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The Keys to Transportation Safety

By Dom Nozzi

The key to creating safer intersections, roads, and streets is to move away from the century-long engineering practice of using “forgiving design.”

It is also essential for us to understand the counterproductive nature of calling for a reduction in traffic congestion or urging our officials to “ease traffic flow.” Both of these measures (which are such a consensus in our society that even cyclists, pedestrian advocates, and transit promoters also counterproductively call for such things) lead to a dangerous oversizing of road/parking/intersection infrastructure, and the use of high-speed road geometries.

By far, the best way to achieve transportation safety is to design roads and intersections for slower speeds – the opposite of “forgiving” design.

It is not a coincidence, by the way, that a growing number of cities are joining the “slow cities” movement

And a big part of slower speed transportation design (and, therefore, more safety) comes from road diets, which involves removing excess travel lanes, as was done so spectacularly well on Main Street in my home city of Greenville SC. Such diets also include reducing travel lane widths (which can be quickly and inexpensively done whenever streets are re-striped). and shrinking the size and turning radius of intersections.

There is also an important need for converting one-way streets back to two-way operation.

Far too much space has been allocated to easing car travel and car parking. This has infected our cities with the gigantism disease — a disease that results in much less safety, much less prosperity, much less civic pride, much more sprawl, much less human scale, and much lower quality of life.

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Why Does Modernist Architecture Persist?

By Dom Nozzi

Why is nearly every new building, to this day, still infected by Modernist design?

After all, it is plain as day to the vast majority of people for several decades that Modernist buildings are hideous, ugly, unlovable, barren, sterile monstrosities.

As described by James Stevens Curl in his book Dystopia: The Strange Rise and Survival of Architectural Barbarism (2018), highly persuasive architectural crusaders in the 20s and 30s emerged mostly in economically devastated Germany and the crusading new Soviet Union (led by such people as Mies and Gropius, and Le Corbusier) to create what many in those places at that time craved: a new world and a new human living in a utopian heaven on earth. A great many at the time were eager to join the crusade – the salvation — to bring on the utopia.

But as we know from history and even recent times, utopians are so blinded by their feelings of being heroic leaders that the utopian ends were easily able to justify cruel, irrational means, and overwhelming counter evidence is easy to disregard. The 20s and 30s provided quite fortunate timing (ie, fertile ground) for these crusaders, as they were able to leverage the heroic, crusading witches brew of Soviet Stalinism, America instituting messianic left-wing reforms to emerge from The Great Depression, and fascism. Many early Modernists were either totalitarian Stalinists or American reformers or authoritarian fascists – to this day, many Modernists proudly consider themselves to be cultural Marxists fighting with the proletariat against the bourgeois (or other powerful elitist “oppressors”).

It is exceptionally seductive for a left-leaning, intelligent, empathetic person to adopt an ideology that promises to rescue the downtrodden.

As persuasive crusaders, people such as Mies and Le Corbusier successfully formed a new fundamentalist religious cult of Modernism, where a dogma must be adhered to, dissent is not tolerated, believers are isolated, superior knowledge is claimed, subservience is required, brainwashing is practiced, and incomprehensible language is used.

Like other successful fundamentalist cults, Modernism has been able to attract fervent believers who tend to remain believers for the rest of their lives (and pass their beliefs on to future generations), despite the irrationality and overwhelming evidence against the ideology. Like Soviet communism and fascist Germany, Modernists are blind to the awful, cruel world they have created. All three groups, in other words, have “drunk the Koolaide.”

To this day, according to the author, left-leaning architecture professors, professional architects, and architecture students continue their fundamentalist crusade, which includes the need to “cleanse” the world of “bourgeois” classical/historic/beautiful/ornamental architecture and hasten the advent of the “new world,” the “new human,” and the “new utopian heaven.”

Standing in the way of the fundamentalist Modernist crusaders – like with other communist, fascist and religious fundamentalist crusaders – takes enormous courage. Courage is needed even when it is clear that what the Modernist proposes is another hideous building that is likely to lead to massive amounts of crime, vandalism, and being quickly demolished (the fate of countless Modernist buildings in the 20th century).

When you are part of a cult, it is so easy to rationalize, in your own mind, why your efforts are utopian, even if it should be self-evident that your efforts are destructive.

In sum, all cults have a good and evil narrative, and a promise for utopia. You are either one or the other. There are the “saved” and the “damned.” The “oppressed” or the “oppressor.”

