compact and mixed development, more housing, buildings between 2-5 stories, slower speed street design, less surface parking, more agglomeration, and human-scaled infrastructure and geometries. These are among the essential attributes that make cities more healthy and city living more enjoyable. Groups such as PLAN and Together4Boulder advocate the opposite, which amounts to an advocacy of drivable, sprawling, unaffordable, unsafe suburbanism.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a lack of sustainability. And a grim future for Boulder.

 

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Boulder is at the Point of No Return on Car Travel

By Dom Nozzi

The drivable suburban experiment we have engaged in for the past century is one of the most wasteful, unsustainable paths ever taken by humanity. It is also one of the biggest traps.

Low-density suburbia (80 percent of Boulder) comes far short of paying its own way. The meager tax revenues it produces come nowhere near paying for its enormous impacts. Suburbia is a Ponzi Scheme. And a self-perpetuating downward spiral. It is financially unsustainable because it requires enormous subsidies. Yet because a driving lifestyle is highly inconvenient and costly when housing densities are higher, lower densities have been demanded for over a century, because nearly all of us insist our elected officials only allow that type of car-enabling development.

When car travel emerged a century ago, we began building our communities to facilitate such travel. We eventually overbuilt for cars and reached a tipping point. A point where driving was the only realistic way for the vast majority of us to travel. That threshold created a world where there is no turning back. We here in Boulder have reached a point of no return. Even Amsterdam is seeing a steady rise in car ownership.

Even if we realize that the costs of over-reliance on driving are unbearable – too many traffic deaths, too much climate change from car emissions, too much financial burden, too many health problems from our sedentary lifestyles — it is too late for us to reverse course and back away from excessive car dependence. Why? Because when nearly all of us can only travel by car, it is nearly impossible, politically, to enact measures that make non-car travel feasible. The vast majority of us – as motorists – are obligated to fight vigorously to retain our only means of travel. We are compelled to attack any and all effective methods to make walking, bicycling, and transit feasible. We angrily oppose efforts to allow affordable granny flats. To modestly narrow roads and intersections. To allow more compact development. To adopt equitable motorist user fees so motorists pay their own way. We scream against safety-promoting traffic calming plans. We yell about proposals to mix offices or retail within our residential neighborhoods. We demand that massive parking be provided for proposed development. We insist that the highway be widened.

A century ago, many of us were seduced by the “miraculous” nature of the car. “Look what cars can do! Easy to carry passengers and all the stuff we buy at the store! Protection from weather! High-speed travel! We can live in a Cabin in the Woods and escape the crime and noise and congestion and pollution of the city!”

The reality is that providing for high-speed, dangerous, space-hogging cars is a zero-sum game. Every time we make car travel easier – and nearly all of us demand our leaders do that — we make travel by walking, bicycling or transit more difficult.

That dynamic means nearly all of us are trapped. Car travel is now about the only way to get around.

Because our only way of travel takes up so much space, we must fight to ensure that there are severe limitations on how many others can move to our city. Because if more than a handful move to Boulder, our roads and parking lots are quickly congested.

Nearly all, therefore, want to “pull up the ladder” so no one else can move to our city because those people will ALSO be motorists congesting our roads and parking lots! Like anti-social hermits, we must conclude that new residents are not new neighbors and friends. They instead are threats to our car-based quality of life. Never mind that the car-based lifestyle is unsustainable and ruins the quality of the city. Oops.

When even timid efforts to create street design for bicycling are attempted, “enlightened” Boulder citizens unleash a torrent of rage – a growing national phenomenon known as “bikelash.” Hostile, impatient, aggressive motorists honk and throw trash at people on two wheels, and brush past cyclists at high speeds. Columnists and radio commentators rail against the “anti-car bicycling lobby,” and politicians remove bike infrastructure — thinking (wrongly) that car travel is otherwise impossible.

The self-reinforcing nature of the transportation trap explains why trapped cities such as Boulder (ironically) have made the auto and oil industries so obscenely profitable.

Our only way to escape the trap of car dependency is for our society to no longer be able to afford it. But that will not occur in our lifetimes.

We have ourselves an existential threat.

 

 

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Effective Conservation of Water

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 1, 2019

At the margin (that is, the point at which we are dying of thirst), water is more valuable than diamonds, my professor once said.

But we don’t price it that way.

By underpricing water, we inevitably use too much in arid western states. When water is underpriced, too much is used for low-value uses such as golf course irrigation. In parched Arizona, I recall from college that the majority of water in that state is used for golf courses, and irrigating soft wheat (an ingredient used to make donuts).

I have never forgotten that lesson. Proper price signals — instead of “education campaigns,” which do almost nothing to change behavior – are the only effective way to reduce waste.

How do we send proper price signals? Some utilities, such as in Boulder, discourage excessive water use by increasing the per-gallon cost of water once a household or industry goes above a threshold. For households, that might be something like 1,000 gallons per month, after which the price per gallon goes up substantially. This much more powerfully “educates” people about water waste. Price signals effectively teach people the value of conserving water (or, in the case of the recently adopted sugar tax, to not consume too much sugar).

High water prices for all levels of water use are a meat ax price signal. They do not recognize essential household and industrial water needs. We should, however, be dynamically pricing water to discourage wastefulness, such as extravagant lawn watering.

High prices slow growth, by the way, but water scarcity will not stop growth, despite the dreams of NIMBYs throughout the nation.

We need to nudge people toward water conservation, not prohibit wastefulness (or try to stop growth). Price signals retain the ability to opt for desired water use. That is how it should be.

The failure of Soviet-style economics was based on excessive government market intervention via prohibitions.

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Density is the New Green

The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

By Dom Nozzi

 

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

suburbia vs walkable3

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size and smaller amounts of land owned.

Less per capita car travel. This reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car. Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

 

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Is “Green Space” and “Low Density” the Solution for a Better Future for Our Cities?

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 15, 2019

 

A conversation with a few of my friends here in Boulder CO…

Donna and Jill: Thank you for your thoughts. I have a great many things to say in response, but in the interest of brevity, I will limit my comments.

Let me start by saying that because the word “density” has been tragically poisoned in American society to mean evil, disgusting, scary, awful, dirty, destructive and terrible — largely because nearly all of us see things from the point of view of our car rather than from the point of view of being human beings, by the way – I will instead substitute the term “compact, traditional, human scaled design.”

I say “tragic” because despite the conventional wisdom, compact, traditional, human scaled design gives us, by far, the best way to have the smallest ecological footprint, the least harm to the environment, the best chance to reduce per capita car travel, an excellent way to promote diversity and choices, the most effective way to create affordable housing and overall affordability, the best way to promote walking/transit/bicycling, the best way to reduce car crashes, the most important way to promote convenience, and the most effective way to create a high overall quality of life. By opposing compact, traditional, human scaled design so obsessively and angrily, Americans are thereby undercutting all of those important community objectives.

We have become our own worst enemy without realizing it.

Another important reason why so many Americans hate compact development is that Americans tend to create TERRIBLE versions of compact development. Compact development in the US is almost always badly done – and thereby given a black eye — because it is nearly always suburbanized, too often employs utterly unlovable and scary modernist building design, regularly strives to pamper motorists, and tends to fail to be human-scaled. By contrast, compact development is done so well in places like Europe that nearly all Americans are willing to travel thousands of miles to enjoy it in Europe.

