Category Archives: Urban Design

Boulder’s Most Needed Transportation Reforms

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Elephants in the Room on “First and Last Mile”

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motorists Should Feel Inconvenienced

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2018

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

Here is my response:

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

Man Expressing Road Rage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Sprawl, Traffic, Taxes and Quality of Life

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2006

We live in troubled times. Times that require wise, courageous leadership. Here is what I see in our communities, and what I plan to do about it.

Taxation

Taxes are high and are constantly rising because new growth is not paying its own way.

All levels of government are financially strapped. Households are struggling to be able to afford the skyrocketing costs of transportation and rising property taxes.

Aren’t you tired of high and rising taxes?

Transportation

Automakers keep producing gas-guzzling cars. There is no quality transit system. We have no transportation choices. Little Billy and little Suzie cannot safely go for a walk or ride a bike in their neighborhoods because traffic is too dangerous.

Our hard-earned money and national wealth is vanishing. Our money is being used to enrich Middle Eastern oil-producing nations—many of which are not our friends.

Aren’t you tired of our unhealthy transportation system?

The Quality of Our Neighborhoods and Communities

Our farms are vanishing because they are being paved over by sprawling subdivisions.

We keep getting dumb growth instead of smart growth. Our neighborhoods are afflicted by rising levels of noise pollution. We’ve lost the tradition of having neighborhood-based schools, which means our kids cannot get to school on their own. We have forgotten that a high quality of life is a powerful economic engine.

Aren’t you tired of the sprawl? The ugly, dangerous, costly, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development that keeps popping up in our communities?

My Vision

Let’s restore our communities.

  • Imagine communities rich in transportation choice. A place where we and our kids can get around safely by car, by transit, by walking and by bicycle. Communities, in other words, where one has the choice to be able to walk to get a loaf of bread, instead of being forced to drive 4 miles to get that loaf.
  • Imagine communities where our property taxes are reasonable and our government is able to afford to build quality public facilities and provide quality public services.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our beautiful forests, natural areas and farms bulldozed, acre-by-acre, day-by-day, to build endless, sprawling subdivisions.
  • Imagine communities where streets are not choked by rapidly growing numbers of cars.
  • Imagine communities where we don’t see our roads torn up and widened every year, causing infuriating road construction delays.
  • Imagine communities with pleasant, safe, beautiful, slow-speed shopping streets instead of communities full of 10-lane strip commercial monster roads.
  • Imagine communities with healthy air and water, and neighborhoods that place public parks a short distance from our homes.
  • Imagine communities that provides choices about how to live. Communities where one can happily live an urban, suburban or rural lifestyle.
  • Imagine communities where it is actually legal to build smartly. Traditionally. Sustainably. Where building smartly is the rule, rather than the exception. Local government regulations encourage smart growth, and are not an obstacle to it.  Communities that makes it fast and easy to build smartly, and makes it more difficult and costly to build crud.
  • Imagine communities full of energy-efficient homes and offices.
  • Imagine communities that are quiet. Where one can sleep peacefully each night without being awoken by endless sirens and the roar of traffic.
  • Imagine places with a strong sense of community. Places that are a community, not a crowd.

Imagine communities, in other words, that we can be proud of.

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The Death of Celebration

By Dom Nozzi

April 20, 2018

A friend of mine held her annual New Year’s Eve party this past January. Sadly (and puzzling for her, given the large turnout she has had for her party in previous years), there was small turnout of partygoers to her house. To add insult to injury, many of this relatively small group left early.

The event was a relatively weak celebration due to a lack of collective effervescence or a critical mass of a sufficiently large number of attendees. This was not true in past years, where there WAS collective effervescence due to achieving a critical mass of attendees.

Why did this happen?

