Category Archives: Transportation

Why Are Traffic Deaths So Barbarically High?

By Dom Nozzi

February 21, 2017

It is inexcusable that when we look at traffic fatalities — and the all-too-common call to reduce the number of fatalities with “safer” cars — we ignore the huge number of bicyclists and pedestrians killed by motorists.

As my op-ed in the Boulder (Colorado) Daily Camera noted recently, despite a century of “redoubling our efforts” every few years to make our roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, our roads are the most dangerous than they have ever been. Adding more road caution signsWARNING signs, WARNING paint, WARNING education, WARNING enforcement, and WARNING lights (as Boulder is once again proposing to do this year) has done nothing meaningful to make roads safer (many persuasively argue such things make our roads LESS safe).

But I’ll ignore cyclist and pedestrian deaths for the time being.

It is quite common for someone to point to an increase (or decrease) in traffic fatalities suffered by motorists and their passengers over the past year as indicative of a long-term trend – and what has allegedly caused the “trend.” But statistical principles and the complexity of transportation inform us that taking a one-year data point – and then applying a single variable to explain it – is highly unlikely to be accurate. Not nearly enough time has elapsed. And there are way too many variables when it comes to transportation.

An extremely important question I want to ask, rather than trying to explain a one-year change in fatalities, is why motorist deaths have been barbarically high for so long. The US has suffered over 30,000 traffic deaths per year since the 1930s.

And no one seems to care, when we compare concern about traffic deaths to the hysteria about drugs and terrorists and communists…

How have we gotten to this state of affairs?

First, the vast majority of motorists/Americans/elected officials have one objective that is light years more important than safety or quality of community: SPEED. Anything that slows motorists down — such as traffic congestion, road diets, traffic calming, etc. — must be furiously fought against with any and all means necessary.maxresdefault

Even in allegedly enlightened and progressive Boulder, free-flowing, high-speed car travel is head and shoulders above almost anything else as a measure of quality of life.

This single-minded focus explains why cities such as Boulder have a huge number of roads that have way too many travel lanes. Anything more than 3 is incompatible with a quality city, yet Boulder has many roadways (stroads, as Chuck Marohn would call them) that are in the 6- to 12- lane range. Anything more than 3 or 4 lanes is inevitably a recipe for a huge number of car crashes and fatalities.

More of the same thing all American communities have been doing for a century — more WARNING signs, more WARNING paint, more WARNING education, more WARNING enforcement, and more WARNING lights — will do nothing to make such monster roads anything other than on-going death traps.

Yet this same old song and dance is precisely what Boulder proposes to do as it rolls out its exciting “new” objective called “Toward Vision Zero.”

Excuse me for not being optimistic about Boulder not achieving this objective.

A related problem for almost every city — including Boulder — is the century-long use of the “forgiving road” design paradigm, which “forgives” the motorist for driving too fast or not paying attention. Using the “forgiving street” strategy, we remove street trees, make intersections and turn radii crazy big in size, create “super-elevations” at road turns, remove on-street parking, eliminate mid-block pedestrian crossings, move cyclists onto off-street paths, pull buildings away from the street and street corners, etc.

The result?

For several decades, we’ve had an epidemic of excessive speeds and inattentive driving. A great way to ramp up the death toll.

Most cities – to enable easy, high-speed car travel — have followed the path Boulder has taken over the past century regarding land use patterns by keeping densities at ridiculously low levels and strictly separated houses from shops and jobs and offices.

The result?

Distances to daily destinations are extremely lengthy, which makes it impossible for all but a tiny number of people to make ALL trips by car. That guarantees a large number of annual motorist deaths, as driving a car is inherently very dangerous — due to the fact that cars are heavy, large, able to achieve high speeds, and substantially reduce the sense of hearing and sight that a motorist has outside of a car.

One example of a destination that is now nowhere near any homes is an iconic social gathering place: the pub. Unlike in past times, it is now almost impossible to walk or bike home after having a few beers. Inevitably, that means a lot of people are driving in an inebriated state.

The “forgiving street” design paradigm has so substantially increased inattentiveness that a huge number of motorists now drive inattentively at high speeds. Again, a great way to ensure a huge number of motorists crashing and dying.

Americans are extremely busy – probably a lot more so than in the past – and the motor vehicle provides a way to save time: drive very fast. Oops. Another way to kill people in car crashes.

