Category Archives: Transportation

Suggestions for Reducing Noise Pollution in Asheville NC

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Drunk Driving and Car-Dependent Suburbs

By Dom Nozzi

Drunk driving is far more prevalent today than it was in the past, and it is not because people drink more today than in the past, or that drunk driving was more harshly punished in the past. The increase in drunk driving is largely caused by our creating a society where driving everywhere is mandatory.

For example, neighborhood-based Third Places (such as pubs) have been removed from residential neighborhoods by making it illegal to locate them there. When Third Places were removed from neighborhoods, drinking did not stop. What DID stop was drinking then walking home. Now, a very large number of people are obligated to drink and then DRIVE home. This is one of countless reasons why a car-dependent society is unsustainably costly and has no future.

Ray Oldenburg describes this very well in his The Great Good Place.

By the way, one obvious tactic for sanctioning drunk drivers is to take away their drivers license. But this law is very difficult to adopt, and again, our car-based society is to blame. After all, in a society where every single trip must be made by car, a law that takes away a drivers license makes it nearly impossible for a person to survive in his or her world. That means that a lot of people — particularly those in positions of power — will fight very hard against adoption of such a law.

In sum, the long-term strategy to significantly reduce drunk driving is not harsh laws or long jail terms. It is returning to the timeless tradition of designing walkable communities — in part by making it legal to once again allow the establishment of shops and pubs and groceries and offices in neighborhoods.

I hope to see the day when we end our brief, ruinous, incredibly costly experiment of building car-happy suburbs.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Walking

A Call to Arms for Dramatically Improved Public Health and Safety

A Manifesto

By Dom Nozzi

There is an old, well-known Chinese adage that from crisis comes opportunity. The pandemic we are now in is a severe crisis, and for all of us today, a crisis that pushes us into uncharted waters.

Fortunately, we can leverage this health crisis to create significantly better public health and public safety through timeless transportation and urban design principles that were once nearly universal, yet have languished over the past century – much to the detriment of public health and safety.

A Time of Crisis

We face a number of crises that are growing in magnitude. At the top of our minds today is the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis arose lightning fast and we are all laser-focused on it as a result of the 24/7 coverage by all media outlets.

But there are three other enormous societal crises that seem less immediately important, but only because they have been slow-motion problems for several decades, rather than emerging overnight like the pandemic. These other societal problems are akin to the “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” syndrome, where most of us don’t notice the water slowly heating, so we don’t jump out of the pot in time to save ourselves. Those slow-motion emergencies include:

  1. Traffic Safety. For the past 70 years, the number of traffic fatalities in the US has ranged from 35,000 to 55,000 deaths per year. This is the equivalent to one hundred 747 jetliners crashing and killing everyone aboard every year, or two fully loaded 747s crashing and killing everyone aboard every week. This is barbaric, and a death rate no civilized society should tolerate.
  2. Physical Fitness. Our society is facing a severe public health crisis. Obesity and other significant lifestyle-related health problems have skyrocketed in recent decades. For the first time in history, the youngest generation is not expected to live as long as the generation that preceded it.
  3. Woefully Poor Financial Health. All levels of government and millions of American households are facing severe financial troubles. The United States, for example, is by far the world’s largest debtor nation.

The good news is that as the Chinese taught us, we can find ways to turn these threatening crises into exciting opportunities to create a stronger, healthier, happier future. We already know a great deal about these opportunities to move us out of these crises, and most of them are not difficult or costly to implement.


For positive opportunities to emerge, we need to have the courage to boldly innovate. But to innovate, we need to be aware of misconceptions.

  1. Pandemic Infections. Conventional wisdom wrongly informs too many of us today that going forward, we will have lower infection rates and better public health if we continue moving toward more dispersed, lower-density land use patterns. But our best science informs us that this is simply not true. Data clearly shows that there is no connection between city density and infection rates or death rates. This is because a person’s likelihood of infection is largely tied to prolonged indoor exposure rather than the density of housing in a neighborhood. Prolonged indoor exposure (including being inside a car) is as likely in lower-density communities as higher-density communities – maybe more so. And recovery from infection is connected to readily available, higher-quality medical services. Such medical services tend to be more available in denser cities than in less-dense communities.
  2. Traffic Safety and Managing Congestion. Again, tens of thousands have died on American roads every year for the past century. Indeed, it is also arguable that after a century of improved safety efforts, our roads are now more dangerous than ever in many communities. This shocking, long-term traffic safety failure is largely based on a societal over-emphasis on single-mindedly promoting car travel, and our failure to learn that conventional congestion reduction tactics only make our roads more congested and less safe over time. Another factor is our century-long use of the “forgiving roadway” design strategy, which “forgives” an inattentive, speeding motorist in part by removing things such a motorist can crash into. The result is a large and growing epidemic of inattentive motorists who too often drive too fast. A third major reason for our century of failure in reducing traffic deaths is that we are suffering greatly diminishing returns in our century-long use of the ineffective “Five W’s.” To improve traffic safety, we persist in calling for more of the following: (1) Warning signs; (2) Warning lights; (3) Warning paint; (4) Warning enforcement; and (5) Warning education. These five things are not effective in promoting traffic safety, and are becoming less effective the more we continue to use them.