In my opinion, much of it can be explained by the fact that in places like Boulder, Colorado (where I live), there has been several decades of a societal worship of a low density spread of homes, rather than a compact living arrangement. The resulting geographical spreading out of our homes isolates us from each other, and makes it very difficult to celebrate.su

There are no main street parades anymore. Emblematically, the New York Islanders hockey team “celebrated” their championship a few decades ago by having their fans march pathetically around a shopping mall because there was no sense of place anymore. No main street for a parade. No there there.

Another outcome of our dispersed, low-density development patterns is that it is increasingly rare to find a crowded, happy celebration of friends.

I’ve lived in Boulder for eight years now, and have yet to find a reliably big, crowded, happy annual celebration.

We have, in short, become a Nation of Loners.

Many of us have become auto-bound nomads roaming around looking for the celebration in their low-density suburbs. More than any other event, New Years Eve parties are one of the very few events in our relatively isolated society where we can expect to find a happy social event attended by a great many of our community friends.

For many, it is our only opportunity to experience such collective joy with friends each year. Being so rare and precious, we find that many will engage in “shopping” for the biggest, best and most fun party. After all, we don’t want to blow our only annual chance for a big celebration by attending a “mediocre” party and missing out on THE New Years Eve party that “everyone who is someone” attended.

Many try in advance to assess which party will be “THE” party. “Will Tim have the best bash this year? Laurie? Frank?”

But this is less reliable than another perhaps more common strategy for finding the “best” New Years Eve celebration: Attending what is expected to be the “best,” and making an assessment at that event as to whether this party I am attending truly is turning out to be a great time.

If not, out the door we go to drive to ANOTHER New Years Eve party that is hoped to be great.

Hopefully arriving before the clock strikes 12!

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Too Little Open Space?

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

In March 2018, the “Transportation Psychologist” posted the following photo and comment on Facebook to illustrate the enormous amount of space that a passenger car consumes:

The Transportation Psychologist asked, “If you wouldn’t build your house like this, why would you build your community this way?”

car consumes a huge amount of space

I noted in response that similarly, a great many in Boulder, Colorado fear the loss of in-town “open space.” I often point out that within Boulder (and all other American cities), there is already way too much open space. But that open space is mostly devoted to cars in the form of overwide roads and oversized parking lots.

And since car-centric cities such as Boulder have a very strong interest in minimizing density (largely because walkable density makes car travel much more inconvenient), cities such as Boulder have building setbacks that are far too large — which creates an excess of private yard open space.

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Anti-City and Anti-Environment

By Dom Nozzi

March 27, 2018

Historically, anti-city and anti-environment folks were in force in places like Houston and Phoenix and Atlanta and Buffalo. They fought hard and successfully for:

  1. Easing car travel and car parking.
  2. Providing more open space and larger setbacks.
  3. Opposing parking supply restrictions and opposing parking pricing.
  4. Opposing road diets.
  5. Opposing road tolls.
  6. Supporting highway widenings and overpasses.
  7. Lowering densities and increasing fees to the point where new development is unaffordable (an indirect way to stop development and growth).
  8. Keeping buildings no taller than 1 or 2 stories.
  9. “Protecting” neighborhoods against infill, mixed use, co-ops, and backyard cottages.

All of these are anti-city (and anti-environment) efforts.315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lot

I don’t want Boulder, Colorado (the city I live in) to follow the path of Houston or Phoenix or Atlanta or Buffalo. And that is an important reason why I am so troubled that so many in Boulder have aggressively promoted (and continue to promote) the tactics I list above that were so strongly pushed in cities such as Houston and Phoenix.

Tactics that ironically made places such as Houston and Phoenix the awful places they are today.