Compact development is not to blame for crime, or dirty subways (the metro in DC and in much of Europe is very clean and hip), or poverty, or disease. What IS to blame is the century-long fact that Republicans and Democrats yearly pour obscene amounts of public dollars into endless and criminal wars/weapons, road widenings, parking, and police and fire services. With trillions thrown away in such a manner, funding for regular cleaning, repair, and quality design of our public facilities and public realm is shamefully inadequate.

I need to note early on that there is no humane or constitutional way to stop city growth or population growth. And I see no benefit to “slowing” growth (that would just amount to a form of “Chinese Water Torture,” as we would still end up with feared “awfulness” in the long term). Fighting to minimize the density of a proposed development, which is an EXTREMELY common tactic in Boulder (largely to promote happy motoring) is highly counterproductive, as it moves Boulder, incrementally, toward becoming another Phoenix or Houston. Two cities, by the way, that I think we can all agree have “lost their soul.”

Jill, you rightly mention that

“[w]e are replacing natural beauty with ugly houses and not planning a decent public transportation system.  Most streets are filled cars and franchises.  It all looks the same… the stores, the buildings, the parking lots.  We are in Anywhere, USA.”

But those things happen not because of compact development. They are happening because Boulder and nearly every other city is single-mindedly focused on creating a more convenient way to travel by car. Nearly all citizens, as well as their local government, fight tooth and nail to promote lower densities to achieve a happy car world. Doing that kills the chance to create “decent public transportation.” It ensures that we will be stuck in traffic (because development is too low density to travel without a car), and it ensures the city will be filled with franchises (because low density makes it impossible for locally owned, smaller retailers to financially survive).

As for “ugly houses” and “Anywhere USA,” that problem, again, has nothing to do with compact development. It is caused largely by the fact that the architectural profession has become a failed profession. It has adopted the utterly unlovable modernist design paradigm and thrown out the inherently lovable traditional design paradigm. It is also caused by Boulder being so ruinously and obsessively focused on stopping development or slowing it or reducing its density that it has been too distracted and put too little time into adopting building design rules that ensure lovability and local character. Other cities have adopted such rules, by the way.

The popular claim that compact, traditional, human scaled design causes “health and emotional problems” is nonsense. That claim has been completely debunked for decades. It is much more plausible that low-density suburban design causes such problems (there is growing scientific data to objectively confirm this).

To see a superb rebuttal to the claims that compact, traditional design is bad for health and the environment, see “Green Metropolis” by David Owen, “Cities and Automobile Dependence” by Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman, “Cities in Full,” by Steve Belmont, and “Bowling Alone,” by Robert Putnam. Also take note of the fact that the happiest, healthiest people live in compact, traditionally designed, human-scaled places. And the unhappiest, most unhealthy people live in low-density suburbs filled with green.

The most loved cities in the world (which is also the opinion of nearly everyone I know in Boulder) include such places as Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Siena, Montepulciano, Malmo, Delft, Utrecht and Copenhagen. In Boulder, similarly, the most loved places are the Mapleton Hill neighborhood and Pearl Street Mall.

By striking contrast, the most disliked cities in America include such places as Detroit, Phoenix, Houston, Buffalo, and Cleveland.

The “most loved” cities listed above are far MORE compact and have far LESS green space than the “most disliked” cities listed above. It is therefore quite clear that “more green space” (what urban designers call the “nature bandaid”) or “less density” are unhelpful or not necessary ingredients for improving the quality of life of a city. Almost no one travels thousands of miles to visit Dubrovnik or Amsterdam or Siena or Montepulciano to enjoy green spaces or the low-density suburbs of those cities. They nearly all go to enjoy the compact, traditional, human-scaled parts of those cities.

As is the case, not coincidentally, with the Mapleton Hill neighborhood and Pearl Street Mall, which are the most compact, traditional, human-scaled places in Boulder.

Almost no one wants to live in Mapleton Hill because it is low density or has a lot of green space (within its boundaries). Nor does anyone I know visit Peal Street Mall because it is low density or has a lot of green space. In both cases, nearly everyone is attracted to those places because they are compact, traditional, and human-scaled. Similarly, almost no one visits Boulder to enjoy its low-density suburbs (where the most green space is found). Be honest, Donna and Jill: Do you prefer the Mapleton Hill neighborhood, which is much more compact and has less green space than most any other neighborhood in Boulder, or do you prefer, say, Martin Acres, which is much more low-density and has a lot more green space?

I am told by comments sent by Donna that “growth” or “development” or compactness are “destroying” Boulder or the Front Range. Does that mean that, say, Donna should not have been allowed to move to Boulder when she did because when she moved here, she was “growth.” Why is “growth” okay when Donna moves here but not okay when others move here? Similarly, doesn’t this “destruction” mean that Donna should not be allowed to establish a duplex or an accessory dwelling unit (ADU) or a Granny Flat or a Carriage House at her home? (something she has complained to me about not being allowed to do hundreds of times over the past several years)

After all, doing those things means MORE COMPACT DEVELOPMENT.

Why should Donna be allowed to have more compact development on her property but no one else is allowed to do the same anywhere in the region? Note: Boulder and all other Front Range cities are more than happy to allow people to create lower-density design on their property. They are totally free to remove buildings (unless they are historic) and install more green space. But it is completely illegal (at least for most of Boulder’s history) to make your property more compact by creating an ADU. Should Donna have been prohibited from building an ADU because it removed green space and increased compactness?

Should Boulder and other Front Range cities continue to PROHIBIT development that would make them more like Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Siena, Montepulciano, Copenhagen, Mapleton Hill, or Pearl Street Mall? After all, those cities and the most beloved places in Boulder are more compact and have less green space. Should Boulder and other Front Range cities continue to strongly encourage development that would make them more like Detroit, Phoenix, Houston, Buffalo, and Cleveland? After all, those cities are much lower density and have much more green space.

I am told by comments previously submitted by Donna that “Denver ranks nearly last among major U.S. cities, including New York, in park space as a percentage of total area. It also ranks nearly last in park acres per resident.” Again, the most loved cities, such as Dubrovnik, Amsterdam, Siena, Montepulciano, and Copenhagen, are not loved because of abundant park space. They are loved because they are compact, traditional, and human-scaled. They are places focused on making humans happy rather than cars happy. Some of the most awful cities in the world, such as Anchorage AK, have an enormous amount of green space,

By the way. I am NOT saying that green space or open space is not desirable. But in American, cities too often have way too much of it in inappropriate places (such as town centers). Vast amounts of green space or open space has a place, but that place is in the suburbs, not in-town locations.

I am told by comments previously submitted by Donna that “City leaders are overriding residents’ desire for increased green space as they sign off on more high-density development.” First of all, City Council and Planning Board are obligated by law to follow the land development regulations that were in place when a development was proposed. I know of no instance over the entire history of Boulder (or any other city in the US) where Council or the Planning Board have violated the existing development regulations to allow the developer to have “high-density development” or require less green space be provided than is required by existing regulations. This comment is therefore an inflammatory falsehood.

In addition, as I have noted over and over above, requiring more “green space” (city regulations already require way too much “green space” be provided by new development – at least in the town center portion of the transect) or denying a developers desire for more compact development is a recipe for making the proposed project less like Montepulciano and more like Buffalo. It is the “nature bandaid” again.