There have been many cults in our past. And there are many cults in recent times up until today, both on the political right and left.

On the right, there is the Jimmy and Tammy cult, the Jim Jones cult, and the Billy Graham cult. There is the Second Amendment Gun Rights cult. The Donald Trump cult. And the Republican Party cult. On the left, there is the Marxist cult, the feminist cult, the woke cult, the antifa cult, the BLM cult, the Democratic Party cult, and the Modernist Architecture cult.

In each case, by definition, cult followers become Eric Hoffer’s “true believers.” People who are compelled to deny or rationalize away overwhelming evidence or logic right in front of their eyes, because to not do so makes them a heretic or a criminal or an insane person or an enemy of the people or a racist or an oppressor. Someone who is so immoral that they must be punished or banished from the tribe of friends and family.

Millions of educated people on the left have been members of the Marxist cult (I used to be one of them) and denied or rationalized the backwardness of the Soviet Union and the millions tortured and liquidated by Stalinism (to do otherwise is to open yourself up to be seen as supportive of the evilness of greedy, exploitative capitalists).

Similarly, millions of people on the right have denied or rationalized away that Jim and Tammy Bakker were exploitative charlatans (to do otherwise is to open yourself up to be seen as supportive of the evilness of satanism). Stalin didn’t send millions to the gulags! Jim and Tammy did not lie to church members on their way to becoming billionaires! The Emperor is wearing lovely clothes! There is no elephant in the room! Modernist buildings are wonderful!

THAT is why nearly all buildings to this day use unlovable, butt-ugly Modernist design.

I fear our society will not be able to escape the widespread zombie cult of Modernist architecture in our lifetimes – a cult that is criminally destroying the proud, admirable beauty of our world.

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Permanently Pedestrianize Pearl?

By Dom Nozzi

Boulder City Council is currently considering permanently closing Pearl Street west of the Mall.

One response to the pandemic on Pearl Street has been to allow retailers to expand into public streets and sidewalks. In the case of Pearl Street west of the Mall, this has included closing the street to cars.

While I largely support these reforms, I would urge caution. Yes, the idea of reallocating space on Pearl Street to move away from exclusive car use is long overdue and would achieve important benefits. But there are a few likely negative outcomes.

A lot of us “put people before cars” folks will see the idea of closing Pearl to cars beyond Pearl St Mall as irresistibly seductive.

I’m not so sure.

Urban designers know that prohibiting cars on more than a few blocks is almost always fatal to retail UNLESS there is sufficiently compact mixed-use development along the street. Pearl is far less compact than is needed to support more closure.

Another worry: one suggestion is to reallocate space from cars is to make Pearl a one-way street. One-way conversion was popular in the 60s and 70s, but we now know they are terrible for a town center – particularly for retail. A growing number of one-ways are therefore being converted back to two-way.

Even with a pandemic crisis, it is politically difficult 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 fire truck access, and enhance public health (from both added social distancing space and boosting the amount of walking and bicycling) is a “woonerf.”

I believe the woonerf is a “Third Way” design. It creates a low-speed street design on Pearl – a “living street” safely shared by cars, pedestrians and cyclists (Google “woonerf,” or go to Woonerfs can be installed quickly, relatively cheaply, and temporarily if they do not work out.

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 safe and happy to sit in the street or walk or bicycle in the street.

I recommend the woonerf treatment for Pearl west of the Mall to 9th Street and east of the Mall to, say, 19th Street.

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

Second, shrink the width of the travel lanes to, say, 9 feet each. Also shrink the height of signs and street lights to create a “low-speed ambiance.” Add street furniture, and plenty of new green tree, shrub and flower landscaping in elevated “planter” boxes to the street (exactly the way it was done on Pearl St Mall, by the way).

Woonerfs typically eliminate curbs and elevated sidewalks to signal that the street is slow-speed and shared between cars, cyclists, 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, and the much slower speeds by motorists (who, because they are driving more slowly, are more likely to stop and be customers).

The new street design would lead to a jump in the number of pedestrians and cyclists on Pearl Street 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 compactness 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.

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Are Master Plans Useful?

By Dom Nozzi

I was told that “a lot of the smaller towns need to go vertical now or, at the very least plan for it. As increased density is the easiest way to stave off the ‘crowding’ from lack of infrastructure development that seems to go along with suburban sprawl around here.” This person asked if I “had a chance to review the master plans for the county and local municipalities?”