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

Making Cars Happy Is America’s Most Serious Mistake

By Dom Nozzi

October 14, 1999

One of America’s most serious societal mistakes is that since WWII, we’ve designed our communities to make cars instead of people happy. The better we “move automobile traffic,” the more we inevitably get:

  1. Costly, environmentally destructive, low-density, dispersed sprawl;
  2. Characterless, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development featuring”auto architecture;”download
  1. A loss of a sense of place and sense of community;
  2. Unpleasant, unsafe neighborhoods;
  3. A loss of independence for those who cannot drive — especially seniors and children, who become captive to those that can give them a car ride; and
  1. A lack of transportation choice, because every trip is forced to be made by car, and because the relentless efforts to make cars happy is a zero-sum game: Every time we make car travel more pleasant, we discourage all other forms of travel (a classic viscous cycle).

To save ourselves, we must wean ourselves from our utter dependence on the car. A guy by the name of Pit Klasen recently said that “It’s true that Germans have always had a special love affair with the car, but there’s no reason you have to remain trapped in a bad and unhealthy relationship.”

 

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Debating Whether Transportation Drives Land Use with My Gainesville Planning Department Supervisors

By Dom Nozzi

February 17, 2000

I had a loud debate with my Gainesville, Florida planning department supervisors yesterday on what the Land Use portion of Gainesville’s Long Range Plan should say.

I pointed out that because transportation drives land use, it is hopeless, in the long run, for local government to fight proposed rezonings from single-family residential to non-single family on major, hostile streets. None of them agreed with me at all, and believe the City should continue our long, hopeless fight against rezoning proposals from single-family to non-single family on hostile streets. This is maddening, and obviously being colored by recent NIMBY attacks against the City.

After the meeting, I sent the planning manager excerpts from the West Palm transportation element. He responded with this:

Dom, I didn’t read all of this but I generally agree with the part I read. Transportation travel land use, and bad land use decision drive people away also.  If the Street is bad and the Land use is bad what do you think will happen.  For Gainesville the Streets are bad and the Land use is no so bad, so lets change the street and keep the land use. [this is the verbatim, uncorrected transcript of his message to me]

I responded to those comments with this:

“Glad you agree with West Palm and folks like Walter Kulash, who would say exactly what I and West Palm Beach would say on these issues. My main point: We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone single-family residential land that they own and cannot use as single-family residential land use due to the road.

“Granted, there are a few who could live in a single-family residential home and put up with the noise and reduced property value. Forty years from now, if we do not fix our arterials to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family residential and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners burned out on fighting those never-ending battles.street without on street parking

“In the long term, as Kulash points out, no force on earth – not even five no-growth advocates on the City Commission — can stop that incremental change. Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping the single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

“The best we can realistically hope for, in the long run, if we don’t fix the streets, is land use that makes sense for major streets (according to what the market wants), and helps transit, while minimizing strip commercial. That is why I think we should give some consideration to favorable recommendations on petitions that request going to office use or multi-family use (but not retail).

“Again, I am not recommending that we initiate the land use changes (that will inevitably come) — even though that would be most fair for suffering single-family property owners along major streets. Our message must be: “Either fix the street, or be fair and honest by realizing we are going to get incremental conversion away from single-family.”

West Palm Beach FL has shown clearly what can happen overnight (dramatic land use improvements and property value increases) when the street is fixed.

My comments to the Gainesville Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“I’ve not had a full night’s sleep for weeks, and have recently developed a severe case of insomnia. So when you see me dozing off at future staff meetings, you’ll understand.

“And it is not just student noise that is out of control. It is also emergency vehicles, vacuum trucks, police helicopters, etc… With regard to SW 13th Street (a major state highway running north-south through the middle of Gainesville), let me again try to make clear that the public sector, short of doing a major change to the street (such as we’re proposing for SW 20th Avenue), has nearly no meaningful way to affect the land use market. The Land Use plan I wrote for Gainesville, for example, will have a future land use map that merely adopts what is on the ground already, with a few minor tweaks based on what citizens have asked for on their individual property and we have agreed to. But even IF we could make wholesale, visionary changes to our land use map, such changes would have little meaning (or fairness) unless they are attuned to what the market calls for in those locations — and us planners would not be doing work to determine market feasibility of changed designations. Again, transportation drives land use. So unless we make radical changes to SW 13th, all we can expect is uses that are consistent with that sort of highway.