Solutions? The effective tactics are nearly impossible to achieve in almost any city – including Boulder — where 98 percent of the population will fight to the death to stop these safety measures from being enacted:

  1. More compact, mixed-use land use patterns so that travel distances are short enough to make walking and bicycling feasible for most people and most trips.
  2. Toss out the forgiving street paradigm in favor of designing streets that obligate slower, attentive driving.
  3. Substantially shrink the size of nearly every road and intersection.road diet before and after

But each of these essential tasks (if we are serious about achieving Vision Zero) is utterly off the table – not even something that one is allowed to mention in “polite society.”

Much of what I advocate in transportation is an “off the table” topic. My friend Jim Kunstler just pointed out that this “elephant in the bedroom” syndrome has a name. It is called the Overton Bubble.

http://thefutureprimaeval.net/the-overton-bubble/

In sum, because we are probably decades away from having the political will to opt for effective street safety methods, we will continue to see over 30,000 American motorists die every year for the remainder of our lives.

After all, speed — not safety — is what we sincerely seek.

 

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation

Transportation Comments in Advance of My Leaving for a Trip to Europe

By Dom Nozzi

May 2, 2017

My girlfriend and I would be enjoying a few weeks in the bicycling and walking paradise of Switzerland, The Netherlands, and Belgium. That meant that I would need to miss my monthly Transportation Advisory Board meeting here in Boulder CO.

As is done each month, Boulder staff had provided a staff summary of each of our agenda items. Not one to lose an opportunity to offer my critique on items before the Board, I opted to email them to fellow members before departing.

East Arapahoe Avenue Transportation Plan

Traffic growth projections (0% to 20% growth by 2040) will be strongly influenced by the design of East Arapahoe Avenue. If Boulder chooses to (1) not reduce car-carrying capacity (or increases it by, for example, expanding the size of intersections); (2) not establish more compact, mixed-use land use patterns along the corridor; and/or (3) not substantially reform car parking by reducing the high levels of required parking, parking cash-out along the corridor, and requiring a substantial increase in priced parking, the growth of car travel will be much higher than it would be otherwise.

I therefore believe it is very important that Boulder reduce car-carrying capacity, promote compact development patterns, and better manage parking to reduce excess parking problems along East Arapahoe Avenue. Note that walkable, compact land use patterns will only be induced along the corridor if car-carrying capacity is reduced.

Improving bus service along the corridor, as proposed by the draft plan, will only be cost-effective (i.e., able to induce sufficiently high transit ridership) if these three items (capacity, land use patterns, and managed parking) are implemented.

Enhanced bicycle and pedestrian safety along the corridor can only be achieved if car-carrying capacity is reduced.

The term “…LOS will be degraded…” is biased terminology. It is more objective to state that “…LOS will be such that fewer car trips can be accommodated…” Using the conventional A through F level-of-service metric is biased toward car travel, as such a metric only measures motorist delay and ignores the quality of service for other forms of travel.

It should be noted that lower LOS for car travel will induce more desirable, compact land use patterns along the corridor. Maintaining or increasing LOS for car travel will lead to less desirable, more dispersed land use patterns, more car trips, and less safety. Failing to reduce car LOS will therefore undercut several important objectives of the East Arapahoe Avenue plan.

One of the options provided by staff is for Center-running Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This option will be more difficult for transit users to walk to and from transit stops to the BRT (because of the need to cross several high-speed travel lanes). Given this problem, center-running BRT will create substantial problems for transit users, although removing car travel lanes in both directions can reduce that problem somewhat.

There is strong evidence from the transportation research literature that enhanced bus service leading to increased bus ridership will NOT reduce car trips. Much of the literature finds that increased transit ridership induces new car trips (latent demand) due to the new road capacity created by those shifting from car to transit. Reduced car trips, according to much of the literature, will only occur if car capacity is reduced, land use is more compact, and parking is reformed.

Future presentations of the East Arapahoe design options and plan need to show how the various design options will influence land use and travel. For example, No Build and other options that either retain or increase car-carrying capacity need to show how these options will result in more dispersed land use patterns, higher levels of car travel, and a reduced ability of the City meeting its objectives for this corridor.

Conversely, less car-carrying capacity will advance City efforts to achieve such objectives.