I responded by pointing out that I agreed about our needing more height and density to reduce the perception of “crowding.” However, I think it is best, like much of Paris, to avoid going higher than five stories with building heights.

I have mostly not looked at any Greenville County (South Carolina) or City of Greenville master plans.

Having spent 20 years writing such plans professionally, I learned that 99 percent of master plan content is little more than lip service and vague platitudes.

Little known fact: Nearly all cities and counties adopt plans that people assume are tailored for the local community, yet nearly all of these plans end up saying nearly the same “feel good” things that every other city and county say in their plans. In communities that are utterly lacking in leadership — such as my former city of Gainesville FL — the master “plans” are not plans at all. They simply document what the city had agreed to do or was in the process of doing already. So the “plans” are perhaps more accurately called history books that used “happy” words.

If someone was to ask me to state the top two or three things that Greenville and Greenville County should do to improve quality of life, safety, economic health, public health, happiness, and pride (ie, the two or three things that a master plan must call for above and beyond anything else), those items would be to adopt the following Master Plan.

Dom’s Master Plan for Greenville SC (and nearly every other American city)

American cities – after a century of single-mindedly allocating vast sums of public dollars to promoting motor vehicle travel – have created a world designed primarily for motor vehicles rather than people. The following are the three primary ways this must be corrected.

(1)  Because motor vehicles consume so much space, a century of efforts to promote motor vehicle mobility means that American cities are dying from the disease known as “Gigantism.” It is a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

To escape, we must — in our town center — shrink the size of roads, including converting one-ways back to two-way, and removing continuous left-turn lanes. Also, we need to shrink highways, intersections, parking lots, building setbacks, and minimum lot and house sizes. We need to reduce the height of signs, lights, and skyscraper buildings. And couple this with bringing an end to the extremely dangerous practice of employing forgiving roadway design in local traffic engineering manuals, and to instead adopt manuals that promote slower, safer, more attentive driving;

(2) Adopt a form-based rather than a use-based development code, a code which would obligate much more compact development, a vast increase in walkable neighborhoods, require traditional/historical rather than modernist architecture, and adopting geographically calibrated development regulations that provide for all lifestyle choices.

We need to further promote compact development by inverting property taxes. Conventional tax rate structure used by nearly all cities taxes buildings instead of land. The higher the value of a building on a piece of downtown land, the higher the tax. Instead, tax land itself, not the building on it, so that there is a tax disincentive for keeping land vacant or underused in the town center; and

(3) Significantly increase the amount of (paid) on-street parking in the town center, coupled with a conversion of required minimum parking to a maximum allowable amount of parking for new development, as well as unbundling the price of housing from the cost of any parking provided for that housing. Adopt other motorist user fees such as electronic road tolling.

My guess is that none of the above is called for by local master plans. And whereas those master plans are surely hundreds of pages long, my master plan (above) is about one page long.

I can even write a master plan that consists of one sentence: “The City shall re-establish the timeless principle of designing to make people happy rather than cars.”

That captures nearly everything important that needs to be done in American cities.

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Using a School Crossing Guard for Schoolchild Safety

By Dom Nozzi

A bicycle and walking advocacy Board I serve on was asked to decide whether to offer our 501c3 status to assist in fundraising for a school crossing guard.

I noted that it is important for the Board to look beyond this narrow question so that we address the broader question of the appropriate, long-term solution for this crossing – a solution that furthers the long-term goals of the advocacy group to promote safer and higher levels of walking and bicycling.

I concluded that I believed it was unwise in this case to offer our assistance – no matter how indirect – to a solution that does not further the goals of the advocacy group because even indirect assistance implicitly suggests that the advocacy group believes the chosen solution is the correct one.

This school crossing question is an interesting, all-too-common school transportation puzzle that to me does not quickly bring to my mind any clear solutions due to issues that make it a complex problem to solve. I had spent the past number of days giving a lot of thought to how this crossing should be designed, and prepared a set of thoughts and recommendations below. This set was sent by me to a few of my transportation safety colleagues, which led me to make a few minor additions.

As I understand the situation, the school is set in a low-density suburban location and sits very close to a neighborhood that apparently is the home of some of the students (some as young as 6 or 7).