I am told by comments previously submitted by Donna that “[t] he dwindling of nature in Denver could lead to potentially overwhelming increases in stormwater runoff.” European cities I mentioned above have far less “nature” in them than Denver, yet none of them have significant stormwater runoff problems that I know of. Speaking as a town planner and environmental scientist, I can assure you that low density suburbs (that are chock full of “nature”) and asphalt car parking lots are far and away the leading cause of stormwater flooding and stormwater pollution. But I never, ever hear people allegedly concerned about stormwater runoff calling for less car parking or less low density suburbs. I suspect that is because requesting those truly effective stormwater management tactics would make it less convenient for such people to drive a car.

Donna quotes the following: “There’s a ton at stake. This is something to be concerned about — not just for some big net loss of biodiversity, but for what it means for people to interact with nature on a regular basis,” said Liba Goldstein, a Colorado State University conservation biologist who has helped guide efforts to nurture nature north of Denver in Fort Collins.

First of all, since conservation biologists know a great deal about how to create quality habitat for, say, mountain lions, but next to nothing about urban design (ie, the town center HUMAN habitat), such specialists are notorious for recommending designs that significantly degrade the human habitat. The (unintended) result is that the degraded human habitat ratchets up the desire of people to not live in the degraded town center, but to instead live in an outlying suburb that has steamrolled highly sensitive and valuable ecological habitats over and over again all over the nation for the past few centuries. Had the town center human habitat been wonderful (ie, designed by traditional urban designers rather than mountain lion specialists and motorists), the net result would be a region with a much more healthy ecosystem for mountain lions and other wildlife, because there would be less pressure to flee the town center for the suburbs.

Second of all, I agree that regular human access to nature is very important. The good news is that such access can successfully be provided WITHOUT degrading the town center human habitat. The greenway trails, small neighborhood “pocket parks,” and greenbelt in and around Boulder are an excellent example of that, and provide the “spiritual retreat” that Jill rightly desires.

Abundant green space and relatively large building setbacks and very low densities and very short buildings are the features provided by nearly all development in America over the past century. They are called “suburbs,” and are in no sense whatsoever an endangered way to live (we have way more than we need). The lifestyle (or housing, or neighborhood) that IS endangered is the compact, traditional, human-scaled lifestyle.

Unlike the suburban lifestyle, where the SUPPLY of such housing is far higher than the DEMAND for such housing, the compact, traditional, human-scaled lifestyle features a DEMAND that is far higher than the SUPPLY – which makes it artificially expensive and endangered. This is largely because such a design is illegal almost everywhere in the US, and also because the large majority Americans (who are largely quite dependent on car travel) fight very aggressively to stop or suburbanize such a design — mostly because it is seen as a design that threatens easy car travel.

Donna says to me that “[y]ou should try to live on the Lower East Side of NYC or other similar neighborhoods void of green space and trees to be faced with nothing but towering concrete and asphalt…Only the very wealthy can afford to live near any green. It seems the epitome of your design sense is the greater the density the better.”

With all due respect, Donna, these are unfair exaggerations and red herrings. I have never said anything that remotely suggests my desire for unlimited density (or building height). I have always maintained that, say, Hong Kong densities are awful “anthills” not fit for man nor beast, and I have always maintained that in general, anything taller than 5 stories for a building is too tall for human scale – particularly for non-civic buildings.

What I DO firmly believe is that places like Boulder and the Front Range have, on 99% of their land area, unsustainably low “cow town” densities that are far, far too low to support walking, bicycling, transit, local and small retailers, or affordable housing.

It is also absurd to suggest there is a binary choice: Either a grimy skyscraper city or a grass- and tree-filled suburb of low density one-story single-family homes on 5-acre lots. There are hundreds (thousands?) of cities that nearly all of us find overwhelmingly lovable (such as Lucca or Utrecht or the Mapleton Hill neighborhood) that fall well within those two extremes. Such cities are NOT lovable because they stopped growth or required that development be very low density or required “green space” or lots of trees. Far from it. Such cities were developed at a compactness level that far exceeds ANYTHING we will see in the Boulder/Denver/Front Range region. They are places that have far LESS green space or trees than the awful American suburbs that make up nearly all of the available housing in the US. For me and most everyone else, give me the compact, traditional, human-scaled, relative green- and tree-free traditional centers of Barcelona and Malmo over the low-density, green- and tree-filled suburbs of Toledo and Dallas any day. No comparison whatsoever.

In sum, the problem is NOT “growth” or “development” or “compactness.” It is contemporary, car-oriented, modernist, car-scaled design. Because growth cannot be stopped and because lowering the density of a project gives us a Phoenix-oriented future, we must stop wasting valuable time, money and energy in a futile effort to do stop development or suburbanize it (ie, by lowering densities). Instead, we need to acknowledge that growth is inevitable (future Donnas will and should continue to move here), and focus our energy on ensuring that our development regulations obligate that new, inevitable development to happen in a way that enhances our quality of life (NOT that of our Ford or Chevy).

To do that, our regulations must insist that new development be compact, traditional, human-scaled, and fits into the context of our neighborhoods. THAT is the recipe for a better future. A future where we keep our soul. Where we keep our authenticity and small town character. Where we keep our community environmentally sound. Where we keep our civic pride.

Fighting to stop growth or reduce density or require more “green space” (and thereby ignoring the reform of our development design regulations) is a recipe for becoming another soul-less Houston.

And nearly no one wants that. Do you?

If you DO want that, what cities do you love that followed that path?

Do we prefer run down auto dealerships and dying shopping centers and massive parking lots across the Front Range? Or do we prefer seeing the emergence of Luccas and Malmos and Montepulcianos in the Front Range? To me, the choice is clear…

“Nature,” says Jill “– even as in tree lined streets — can provide a relief from the ills of city living.  I would have no problem with higher rise buildings that [had] trees next to them and along streets.  Just the simple act of planting more trees would help. The non-descript, Soviet era type housing is demoralizing to me…One thing I loved about NY was the transportation system — even the subways I just disparaged.  All one had to do was to step outside and choose whether to get on a bus, subway or taxi.”

Jill, I fully agree that trees are an important ingredient for urbanism. I have always been an open advocate of tree-lined streets, for example. However, for those of us who desire a walkable, urban lifestyle (and there is a very large and growing number of us, combined with a very inadequate supply of such housing), we must be very careful about incorporating trees or other forms of “green.” Why? Because in a town center, the pedestrian is the design imperative. And the most important ingredient for providing a high quality pedestrian environment is proximity and human-scale. Far too often, incorporating trees or other “greenery” undermines proximity and human scale, because plants need a lot of space in most cases. This problem is particularly severe because American society is almost entirely clueless about the important need for proximity and human scale (because our high car dependency makes such design irrelevant).

At the same time, there is a near consensus that trees or other “greenery” is ALWAYS a good thing. “The more the better!!!” is what nearly everyone believes. But this is untrue when it comes to pedestrians, as it is very common to have too much of a good thing. Again, while it is certainly possible to provide discreet amounts of greenery that retain human scale and walkability, the folks who make decisions about incorporating greenery nearly always tend to have zero knowledge about urban design, because they are arborists or ecologists or accountants or elected officials or traffic engineers. The result is that nearly always, incorporating “greenery” leads to enormous setbacks, unwalkable (and deadening) green open spaces, and loss of human scale.

Pearl Street Mall provides very good examples of the desirable use of greenspace. On the one hand, trees are incorporated discreetly so that the space between facing retail buildings retains human scale. It FEELS comfortable to pedestrians for that reason, and promotes friendly, convivial sociability. But unfortunately, an urban design blunder is demonstrated by the County building on Pearl Street Mall, which has a very large, grassy, deadening, suburban space in front of the building. That portion of the Mall is less vibrant than other parts of the Mall due to the deadening effect of that green space.

