Category Archives: Road Diet

The Indirect Opposition to Affordable Housing in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

People in Boulder often pay lip service to wanting more affordable housing in Boulder. But those same people are too often the ones who most strongly oppose the effective tactics to make housing more affordable in Boulder.

For example, such people tend to strongly oppose smaller residential lot sizes (ie, more density than is currently allowed, taller buildings than are currently allowed, ADUs and co-ops are legal), even though smaller lot sizes are an extremely effective way to make housing more affordable in a city where property values are sky high. A side note here is that City Council made a terrible mistake by reducing the maximum building height in several urban locations to 35 feet. This very low height maximum is only suitable for single-family residential areas.

Such people tend to oppose eliminating the requirement that new development must provide parking, even though required parking requires the property owner to devote a large amount of very expensive land be devoted to car storage.

A great many in Boulder tend to be vigorously opposed to allowing retail and offices in residential neighborhoods, even though doing this would significantly enhance the ability of a household to own less cars (each car costs an American household about $10,000 per year).

A large number in Boulder tend to angrily oppose road diets, even though doing this would significantly enhance the ability of a household to own less cars.

A great many people in Boulder tend to oppose more housing along transit corridors near their neighborhood, even though doing this would significantly enhance the ability of a household to own less cars.

Large numbers of Boulder citizens tend to oppose making it easier than it currently is to replace surface parking with homes and retail in Boulder, even though such housing can be substantially less expensive than conventional housing, and even though doing this would significantly enhance the ability of a household to own less cars.

Many Boulder citizens tend to oppose allowing a larger number of unrelated people to live together, even though this would obviously reduce the expenses of each person living in a house.

Most Boulder citizens tend to strongly oppose eliminating required building setbacks, even though doing so would obviously reduce housing costs, since less very expensive land would be required to be bought by the homebuyer.

Large numbers of Boulder citizens tend to oppose allowing duplexes and triplexes in single-family neighborhoods, even though this is obviously a way to make housing more affordable (less land would be needed per house). As a side note, such opposition would be reduced if duplexes and triplexes were built using timeless traditional design rather than unlovable, jarring, context-oblivious modernist design.

Many in Boulder (particularly bicyclists) tend to oppose allowing the City to install more on-street parking, even though this would allow for a significant reduction in housing/retail/office cost, since many households and businesses could avoid needing to devote expensive land to off-street parking.

Most Boulder residents tend to oppose requiring free parking at office and retail establishments to be metered/priced parking instead of being free parking, even though this would greatly reduce the cost of doing business in Boulder.

Most Boulder residents tend to be against requiring all housing sold in Boulder to unbundle the price of parking from the price of the housing, even though this eliminates the ability of households to opt to avoid paying the very high cost of required parking they may not need.

Many Boulder residents tend to oppose traffic calming all major streets in Boulder, even though this would allow households to own a lower number of expensive cars.

A large number of Boulder residents tend to oppose requiring owners of parking spaces (residential, office, retail, etc.) to pay a tax for each space owned, even though this requirement would result in a large decrease in the provision of very expensive parking.

Most Boulder residents tend to oppose offering density bonuses for building timeless, traditional, lovable buildings rather than modernist buildings, even though this would clearly result in reduced housing costs.

Many Boulder residents tend to oppose replacing zoning-based land development code with a form-based code, and applying special area plans throughout the city, even though this would, again, allow households to own a smaller number of very expensive cars.

 

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

Is It Fair to Refer to Motorists as “Carbarians”?

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

I recently had a guest opinion published in a local newspaper regarding street design. I was criticized by one reader, who noted that it is tactically unwise to refer to motorists as “carbarians,” as this reduces the persuasiveness of my essay.

On the one hand, I agreed, and regretted using that term. However, it is also true that a great many in my community who consider themselves “enlightened” about transportation are all too happy to defend car travel way more than is desirable.

It is also true that there are a great many reasons why motorists should appropriately be called “carbarians.”

I published a book called The Car is the Enemy of the City. That book describes a large number of reasons why excessive car dependence is barbarically deadly to the health of cities.

Healthy cities need slower speeds, human scale and agglomeration economies. Excessive car dependence powerfully and barbarically undermines each of those things.

Excessive car dependence obligates all levels of government to obligate barbarically high levels (and ever growing levels) of funding to car needs.