South Carolina Department of Transportation (SCDOT) is firmly opposed to establishing what is being called a mid-block pedestrian crossing that would provide a 0.5-mi. route from the neighborhood to the school. SCDOT is only willing to allow the crossing if a crossing guard is hired for the new crossing. Without the guard, SCDOT insists that those wanting to walk or bicycle to the school be obligated to add a mile to their journey (tripling the distance) by crossing at a signalized intersection far down the road. This suggestion – while common – is shameful and absurd. It ignores human nature.

What this breathtaking inconvenience amounts to is a requirement that ensures no student will walk or bicycle to the school, but instead end up in a bus or a car ride provided by an inconvenienced parent. Insisting that a bicycling or walking student triple their distance to a school very close to their homes is akin to demanding a motorist irrationally drive several miles out of their way to get to a destination that they are literally across the street from.

Of course, human nature being what it is, we all know what will happen here. A large number of bicycling and walking students will not be willing to triple their distance to school but instead will seek to cross at the Durness Drive intersection. Frankly, I’m surprised SCDOT has not installed a 20-foot tall razor wire fence from the neighborhood to the signalized intersection in an effort to prevent a non-signalized crossing.

We must remind those who need reminding that mid-block crossings, ironically, are typically far safer than signalized intersections. Not only do they recognize the inevitability of mid-block crossings (and therefore design for them), but the number of conflict points is far higher (over 30) for signalized intersections compared to mid-block crossings (2 points of conflict).

The following are my thoughts about what should be done here. I am assuming below that the only reasonable option – the option that best promotes safety — is to create a crossing near the neighborhood close to Durness:

*Paying for a crossing guard is a short-term bandaid that cannot be sustained in the long term. It is an overly expensive option in part because the guard would be needed for only a tiny period during the full day (mostly near the time classes start in the am and when classes end in the pm), and will therefore be entirely inactive for nearly the entire day the guard will need to be posted at the crossing.

One of my transportation colleagues is a Senior Research Associate at the Highway Safety Research Center at the University of North Carolina. Her work focuses on bicycle and pedestrian safety, especially estimating exposure to collisions. She told me that she spent some of the last summer interviewing police officers in North Carolina about their experience with crossing guard programs and also worked with a student on a literature review of the effectiveness of such programs. “The literature said that the [crossing guard] programs made people feel better. It’s a ‘feel good’ program. There was no proof that [crossing guards are] associated with safety. … There is proof that traffic calming efforts that result in slower speeds do make it safer for pedestrians including children. Thus, your traffic calming suggestions [in your set of recommendations here] are good. Traffic speeds near schools should be 20 mph or less so that drivers can stop in time to avoid killing someone.”

*I do not believe it is a good idea to create a safe crossing at Durness with an overpass or underpass, as the cost is high and the number of users would be too small – partly because many will opt to save time and effort by crossing at grade.

*I do not believe a roundabout makes sense at Durness due to large imbalances of traffic volume on the intersecting roads during the day. Unfortunately, I don’t know the average daily [motor vehicle] trips (ADT) for the road, but it is likely to show very high spikes when school starts and ends, and very low volumes at other times.

*I believe the most essential corrective is to redesign the crossing so that it is much more narrow and obligates more attentive and much slower turning and travel speeds by motor vehicles. The exposure of schoolchildren to motor vehicles must be minimized and the speed of vehicles must be ratcheted down – most importantly — by significantly reducing the number and width of motor vehicle travel- and turning lanes.

Safety design options I would recommend to effectively achieve this: (1) remove the left turn lane on Scuffletown Road; (2) remove one of the two school exit lanes feeding Scuffletown Road; (3) significantly reduce the turning radius of the Durness/school exit intersection; (4) install a raised refuge island median at the crossing; (5) install landscaped bulb-outs or a chicane on a two-lane Scuffletown Road to shrink the width of the road lanes to 9 feet (tall, limbed up trees could be a desirable way to signal to drivers that they are approaching a low-speed crossing); (6) install a speed table for the new crossing; (7) angle the new crossing so that those crossing are more likely to face on-coming motor vehicles; (8) reduce the new crossing to a single lane, which would make it an exceptionally safe, exceptionally low-speed crossing that would occasionally obligate “give-way” vehicle movements; (9) offset the new crossing so that it is further away from the Durness Drive intersection (doing so would more truly make it a mid-block crossing); (10) to reduce the walking and bicycling distance for students even more, a new path should be created that is diagonally aligned from Scuffletown Road to the school entrance; and (11) reduce the posted speed limit of Scuffletown Road to 20 mph (any street lights, traffic signals, or traffic signs along this stretch of the road must be significantly reduced in height to send a visible message to motorists that they have entered a low-speed environment).