Fortunately, our society does not need to come up with major new breakthroughs for seemingly impossible-to-solve problems with no solutions in sight. For decades, individuals and groups have sought to advance tactics that are time-tested and known to be effective. We describe the effective tactics below.

  1. Infections. Reducing rates of infection and deaths due to infection, according to medical professionals and science-based studies, is best achieved in communities that are designed for easy, pleasant, safe, and frequent walking and bicycling (because physically active people strengthen their immune system). That is, communities that are compact, human-scaled, and mix housing with offices and shops and schools. This design induces large numbers of people to engage in health-promoting travel and reduce health-endangering driving (driving that kills many Americans each year from crashes – not to mention the toxic car emissions, noise pollution, and physical inactivity that degrades our health). By being healthier through increased physical activity that comes from regular walking and bicycling, we strengthen our immune system, improve our lungs, promote neighborly “social capital,” reduce stress, and boost the effectiveness of vaccines. By contrast, those living in low-density residential suburbs are relatively inactive because most all of their travel must be by motor vehicle. This lifestyle weakens human immune function. And therefore makes our bodies more fragile and susceptible to disease. In a world where millions of bacteria and viruses are always near us in cities and suburbs, the key for avoiding serious infection problems is based on a strong immune system, not isolation. In sum, resilience against current and future infection is best achieved with compact, sociable places where it is easy and common to walk to shops and schools and other daily needs. A part of this is the growing interest in closing or redesigning streets to reduce infection and improve our quality of life. We know that infection rates go down more substantially when people are outdoors rather than indoors, which has led restaurant owners to ask that street space be re-allocated to non-car use by extending restaurant seating into streets. Many are noticing that during the pandemic, smog is clearing and cites are quieter due to lower levels of car travel. This has led many cities to redesign streets for more slow-speed people-oriented activity, or close streets to cars. Many streets are therefore becoming more like the shared, safe Dutch “Woonerfs” or European walking streets. This tends to induce a large community increase in walking, cycling, safety, conversation, and smiles. The good news for drivers is that lower-speed design means a reduced need for stop signs or other roadway controls, which means motorists need to stop less often.
  2. Traffic Safety and Congestion. There is a growing worldwide movement toward the keys to improved traffic safety. Those keys are centered on slowing down. “Slow Cities” and “Slow Foods” are two examples of this, and the results are impressive. Designing streets to obligate slower, more attentive driving by reducing the width or size of streets or intersections is effectively reducing crashes and traffic deaths. Traffic engineers must be given the authority to be flexible in the designs they use in street design, rather than be obligated to follow “conventional” dimensions – which tend to be excessive and induce excessive car speeds. Fortunately, the design manuals engineers use provide that flexibility, in spite of conventional wisdom. By creating slow, attentive “walking (or “open”) streets,” we are opening the door to a growth in the number of compact, convivial, front-porch oriented neighborhoods. This, in turn, results in more health-promoting community walking and bicycling, which strengthens our immune system. The more slow-speed, compact community also allows another essential benefit: It allows us to AVOID congestion (congestion that is inevitable in a healthy city). In a healthy city, the large size of cars in a car-dependent society leads to unavoidable congestion – congestion that only worsens if we widen roads, for example. Why? Because road widening induces people to drive more often. It is one of the Iron Laws of Transportation that you cannot build (or widen) yourself out of congestion. But you CAN avoid getting stuck in it with the proper community design.
  3. Finances. Low-density, car-based community design has bankrupted federal, state, and local government because the cost to provide and maintain the roads and parking lots and accoutrements for that lifestyle is fantastically high. Governments cannot afford the cost largely because density of development must be kept low to make car driving and parking reasonably tolerable. That low density does not come close to providing enough tax revenue to pay for the needed car-based transportation system. Indeed, calls these low-density suburbs that cannot pay their own way a “Ponzi-Scheme.” Households also suffer significantly in a car-based community. In a community where nearly all travel must be made by car, a household must own a larger number of cars, and the annual cost to own and operate each car now exceeds $10,000 per year. This obligation to own several cars in an American household helps explain why the cost of transportation for the American household has gone from about two percent of the total household budget 100 years ago to 22 percent (and rising) of the household budget today. Reducing the number of cars a house must own – through compact, walkable design — is therefore an effective way to create affordable housing.
  4. Resilience and Strength. The car-dependent, isolating (low social capital) suburb is highly vulnerable to serious decline in a future where we experience severe and inevitable declines or disruptions in such things as economics, energy, and climate change. That is, a car-dependent community, like physically inactive people, is extremely fragile. By striking contrast, a community designed to be compact, low-speed, and sociable is comparatively strong and resilient. A community offering several forms of active travel (walking, bicycling, and transit) is relatively able to adapt to inevitable future change or survive impacts such as a pandemic.