I strongly support the design option which repurposes/removes car travel lanes to a BRT-dedicated lane (I believe that would be “Alternative 3”). That option should also be shown to include land use and parking reforms.

Note that while this option is my preference of the options given, my preferred option would be to remove a travel lane in each direction and have the new curb lane be a mix of BRT and cars so that the new cross section is four and five lanes. The current cross section of six or more lanes is far too many lanes for a corridor that we seek to make more compact with future land use.

Capital Improvement Program (CIP) projects

I do not believe that the large sum of money (over $1 million?) to be spent by the City of Boulder on the 30th Street and Colorado Avenue underpass provides enough bang for the buck to be an appropriate project. I believe those dollars can be much more cost-effectively spent on other projects to promote non-car travel and promote pedestrian and bicycling safety.

The need for underpasses and overpasses are a signal that a road or intersection has grown too large for an urban location. In addition, an underpass puts off the inevitable day when the City must get around to shrinking this intersection from a suburban size to an urban size.

 

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

Fighting Against What Is Wanted

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 26, 2017

Many in Boulder CO hold contradictory views.

On the one hand, one hears a lot of folks saying they hate sprawl and cars (at least those driven by others) and the high cost of housing in Boulder.NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341

On the other hand, many of these same people hate the things that would most cost-effectively reduce those problems: compact development, accessory dwellings, increasing the number of adults who can live in a home, buildings over one or two stories, smaller setbacks, less private open space, traffic calming, restricted/priced/managed parking, and shrinking oversized roads.

Oops.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

Effective Education Tactics for Sustainable Transportation

By Dom Nozzi

April 19, 2017

A Boulder transportation planner asked me if I knew of any effective education tactics Boulder could use.

Of course I do. I’m happy to offer my thoughts and suggestions.

I’m a cultural materialist, I told him, which means that I generally only see material conditions as effective levers in changing behavior or values. If we want to effectively educate people to change their behavior or values, the tools need to be exclusively or predominantly focused on price signals, changes in our transportation infrastructure, and changes in our land use patterns.

Conventional education campaigns such as media ads or signage tend to be utterly overwhelmed, subverted, and ignored in the face of the tidal wave of societal, infrastructure, and price signals. We can, for example, run ads or put up signs that urge people to bicycle or walk or use transit more, but that “education” is completely drowned out by counter messages in our world: Roads are too wide and too high speed, 2325691674_604babedc6destinations are too far apart, and huge subsidies are granted to you if you drive a car everywhere.

Throughout every day, we are pounded with these pro-car, pro-speeding, pro-distracted-driving “education” messages. Even if Boulder spent billions to run thousands of “ride a bike for your health and for the environment” ads every hour of every day, the counter messages (material conditions) are so vast and so powerful that nearly all people realize it is completely rational to drive everywhere (and to do so at high speeds while on a cell phone).

Using the media to “educate” people to behave in a more desirable way is so temptingly easy for local governments. It is so easy, politically, because there is little or no opposition. No one is inconvenienced or forced to pay more to continue to do what they are doing.

It is also very cheap, financially. It creates the (false) impression that government is “doing something” about a problem.

The ease of education campaigns explains why governments have been engaging in such campaigns over and over again for centuries. But one must wonder: given the appalling track record in achieving meaningful results with such campaigns, are such campaigns not a form of insanity? (a common definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results)

Indeed, I consider conventional education ads such as public service announcements and other media campaigns to be so utterly ineffective that when we opt to use them, we are essentially saying we are not going to do anything about the problem – except pay lip service.

In sum, I suggest the following education campaigns: priced parking, tolled roads, attentive instead of forgiving street design, higher gas taxes, unbundled parking, road diets, compact and mixed use land use patterns, location-efficient mortgages, traffic calming, converting one-way streets back to two-way, pay-at-the-pump car insurance, a land value tax (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax), adopting the “Idaho Law” for intersections, elimination of car level-of-service standards, elimination of street hierarchies, much higher street connectivity, elimination of required parking land development regulations, stop synchronizing traffic lights for motorist speeds, reduce the size of service vehicles, reduced pedestrian crossing distances, reduced building setbacks, and required parking cash-out for all future employers.

Yes, each of these education tactics are nearly impossible, politically, in Boulder (which shows the surprising backwardness of Boulder in transportation policy). But being effective is important if we want to do meaningful things, and there are quite a few meaningful things Boulder needs to do very soon, given all the enormous problems we face. This will require leadership. It will require courage.

