Category Archives: Sprawl, Suburbia

Opposition to More Housing or Better Urbanism

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 19, 2019

Often, but not always, opposition to compact development (or more housing) comes from folks who either don’t like cities or don’t have a good understanding of what makes for healthy, safe, sustainable, diverse, convenient, choice-rich cities.

Other opposition, understandably, is based on the many of us who are appalled by the many newer buildings which are too often unlovable, boxy, jarring, look-at-me modernist architecture.

Still others oppose more housing because they believe that such development will make their car-based lifestyle more costly and difficult (a concern that is more suburban than walkable urban). But in a healthy town center, it SHOULD be costly and inconvenient for space-hogging, high speed motorists.

I’ve never been enthusiastic about “educating” people about the benefits of compact urbanism (such as adding more housing). I think there are different strokes for different folks, and that we should equitably accommodate all lifestyle choices (even suburban choices), as long as people choosing such lifestyles are paying their fair share. Of course, this is rarely the case with suburban lifestyles, which tend to be far more heavily subsidized by the community than any other lifestyle.

There is a place for every form of lifestyle, but I insist that we need to let the urban town centers be urban, rather than be degraded by suburban (car-happy) values (ie, the values that deliver design elements that are toxic to walkable urbanism, such as excessive open space or building setbacks, low densities, wider and higher-speed roads, large surface parking lots, required parking, “horizontal skyscrapers,” and single-family zoning).

Too often, this toxic degradation harms town centers, as America is a very suburban society with suburban values. Even many who live in town centers have suburban values they wish to impose on the town center, which is unsurprising, given the many decades America has subsidized and enabled suburbanism.

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The Hidden Costs of Suburban Housing

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 25, 2018

People understandably assign value to being proximate to things they desire or need. Walkscore.com shows this quite well, as does the real estate values seen in central cities such as Manhattan. Not only do the per square foot costs of real estate tend to be higher due to proximity, but centrally-located real estate also tends to be more resilient in economic downturns. We saw that clearly in the 2007-8 housing crash, where land in the burbs crashed significantly and many in-town properties were hardly affected at all.

Therefore, the burbs offer a “false economy” in many cases. Lower per square foot costs means you can typically buy a lot more house in the burbs than in a town center. But there are many (mostly hidden) trade-off costs. You tend to pay less in the burbs for your home, but in exchange you must pay the costs of less convenience, less free time (due to longer times needed to get to places), less “social capital” (in other words, less interaction with others), poorer health (due to your not biking or walking as much in the burbs), much higher travel costs due to the need for a household to own more cars and use cars more often, and much more aggravation due to the inability to escape traffic congestion. In my mind, all of these mostly hidden costs in the burbs far outweigh per square foot savings for suburban homes.

In a well-functioning economy, buyers of suburban homes would clearly see the above-listed costs, which would reduce the (artificially high) demand for suburban housing. Likewise, there would be higher demand for town center homes if the mostly hidden benefits of such housing were easier to see.

Fortunately for our society, the younger generations are placing more value on town center living and less value on suburban living. Unfortunately, America has spent several decades mostly building suburban housing (partly due to artificially high demand), which means that pretty much all US cities now have far too much drivable suburban housing and far too little town center housing. This inflates the per square foot cost for town center housing. Therefore, American cities need to devote a lot of effort toward better balancing the supply and demand of walkable town center housing by building a lot more of it — partly by incrementally making a lot of suburban housing more compact and walkable. Increasing the supply of town center housing will eventually reduce the per square foot cost of it. This will be a major task in the coming decades. Plenty of demolition and renovation jobs are on the horizon.

I am not saying suburban housing will disappear or that no one will want it or that it should be prohibited. There are likely to always be people in our society who greatly value a lifestyle featuring a lot of driving, a lot of social isolation, large private greenspaces, large homes, etc. (they place so much value on such things that they compensate for the downside costs). For the sake of equity, however, such a lifestyle must be better coupled with suburban homeowners paying higher fees to compensate for the higher detrimental societal impacts their lifestyle imposes on the community.