Another one of my transportation colleagues prepared a crossing design suggestion for the school crossing (see image). Like me, his design shows a diagonal alignment for a path to the school entrance, an angled crosswalk so that those crossing are facing traffic, speed tables at the crosswalks, raised refuge island landscape medians that remove portions of the left-turn lane, more narrow travel lanes for motor vehicles, and offsetting the crossing so that it is more distant and not influenced by the Durness Dr intersection. This colleague – Ian Lockwood – is a nationally prominent transportation safety expert with Toole Design.

*Should an affordable, near-term solution be essential, movable concrete barriers and structures can quickly and temporarily be installed at a very low cost, and remain in place until such time as a more permanent and attractive set of improvements – as I describe here – can be funded and installed.

*I believe quality solutions to this challenging design puzzle will require the community/school/SCDOT to hire a transportation design consultant (Ian Lockwood is an example of a consultant I would recommend being hired for this project). Hiring a consultant is highly likely to be better spent money than a crossing guard. One lower-cost option is to ask SCDOT engineers to design the new mid-block crossing by imagining that their 6-year old son or daughter needed to cross Scuffletown Road to get to school, and could not (or would not) go to the signalized intersection to do so.

*Without any of these infrastructure changes I mention above (and maybe even with), the crossing will need a “hot” button to immediately convert a continuously yellow flashing crosswalk light to a red flashing light. I don’t love this idea, but there may be no way to avoid it.

*Any cost associated with a short-term guard or other new safety elements should be borne by either SCDOT, the school, or both. They are both responsible, after all, for an unsafe, flawed location and design of the school and roadway.

*In the longer term, the school needs to be re-designed so that its (newly-infilled) buildings abut Scuffletown Road, rather than being pulled far back from the road. In addition, if feasible, new residential neighborhoods need to be established surrounding the school (to make the school a neighborhood-based school).

Scenarios such as this school crossing puzzle are emblematic of why even with proximity, nearly all Americans – including schoolchildren – are in motor vehicles for nearly all trips. Shame on us for building a community that endangers walking and bicycling schoolchildren as a way to promote convenient, higher-speed motor vehicle travel.

The question ultimately comes down to this: Does this community and the state DOT place more value on the convenience of motorists or the safety of children?

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Is Increasing the Density Allowed in Single-Family Zoning a Good Idea?

By Dom Nozzi

I was asked if I had heard about the re-zoning proposed in the Boston area? The person asking had heard that the City planned to demolish existing single-family homes, and building multi-family housing up to 15 units per acre. He had heard the idea was to provide additional affordable housing. He wondered what homeowners would do if they “don’t want to live smack on [their] neighbor,” whether there were other ways affordable housing could be provided, and whether this plan might be costlier than finding a home in the suburbs?

My response was that I had not heard about the Boston situation, but I do know that many cities and states (thankfully) are working on upzonings and allowing multi-family (MF) housing in single-family (SF) zoning districts.

I have not heard of anything as extreme as you mention (and would be shocked if it was happening). Whether this upzoning and revision to the allowable uses list in the SF zoning districts is desirable/appropriate, for me a lot of it hinges on locational questions (ideally, via a “transect” system — see image).

It is essential that communities provide the full range of lifestyle choices — from fully rural/conservation to low-density suburban to compact walkable urban. An enormous societal problem in the US is that nearly all residential development over the past century in the US has been low-density SF — far more supply of such housing than demand for such housing.

Today, there is a huge demand for compact walkable urban housing – but there is far less supply than demand for such housing. How do we adjust those imbalances so supply is balanced with demand for low-density as well as compact?

One important tool is to remove the massive public subsidies for the low-density lifestyle (mostly from free roads and free parking). Another is to make compact walkable design legal again (local development regulations have mostly made such timeless design illegal throughout the nation). We also need local development regulations to be form-based rather than use-based (the design of buildings and where they are located is FAR more important than what happens inside the building).

An enormous number of Americans rightly despise and fear higher density development near them because unlike Europe and historic neighborhoods in the US, architects are working in a failed profession. Failed because the profession has largely thrown away timeless, lovable design principles, which makes higher density development far more ugly and scary than in the past. We don’t build Old Town Charleston or Old Town Savannah anymore. We build Phoenix Sprawl and Houston Sprawl. This gives compact development a black eye.