There IS a place for such large green areas and setbacks. That place is our suburbs, where driving is expected and walking is not.

We need to elect urbanists to serve on City Council, and hire urbanist staff for the city planning and transportation departments. That almost never happens because nearly all voters are suburban motorists who think as motorists and not as humans. Suburban Council members and suburban city managers don’t see any value in having urbanists on staff. Their agenda is happy cars (which, not coincidentally, reduces fury amongst the citizenry). Such an agenda brings us, incrementally and unintentionally, a Los Angeles and Houston future. No one sees that future coming until they wake up one day and say “HOW DID WE GET HERE??????”

By the way, the citizens of places like Phoenix or Houston never intended for those places to become what they are today. Cities such as those had activists fighting violently against growth and density. They fought brutally hard to have MORE GREEN SPACE and MORE OPEN SPACE incorporated in proposed projects. They DEMANDED larger setbacks and lower densities and shorter buildings.

Just like nearly everyone in Boulder.

Guess what? They ended up as the awful places they are today despite fighting those battles furiously. Their mistake, as is happening in Boulder, is that they wrongly thought that greenery and open space and easy car travel and large setbacks and low density would save them. What they ended up with is roads where the motorist has a more pleasant view during their eight car trips each day. No one walks or bicycles or uses transit despite all that greenery because their world has been designed for mandatory motoring.

No, the key for a better, more lovable future is to focus on the needs of the pedestrian: modest, slow-speed human-scaled dimensions for streets and buildings. Traditional, context-sensitive, lovable design of buildings. Compact, mixed use land use patterns.

The very tragic bad news is that despite its reputation for being “progressive” on transportation and land use, Boulder remains firmly in the Dark Ages on those critical quality of life measures.

 

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Filed under Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Failure of Modernist Architectural Design

June 4, 2019

By Dom Nozzi

The reason the classical building is far more likely to stand for centuries than the modernist glass box is that, as the name “classical” implies, classical design has stood the test of time with regard to how loved the design has been over the course of several generations or centuries.

Modernist architects have opted to throw away “test of time” designs and have arrogantly decided that “innovative” is the only design criterion. That a person can just dream up an innovative design that will stand the test of time.  It is utterly unsurprising that nearly all “innovative” modernist buildings are considered hideous by the great majority of people surveyed.

When a building is loved, it has a far greater chance of lasting for centuries than buildings that few if any people love.

Almost no one (except modernist architects and those looking for amusement or the bizarre) will visit a neighborhood as a tourist to enjoy the beauty or charm or romance or lovability of a neighborhood or collection of buildings consisting of modernist buildings. Admittedly, some will, as a tourist, visit INDIVIDUAL modernist buildings, but almost always this is to observe a building because it is so peculiar or outlandish. Hundreds of millions of tourists, by striking contrast, flock to admire a city skyline — a collection of buildings within a town or neighborhood — largely consisting of classical or traditional building design.

Rome. Copenhagen. Paris. St Augustine. French Quarter. Amsterdam. Prague. Utrecht. Bologna. Bath. Assisi. Florence. Venice. Berlin. Cologne. Dresden. Lucca. Siena. Barcelona.

Each time one of these widely loved cities has a modernist building built within it, that city incrementally becomes less loved. The modernist building in such cities becomes a scar that people look away from, and try to keep out of the photos they shoot of the otherwise charming city.

An important reason why NIMBYism is so rampant is that unlike in the past (before modernism), citizens have come to expect that any new building built in town will be unlovable modernism. Nearly every new building built makes the town less loved.

Modernists are infamous for not using any sort of ornamentation whatsoever. For obvious reasons, this tends to make buildings appear boxy or cubical or so lacking in features that it fails to provide any interest to the observer. Architects did not use ornamentation for several centuries simply because they enjoyed wasting time and money to install it. They used ornamentation because it is a time-tested way to give the building appeal or interest. When I (and many others I’ve observed) am traveling to a new city, I have zero interest in photographing a metal or glass cube building because it is so minimalist and therefore uninteresting and unlovable. However, I (and many others I’ve observed) am strongly compelled to photograph buildings that are richly ornamental.

It is a myth that everyone has his or her own opinion about what is a lovable building design. Survey after survey shows that classical, traditional building design is far preferred. After all, why else would classical, traditional design be so replicated for so very many centuries? By contrast, I know of no modernist building designs that have been (or will be) replicated. That is telling. It is no coincidence that people from all over the world have flocked to the same classical and traditional buildings for centuries to admire them. I and many others believe that this is in part due to the fact that humans are hard-wired to admire certain building designs. Again, the fact that certain designs have been replicated for so many centuries is a testament to that.

Nearly all modernist architects, as part of their ruinous obsession with being “innovative,” take great joy in designing a building that completely ignores the contextual design (the design vocabulary) of other buildings on its street or neighborhood or community. It is an arrogant, selfish quest is to design a jarring “LOOK AT ME!!” building that sticks out like a sore thumb with regard to other buildings.

I believe humans tend to enjoy the pleasing character of assemblages of buildings, not individual buildings. People flock to Assisi or Florence or Venice not so much because of the desire to enjoy individual buildings, but to enjoy the collection (assemblage) of (time-Hero bldgs vs soldier bldgstested) buildings built with traditional designs.

There is a place, of course, for “look at me” (“heroic”) buildings that are designed to not fit into the context of nearby buildings. But that design must be reserved for civic buildings such as churches or important government buildings. When most or all buildings ignore context (as modernist buildings, by definition, strive to do), they create a chaotic public realm that is confusing, disorienting, and stressful to most people.

Consider, for example, the photos above. The image of a modernist city on the left exemplifies chaos and confusion and lack of coherence. It will never be tourist attraction (except for those who want to experience something bizarre or crazy).

Modernist buildings tend to be extremely notorious for being staggeringly expensive to maintain. They also tend to be terrible in achieving energy efficiency. After all, by tossing out traditional design tactics for the all-important need to be “innovative,” modernists blindly toss out such efficient (and affordable) tactics as how the building is oriented toward the sun, abandoning the need for large roof overhangs (to shade the building), installing windows that cannot be opened from the inside, using non-local materials that cannot be locally sourced or repaired, using flat roofs that are extremely likely to leak or collapse under the weight of snow or water, and using glass or other wall materials that are far more costly to maintain or clean than brick or wood.

I do not believe it is true that a person who pays for a building to be built should be able to build anything he or she desires. The exterior building design, unlike paintings or furniture inside a building, is something that everyone in the community must be exposed to for the remainder of their lives. That is why I agree with the many cities that have found it very important to adopt development regulations that prohibit certain designs or exterior colors or flat roofs or large setbacks or weeds/litter/car wrecks in a front yard. The public has a right to not be subjected to what amounts to an eccentric who gets enjoyment out of flipping off his fellow citizen by what amounts to “mooning” the public realm with a jarring, shocking building design.

It is telling that modernists tend to prefer to live in houses with traditional, classic, timeless design rather than the modernist experiments they inflict on us when they design for clients. It is also telling that modernists tend to strongly oppose conducting citizen surveys to determine which building designs are the most appealing. Why? Because building using modernist designs nearly always rank as the most undesirable.

I would be remiss not to mention one of the very few “advantages” of modernist design. Because so few find the modernist style appealing, the market for those who wish to buy modernist homes is tiny. Which means that modernist homes promote affordability because so few want to buy it.