Excessive car dependence induces high levels of barbaric rage and fury and extreme entitlement on the part of motorists. The Folsom Street road diet project in Boulder, Colorado in the mid-2010s exemplifies that. Loss of seconds or minutes of time was an outrage, even though that seemed to many to be a trivial trade-off compared to the many serious and deadly crashes that could have been averted.

Excessive car dependence induces judges to rule that a slap on the wrist is adequate punishment for many instances where a motorist has killed a cyclist, pedestrian, or people in other cars.

Excessive car dependence barbarically assaults communities with high levels of air pollution, noise pollution, and water pollution. Costs that most motorists selfishly feel they don’t need to pay for (they feel entitled to be heavily subsidized — studies show that gas tax revenue covers less than 50% of motorist costs).

Excessive car dependence bankrupts households and makes housing much less affordable due to the high costs and extreme land use dispersal they impose.

Many motorists, even when they are otherwise “nice people,” tend to feel like angry bullies when they get behind the wheel of a car. Other motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians are outrageous obstacles in the mind of many motorists. “Road rage” is expressed at an astonishingly high level. Not particularly acceptable given the fact that motorists are operating a very heavy, high speed metal box that regularly ends up being a deadly weapon. Look up the “Goofy Motor Mania” YouTube video by Walt Disney, for example.

Finally, excessive car dependence leads to a very ugly community. Ugly roads, ugly strip commercial, ugly sign/billboard pollution, ugly parking lots, etc. It is barbaric how ugly car dependence has made our cities.

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation

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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Boulder CO is in the Dark Ages with Its Transportation and Land Use Policies

By Dom Nozzi

October 30, 2018

An article appeared in the 7/23/18 edition of the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper describing how two local activists (with views very similar to my own) were leaving Boulder because they were utterly frustrated by the local politics and had decided that the situation was hopeless.

I am completely sympathetic to the two people (Zane and Christina) that article focused on.

In my ten years of living in Boulder, I have become greatly disappointed (and surprised) by how much Boulder and its citizens dwell in The Dark Ages regarding the views of a very large number of Boulder citizens in the areas of transportation and land use. The city has a reputation for being progressive, and while that may be the case on some issues, it becomes clear, when you look under the covers, that when it comes to transportation and land use development (housing and parking in particular), Boulder is quite elitist, entitled, and politically right wing.

The “progressive” label for those two categories largely comes from the fact that Boulder is so wealthy, which means a lot of money is spent on transportation facilities (the City is infamous for over-designing obscenely expensive facilities such as bike routes and overpasses and underpasses and buses).

The reactionary politics on those two issues means that despite all the lip service paid in Boulder, housing is much more expensive in Boulder than it should be (housing would be much less expensive if there was the will to adopt effective strategies), and transportation is far more car-oriented and car-happy than it should be.

Despite all of this, I intend to remain in Boulder for the long term. Despite the painfully outdated and counterproductive views here, there are so many things I love about Boulder that I am very happy here. That more than compensates for the exasperating politics.

The following are transportation and land use reforms I would have suggested for Boulder had I ever been asked while serving for five years on Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board (I was never asked, which is telling). This is based on my living in Boulder for several years and my 38 years working academically and professionally in transportation.

Use Effective Street Design Strategies to Meaningfully Improve Safety. Over and over again, for a century, Boulder has applied “The Five Warnings:” applied more Warning paint, added more Warning signs, used more Warning lights, pushed more Warning education, and adopted more Warning traffic law enforcement. It hasn’t worked. Streets are more dangerous than ever. Warnings don’t work partly due to diminishing returns caused by excessive, redundant warnings that now clutter our streets.

Instead, for a noticeable improvement in traffic safety, Boulder must substantially redesign its roads and streets. Design roads to induce slower, more attentive driving. Phase out “forgiving” design. Restore and make permanent the funding for traffictra calming design (a citywide effort to create narrower/greener streets, traffic circles, roundabouts, smaller intersections, curb bulb-outs, slow streets, chicanes, etc.). Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases.

Ratchet Down Use of Underpasses and Overpasses. With the possible exception of the Boulder Creek Path, underpasses or overpasses provide very little bang for a very expensive buck. Money saved by building less underpasses or overpasses can fund a great deal of traffic calming for many years, provide a lot more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and substantially improve neighborhood quality of life. Deciding underpasses or overpasses are needed should be a message that streets and intersections are too large. They also show that the City has given up on EVER humanizing and greening that street.