The desirability and rarity of human-scaled, compact, slower-speed design  in American cities highlights that an important strategy we need for a better future is associated with our cities having too much space. Too much space allocated to car travel and parking. Too much distance created between destinations. Not that we have too much in the way of parks or squares or plazas or other “open spaces,” but that we have buildings that are set back too far from sidewalks. Too many “sea of asphalt” parking lots. Roads that contain too many travel and turn lanes. Intersections that have grown too enormous. Too much distance between the home and both neighbors and the corner store.

Our first and most important task for creating the walkability that healthy, strong, and happy people the world over love is to create modest, human-scaled city spaces. To make spaces to drive and store a car smaller in size by reallocating that space to “people-oriented” activities such as restaurants or strolling – particularly in our town centers.

What Is To Be Done in America?

To best implement what we call for above, these should be our top priorities for America.

  1. Reform Our Land Use Zoning. We need higher allowable densities. We also need zoning that allows the following by right: accessory dwelling units, mini- and micro-housing, small shops and small offices, co-housing, and duplexes. Relax or eliminate setback or landscaping requirements. This reform effectively creates more affordable housing, and has been accomplished in Minneapolis and Oregon.
  2. Slow, Attentive Streets. Particularly within town centers, make slow street design (mostly through modest, human-scaled street and intersection dimensions) the default design. Calm high-speed streets with smaller street and intersection dimensions. “Forgiving Street Design” preferences overallocation of space to cars, and substantially worsens traffic safety by promoting excess speeds and inattentive driving. Replace this philosophy with “Attentive, Slow-Speed Design,” which preferences slower, safer, more human-scaled streets and intersections. One beneficial change that would result from this revised philosophy is that our streets would more likely be gracefully enveloped by street trees (street trees abutting the street tend to be discouraged by Forgiving design). End our counterproductive, century-long habit of overallocating road space to cars by putting a moratorium on road and intersection widening. America has allocated far too much urban space to car travel and storage. This undermines an enormous number of societal health and safety objectives. The health and innovative creativity of a city depends on clustering (economists call this “agglomermation economies”), and over-allocating space to cars severely undermines clustering by dispersing the city into sprawl. We need road and parking lot diets, restaurant seating expanding into roads, landscaped bulb-outs, and smaller intersections. Widening increases per capita car-based travel, worsens traffic congestion in the long-run, imposes unaffordable maintenance costs on government, degrades public health, and increases the number of traffic fatalities. America needs far more welcoming, healthy, shared streets such as Woonerfs, living streets, open streets, walking streets, and give-way streets. Making our communities and transportation systems more compact and slower speed effectively improves our ability to reduce infection and death rates, significantly improves our physical fitness, and dramatically improves the financial condition of all levels of government as well as our households.
  3. Reform parking. We need to convert minimum required parking rules to maximum allowable parking, unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing, tax parking spaces, allow housing and shops and offices to replace parking by right, and replace off-street parking with on-street parking (this is a low-cost, quick way to calm traffic, enhance business health, and put over-sized roads on a diet).
  4. User Fees. For a much more equitable and societally beneficial future, revenue needed to provide for car travel should move substantially toward user fees (such as metered parking, road tolling, or Vehicle Miles Traveled fees) rather than unfairly relying on property tax or sales taxes.
  5. Restore Passenger Rail. Restoring America’s formerly impressive passenger rail system is a powerful tool for building great neighborhoods and great cities. If we are to soon see a massive transportation infrastructure stimulus in response to the pandemic, that stimulus needs to include a big expansion in American passenger rail. For the coming decades, the emphasis should be getting the most bang (mileage) for the buck by emphasizing slow-speed rail. High-speed rail is sexy and exciting, but it buys us very little rail mileage because the cost is enormous. Some of that slow-speed rail can later become, incrementally, high-speed.
  6. Reduce the Size of Service Vehicles. For better public safety, better public health, and a higher quality of life, street dimensions should be dictated bases on slow-speed, human-scaled, place-making design. Unfortunately, American roads tend to use a “design vehicle” to dictate road dimensions. This design vehicle tends to be enormous service vehicles such as fire trucks and buses. This is backward. And substantially undermines societal objectives. Reducing service vehicle sizes used in a community is a way to escape this unintended consequence.
  7. Reform Property Taxes. Nearly all American cities strongly discourage compact, mixed use, infill development with their tax structure. Instead of strongly discouraging infill (and encouraging surface parking for land speculation) by taxing improvements to land (renovations, infill, etc.), we should be taxing the land. This has been done in Pittsburgh. It is known as a “land value tax” (or “single tax”).
  8. Convert One-Way Streets Back to Two-Way. A great many cities are implementing this reform because one-way streets undermine several community objectives. They harm residential and retail health, increase the amount of inattentive and high-speed driving, increase motorist frustration, induce more wrong-way travel, produce confusion for out-of-town motorists, increase the distances driven by car, and reduce gaps in car platoons.
  9. Better Train Transportation Engineers to Speak Objective, Plain English. Too often, professional transportation engineers use so much jargon, biased language, and bureaucratic terminology that their presentations or written recommendations are nearly incomprehensible to a non-professional audience of citizens. This is an important problem, as it is essential for neighborhood citizens to be fully aware of what is being communicated to them as problems or options or plans from professionals. Without a full comprehension, citizens are not fully able to participate in transportation discussions that are often significantly affecting their safety or quality of life. They have less ability to express their concerns about transportation. This can give too much decision making to the professional staff – including missing important information about problems to be solved. An effective way to correct this is to better train professionals to speak plainly and speak without bias. We provide guidelines in the appendix of this document.