Modernism also fails in several ways at the neighborhood level. Emily Talen, in her book Neighborhood (2019), notes that the highly influential Congress International Architecture Modern (CIAM) successfully influenced — for decades and to this day — the design of neighborhoods throughout the world so that they included the highly dysfunctional features of separating homes from offices, retail, civic, and manufacturing; prioritizing the car over the pedestrian; rejecting the street as public space; creating superblocks that promote insularity; treating buildings as isolated objects in space rather than as part of a larger interconnected urban fabric; rejecting traditional elements such as squares and plazas; demolishing large areas of the city to make unfettered places for new built forms; and creating enclosed malls and sunken plazas that deaden public space. I would also note that these modernist designers also brought dysfunctional, disconnected, disorienting, curvilinear roads to neighborhoods.

Buildings must be built well. That is one of the main reasons why I reject modernist design. Modernism is too often using designs and materials that fail or are extremely costly to maintain. Another “advantage” of modernist buildings, then, is that because they tend to be fall apart or become too costly to maintain, and are so commonly unloved in appearance, they will provide a great many jobs in building demolition, as modernist buildings are destined to be quickly considered blighting eyesores that need to be removed from a city.

I agree with those who state that one of the most essential ways to promote energy conservation and material conservation is to use a building design that is loved. When traditional more sustainable than modernismthe building is loved, it is much more likely to last for generations, because citizens will be more likely to defend it from demolition. Time-tested buildings, by definition, are the most loved. I am completely convinced that “innovative” modernist buildings will, in nearly all cases, not stand the test of time, and be demolished relatively soon. To build buildings that are so unloved that they are soon demolished is dreadfully wasteful.

“Nothing is more dated [and, in my opinion, unloved] than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.”

Modernism is a failed paradigm for the reasons I give above. We need to toss this paradigm into the waste basket.

Other Blogs I Have Written Regarding Modernist Architecture

The Failure and Unpopularity of Modernist Architecture
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2018/12/07/the-failure-and-unpopularity-of-modernist-architecture/

Modernist Architecture is a Failed Paradigm Ruining Our World
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2017/04/19/modernist-architecture-is-a-failed-paradigm-ruining-our-world/

Modernist Cult of Innovation is Destroying Our Cities
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2017/01/24/the-modernist-cult-of-innovation-is-destroying-our-cities/

Opposition to More Housing
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2019/02/19/opposition-to-more-housing-or-better-urbanism/

Moses and Modernism and Motor Vehicles
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2018/12/18/moses-and-modernism-and-motor-vehicles/

Indirect Opposition to Affordable Housing
https://domz60.wordpress.com/2018/12/04/the-indirect-opposition-to-affordable-housing-in-boulder-colorado/

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Filed under Economics, Energy, Environment, Politics, Urban Design

Lessons Boulder Colorado Needs to Learn

Urban Wisdom Relevant to Transportation, Growth and Development in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

March 13, 2018

Boulder, Colorado has implemented a number of highly admirable tactics to protect and promote its high quality of life. However, many in the city, for several decades, have aerial-view-of-boulder-btragically concluded that an important ingredient for protecting quality of life is to stop — or at least slow down or reduce the density of — newly proposed development projects in town.

Another important mistake made by many in Boulder over the course of those decades has been to equate free flowing car traffic with quality of life.

Both of these measures have greatly amplified sprawl into outlying areas beyond the Boulder greenbelt, has made the city much less affordable, has made the community much less walkable or bikable, and has greatly increased the rate of per capita car travel in the city. Each of these things, of course, undermine quality of life in Boulder.

Boulder remains a wonderful place to live, but that is true despite the mistakes I mention above.

The following represents urban design wisdom that Boulder would do well in better incorporating into its understanding of improving community health.