Provide Parking Efficiently. Underpriced/free parking is a fertility drug for increasing the number of car trips. Parking also makes an area less compact, less walkable, less safe, and more of a dead zone. In the Boulder town center, new parking should only occur within parking garages, and only to replace existing surface parking spaces (ie, no net increase). Excessive parking is a problem citywide, and must be controlled by converting minimum parking requirements to maximums. The City must annually survey the total number of parking spaces in the town center to ensure that the total number is not increasing over time (it should be decreasing). Free or underpriced parking artificially encourages car use and promotes excessive provision of parking. Improve fairness in funding via increased use of user fees such as parking, a VMT fee, and pay-at-the-pump car insurance. Require that the cost of parking be unbundled from the price of new housing.

Install Beautifying Raised Medians. Too many Boulder streets have dangerous, ugly continuous left-turn lanes. North Broadway, east Pearl, and Arapahoe are examples where “turn pockets” can replace continuous left-turn lanes.

Restore Two-Way Streets. Many cities throughout the nation have converted one-way streets back to two-way operation because it is now widely known that one-ways are extremely dangerous, inconvenient, deadly for retail and homes, and induce excessive driving. The one-way loop in town center Boulder should be restored to two-way operation.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. The City should either hire one or more people to monitor such conditions on a regular basis, provide an easy and high-visibility way for bicyclists and pedestrians to report on problems they encounter, or both.

Control Size. The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. In other words, because most all Americans travel by car, one of the most common desires expressed by citizens is larger parking lots, wider roads, and bigger intersections. Yet this constant refrain has left Boulder with oversized spaces that are dangerous and utterly lack any sense of charm – what I call the “gigantism” disease. The urbanist (and the transportation engineer) must therefore regularly urge their community to resist this temptation, as smaller, human-scaled spacing is a fundamental key to lovability, public health and safety, and happiness. Given this, Boulder must hire one or more enthusiastic new urbanist transportation engineers who have a track record in reducing transportation infrastructure sizes.

Keep Service Vehicles Small in Size. Overly large fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles obligate traffic engineers to use excessive (and therefore dangerous) street and intersection dimensions to accommodate oversized vehicles. This can be avoided by ensuring that fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles are relatively small in size.

Require City Staff to Use Plain English and Avoid Biased Terms. Boulder transportation documents and presentations should not use language that is biased toward car travel. Use “plain English” as much as possible. Adopt a plain English and Unbiased Communication Stylebook.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. Boulder has a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Boulder must do what it can to provide a much larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations. Accessory dwelling units and co-ops should be allowed “by right” in single-family zoning (and without a requirement that off-street parking be required), form-based (rather than conventional use-based) zoning should be applied throughout most or all of the city, density and height limits need to be increased in many parts of the city – particularly near transit routes, the maximum number of unrelated people who are allowed to live in a home needs to be increased, mixed use zoning should be more widely allowed throughout the city, and on-street parking needs to be installed on a great many city streets.

Adopt the “Idaho Law.” Cities in Colorado such as Aspen have adopted the “Idaho Law” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. This simply makes legal what the vast majority of cyclists already do, and encourages more cycling by making cycling much more advantageous.

Remove Barriers to Conversion of Surface Parking Lots. The conversion of parking lots to buildings should be extremely easy – particularly at older shopping centers. In the town center, remove any regulatory barriers to that conversion by eliminating parking requirements, softening stormwater requirements in the town center, etc.

Fee-in-lieu of Parking.  To reduce the enormous and wasteful amount of space consumed by surface parking lots, allow developers to pay a fee-in-lieu of parking and use that revenue to create public parking (preferably in space-efficient stacked parking garages).

Conclusion

I do not intend to suggest that a huge number of cities in the US are doing a lot better than Boulder on this list of 13 strategies. They are not. But some cities – cities that have a lot less brainpower and a lot less money – are adopting some of these strategies more boldly than Boulder.

Who to blame for Boulder (and nearly all other US cities on nearly all of these strategies) being so backward in transportation and land use? My broken record answer is that I believe it started a century ago when cars emerged, which locked nearly all US cities in a self-perpetuating downward cycle that leads large numbers of citizens to be obligated to politically press for happy cars rather than happy people. After decades of that effort, a much larger number of citizens are now car cheerleaders who have become obligated to be dead set against most or all of the 13 strategies I list above.