Many of these design practices were followed for most of human history (in America, up until approximately World War II). It is time to start returning to that tradition. There is no better way to address pandemics, loss of physical health, financial woes, traffic safety, improving our transportation system, or promoting our quality of life.

Plain English and Objective Language Guidelines



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

The Dilemma and Difficulty of Designing Our Streets for Safety and a Healthy City

By Dom Nozzi

In my work over the years in town and transportation planning, I have learned that for cities to be effective in delivering one of their most important, desirable outcomes — exchange of products, services, and ideas via agglomeration – they must be designed for low speeds and human scale. That means dimensions and distances need to be modest.

The dilemma – which is the most enormous dilemma I have struggled with for most all of my professional career — is that because cars consume an enormous amount of space, and because nearly all of us have grown up and spent our entire lives traveling by car in a car-based world, we are strongly conditioned to believe that larger dimensions are desirable. That smaller dimensions are not only extremely frustrating and congesting for all of our car-based trips, but that they are, as a result, a direct threat to our quality of life – and, surely, to the quality of the city.

Nearly all of us are conditioned by our world, in other words, to believe that easing car travel and minimizing congestion is essential. Unquestionably essential. Even in a town center.

The problem is that while this is almost certainly true in the drivable suburbs, it is certainly not true in a walkable town center.

Again, to be healthy, a town center needs small dimensions and low speeds. But when nearly all of us get around in huge metal boxes, that design seems impractical and exceptionally unacceptable. Nearly all citizens, elected officials, and too many transportation staffers live a car-based life, which means there is a near consensus that even town centers must allow easy, congestion-free travel.

Many of us in the field of town and transportation planning now know this is mistaken. We know that a town center context is vastly different from a suburban context, which means the design needs to be vastly different. We know that in a town center, we have achieved an appropriate design only when large metal boxes do NOT experience easy, congestion-free travel. Large metal boxes SHOULD experience congestion in what should be a human-scaled, low-speed town center. If not, it is a clear sign that we have over-allocated for cars. Either that, or our town center is dying from abandonment.

But if nearly all of our citizens, elected officials, and staff almost always travel by car, it is extremely difficult or impossible to agree that slowing cars or higher levels of car congestion are a desirable outcome. Even though it IS desirable if our objective is a healthier town center.

We must not start with the solution – particularly in a society such as ours, where today we are unsustainably distorted toward extreme car dependence. In today’s world, that ruinously leads people to immediately conclude, by default, that easing car travel is unquestionably the solution to nearly any transportation problem.

That is backward and presumptuous.

We must start with the problem, and have the engineer (working with a designer or informed by an urban design background, if our context is a town center) recommend the best ways to solve the problem.

