Category Archives: Environment

Suggestions for Reducing Noise Pollution in Asheville NC

By Dom Nozzi

One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Asheville, North Carolina in the fall of 2020 is that Asheville is an extremely noisy city – perhaps the noisiest city I have ever visited or lived in. The high noise levels, of course, lowers the quality of life in Asheville to a point that is far below the quality of life the city could provide.

Indirectly, this strongly degrades the financial health of the city because many of us now know that high quality of life is a powerful economic engine for cities – and conversely, that a low quality of life leads to economic ruin.

Public health is also severely compromised, as chronic noise pollution is known to cause a great many health problems.

I believe for Asheville to make meaningful strides toward being a much quieter city, it needs to establish a four-pronged approach:

1.       While adopting a quality noise ordinance is important, it is much more important to adequately fund enforcement of noise management codes by hiring and maintaining a full-time noise management staff running an independent noise management office and maintaining noise management patrolling throughout Asheville. As would be the case in any city, Asheville police are always going to give noise enforcement a lower level of priority when compared to crimes such as burglary or murder, which is an important reason why the police should not be the enforcement agency.

2.       Policy adopted by Council and implemented by department heads is needed to ensure that city services such as emergency response are promoting the achievement of City noise reduction goals. Emergency vehicle sirens are overused in nearly all US cities, and causes an enormous amount of noise pollution. Bloomington IN is one of a number of cities I know of that – at least when I briefly lived there in 2008 — effectively reduced emergency siren use through the adoption of department policy.

3.       Zoning amendments and new prohibitions are needed to prohibit inherently and nearly continuously loud motor vehicle service, repair, large truck deliveries, and car washing from being located within, say, 300 feet of homes. Existing services in violation of this would become non-conforming and would receive on-going guidance from staff on how to operate more quietly. A noise ordinance is not, by itself, sufficient to manage this problem without a spacing requirement provided by zoning. Prohibitions need to be considered for relatively high-level noise polluting devices such as leaf blowers and burglar alarms. These might be location-specific prohibitions, more stringent time-of-day restrictions for blowers, and three-strikes-and-you’re-out enforcement for too many false alarms.

4.       Capital projects to address what is by far the largest source of noise pollution in Asheville: motor vehicles. Motor vehicle noise pollution is the main reason Asheville is relatively noisy, and it is due primarily to oversized roads such as Broadway, Merrimon, Biltmore, Charlotte, and Patton, as well as a number of Interstate highways in the Asheville area – particularly I-240. Because higher-speed vehicle travel directly translates into higher levels of noise pollution, traffic calming measures for several Asheville roads is essential to meaningfully reduce Asheville noise pollution – particularly those I mention above. The most powerful way to calm traffic (that is, induce meaningfully slower, quieter, safer, more attentive motor vehicle travel) is to remove excessive travel lanes. Most commonly this means taking an existing 4- or 5-lane road to 3 lanes (2 travel lanes and a turn lane). Calming should also include horizontal reductions such as narrowing travel lanes, woonerfs in the town center (such as Wall Street), landscaped bulb-outs, chicanes, speed tables, adding on-street parking, and using human-scaled signal lights such as post-mounted traffic signals (and street lights no taller than 14 feet) in the town center. Vertical interventions such as speed humps are undesirable for many reasons – particularly for emergency vehicles and increased noise pollution. Note that the new administration at the Federal level has signaled interest in converting urban interstates into boulevards. Asheville should use its legislative lobby to urge a Federal or State project to convert I-240 to a boulevard as a first-in-line case study. In the interim – or even if conversion to a boulevard does not occur – homes and businesses within relatively high sound contours of I-240 need to be protected from noise pollution by constructing noise-canceling sound walls along I-240.

Note that very few Asheville citizens know much at all about noises which are currently illegal. And even less know who to call to file a complaint. Others are not sufficiently assertive to complain, or often feel their complaint is not worthy of enforcement. This is all the more reason to maintain full-time staff who patrol the city.

Like nearly all other cities in America, noise pollution is about the only form of pollution that we are losing ground in controlling. Such pollution has been growing increasingly worse – particularly with advances in various safety, convenience, motor vehicle, and entertainment technologies.

It is important for Asheville to be serious about protecting and promoting its quality of life. Leadership is necessary to prevent further erosion in that quality due to growing noise pollution. Not showing assertive leadership in achieving necessary noise management goals will lead to a significant decline in economic health, tax revenue, and public health.

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Filed under Economics, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design

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, the smaller amounts of land owned, and the ability of the household to survive with a smaller number of (extremely expensive) household cars. This is because more compact development patterns allow people to engage in many daily tasks without needing to travel by car.

Less per capita car travelThis 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 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 with the disconnect between the many benefits of compact development and the high level of citizen opposition to such development 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 and understandably 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.

It threatens the very core of their drivable lifestyle.

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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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Will the True Progressives and Promoters of a Quality, Sustainable Future Please Stand Up?

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.

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?

Does it make sense for progressives to promote policies that maintain and heighten the “financial wall” surrounding Boulder to keep out the undesirables?

I have several additional thoughts about the absurd ideas that the anti-city and pro-car folks such as this author hold on to:

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 instead 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 building 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!

In response, you tell me that when you arrived in Boulder in the 1950s and your home and your neighborhood were built, things were wonderful in Boulder and that desirable “small town character” should be protected. The developer of your neighborhood was not evil when you came to Boulder.

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 has seen the development of neighborhoods that are…

…the most unaffordability expensive in American history, in terms of housing, land consumption, and transportation.

…the most anti-social, suspicious-of-neighbors, and isolating 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 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 these features, compared to about 0.1 percent 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?

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

The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 6, 2019

 

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.

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 travelThis 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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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Environment, Peak Oil, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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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Filed under Energy, Environment, Politics, Transportation

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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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Environment, Peak Oil, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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

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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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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