When citizens are thereby trapped in auto-dependency, there is very little that elected officials or staff can proactively do. At the margin, aggressive and exceptionally courageous officials and staff can strive to adopt prices that signal citizens to incrementally live a less car-dependent life (cash-out, paid parking, unbundled parking, road tolls, etc.), eliminate required parking rules, shrink roadways and parking lots, etc. Passively, officials and staff can keep their fingers crossed that a gas crisis or energy crisis or economic crisis gives citizens a kick in the pants.

In sum, I believe Boulder and nearly all US cities are decades away from moving away from the car-dependence downward spiral. It matters very little who is elected or what ideas are employed, because in the US (where I agree with the observation I saw recently that US cities have too much democracy – ie, we too often allow unschooled, emotional citizens to make decisions that professionals should be making — like we do with medicine, for example), too many citizens live in a world where a life other than a car-based life is impossible, and will not elect or support officials who do not pamper car travel. Citizens in nearly all cities – including Boulder – are forced to make the world a better place for car travel rather than a better place for people.

Many Boulder friends I discuss the above issues with speak wistfully about how much they miss the way Boulder was when they first moved here. It strikes me that nearly all of what they miss (quieter, smaller, safer, easier to bike and walk, etc.) has been lost in Boulder because like nearly every other American city, Boulder was not wise enough to avoid the seductive trap: Failing to realize that making car travel easy is not a way to protect quality of life. It is instead a recipe for ruin. Boulder has thrown away so much of its lovable charm by trying to make cars happy, and in the process destroyed so much of what it had that people loved.

I am sad to see Zane leaving. He has been a friend and political ally of mine (we served together on the Transportation Advisory Board). I wish him well.

 

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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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Boulder’s Most Needed Transportation Reforms

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2018

As I stepped down after my five-year term on the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) in March 2018, I left with the following thoughts about the most pressing transportation reforms needed by Boulder – a city that is surprisingly behind the times regarding transportation despite its progressive reputation.

First, I was often attacked for being “anti-car” and convincing the city to take harmful transportation actions. This is laughable. The role of TAB is completely reactive. TAB serves only as a rubber stamp for proposals by the city, and never has the opportunity to proactively suggest transportation reforms to the city.

The following are transportation reforms I would have suggested for Boulder had I ever been asked (I was never asked, which is telling). This is based on my living in Boulder for several years and my 35 years working academically and professionally in transportation.

The Five Warnings Don’t Improve Safety. Over and over again, for a century, Boulder has applied more Warning paint, added more Warning signs, used more Warning lights, pushed more Warning education, and adopted more Warning enforcement. It hasn’t worked. Streets are more dangerous than ever. Warnings don’t work partly due to diminishing returns caused by excessive, redundant warnings that now clutter our streets.

Redesign Streets. Design streets to induce slower, more attentive driving. Phase out “forgiving” design. Restore and make permanent the funding for traffic calming design (a citywide effort to create narrower/greener streets, traffic circles, roundabouts, smaller intersections, curb bulb-outs, slow streets, chicanes, etc.). Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases.

Ratchet Down Use of Underpasses and Overpasses. With the possible exception of the Boulder Creek Path, underpasses or overpasses provide very little bang for a very expensive buck. Money saved by building less underpasses or overpasses can fund a great deal of traffic calming for many years, provide a lot more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and substantially improve neighborhood quality of life. Deciding underpasses or overpasses are needed should be a message that streets and intersections are too large. They also show that the City has given up on EVER humanizing and greening that street.

Provide Parking Efficiently. Underpriced/free parking is a fertility drug for increasing the number of car trips. Parking also makes an area less compact, less walkable, less safe, and more of a dead zone. In the Boulder town center, new parking should only occur within parking garages, and only to replace existing surface parking spaces (ie, no net increase). Excessive parking is a problem citywide, and must be controlled by converting minimum parking requirements to maximums. The City must annually survey the total number of parking spaces in the town center to ensure that the total number is not increasing over time (it should be decreasing). Free or underpriced parking artificially encourages car use and promotes excessive provision of parking. Improve fairness in funding via increased use of user fees such as parking, a VMT fee, and pay-at-the-pump car insurance. Require that the cost of parking be unbundled from the price of new housing.

Install Beautifying Raised Medians. Too many Boulder streets have dangerous, ugly continuous left-turn lanes. North Broadway, east Pearl, and Arapahoe are examples where “turn pockets” can replace continuous left-turn lanes.