Again, in our car-dependent world, it is too much of a temptation for the engineer to recommend what all “right-minded” citizens (all of whom get around by car) know are the solutions from the beginning. Every day, when we drive our huge metal box, we are frustrated by slow downs and congestion. Is it not screamingly obvious what needs to be done? Why waste our valuable time by asking to solve the problem when we can cut to the chase and deploy the common-sense solutions we are all aware of? We all know that wider lanes, turn lanes, more travel lanes, slip lanes, synchronized traffic signals, lower density zoning, larger intersection turning radii, or converting to one-way street operation will ease car travel and reduce congestion. We are, in effect, stuck in the bind of an “Overton window” (a place where there are only a very limited number of politically acceptable outcomes or solutions that are allowed to be proposed). The only question is how to find the money, Mr. or Ms. Engineer.

And in the highly unlikely event that we CAN manage to start with the problem to solve rather than starting with the solution, the temptation tends to be too irresistible to avoid recommending problem-solving tools such as road or intersection diets or more narrow lanes. Nearly always, such tools are immediately shot down because they will clearly slow down or congest our driving (they are, in other words, outside of the Overton Window). They are direct threats to our way of life. They can’t possibly be good for our city. Go back and rework your numbers! Who has the courage or thick enough skin to want to propose smaller street dimensions when the nearly inevitable result will be angry opposition by citizens, officials, and even fellow staff?

As I’ve said in the past, I see only a few ways out of this trap (what I call a point of no return): We reach a financial crisis where we can no longer find enough money to keep harming our town center and our public safety by deploying the conventional congestion reduction tools. Or we experience an extreme, highly unusual, non-financial crisis such as a severe economic collapse (or perhaps a pandemic like the one we are now experiencing in 2020?). Both of those things (running out of money or economic depression) obligate us to think outside the box. Running out of money is a severe crisis, which can create an opportunity to have citizens and officials overcome their strong lifestyle desire to ease car travel and — perhaps in desperation — opt to knowingly allow car travel to become more difficult in our town center.

One could say, I suppose, that the appalling number of traffic deaths over the decades should be sufficient motivation to be innovative, but I think that is a “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” problem. The problem has been with us for so long that we have just come to accept it as an inevitable problem we must learn to live with. Our expectations for traffic safety have been lowered.

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

Reforming Our Town Center Street Design to Cope with the 2020 Pandemic

By Dom Nozzi

The 2020 Pandemic has obligated us to engage in “Social Distancing” as a way to reduce the chance of becoming infected. Our best information about the infection indicates that being indoors for a prolonged period of time is by far the most likely way to become infected. That being outdoors reduces the chance of infection significantly.

This has created severe challenges for people holding jobs that require indoor work with others, as well as for businesses that require patrons to be inside a business for retail or dining in a restaurant.

Health officials continue to strongly recommend that even outside, those on the sidewalk should maintain at least a six-foot distance from others on the sidewalk.

Many city town centers have started to respond to this – as a key way to promote public health – by beginning the process of closing streets to give businesses and pedestrians more space for distancing.

While I think this is wise and largely support these reforms, I would strongly urge caution.

Here in Boulder CO where I live, there is currently much talk about reallocating space on Pearl Street. This is wonderful in many ways.

But I am worried about a few scenarios that might emerge.

First, I think a lot of us “put people before cars” folks will see the idea of closing Pearl to cars for several blocks beyond Pearl St Mall as a great idea. I’m not sure about that at all. Urban designers know that closing more than a few blocks of traffic to cars is almost always fatal to retail and vibrancy UNLESS there is sufficiently compact, dense, mixed-use development along the street that is closed to cars. Boulder’s density along Pearl (like the density in nearly all American cities) is far less than the density needed to support several blocks of closure.

Second, I am extremely worried that a “compromise” suggestion will be to reallocate space from cars to people not by closing Pearl to cars, but by making it a one-way street. One-way conversion was hugely popular in the 60s and 70s, but there are an enormous number of reasons they are terrible for a town center and deadly for retail. As a result, a large and growing number of one-ways are being converted back to two-way around the nation and world.

It would be a huge mistake if Boulder opts for a one-way on Pearl.

It must also be acknowledged that even in a severe crisis such as a Pandemic, it is extremely difficult, politically, to close streets to cars

Fortunately, there is a Third Way. A compromise that would offer enormous benefits, be relatively feasible politically, promote retail health, retain emergency access for fire trucks, and enhance public health (from both added social distancing space and boosting the amount of public walking and bicycling).

I believe that this “Third Way” design would be to create a low-speed street design on Pearl along the lines of a Dutch Woonerf (Google “Woonerf” for details about them, or go to A Woonerf can be installed quickly, relatively cheaply, and be done temporarily.

Some people call such design “give-way” streets, where the two-way street is so narrow that the motorist must “give-way” to an on-coming car.