It needs to be noted, too, that suburban development tends to be a Ponzi Scheme for cities. That is, their initial costs look attractive to elected officials, but cities tend to experience unaffordable, rising costs that suburban housing delivers over the long term — costs that are much higher than the relatively meager tax revenues that such lower-density housing produces. This helps explain why so many cities are severely suffering financially with things like road and bridge maintenance.

https://www.strongtowns.org/the-growth-ponzi-scheme/

Communities need to grow the number of “YIMBYs” they have (YES in my backyard). That generally means the community needs a higher percentage of people who love cities (rather than drivable suburbs). This will be a slow process and take a lot of time, as cities have spent several decades cultivating and encouraging the values of suburbia. Therefore, even many who live in town centers are, oddly, holding suburban values.

Over time these suburban values will decline as such values have very little sustainable staying power (such a lifestyle is growing increasingly expensive, for example, for households and cities), and younger people with walkable values will constitute a growing percentage of the population.

Officials and staff can nudge communities to more quickly move toward having a higher percentage of citizens with walkable values by electing leaders who are willing and able to see to it that “on the ground” models of high quality walkable developments are created in the community. That allows people to “see with their own eyes and ears” how pleasant walkable design can be.

That can persuade a larger number of community residents to be amendable to walkable design, which then encourages developers to take advantage of that growing market by building more walkable developments. And gives elected officials more political courage to adopt walkable development regulations.

Elected folks can also show leadership by tweaking “price signals.” For example, leaders can adopt or increase parking fees, increase the gas tax, add a toll to roads, increase suburban impact fees, or adopt a land value tax. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax

Currently, almost all of our price signals are nudging people toward suburban lifestyles and value systems — mostly by pampering motorists and not having motorists pay their own way.

 

 

 

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Self-Perpetuating Doom

By Dom Nozzi

A superb, must-read article describing the grim, isolating future that a great many older Americans face appeared in the fall of 2018. The article noted that the suburban lifestyle will greatly diminish the ability for most seniors in the US to be able to make trips from their homes. They will, in effect, be trapped in their homes as they will be unable to visit friends, shop for food or other household needs, visit a doctor, or visit parks and cultural events.

Self-driving cars won’t be a remedy for a long time, if ever.

I have made many of the points in this article repeatedly over the years.

It is important to catch the point in the article that town planners do NOT have the ability to rectify this important crisis, as US planners have almost no power to implement effective tools. This is largely because most Americans are NIMBYs who fight aggressively to allow no change to their suburban lifestyle. In other words, planners are met with violent, raging opposition from citizens when tactics to escape this grim future are proposed. There is, for example, extreme opposition to more compact, dense development. More narrow, slower-speed street design. Retrofitting bicycling and walking paths. And mixing homes with offices and retail.

This is ultimately quite tragic, as many will regret their diminished lack of future travel independence.

As I have noted a number of times, I’m convinced that only a severe economic, environmental, climate or resource downturn will give us the kick in the ass we need to change. Unfortunately, it has also been said by someone else that throughout history, whenever a society had to choose between extinction (maintaining its lifestyle) or sustainability (thru making substantial changes in lifestyle), the society in question has ALWAYS chosen extinction.

What makes the extinction of the American way of life so likely is that unlike past societies, ours is uniquely locked into a self-perpetuating car-centric suburban land use pattern at the local level and the military-industrial complex at the federal level.

A recipe for essential reforms at the local level, once a severe kick in the pants emerges, includes…

Removal of required car parking requirements.

Elimination of conventional zoning-based codes with transect-based and form-based codes.

The use of more human-scaled dimensions for streets, intersections and building setbacks.

Putting many roads and intersections on diets (ie, removing excessive road lanes).

Replacing surface parking with buildings.

Replacing free parking and free roads with priced parking and priced roads

Unbundling the price of parking from the price of housing.

Requiring that employers offer employees parking cash-out.

Shifting to a land value tax (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax).