Restore Two-Way Streets. Many cities throughout the nation have converted one-way streets back to two-way operation because it is now widely known that one-ways are extremely dangerous, inconvenient, deadly for retail and homes, and induce excessive driving. The one-way loop in town center Boulder should be restored to two-way operation.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. The City should either hire one or more people to monitor such conditions on a regular basis, provide an easy and high-visibility way for bicyclists and pedestrians to report on problems they encounter, or both.

Control Size. The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. In other words, because most all AmericansArapahoe Ave Boulder CO

travel by car, one of the most common desires expressed by citizens is larger parking lots, wider roads, and bigger intersections. Yet this constant refrain has left Boulder with oversized spaces that are dangerous and utterly lack any sense of charm – what I call the “gigantism” disease. The u

rbanist (and the transportation engineer) must therefore regularly urge their community to resist this temptation, as smaller, human-scaled spacing is a fundamental key to lovability, public health & safety, and happiness. Given this, Boulder must hire one or more enthusiastic new urbanist transportation engineers who have a track record in reducing transportation infrastructure sizes.

Keep Service Vehicles Small in Size. Overly large fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles obligate traffic engineers to use excessive (and therefore dangerous) street and intersection dimensions to accommodate oversized vehicles. This can be avoided by ensuring that fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles are relatively small in size.

Require City Staff to Use Plain English and Avoid Biased Terms. Boulder transportation documents and presentations should not use language that is biased toward car travel. Use “plain English” as much as possible. Adopt a plain English and Unbiased Communication Stylebook.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. Boulder has a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Adopt the “Idaho Law.” Cities in Colorado such as Aspen have adopted the “Idaho Law” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. This simply makes legal what the vast majority of cyclists already do, and encourages more cycling by making cycling much more advantageous.

Remove Barriers to Conversion of Surface Parking Lots. The conversion of parking lots to buildings should be extremely easy. In the town center, remove any regulatory barriers to that conversion by eliminating parking requirements, softening stormwater requirements in the town center, etc.

Fee-in-lieu of Parking.  To reduce the enormous and wasteful amount of space consumed by surface parking lots, allow developers to pay a fee-in-lieu of parking and use that revenue to create public parking (preferably in space-efficient stacked parking garages).

 

Background

Human-scaled streets and intersections. Many roadways and intersections have grown enormous in size in Boulder. Roads such as East Arapahoe, Canyon, Colorado, 28th Street, and Baseline now have such a large number of travel lanes and turn lanes that pedestrians and bicyclists must now cross an enormous distance made more daunting by the high speed car traffic on these roads. Anything more than 3 or 4 lanes is extremely dangerous to cross, and these roadways now contain up to 7 or 8 lanes. This oversizing has been driven by an effort to promote “free-flowing” traffic – even at rush hour. Given the enormous size of cars (a person consumes 17 to 100 times more space in a car than in a chair), and the large number of regional commuters coming to Boulder each day, retaining “free-flowing” traffic — even at rush hour — is a recipe for finding yourself oversizing streets and intersections. Boulder has certainly done that. By doing so, Boulder now has a number of oversized roads that are too big for a city, too big for safe bicycling or walking, and too big to have any reasonable chance to achieve “vision zero” for crashes (reducing the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero). To put the oversizing problem in perspective, if we want to carry 50,000 people per hour in each direction of a road, we’d need one lane worth of road if they are carried by train, two lanes if carried by bus, and 18 lanes if carried by car. Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases, and transform or repurpose oversized roads and intersections (no more than one turn lane at intersections, no more than two travel lanes in the town center, and no more than four travel lanes outside town center). Neck down streets and intersections with bulb-outs, circles, roundabouts, and raised medians.  Canyon and Broadway in the town center should be transformed into two travel lanes, bus pull-outs, and left turn pockets.

Adopt effective traffic safety tactics to Replace Forgiving Design. At the dawn of the auto age a century ago, nearly all American cities – including Boulder — adopted forgiving roadway design. Forgiving design “forgives” a motorist for driving too fast or not paying attention by increasing the width of travel lanes, adding travel lanes, and removing “obstacles” from the areas flanking roads (trees, buildings, etc.). The naïve thought was that this would reduce the number of things motorists would crash into. The unintended consequence, however, was that this design significantly increased motorist speeding and inattentiveness, as a motorist tends to drive as fast and as inattentively as the roadway design allows. The result of forgiving design is that there is an epidemic in motorist speeding and inattentiveness – aggravated by the concurrent epidemic in sleep deprivation that causes most all of us to occasionally fall asleep at the wheel. For improved safety, use design that obligates motorists to be more responsible for (and attentive to) driving safety by, for example, reducing the emphasis on victim-blaming warning signs, flashing lights, street paint, education, and traffic signals, and putting much more emphasis on street design that obligates slower speeds and attentive driving. Such traffic calming tactics involve creating more modest street dimensions (via such things as on-street parking, bulb-outs, traffic circles, etc.). Phase out “forgiving” street design.