Low-speed design would allow two-way car travel to continue on Pearl, but would obligate motorists to drive very slowly (say, 10-15 mph) and very attentively. So much so that even children and seniors would be perfectly safe and happy to sit in the street or walk in the street or bicycle in the street.

How is a low-speed two-way street created? On Pearl, it would mean we would remove the very bad design decision of having a continuous left-turn (suicide) lane in the middle of the street. That alone is a great space reallocation tactic.

Second, we shrink the width of the travel lanes down to, say, 9 feet each. We also need to shrink the height of signs and street lights to create a “low-speed ambiance.” Street furniture, plenty of new green tree and shrub and flower landscaping in elevated “planter” boxes, seating, public art, etc., needs to be inserted in the street (exactly the way it was done on Pearl St Mall, by the way).

In most cases, a Woonerf eliminates curbs and elevated sidewalks as a way to signal that the street is slow-speed and shared between cars, bikes, and walkers. By doing each of these things, we would create an extremely safe, happy, vibrant Pearl Street that prioritizes people (cyclists, peds, seniors, children) over cars without eliminating cars. Cars, as is the case in Dutch Woonerfs, are able to remain but they are obligated by the street design to be very slow speed and safely attentive. Retail and restaurant businesses would flourish with the big increase in space, the much slower speeds by motorists (who, because they are driving more slowly, are more likely to stop and be customers), and we would see a jump in the number of pedestrians and cyclists on Pearl who were previously too worried to walk or bike there due to the pro-car design. By allowing slow-speed cars, a Woonerf allows a city with insufficient density to deliver sufficient customers to businesses along the street.

So yes! Let’s reallocate space on Pearl so that it is pro-people rather than pro-car. But let’s do it right, and avoid the mistakes of the past.

Woonerf examples


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

Dom’s Top Five All-Time Favorite Festive Walks

By Dom Nozzi

Walking, in my opinion, is one of the great pleasures of life. That makes sense, as humans are hard-wired to be a walking species. Indeed, we all know that a person notices more architecture and landscaping and street design – and certainly is better able to engage in neighborly conversation with fellow citizens – when walking on a city street compared to driving a car down that street. Walking, in other words, is more HUMAN than driving.

But I have noticed during these days of pandemic in April 2020, where my partner and I do a lot more walking (in part to escape cabin fever!), that even though I tend to get around my neighborhood streets by bicycle, even bicycle travel is not as able to allow me to “smell the roses,” as they say, as when I walk. On many of my “pandemic neighborhood walks,” I find myself regularly thinking that “I’ve never noticed that before in all of my bicycle rides down this street!”

Walking truly is a way to be most human. Most part of your world. Not to mention a great way to be healthy and happy!

I have started calling my neighborhood walks “Smell the Roses Travel.”

Now that I am enjoying walking more than I have ever done so in the past – and doing a lot more of it each week these days! – I’ve given some thought to what my all-time favorite walks happen to be.

Here are my criteria for a great festive walk.

First, the walk should be vibrant, bustling, festive, and therefore entertaining. On a regular basis.

“Festive” is defined as a street that is full of people happily walking or otherwise socializing. The street is often festooned with colors and lights, and occasionally benefits from live street music and other street performers.

Second, the dimensioning of the street – how wide the street is, and how close buildings are to the street – is human-scaled rather than sprawling car-scaled.

Third, the street is flanked by plenty of retail, culture, services, or civic activity – so that the street is regularly energized and enlivened.

Fourth, the street is convivial and slow-speed. When I walk the street, I am likely to engage in conversation with people along the way, and the street design is such that motorists – if not on a car-free “walking street” — are obligated to drive relatively slowly, quietly, and attentively.

Quadrilatero District, Bologna, Italy, Dec 2016 (66)

Using the above criteria, the following are my five all-time favorite festive walks.


  1. Via Pescherie Vecchie in the Quadrilatero neighborhood of town center Bologna, Italy during Christmas season.


  1. Corso Umberto, Taormina, Italy.

Corso Umberto in Taormina, Dec 8, 2019 (194)

  1. The Ortigia/Siracusa outdoor food market on Via Emmanuele de Benedictis in Sicily. A happy, boisterous walk full of delicious, fresh Italian fish and produce.
  2. La Passeggiata on Via Maqueda in Palermo, and Mercato di Ballaro outdoor food market in Palermo, Italy.
  3. La Ramblas, Barcelona. Barcelona, Dec 5, 2017 (1)


In sum, as the Italians would say, “Andiamo per fare una passeggatia!” Which in English proclaims “Let’s go for a walk!”