Local governments need to adopt regulations to require that timeless historic design be used in locals designated for compact development.

All of this is not to say that everyone must be obligated to live in or near compact development. We must retain that lifestyle choice for those who prefer it (and there is no danger of that choice being lost, since nearly all development in the US is low-density). I do think that based on the transect principle (there is a place for everything and everything has its place), cities that have made the mistake of creating low-density SF near the town center need to allow those places to incrementally (slowly) evolve into more compact, higher-density places (using the timeless design I call for).

Gentrification often provides this.

Those who live in such town center locations in SF homes who do not want such a lifestyle need to consider the option of accepting a windfall from the sale of their home. In this scenario, windfall profits come from a drastic increase in property values that tends to come when compact development, and leads to prices being bid up by the large market of people seeking walkable design.

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If You Find Yourself in a Hole, Stop Digging: The Ruinous Results of Roadway Widening

By Dom Nozzi

A colleague of mine here in Greenville South Carolina talked about how expensive it would be to widen Woodruff Road, a massively oversized “stroad.”

I pointed out that it is an even bigger price tag than he suggests. This congestion “reduction” project (widening an already overly wide road) is a tragic, unaffordable, counterproductive, wasteful mistake that will damage retail and residential on and near Woodruff Road. Motor vehicle crashes with other motor vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists will increase substantially, as will air emissions and fuel consumption. It will reduce bicycling, walking, and transit trips, while increasing motor vehicle trips. It will result in far more development sprawling unaffordably into remote locations in the region, and more low-density strip development along the project corridor. That low-density, sprawling development will come nowhere near paying its own way (it is, therefore, a Ponzi Scheme), which will thereby contribute to financial woes for all levels of government, not to mention for households in the area.

We know with certainty (a century of experience throughout the nation confirms this) that reducing congestion by adding more capacity will – at best — only lasts for 3-5 years. After that, the Triple Convergence described so well by Anthony Downs will have artificially induced so many new car trips (trips that would not have ever occurred had we not added capacity) that we are left with is bigger congestion on a bigger road system. Adding capacity to reduce congestion, then, is equivalent to loosening your belt to solve obesity.

Or as I point out in my books and speeches, when we add capacity (ie, widen) we are NOT durably eliminating congestion. We have only two alternatives to choose from:

  1. Spend millions (billions?) of public dollars to obtain the alternative of bigger congestion on a bigger roadway.
  2. Don’t spend millions (billions?) to widen the road, and instead accept the inevitable congestion on a smaller road.

I prefer alternative two.

One person in this conversation responded by saying “people are moving to Greenville so we are forced to accommodate that.”

To which I suggested that if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.

Such comments, I told this person, are incorrect in so many ways that I don’t have time to respond to them.

I pointed out two things for this person to consider:

  1. Using your logic, which is the logic used by almost everyone for the past century, roadways in New York City should be 500 lanes wide. After all, people have been moving to NYC (a city with far more people than Greenville) for the past century.
  2. Your thinking is part of the thinking that brought down the Soviet Union. Like in this case, their thinking was that the “solution” to long bread lines was to make more free bread. By not understanding basic economics, the Soviet “solution” did nothing to end bread lines. Similarly, adding more free-to-use roadway capacity — as we have seen over and over again for the past century in the US — inevitably results in the “solution” of doing nothing to end congestion (except to give us an 8-lane congested road rather than a 4-lane congested road — at a staggering public expense). Memo to Soviets and those favoring more roadway widening: “if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Also, try paying attention in your Economics 101 class.

By the way, the “logic” of our “need” to widen roads to accommodate a growing Greenville is puzzling, given the history in Greenville. After all, Main St was taken from 5 lanes to 3 several decades ago. Greenville has been growing in population for those many years, yet 3-lane Main Street (at a smaller size) is now significantly better than the previous 5-lane Main Street for nearly all metrics: crime, retail and residential and office health, crashes, homelessness, prostitution, abandonment/vacancies, tax revenue compared to public expenses, visual appearance, and civic pride.

I suspect Main Street would not be better if — in 1980 — we decided to continue widening Main Street due to the fact that “people are moving to Greenville.”