Humanize streets. Use traffic calming tactics to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “Give-Way” streets. Install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped (and sufficiently large!) traffic circles and roundabouts. Restore annual City funding for the neighborhood traffic mitigation (traffic calming) program.

Provide parking more efficiently. Require businesses above a certain size to only offer priced or cash-out parking, substantially increase the percentage of parking that is priced citywide, convert minimum parking requirements to maximum parking, allow most or all business parking to be shared, create a fee-in-lieu of parking in the town center, remove barriers to replacing excess surface parking with buildings, allow no net increase in town center parking.

Improve pedestrian safety and street aesthetics where there are now continuous left turn lanes. Install raised medians at East Pearl Street, Broadway (Meadow to US 36), and Arapahoe Ave (turn pockets/raised medians). Raised medians should be designed to be “mountable” by large service vehicles and emergency vehicles.

Convert one-way to two-way. To substantially improve retail and residential health, improve comfort and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce wrong-way travel, reduce out-of-towners getting lost, reduce motorist aggravation, and reduce motorist travel distances, the one-way loop in the town center should be restored to two-way operation.

Improve funding, fairness in funding, and reduce motorist subsidy. Institute user fees via tools such as (but not limited to) priced parking, tolled roads (congestion fee), pay-at-the-pump car insurance, VMT fee, weight-based fee, mileage-based registration fee, and a mileage-based emission fee.

Don’t let service vehicles drive street design. As Peter Swift showed in his Longmont CO study, over-sized streets and intersections leads to an increase in vehicle speeds and motorist inattentiveness, which leads to an increase in injuries and deaths caused by the increased number of car crashes. This increase in injuries and deaths far exceeds the number of injuries and deaths avoided by larger fire trucks and faster fire truck speeds.

Openly acknowledge that car travel is a zero-sum game. Transportation decisions should be guided by the premise that improvements for car travel & parking, and the absence of motorist user fees, induce new car trips and nearly always reduce travel by walking, bicycling and transit. Conversely, shrinking the size of roads and intersections, and adopting motorist user fees, reduce car trips – particularly low-value car trips.

Revisit the TMP objective limiting congestion to no more than 20 percent of road mileage. This objective undermines several important Boulder objectives (quality of life, compactness, affordability, transport choice, etc.). Better measures include bike/ped/transit level of service, VMT, or trips generated.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. For too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban. And that it is never acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact, walkable development. Anywhere. The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial). One of the most effective ways to substantially increase the amount of walking, bicycling and transit use in Boulder, and one of the best ways to have those forms of travel be safer, is to create such walkable, compact, slow-speed neighborhoods where it is easy to walk or bicycle or use transit for most all daily or household needs.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. It is very difficult for even the most concerned transportation staff to monitor bicycle and walking conditions so they may be corrected in a timely way. [Note: A few years ago, I took it upon myself to inventory dangerous driveway and sidewalk “lips” that can easily upend a cyclist who is not paying attention. Attached is that inventory. I submitted it to staff and they gave me a response about which ones they could and could not address. In any event, this is an example of the monitoring that Boulder needs.]

 

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Elephants in the Room on “First and Last Mile”

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

A recent concept that has emerged in transportation planning is known as “First and Last Mile.” It refers to the beginning or end of an individual trip made primarily by transit (usually a bus or train). In many cases, people will walk or bicycle to transit if it is close enough. However, on either end of a transit trip (the “first or last mile”), the origin or destination may be very unsafe or unpleasant to walk to or from, or bicycle to or from.

When this “first and last mile” is unpleasant or unsafe, people are discouraged from using transit.

Therefore, the thinking goes, to meaningfully increase transit ridership, it is very important to ensure that this transition zone be safe, convenient, and pleasant for the pedestrian and cyclist seeking to use transit.

Lafayette, Colorado recently proposed modifications near its transit stops to improve this “first and last mile.” As is so often the case, the city was proposing the same old song and dance. The same old ineffective ideas. Wider sidewalks. More bike paths.