Honorable Mentions

Monopoli Centro Storico (Old Town)

Bari Centro Storico (Old Town)

Via Tribunali in Centro Storico (Old Town) of Naples/Napoli, Italy

Via di Città and the Piazza del Campo outdoor food market in Centro Storico (Old Town) of Siena, Italy

Corso Italia in Centro Storico (Old Town) of Sorrento, Italy

Centro Storico (Old Town) of Venice, Italy

Marktplatz, Centro Storico (Old Town) Aachen, Germany

Bonn Old Town

Copenhagen Old Town

Dusseldorf Old Town

Madrid Old Town

Sevilla Old Town

Toledo Old Town

Valencia Old Town

Honorable Mention streets part one

Honorable Mention Streets two

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What Does Our Stimulus Agenda Need to Be To Build a Better Future?

By Dom Nozzi

There is much talk these days about taking advantage of the 2020 pandemic to achieve important societal objectives that have not been achieved despite their importance and despite there being known as problems for decades. The old Chinese adage that pertains to this is that from crisis comes opportunity.

What are some of the most important transportation and land use objectives that we should consider moving forward with, now that there is heightened political will to make important changes?

I would suggest the following.

  1. Reform Parking. American cities have far too much free parking. We need to remove a massive amount of free parking (perhaps in part by converting it to housing), a  much higher proportion must be priced, and required minimum parking must be either converted to maximum parking or eliminated entirely.
  2. Reform Taxation. Nearly all American cities strongly discourage compact, mixed use, infill development with their tax structure. Instead of strongly discouraging infill (and encouraging surface parking for land speculation) by taxing improvements to land (renovations, infill, etc.), we should be taxing the land. This has been done in Pittsburgh. It is known as a “land value tax” (or “single tax”).
  3. Slow Streets. American cities have far too many streets that were built with an excessive design speed (often because the design vehicle was the oversized worst-case-scenario vehicle). While we certainly need to ensure that NEW streets use lower design speeds, new streets are very rare in most cities. The major task for us is to retrofit EXISTING streets for lower speed design. This is crucial for progress in traffic safety, promoting quality compact development, and promoting active transportation. I love the world-wide movement for “slow cities,” by the way, as cities thrive when speeds are slower.
  4. Return to the Human Scale. American cities have spent much of the 20th Century creating over-sized spacing (roads, building setbacks, parking lots). This loss of human scale destroys the ability to create a sense of place. This is an important reason why so many of us love historic old towns around the world.
  5. Restore Passenger Rail. If we are to soon see a massive transportation infrastructure stimulus in response to the pandemic, that stimulus needs to include a big expansion in American passenger rail. For the coming decades, the emphasis should be getting the most bang (mileage) for the buck by emphasizing slow-speed rail. High-speed rail is sexy and exciting, but it buys us very little rail mileage because the cost is enormous. Some of that slow-speed rail can later become, incrementally, high-speed.
  6. Emphasize Transportation User Fees. We all know that gas tax revenue is not keeping up with needs. Note that I agree with Chuck Marohn that it is fortunate that we have inadequate transportation funding these days because our society continues to emphasize counterproductive car-based infrastructure when we find dollars. But there will come a time when we finally “get it” with regard to how to spend transport dollars. Important, equitable ways to find new funding, besides ramping up parking revenue, is a lot more road tolling or VMT fees (or similar user-based fees). Sales, income, and property taxes are a terribly unfair (and socially undesirable) way to raise transportation dollars.

Let us not squander the opportunity that this pandemic crisis offers to us to dramatically improve our communities.

The time for bold action is now.

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Is Congestion a “Disease”?

By Dom Nozzi

A friend sent me an article which made the point that lessons we learn about how infectious diseases spread in a pandemic such as the coronavirus can be applied to cities striving to reduce traffic congestion. I responded as follows.

Like most people, the creators of this analogy between infectious diseases and traffic congestion don’t understand cities or congestion. Congestion in cities is NOT a “disease” that must be “cured.” Congestion is an important SOLUTION for city health. Boulder has spent several decades, like most every other city, in failing to understand this. Reducing congestion is toxic for a city because nearly everything the city or state or federal govt does to reduce congestion (temporarily) is bad for city health. To be healthy, a city must provide ALTERNATIVES to the inevitable congestion for people who don’t want to put up with it.

What are the alternatives?

More street and population and intersection density allows more walking and bicycling and transit travel. Mixing residential with retail, office, culture, and jobs is part of that promotion of alternatives.

In a healthy city, congestion is inevitable. It is a sign of health. Only dying or dead cities do not have congestion.

We have spent over 100 years trying to reduce congestion. Until we realize congestion is our friend and work instead to provide alternatives to congestion, we will continue to fail and continue creating a grim future.

It IS possible to durably reduce congestion in a way that is not unhealthy for a city: toll roads. But doing that is nearly always politically impossible, as NYC has shown.