Is Boulder up to the task?

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Filed under Politics, Transportation

The Deadly Stew of Transportation

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 18, 2017

American society mixes together a deadly stew in transportation: We combine forgiving road design (which forgives motorists for not paying attention) with very busy lives (which inevitably induces an epidemic of motorist speeding), sleep deprivation (which inevitably leads to falling asleep at the wheel), and a car-dependent community design (which obligates most of us to drive for all our trips — and putting all those huge, heavy, high-speed metal boxes on our roads inevitably creates frustration because all the boxes of our fellow citizens are always congesting roads).

Instead of continuing our century-long, single-minded effort to maximize the speed of cars (and therefore condition motorists to expect high-speed driving), we need to more universally design our street system to obligate slower and more attentive driving forgiving(thereby conditioning motorists to expect slower speed driving — at least in cities).

Forgiving street design is not the ONLY cause of distracted, high-speed, angry driving, but I believe it counterproductively amplifies existing societal problems, such as the desire to live in dispersed, car-dependent living arrangements. Forgiving street design makes dangerous driving more frequent.

We have ramped up education and enforcement efforts every few years since the 1920s to fight dangerous driving, yet we probably have more distracted, speeding, angry driving than ever before. Even if those levels are not the highest ever, they are certainly unacceptably high today.

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No-Growthers and the Double Standard

By Dom Nozzi

April 14, 2017

American communities, for several decades, have suffered from being the home of a great many citizens with two toxic beliefs: No-growthers, who oppose nearly all proposed developments, and the Double Standard crowd.

A shocking number of Americans (including nearly everyone in Boulder CO, where I live) hold two incompatible, all-about-me views at the same time: “I MUST OWN AND USE A CAR FOR ALL MY TRIPS, AND MY CAR MUST BE HEAVILY PAMPERED AND SUBSIDIZED BY SOCIETY!”

The second view, which is held by the very same people (especially in Boulder): “I HATE THAT OTHER PEOPLE OWN AND USE CARS AND WE MUST STOP DEVELOPMENT OR MINIMIZE DENSITY SO THAT WE KEEP THOSE CARS FROM CONGESTING ‘MY’ STREETS AND ‘MY’ PARKING LOTS!”Man Expressing Road Rage

No growthism, and applying double standards when it comes to acceptable behavior, are a recipe for a grim future. Neither attitude is in any way sustainable.

And it appears that there is little hope we will see much change in this regard.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

Are Cell Phones the Main Cause of a Recent Increase in Traffic Fatalities?

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2017

It is surprisingly difficult to isolate causes of crash/fatality trends in driving. One source has made the persuasive case a while back that the only good correlation we can find is based on the health of the national economy, of all things.

In any event, pointing to something like cell phones is a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” method that distracts people from a major cause of crashes: our roads are shockingly dangerous in how they are designed. And this follows over 100 16598647019_2c1634cb89_zyears of annual campaigns to make roads safer. Talk about a failed track record. Talk about a need to change course on our efforts to improve safety…

The US has seen over 30,000 people die on the roads EACH YEAR since the 1940s. Cell phones did not arrive until the 80s or 90s. The number of annual deaths is a crazy high number and should be utterly unacceptable to any civilized society. Given the American love of the death penalty, our failure to adopt universal health care, our 240 years of being a Warrior Nation, and our abusive criminal justice system, a great case can be made that the good old USA is one of the most uncivilized nations in human history (probably at least partly due, ironically, to our high level of religious belief – which is infamous for inspiring hatred, violence, and intolerance).

I agree that cell phones (and many other distractors) are very dangerous for a driver to engage in while driving. But we need to keep our eye on the ball. We’ve had over 100 years of failed efforts to make driving safe.

In sum, if no driver ever used a cell phone again, we’d STILL be seeing over 30,000 traffic fatalities in the US each year.

In my view, successfully reducing the number of drivers distracted by cell phone use is unlikely to produce the safety benefits we expect. Efforts to point to cell phones as a silver bullet solution to making our roads significantly safer is quite likely to distract us from the much more important, pressing fact that our car-happy transportation system is inherently deadly (largely due to car-happy, “forgiving” road design and a dispersed land use pattern that requires us to drive everywhere — and at high speeds).

 

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