Therefore, I must again point out a few elephants in the room. Here is what Lafayette SHOULD be calling for to meaningfully improve the “first and last mile”:

The disconnected street pattern found in Lafayette needs more street connectivity. Without connectivity, pedestrians and bicyclists are often obligated to travel out of their way or travel on hostile, unpleasant roads.

Oversized roads and intersections need to be shrunk down in size to more human-scaled, slow-speed geometries. Such oversizing is extremely intimidating, dangerous, and unpleasant for pedestrians and cyclists. They destroy the human-scaled sense of place that draws walkers and bicyclists.

Buildings set back from the street by a large asphalt surface parking lot must be pulled up to the streetside transit stop. Not doing so prevents place-making, and creates a highly inconvenient and unsafe distance between buildings and the transit stop.

The study appears to disregard the zero-sum nature of this issue. Unless road design reverses the century-long effort to ease high-speed, high-volume, inattentive car travel, efforts to promote better and more common walking, cycling, and transit use will remain marginal and our low levels of per capita walking, cycling, and transit use will be perpetuated.

I’m sorry that despite our safety and non-car travel promotion crisis, Boulder and Boulder County are not being bold.

One of the primary problems caused by our century-long effort to build oversized, high-speed, high-capacity roadways is that because these roads and intersections become too dangerous to bike or walk on, too many are obligated to drive to transit stops. The large number driving to transit stops recruits even MORE to drive to the transit stops because we have been obligated to build big and dangerous asphalt parking lots to surround the transit stops (to provide motorist access to transit).

It would have been far better to have compact, higher density housing, offices, and retail abutting the transit stop. Doing so makes it substantially easier and safer to walk or bicycle to the transit stop because distances are much smaller and there is no need to cross large parking lots of bicycle on oversized roads or intersections.

Doing so is also a powerful way to engage in place-making – that small-town, human-scaled, slow-speed charm that so many of us desire and that is so increasingly rare these days.

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

Motorists Should Feel Inconvenienced

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2018

A common complaint that one hears – particularly in American cities – is that “parking spaces are too small” or “the roads are too congested” or “this driveway is too narrow.” General complaints about how inconvenient it is to drive a car. Is it not obvious that something must be done to make it more convenient for me to drive my car??

But in a well-designed town center, the space-consumptive motorist SHOULD feel inconvenienced. Why? Because motor vehicles consume an enormous amount of space, and herculean efforts to provide such space inevitably destroys the essential need for human scale.

For about a century, conventional traffic engineers have been too focused on the opposite: conveniencing car travel. The loss of human-scaled, slow speed, vibrant spaces is the result in nearly all American cities. Engineers tend to be single-mindedly striving to attain the objective of car movement and fail to know of the ingredients of a healthy city.

Because they have such a profound influence over the design and health of a city, I believe traffic engineers should be required to have studied walkable urban design. Or that urban designers should simply replace traffic engineers in city transportation design.

Not doing so will lead to the continuation of a century-long ruination of healthy, lovable, safe communities. The loss of communities designed for people, not cars.

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What Are the Design Attributes of a Better Town, Dom?

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2018

A friend of mine wrote to me to ask the following. “Despite the fact that I am heavily reliant on my car, I do agree with most of what you say [in this blog you wrote], Dom. But we do have to have cars, at least to some extent. I’ve often wondered what a Dom-designed town would look like. What is your Utopia, and is it the same as what you think a realistic-Utopia could be (regarding transportation)?”

Here is my response:

My belief that car driving makes us much more mean-spirited than when we walk, bicycle, or use transit is not intended to imply that no one should ever drive a car. It is mostly to warn us that excessive dependence on car travel can create a much less

Man Expressing Road Rage

An irritated young man driving a vehicle is expressing his road rage.

pleasant world, and that we must work much harder to reduce excessive (particularly low-value) car travel (and designing communities that are much less negatively affected by over-designing for cars).

A few design strategies that would help: (1) more toll roads and more priced (metered) parking, (2) converting stroads into streets by reducing their width and beautifying the now slower streets with buildings pulled up to sidewalks, (3) adding more raised medians in the middle of streets, (4) unbundling the price of parking from the cost of housing, (5) allowing employees to opt for parking cash-out, (6) creating human-scale spaces rather than gigantic car spaces (small building setbacks, small streets, small parking lots behind building, small signs, shorter street lights, etc.), (7) mixing housing with offices, retail and other jobs, (8) creating an adequate supply of walkable and drivable housing (currently we have way too much of the latter and way too little of the former), (9) moving away from the failed, unlovable architectural paradigm known as modernism and instead using timeless, classical design.