  • As growth becomes denser, highway costs rise while transit costs decline. – Anonymous
  • Suburbanization is the biggest threat to cities in North America. -Paul Bedford, Toronto Planning Director
  • A good sustainability and quality of life indicator: The average amount of time spend in a car. – Paul Bedford
  • Office development…pollutes land, air, and water as surely as industrial development once did. Office buildings pollute by generating vehicle traffic. A downtown office building well served by transit pollutes far less than a suburban office building accessible only by car. – Steve Belmont
  • Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. – Yogi Berra
  • NIMBY reactionaries don’t stop change in the long run. They simply help to insure that it happens in the worst possible way. – David Brain
  • Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive there’s something wrong with him. – Art Buchwald
  • Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. – Dan Burden
  • If the city is not well-designed, its impact on the surrounding nature will be lethal. – Javier Cenicacelaya
  • Planning of the automobile city focuses on saving time. Planning for the accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent. – Robert Cervero
  • Density is the new green – Unknown
  • Bicyclists should expect and demand safe accommodation on every public road, just as do all other users. Nothing more is expected. Nothing less is acceptable. – Chainguard.com
  • Convivial towns can offer solace in disaster, solidarity in protest, and a quiet everyday delight in urban life…Creating and revitalizing places that foster conviviality is essential to the good life. – Mark C. Childs
  • Vancouver killed the freeway because they didn’t want the freeways to kill their neighborhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it. That means if you don’t waste billions of dollars building freeways, you actually end up with less traffic. – Rick Cole
  • When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be. -Rick Cole
  • We have a military policy instead of an energy policy. – Barry Commoner
  • Density and environmental protection are not incompatible. If they are, we are in very deep trouble. – Patrick Condon
  • Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge. – Charles Darwin
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin
  • Progress in every age results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done. – Russel W. Davenport
  • New Urbanism = Universal Principles calibrated locally. – Bill Dennis
  • The greatest of all evils is a weak government. – Benjamin Disraeli
  • People yearning for community are like people at a party who crowd into the kitchen because they like it. – Bruce Donnelly
  • Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough. – Victor Dover
  • To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself. – Anthony Downs
  • [Democracies] have great difficulty solving the long-run problems created by policies that provide short-term benefits. Once people receive the benefits, they do not want to give them up. – Anthony Downs
  • In Houston, a person walking is someone on his way to his car. – Anthony Downs
  • It is NOT the inaugural condition that is the determinant of a town that is decisive: it is the ability to molt that is important. – Andres Duany
  • The problem is not the profit motive–profit has always been the driver of building in this country–the issue is the pattern. So long as the pattern was the compact, walkable and diverse neighborhood, we could continue growing–and did so for 250 years. When the pattern changed after WWII, it became unsustainable. – Andres Duany
  • In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything. – Andres Duany, “Suburban Nation”
  • We are not running out of land. We are running out of urban places. – Andres Duany
  • The Department of Transportation, in its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman [in the Civil War]  Anti-urban uses (large parking lots, large setbacks, drive-thru’s, wide and high-speed roads, etc.) are the new slaughterhouses – the places that people fight against having as neighbors. – Andres Duany
  • . – Andres Duany
  • If a number of persons are not in some way angry at the planner, then no principles have been presented; the planner has been merely a secretary to the mob, and the plan will be weak to the point of being useless. -Andres Duany
  • The loss of a forest or a farm is justified only if it is replaced by a village. To replace them with a subdivision or a shopping center is not an even trade. – Andres Duany
  • Amateurs accustomed to emulation made great places. It is the professionals of recent decades that have ruined our cities and our landscapes with their inventions. – Andres Duany
  • Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle only when it is without a community as its setting. – Andres Duany
  • In the suburbs you have backyard decks; in towns you have porches on the street. – Andres Duany
  • The street, which is the public realm of America, is now a barrier to community life. – Andres Duany
  • NIMBYs [are often] disguised as environmentalists. -Andres Duany
  • The role of the street is social as well as utilitarian. – Andres Duany
  • We have legislators who think it their duty only to listen to the people instead of becoming expert on the subjects which they must decide upon. – Andres Duany
  • Anchorage is the most awful place. All people know is that nature is beautiful; and they do not give a thought to the city they inhabit. – Douglas Duany
  • We can’t simultaneously promote walking and bicycling while continuing to facilitate driving. – Albert Einstein
  • The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation. – Albert Einstein
  • …There are plenty of cars and traffic jams in European cities, but urban planning and design there does not simply revolve around making space for the car. In American downtowns, however, that has too often been the case. For years, downtowns have been decimated as buildings have been cleared and streets widened in an effort to get more cars into the city. Since most cars are driven only a few hours per week, storage is a big problem. Parking lots often take up more space than any other land use. – Larry Ford
  • Architects should favor the norm more often than the exception. – Sergio Frau
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. – Mohandas Gandhi
  • How nice it is to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little better than it was the day before. – Jan Gehl
  • When there is a moment of grand unanimity, you can expect great foolishness. – Paul Giacobbi
  • If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. – Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman
  • Tradition is the tending of the fire, not the worship of the ashes. – Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination. – Paul Goldberger
  • If what you sell is the perception of privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset. – Vince Graham
  • If buildings are beautiful, higher density compounds that beauty. Conversely, if buildings are ugly, then higher density compounds that ugliness. – Vince Graham
  • Neighborhood lobbyists have far too much influence and this influence in the end almost always equals more sprawl. – Laura Hall
  • I’ve always described Density in terms of dollars: The more you have of it, the more you can “buy” with it — referring to amenities, of course (cultural, entertainment, dining, etc.). When I get asked what’s the single most important thing that can be added to a city to help revitalize it (they are always waiting for the latest retail or entertainment thing…), I always say “housing.” – Seth Harry
  • The “suburban conundrum”: As density goes down in a suburban setting, both arterial sizes and retail format sizes tend to go up, while the frequency of both go down, resulting in longer trips, to fewer boxes, of ever increasing scale. – Seth Harry
  • Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity. – Glen Hemistra
  • Setbacks, Height Limits, Open Space, Parking requirements (S.H.O.P.). The four stooges of zoning have effectively outlawed compact, affordable, walkable, mixed use (CAWMU) in the United States. – Fenno Hoffman
  • The “middle” density also has the problem of traffic: the more stuff gets built, the worse the traffic gets, because you still need to drive. At some point, there’s a flip, and the more stuff gets built, the less traffic is a problem, because the less you need to drive. That’s why the transition from low-density auto-oriented to high-density pedestrian-oriented is so painful. There’s a middle ground that doesn’t work for anybody. Lots of our urban suburbs now fit into that middle ground. The solution isn’t intuitive: when you tell people that the solution to the terrible traffic is to build even more stuff, it doesn’t make sense to most people at a gut level. – Jennifer Hurley
  • Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. – Samuel Johnson
  • Architecture without sensibility to its context is like sex without love: entertaining perhaps, but not the source of lasting joy. – Mark Wilson Jones
  • The more parking space, the less sense of place. – Jane Holtz Kay
  • Any city planner who thinks that easing the traffic flow will decrease the city’s congestion is simply living in a dream world. Likewise, the addition of parking facilities will not, and never has, eliminated parking problems. When you improve a small congested road, you wind up with a big congested road. Likewise, the better the traffic pattern, the more traffic on that pattern; the more parking lots, the more people looking for a place to park. – John Keats
  • If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent
  • Whatever a traffic engineer tells you to do, do the opposite and you’ll improve your community. – Fred Kent
  • My interest is in the future, because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles Kettering
  • Seductive congestion. It’s what the best cities are all about. – John King
  • It’s true that Germans have always had a special love affair with the car, but there’s no reason you have to remain trapped in a bad and unhealthy relationship. – Pit Klasen
  • The majority of sprawl in this country is produced by those who are fleeing from sprawl. -Alex Krieger
  • Containing this type of use of 50/50 [50 mph and 50,000 cars per day] streets is far beyond the will and ability of the typical local government. The 50/50 arterial is a gift-wrapped, gold-plated, gift to strip development. Once in place, almost no power on earth will stop its march toward strip commercial. Time spent berating local governments (counties and cities) for not doing better with these monstrosities (and I’ve done my share of this) is satisfying to the critic, but is unproductive. Once in place, it is too late to do much about the 50/50 arterial. – Walter Kulash
  • A road is a strip of ground over which one walks. A highway differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line which connects one point to another. A highway has no meaning in itself. Its meaning derives entirely from the two points which it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to [the highway] has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time. – Milan Kundera
  • It matters that our cities are primarily auto storage depots. It matters that our junior high schools look like insecticide factories. It matters that our libraries look like beverage distribution warehouses. It matters that the best hotel in town looks like a minimum security prison. To live and work and walk among such surroundings is a form of spiritual degradation. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when so much of what you see on a typical day is so unrelentingly drab. – Jim Kunstler
  • …there’s a reason that Elm Street and Main Street resonate in our cultural memory. It’s not because we’re sentimental saps. It’s because this pattern of human ecology produced places that worked wonderfully well, and which people deeply loved. – Jim Kunstler
  • We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it. – Jim Kunstler
  • The 20th Century was about getting around. The 21st Century will be about staying in a place worth staying in. – Jim Kunstler
  • It actually took more effort, and a deeper background in principle and technique, on the part of the 19th century architect to contrive proportioning schemes that would nourish the heart and soul of a normal human being. Today it is the common citizen, forced to live among the baleful monstrosities of 20th century architecture, who must expend extreme mental effort to keep from shrieking in agony at every turn. – Jim Kunstler
  • Finding ways to intervene positively rather than destructively in the old city is a lot of what pro-urbanist planning–new or old–is all about. — Nathan Landau
  • Density is necessary but not sufficient for walkable, transit-friendly urban(e) communities…without adequate baseline densities, communities can wind up building a lot of sidewalks that hardly anybody walks on. – Nathan Landau
  • As we all know, architecture and urbanism, unlike other specialties, such as surgery and biology, are susceptible to being valued, criticized and even vetoed by persons without the most minimal knowledge of their most elemental principles.” – Mario Lanza (Havana 2003)
  • I have never seen a fact that would stand up to a myth at a public hearing. – J. Gary Lawrence
  • …the state of Detroit today (1/3 of the city’s land is vacant, decrease in population by 1/2, etc.) is exactly what the automobile industry intended to have happen to formerly pedestrian-oriented cities.  Detroit probably has more freeway miles than most U.S. cities, and it sure hasn’t benefited Detroit.  (Reflecting upon this is the source of my challenge to freeway proponents — name one freeway construction project that has benefited the traditional center city more than the suburbs, or benefited the city at all.  The reality is that freeways are for suburbanites.) – Richard Layman
  • …walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that “more is less”; more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral.

Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral. – Christopher B. Leinberger, Dec. 20th, 2006. Author of The Option of Urbanism.