Adopting low design speed street geometries and ending the forgiving street design paradigm.

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

An Important Cause of the “No Growth” Movement

By Dom Nozzi

December 11, 2018

Cities across the US – particularly cities such as Boulder, Colorado – have seen a significant rise in citizens aggressively fighting to stop growth. Terms such as NIMBY or No-Growther describe such people.

What are the origins of this movement?

I believe an important source originates with the car-happy world we have created, which is a self-perpetuating downward spiral in which a growing number of people find themselves obligated to be so car dependent. Cars consume a huge amount of space, 40 people BWwhich leads to significant inconvenience when other motorists are in one’s vicinity. You and your neighbors are jostling for elbow room with each of you owning and trying to maneuver a very large metal box. Therefore, such a lifestyle inevitably compels most such people to fight to either stop growth or at least minimize density and building height.

Because their car consumes so much space, motorists are also compelled to demand that the human scale in their community be replaced by an unsafe, unpleasant car scale (ie, oversized roads and parking lots). In other words, a great many people in a car-oriented society become their own worst enemies. They also tend to become enemies of what makes cities wonderful (compactness, sociability, slower speeds).

My question is this: Why do people who dislike cities choose to live in a city?

 

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The Case Against the Colorado Transportation Sales Tax (Proposition 110)

By Dom Nozzi

November 1, 2018

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 trivial 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, highway widening2highways, and intersections. Negatives: 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, 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 billions of 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 because, after all, it is “good” in the sense that we are at the same time giving $10,000 to the UN.

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.

110 is, quite simply, a Faustian bargain.

As an aside, 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.

We should never again widen roads or intersections, and instead should set about shrinking them to a safer, more sustainable human scale. We continue to fail to learn this existential lesson even though the road and intersection widening juggernaut has done nothing but ruin us for the past century.

We remain very far from learning such a fundamental lesson.

 

Dom Nozzi has almost 40 years of academic and professional work in the field of transportation, and is a lifetime bicycle, walking, and transit commuter. He has lived in Boulder since 2009.

 He has a Master’s degree in town and transportation planning. Master’s thesis topic: Bicycle Transportation (1985). He has been a bicycle commuter in Rochester NY, Flagstaff AZ, Plattsburgh NY, Tallahassee FL, Gainesville FL, Bloomington IN, and Boulder CO. He was the lead planner for the Gainesville FL greenway transportation system (1993-1996). He was a member of the Alachua Greenway Alliance in Gainesville FL (1994-1996). He was a member and Vice Chair of the Design Team for the Gainesville FL Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (1998-2007). For Gainesville FL, he wrote the Gateway Streets ordinance, the Greenway ordinance, the Street Connectivity ordinance, and regulations to preserve and enhance the livability of neighborhoods — traffic calming, transect, pedestrian and traditional design (1986-2007), He wrote a pedestrian-oriented form-based code for the Gainesville FL town center (1998). He wrote the long-range transportation mobility plan for Gainesville FL (2000-2010). He served on the Board of Directors for Bike/Walk Virginia (2009). He was a member of the Association of Pedestrian & Bicycle Professionals (2008-2014). He is a nationally certified Complete Streets Instructor. He co-instructed seven Complete Streets workshops in various US cities in 2009 and 2010. He has delivered 93 public speeches pertaining to transportation in cities throughout the nation (1992-present). He has published two books on the topic of transportation (The first one – Road to Ruin – was published by Praeger Press, one of the leading academic publishers in the nation. Praeger has placed that book in hundreds of university libraries throughout the nation). He was a contributing author to New Urbanism and Beyond (2008).Designing for Sustainable Transportation & Quality of Life. He has served as an adjunct professor giving full-day course instruction at the University of Colorado Continuing Education and Professional Studies, Boulder CO (2010, 2011). He served on the PLAN-Boulder County Board of Directors (2014-2016) (while on that Board, he authored the transportation “position paper” for that organization). He served on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board (2013-2018; Vice-Chair 2016-17).

 

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

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

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