In general, the older a town happens to be, the better it does in the above features (largely because they were built before we became obsessed with cars and trapped in the happy car downward spiral). Happily, some newer towns are using some of the older, timeless patterns, so they are not awful. Examples of older towns or new towns in the US using timeless principles: Key West, St Augustine, Annapolis, Stapleton near Denver, Old Towne Arvada, Prospect, Savannah, Charleston, Seaside, Haile Plantation, and LoDo in Denver. In each case, the design is intended to make people happy, not cars. The result is charm, low speeds, and sociable ambience that people love experiencing.

Within these places designed for people, not cars, it tends to be inconvenient to get around by car. But that is exactly the way it should be, since fast, oversized metal boxes create a world that humans find repellent.

And a world within which people become frustrated, stressed, and enraged. Those toxic emotions for those trapped in car-happy places are too often when such a person is behind the wheel of a car.

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Sounding the Alarm for Traffic Safety in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2018

Recently, the Boulder (Colorado) City Council has indicated that improving traffic safety is a significant priority. And rightly so, given the surge in traffic deaths in Boulder in recent years. The City has adopted a “Vision Zero” objective (zero serious traffic injuries or deaths).

However, the Boulder program is the same old song and dance that Boulder and most every other American city have been engaged in to “improve” traffic safety. Every few years for the past century, Boulder has “redoubled its efforts” to deploy The Five W’s: (1) more Warning signs are erected; (2) more (or revised) Warning lights are installed; (3) more Warning paint is painted; (4) more Warning education is called for; and (5) more Warning enforcement is urged. But after a century of redoubling our efforts to do those things, Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever. For example, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper recently reported that traffic deaths in Boulder County were higher than they have been since at least 2004. And while Boulder was once again ranked relatively high as a bike-friendly city a few days ago, the ranking curiously but accurately noted that Boulder ranked poorly for bicycling safety.

The Five W’s path to safety has failed.

Such campaigns border on being patronizing. And traffic safety education is a form of victim-blaming.

As far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been VZaround). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. Therefore, adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Like most other cities, unfortunately, Boulder has spent the past century designing streets to enable (and therefore encourage) high speed, inattentive driving.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the “Forgiving Street” design (a design used too often by state and local traffic engineers to “forgive” motorists who drive too fast or inattentively – which thereby encourages speeding and inattentive driving) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. The Five W’s have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to severely diminishing returns.

If we are serious about achieving “Vision Zero,” we need to redesign our streets.

What if, instead of continuing to pursue The Five W’s, we start putting more of the onus on transportation engineers and motorists by designing streets and intersections that obligate slower, more attentive driving?

Such driving is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail health.

How do we humanize streets in this manner? We can, for example, install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped and sufficiently large traffic circles, raised medians and roundabouts – many in Boulder are too small. We can reduce the width of streets and travel lanes. We can shrink the size of intersections. We can remove unnecessary travel lanes – particularly on roads with four or more lanes. We can pull buildings up to streets instead of having them set behind parking lots. We can install more on-street parking. We can reduce the size of intersection turning radii. We can remove a number of town center turn and “slip” lanes. We can reduce the size of shoulders and vision triangles. We can reduce the width of driveways. We can substantially increase funding for the neighborhood traffic calming program to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “give-way” streets.

Inducing slower car speeds is essential for enhancing travel safety, effectively encouraging non-car travel, and improving town center and neighborhood quality of life. There are important reasons why a “slow cities” movement is spreading worldwide.

Boulder is not now politically ready to seriously strive to attain Vision Zero, as there is insufficient political will to do the things listed above. Years after the Folsom Street lane repurposing was put in place, many in Boulder are still screaming mad about it. Some call such traffic safety measures “impede and congest” tactics intended to “annoy” motorists and “force” them to use bicycles or transit.

Why is it not an “impede and congest” tactic intended to “annoy” bicyclists and pedestrians and “force” them to drive a car when it comes to the frequent action to enlarge intersections to have a double-left turn lane? Or install a large parking lot? Is this not a double standard?

Given this lack of political will, the City should suspend the Vision Zero goal until it is ready to deploy the tactics necessary to actually reach Vision Zero.

The 30th Street, Canyon, East Arapahoe, Colorado, and Iris projects should also be suspended for the same reason.

Shame on Boulder.

 

 

 

 

 

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