  • The essence of suburbanism is protection.  Protection against whatever is around you.  The essence of good urbanism is connection.  Connection to whatever is around you.  This is reflected in the physical form of development. – Bruce Liedstrand
  • When you’re making a housing decision, you’re also making a decision on transportation. – Barbara Lipman
  • You say what you think needs to be said. If it needs to be said, there are going to be a lot of people who will disagree with it, or it wouldn’t need to be said. – Herb Lock
  • …in general we call these sorts of claims [about why a road cannot be narrowed], by conventional thinkers (usually conventional, old-school, traffic engineers), “technical brush-offs.” The idea is that, through the misuse of their position, they simply blow off your legitimate design proposal with a technical brush-off. You are supposed to go away and not come back. The benefit to them is that they waste very little time on you and your proposal. However, you research the technical brush-off, find out that it is baloney, come back, and confront them. They then will say, “Oh, good job, you’re right. However, your idea won’t work because ….. and they will give you another technical brush-off. This pattern can continue until either you give up or it is too late. Plus, a lot of damage can be done in the meantime by stirring up the neighbors, the fire chief, and/or the police. You have been given two technical brush-offs so far…The next brush-offs will likely have to do with the classification of the street and that they can’t do what you propose. It might also be that they cannot use certain types of funding to reduce car-carrying capacity. By the time you get right down to the real issue, it will likely be that they simply do not want to do the road diet [narrowing]. It violates their paradigm. In these situations, you’ll have to decide, at some point, if you will be able to convince the traffic dinosaurs of the overall benefits to society of you proposal. – Ian Lockwood
  • LEED [a rating system that assesses energy conservation] architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bulldozers. – Dan Malouff
  • [American] Planners fight against good urbanism every day of the week, and have for fifty years. – John Massengale
  • Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14
  • One of the interesting features of much of [the recent research regarding walking] is that taken as a whole it shows that mixed use and walkable destinations have a bigger impact on walking than the quality of the pedestrian environment itself.  Beautiful sidewalks with nowhere to go don’t really cut it. – Barbara McCann
  • Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how. – Edward T. McMahon
  • …Rather than design a transportation system to get the most out of America’s cities, America redesigned the cities to get the most out of the automobile. – Richard Moe
  • The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney
  • Isn’t it paradoxical that the old factories are now the place of efficient and desirable urban living, while the suburban escape from them have become consumptive, environmentally unsustainable, noxious places. – Michael Morrissey
  • The most serious obstacles in our road building program are not money, nor engineering problems, nor cruel terrain–but PEOPLE. – James J. Morton
  • The car is not the enemy, nor is the elimination of cars the solution. It is our societal bias toward cars that must be questioned. – Anne Vernez Moudon
  • The vernacular process is based on things that resonates enough with the average citizen that they want to repeat it on their house or in their town. Repeated enough over time, it becomes a pattern, and then a tradition. The Most-Loved Places are therefore all by definition traditional places. – Steve Mouzon
  • The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city. – Lewis Mumford
  • We cannot continue to believe that the landscape is sacred and the city profane. They must both be considered sacred. – Paul Murrain
  • What kills a city are people who want only low taxes, only want a good deal and only want cities to be about . . . pipes, pavement and policing. – Glen Murray, mayor of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • We are making great progress, but we are going in the wrong direction. – Ogden Nash
  • The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport. -Peter Newman & Jeffrey Kenworthy
  • Cities are for people. A city is where people come to work and raise their families and to spend their money and to walk in the evening. It is not a traffic corridor. -John Norquist
  • There is no greater form of subsidized social engineering than the interstate highway, which hastens the flight out of the city without doing much to ease traffic congestion. -John Norquist
  • This used to be Main Street USA. It’s now a code violation all over America. – John Norquist
  • Suburban planning is all about separation and segregation of uses. Buffers, enormous setbacks, masking. Urban planning, by stark contrast, strives for mixed and shared use, permeability, and compact dimensions. – Dom Nozzi
  • Smart Growth defined: Making the car an option, not a necessity. – Dom Nozzi
  • Places don’t become strip commercial because all the trees were cut down. They become strip commercial because the place has been scaled for cars. The road is too wide. The parking lot is too big. The building setbacks are too large. Ironically, saving a tree often promotes such an over-allocation of space. – Dom Nozzi
  • This nation is drowning in a sea of free and abundant parking. – Dom Nozzi
  • The pedestrian is the design imperative. – Dom Nozzi
  • If you are an elected official lacking in courage and leadership, and you face even a peep of opposition to a project, fall back on perfectionism to find a flaws so that you can shoot down the project. Perfectionism leads to paralysis. – Dom Nozzi
  • In part, public planning agencies have no vision because they are drowning in minutiae. – Dom Nozzi
  • We need to design our cities so that one feels embarrassed, inconvenienced, and like one who is missing out on all the fun when driving a car. – Dom Nozzi
  • Working adults formerly enjoyed an hour of “community time” after the workday was over and before they were expected home. It has been replaced by an hour of “commuting time.” The former warmed us to our fellow human beings, the latter conditions us to hate them. – Ray Oldenburg, Celebrating the Third Place
  • A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. – George S. Patton
  • A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We’re far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is, is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • God made us walking animals—pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Americans are in the habit of never walking if they can ride. – Louis Philippe (1798)
  • Some collective practices have enormous inertia because they impose a high cost on the individual who would try to change them. – Steven Pinker
  • When you’re on the street [as a pedestrian], all cars are monsters. When you’re in a car, all pedestrians are idiots. – Alan E. Pisarski
  • Nothing looks so dated as yesterday’s vision of the future. – Christian De Quincey
  • Well planned cities can compensate for declining incomes by decreasing the cost of living. – Henry Richmond
  • To achieve excellence should be a struggle. – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley
  • We live in a country made of spare parts where the master plan has been lost. – Jaquelyn Robertson
  • Every freedom has a corresponding responsibility. – John D. Rockefeller
  • Over-emphasis on mobility is what’s destroying our cities now, and “improved” mobility could make things worse. So maybe my views on transportation have become extreme if you consider that I’m becoming an advocate for LESS mobility, and more place-making. Famous urbanist Jan Gehl says “Judge the walkability of a city not by how many people are walking, but by how many people are lingering.” The places people love are actually quite hard to get around in, and the places with great mobility are usually dead and sterile places. – Michael Ronkin
  • There is no lack of space [in cities]. It is just that most of it is in the form of vacant parking lots and extra wide roads. -Michael Ronkin
  • The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.  – John Ruskin
  • The only way you run into someone else in LA is in a car crash. – Susan Sarandon, on why she moved to NY.
  • From time to time, little men will find fault with what you have done…but they will go down the stream like bubbles, they will vanish. But the work you have done will remain for the ages. – Theodore Roosevelt
  • When a new truth enters the world, the first stage of reaction to it is ridicule, the second stage is violent opposition, and in the third stage, that truth comes to be regarded as self-evident – Arthur Schopenhauer
  • A culture of inertia has set in. Criticism predominates over construction; critics are given more weight than those trying to build. It doesn’t matter how small a constituency or flawed an argument the critic possesses. He or she always seems to predominate in political circles, in the news media, and in the public debate. – Senator Charles E. Schumer
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer
  • Although the American scarcely thought of his car as an instrument for reshaping the city, it was to prove the most potent means of crippling Central Business Districts and upbuilding outlying shopping areas that had ever been invented. It was the most effective device for spreading the city over a vast territory that history had ever seen. Its potential for destruction and for construction was, in short, awesome. – Mel Scott
  • Off-street parking requirements [imposed by a city for new developments] and cars…present a symbiotic relationship: the requirements lead to free parking, the free parking leads to more cars and more cars then lead to even higher parking requirements. When 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet [of new building] no longer satisfy the peak demand for free parking, a stronger dose of 4 spaces per 1,000 square feet can alleviate the problem, but not for long because cars increase in numbers to fill the new parking spaces. Every jab of the parking needle relieves the local symptoms, but ultimately worsens the real disease — too much land and capital devoted to parking and cars. Parking requirements are good for motorists in the short run but bad for cities in the long run. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, at a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. This difference in planning helps explain why downtown San Francisco is much more exciting and livable than downtown Los Angeles. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • American cities put a floor under the parking supply to satisfy the peak demand for free parking, and then cap development density to limit vehicle trips. European cities, in contrast, often cap the number of parking spaces to avoid congesting the roads and combine this strategy with a floor on allowed development density to encourage walking, cycling, and public transport. That is, Americans require parking and limit density, while Europeans require density and limit parking. When combined with complaints about traffic congestion and calls for smart growth, the American policy looks exceptionally foolish. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Minimum parking standards [regulations that require the provision of parking] are fertility drugs for cars. – Donald Shoup
  • Staunch conservatives often become ardent communists when it comes to parking, and rational people quickly turn emotional. – Donald Shoup
  • If we continue to do what we’ve always done with curb parking, we will continue to get what we now have — the “parking problem,” with all its ramifications. Fortunately, we can resolve this problem if we: (1) charge market prices for curb parking; (2) return the revenue to finance neighborhood public improvements; and (3) remove off-street parking requirements. No other source of public revenue can so easily bring in so much money and simultaneously improve transportation, land use, and the environment. – Donald Shoup
  • A suburban through street is similar to a New Urbanist through street in the same way that a concrete flood channel is similar to a babbling brook. – Patrick Siegman
  • Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat. – Smart Growth America’s web site
  • People move to the suburbs for the illusion of greater freedom, but it is where there is density – more people & more kinds of people, more buildings & more kinds of buildings – that there are more choices. – Sandy Sorlien
  • The house itself is of minor importance. Its relation to the community is the thing that really counts. A small house must depend on its grouping with other houses for its beauty… – Clarence Stein
  • The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development. – Padriac Steinschneider
  • Environmentalists fail to understand that human beings are a life form. – Dhiru Thadani
  • Consensus is the absence of leadership. – Margaret Thatcher
  • The paradox of transportation in the late 20th Century is that while it became possible to travel to the moon, it also became impossible, in many cases, to walk across the street. – Joell Vanderwagen
  • 50 years ago, city planning practices and codes moved from being community unifiers to suburban dividers. – Tom Walsh
  • Placing surface parking lots in your downtowns is like placing a toilet in your living room – Unknown
  • A community has to have the capacity to envision a future they want, and not just the one they are likely to get. – Unknown
  • The suburb fails to be a countryside because it is too dense. It fails to be a city because it is not dense enough. – Unknown
  • He who tells the truth must have one foot in the stirrup. – Old Armenian proverb