Side note: studies consistently show that going from 5 lanes to 3 does not lead to traffic diverting to nearby roads. Like the removal of the 4-lane highway at Falls Park 40 years ago, the traffic did not “spill over” to nearby roadways (as many feared for both Main Street and the Falls highway bridge).

Those expected but not realized spillover trips did not emerge due to trip valuation economics, which are too involved for me to explain here.

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Escaping the Ruin of Auto Dependency

By Dom Nozzi

The tragedy is that I am firmly convinced we have passed the point of no return. There is no turning back from the world of ruinous, bankrupting auto dependency when your society has committed significant amounts of time and money into creating that self-perpetuating world.

For example, even the vast majority of highly educated environmentalists are certain that reducing congestion (by widening roads or synchronizing signal lights or adding turn lanes, etc.) will REDUCE greenhouse gases.

In fact, many of us have known since the early 70s that the reverse happens (due to induced demand). The only way we escape the downward spiral of making cars happy is through catastrophic economic (ie, Great Depression) collapse.

I am not sure if that collapse will happen in our lifetime, and not sure if I WANT that collapse to happen.

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Is a “Hands Free” Law Important for Traffic Safety?

By Dom Nozzi

The Bike Walk Greenville (BWG) Board of Directors – of which I am a member — has been asked to vote on whether we support a “Hands-Free” Bill being considered by the South Carolina legislature. The Bill will increase the penalties for holding an electronic device — such as a cell phone – while driving.

The following is what I told the Board.

I support this Bill but would note the following:

1.       Studies I have seen show that while hands-free use of electronic devices may be marginally safer than holding a device while driving, hands-free use does show an alarmingly high level of distraction by the motorist. I believe studies have shown the level of distraction is similar to that of a driver who has had a few alcoholic drinks – which implies that ANY conversation in the car is distracting for the driver, regardless of an electronic device being used or not;

2.       In my opinion, American motorists are exponentially more distracted today than they have ever been in the past several decades. This distraction – to a relatively small extent – can be attributed to increased use of digital tech, busy lives, higher speeds, the extremely insulated nature of the interiors of cars, and a society where both parents are working.

But the primary cause of motorist distraction is the “forgiving roadway design” paradigm practiced by American roadway engineers for so long. An essay I’ve written on this topic:

I believe it is important for BWG to work with Greenville and Greenville County to urge their transportation staff to end the extremely dangerous practice of employing forgiving roadway design in their manuals, and to instead adopt manuals that promote slower, safer, more attentive driving.

Again, this Hands-Free Bill will help moderately, but by far, the key for safety is to have transportation engineers end the use of forgiving roadway design.

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Appropriate Bicycle Route Design Depends on Context

By Dom Nozzi

When I was in graduate school at Florida State University in the early 1980s, I was so taken by the vehicular cycling principles mostly popularized by John Forrester in his book that I made his cycling philosophy the primary subject of my masters thesis.

Since then, my views have become more “nuanced.” While I agree with Forrester regarding the debris accumulation problems associated with in-street bike lanes, I’ve since come to realize that it is extremely important to significantly increase bicycling — in part by making it seem safer and more pleasant and more convenient for non-cyclists.

I believe, however, that “moving the needle” on ridership (ie, significantly increasing the number of bicyclists) is not about providing facilities such as bike lanes or bike parking or even bike paths for cyclists (this also applies to promoting walking and transit).

It is about taking away space, speed, and subsidies from motorists.

In the interim — before the inevitable day in the future when we can start doing those things — I think it is important to make it easier for the novice or aspiring cyclist. We need to make our town center streets very low-speed (such as with woonerfs, on-street parking, give-way streets, etc.) so that even the novice can comfortably share the street with motor vehicles.

As an aside, in-street bike lanes are almost entirely inappropriate in a low-speed town center, but “sharrows” (painting bicycle symbols on a street to signal to motorists that cyclists can share the lane) are a good idea for low-speed environments.

Main Street in Greenville does a pretty good job of providing a low-speed street that can be comfortably shared by many.

By contrast, higher-speed roads outside the town center usually need bike lanes, in my opinion.

And in any location where higher-speed motor vehicles are found, we need physically separate bike paths.

All this is to say that the appropriate bike route design is dependent on the location we are talking about.

I don’t think sharrows work well in high-speed locations such as suburbs.

One last thing: far too many town center streets are inappropriately high-speed in design and need to be significantly calmed so that shared use is possible.

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