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Do Electric Vehicles Solve Most or All Motor Vehicle Problems?


By Dom Nozzi

A great many people seem to believe that the widespread use of electric vehicles (EVs) will solve most or all societal problems created by motor vehicles (MVs).

This is not even close to being true.

Air emissions from cars is one of a great many enormous problems motorized vehicles create for society. The excessive reliance on motor vehicles (MVs) — including EV — inevitably consume an enormous amount of space that destroys a sense of place and quality of life, and greatly undermines efforts to promote compact development. MVs also inevitably introduce excessive speeds into our world, which causes a shocking number of travel-related injuries and deaths. MVs inevitably swallow up a massive, financially unsustainable amount of public tax revenue (a massive fraction of that constitute public subsidies). MVs, furthermore, inevitably amplify public health woes (particularly obesity). MVs, in addition, inevitably create a tremendous financial strain for cities and households. MVs establish a downwardly spiraling, self-perpetuating point of no return that nearly all cities have reached. There are a great many other problems that MVs create. In sum, it is time that we stop kidding ourselves that “clean” MV emissions fix most or all societal MV problems.

I believe the “EV Solution” is so commonly expressed because many people seek a “solution” that does not require substantial societal behavior change. Others cannot conceive of a world where they are obligated to drive a car substantially less.

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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Dom Nozzi

One of my cousins, on Facebook (FB) in the spring of 2020, responded to a post I had made to FB recently. My post noted that several developed countries in the world had zero people without health insurance, while the US had 30 million without health insurance.

She responded by asking for a “Show of hands – who wants to pay 50% or more of their income in taxes??? Bernie [Sanders] is proposing American taxpayers pay 72% of their income so we can have FREE healthcare- even for ILLEGAL IMMIGRANTS, free college, free, free, free- nothing is free – it all gets paid for somewhere…”

I responded to my cousin by saying that with all due respect, my partner and I believe my cousin needs to check her numbers.

I went on.

What you mention sounds like the distorted corrupt corporate media narrative (a media hugely funded by Big Pharma and Insurance companies). Our understanding: What Sanders proposes is that we go back to the Good Old Days of, say, the 1950s for our tax structure. Then, taxes on those making up to about $30K a year would pay, say, 15 percent in taxes. Those making $30-60K a year would pay, say, 30 percent in taxes on the money they make over $30K. Those making over $60K a year would pay, say, 55 percent in taxes on the money they make over $60K.

In other words, lower and middle-income folks would not see much of an increase in taxes.

Putting aside taxes, how about if we build one or two less F-16 fighter jets? How about if we fight one or two less endless wars of aggression (wars, by the way, that create two people who hate the US for every one US hater we kill, which helps induce the endless warfare cycle). How about if we build one or two less aircraft carriers? How about if we widen one or two less highways? Doing these no-brainer things would mean we could have universal health care (like all other developed nations on earth) and free college for all (and build a desperately needed national passenger rail system) without the need to raise taxes.

I agree with you, by the way, that it is unfair to provide free education and free health care to illegal immigrants. Shame on Democrats for not acknowledging that. Shame on Democrats for apparently supporting open borders and no real restrictions on immigration. That is not sustainable nor is it good for the US.

One last thing: I agree with you that nothing is free (someone, somewhere is paying for “free” things). That is why I’m sure you would agree with me that we should eliminate the biggest form of welfare subsidy by far in America: Free parking and toll-free roads. Those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads are being paid by someone. They are not actually free. As someone who has spent 40 years academically and professionally in transportation planning, I can say with certainty that gas taxes pay only a tiny percentage of those road and parking costs. The vast majority of those costs are paid indirectly: We all, for example, pay higher prices for groceries (including those of us who shop by bicycle or bus) to pay for those “free” parking spaces at the supermarket. We all pay higher property and sales taxes to pay for those “free” roads. And we all pay for those “free” parking spaces and “free” roads with enormous externalized costs such as air pollution, degraded public health, unaffordable sprawl development, noise pollution, tens of thousands of annual traffic deaths, strip commercial blight, etc.

In sum, thank you for pointing out that there is no such thing as a free lunch. I agree with you.

To answer your “show of hands” question, I very much DO want what Bernie Sanders proposes. As former Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. once said, “I like to pay taxes. With them I buy civilization.” (and as I pointed out above, the Sanders ideas do not necessarily require that taxes be raised, and if they do, not much at all unless you are quite wealthy).

Oh, and I cannot let this be unsaid: There are HUGE hidden societal costs associated with having roughly 30 million Americans without health care. The numbers I’ve seen put those costs in the trillions of dollars. We cannot afford to have 30 million people without health care.



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