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Filed under Bicycling, Environment, Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Case Against the Colorado Transportation Sales Tax on the November 2018 Ballot

By Dom Nozzi

I have almost 40 years of academic and professional (and lifestyle) experience in the field of transportation, which is why I am without hesitation voting AGAINST the Proposition 110 sales tax increase for Colorado transportation funding, and urge all Colorado voters to also vote against this measure.

Some bicycling, walking, and transit advocates are joining with motorist and sprawl advocates in voting for this measure because a token amount of the revenue is slated to be directed towards those forms of non-car travel.

However, I think doing so is a terrible mistake. Why? Because ON BALANCE, we take a giant step backwards in promoting bicycling and walking and transit (not to mention a host of other social and municipal objectives) if we pass 110.

The positives of 110 are that a token amount of dollars will be allocated to improvements for cyclists, walkers, and transit. What will be the outcome of doing that? We will see a very modest increase in bicycling, walking and transit use. Worldwide studies show over and over that to be effective in seeing a meaningful shift from car travel to walking or bicycling or transit, we must take things away from motorists (speed, subsidies and space). It is not about providing more sidewalks or bike paths or buses.

By contrast, the negatives of 110 are enormous, because hundreds of millions of new tax dollars will now be made available to widen highways, roads and intersections. If anything, we need to be narrowing a huge percentage of our bloated, oversized roads,Carmageddon highway highways, and intersections. I will only list a few of the significant negatives of 110: a large increase in unaffordable and ruinous suburban sprawl, a large increase in per capita car trips and car travel distances, a large increase in air emissions (which destroys our ability to address climate change in the future), much larger levels of traffic congestion (because it artificially induces new car trips and more remote development that would not have occurred had we not widened), a large increase in traffic fatalities and serious injuries, an increase in the massive financial woes of state and local governments (who cannot afford to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone the new infrastructure 110 will fund), a substantial worsening of public health, a much more ugly environment in Colorado, a loss of enormous ecologically sensitive areas that would now be replaced by new development, and a big decline in bicycling, walking and transit use.

When we compare the positives and negatives, the net result for bicycling, walking and transit — not to mention the very many social and municipal objectives — shows 110 to be far and away more of a bad deal than a good deal (unless you are with the auto or sprawl lobbies).

I don’t want one penny of my sales tax dollars to go toward ruining the Colorado I love. We’ve poured huge public dollars into making cars happy for the past century, and the outcome has been terrible. I will do everything in my power to fight against this measure. Enough is enough.

Some have responded to my opposition by stating that we should not let “perfection be the enemy of the good.” But in what sense is this measure “good,” on balance? By giving pocket change to building a few sidewalks? It is the equivalent of saying we should support giving the Pentagon another $50 billion to kill thousands more civilians with thousands of new and more powerful bombs because, after all, it is “good” in the sense that we are at the same time giving $10,000 to the UN Peacekeeping office.

Please.

In both the transportation tax and the Pentagon spending, the net result is a vastly worse world, even if we give a few pennies to bike lanes and diplomacy.

This is, quite simply, a Faustian bargain.

As an aside, some 110 supporters argue that the sales tax revenue obtained by Boulder will only be allocated for “progressive” transportation projects – or at least more progressive than how it will be used elsewhere in the state. But this “Boulder Bubble” way of thinking turns a blind eye to the great harm this money will  bring to the “less enlightened” parts of Colorado – harm that will negatively impact Boulder. It is also inaccurate to assume Boulder will not use the money in detrimental ways, as I’ve come to learn during my five years serving on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board that Boulder is shockingly stuck in the Dark Ages with regard to transportation. To take one example, while it is true that Boulder no longer seems interested in road widenings, this community remains more than happy to widen intersections, which is a highly detrimental transportation (and land use) tactic.

Another aside is that it is far more fair and progressive to obtain new transportation funding with user fees such as road tolls or a VMT tax.  Sales taxes, by contrast, are not only regressive to lower income folks, they also have each of us pay the same amount of tax regardless if we drive an SUV 10,000 miles from a sprawl home each year or ride a bicycle from a town center condo. This is the definition of unfairness.

But even if we opted for the more equitable user fees rather than sales tax, I would still oppose even that reform, as it still means there will be a big increase in dollars available for vastly detrimental road, highway and intersection widenings. Only when our society is forced to learn that we should never again widen, and instead set about shrinking our roads and intersections to a safer, more sustainable human scale should we be finding new transportation dollars.

As of today, however, we continue to fail to learn this existential lesson even though road and intersection widening has done nothing but ruin us for the past century. We remain very far from learning such a fundamental lesson.

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

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