“Personally and frankly, I think converting SW 13th to a “4-lane urban street” is an oxymoron. Not to say that I’ve given up on 13th, because I think we’ll ultimately return to our senses and make it a 2-lane. I don’t know enough of the details to know what Chapel Hill has done, but I’m fairly certain that they are things we cannot duplicate anytime soon — such as buildings up to the street (which I would oppose on a 4-laner without on-street parking, since it is unfair to the business).

“I would have to see why Chapel Hill works well. I do not think it is feasible to slow traffic on a 4-lane state highway because FDOT would not allow it. It can happen with a 2-lane state highway due to things like congestion and a narrow street profile that does not create the illusion of a high-speed highway.

“More so than most, I can envision such a 13th Street corridor fairly easily. Given time and vision and courage, it can be wonderful. Many people consider me a pessimist on certain things, but hypocritically are extreme pessimists on things I’d like, such as a walkable city. I would strongly support what you suggest be done on 13th. But I do not believe it (a four-lane urban street) would dramatically change 13th to make it a good market for higher density residential or pedestrian vibrancy. Call me a pessimist, but I’m convinced we MUST remove travel lanes to make SW 13th work. And isn’t that necessary if we are going to install on-street parking there?

“But are we not skirting around the key effort? Don’t we need to admit that we need to slow the growth of UF, get more on-campus housing, or get better code enforcement (or a combination of such things)? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see a realistic way to transform SW 13th the way you and I know it needs to transform someday.

“In my humble opinion, we cannot realistically expect good redevelopment along SW 13th as long as FDOT forces it to remain a high-speed highway. I just don’t see colored crosswalks, landscaping, or wide sidewalks dramatically changing things. Don’t we, for example, have some colored crosswalk pavers out on Newberry Road near Oaks Mall now. Has that meant anything at all?

“I like your enthusiasm and ideas about Westgate, too, but am not sure even a Dover/Kohl charrette could do much unless the owners of the center felt the plaza was collapsing economically. There are things we might be able to do with an overlay district I’ve outlined in my urban design toolbox (which has been pulled from the urban design plan I wrote because it is “too new urbanist”). I’m hoping we can adopt such an overlay for places like Westgate, but the change will be painfully slow unless the plaza is torn down. That is the only way we can get the buildings re-configured in a proper way.

“Thanks for your comments, good suggestions and concern.”

More of my thoughts expressed to the Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“Probably our most enormous problem with ‘fixing’ this area is that we will not be able to do it as long as it remains a high-speed, 5-lane state highway. We can only save it if we can take out 2 travel lanes, but I suspect this is not politically feasible, given our FDOT people and our commission. SW 13th already has a bike lane that is excellent for bike commuters, but it would be interesting to create an off-street greenway trail there. Any opportunities? Any way to extort such a thing? Also, the existing buildings are way too far off the street to make for quality urbanism. We’d need code requirements that say that any reconstruction or new development must be on the sidewalk. Again, probably not politically feasible.

“So without removing travel lanes and without pulling buildings close, we have a long-term, huge problem. And this is not even to mention the fact that our residential density and commercial intensity along there is way too low. Once again, all we can do as the public sector to move the market in that direction is to remove travel lanes.

“I think we’d probably need some special, non-Traditional City [walkable Gainesville regulations I wrote for downtown] overlays for the two areas, and perhaps hire Dover to do the plan. Retrofitting such miserable places is a monstrous job that requires a lot of political courage and staff time. (which is why people like Dover are helpful) I could do overlays for the areas, but it will take a LONG time for them to transform those areas.

“An example of the problem of Trad City applied to Westgate: Would it be feasible and appropriate, without an internal street plan, to require all redevelopment there to demolish the strip store and put it up on 34th or University? Seems like we first need to adopt an internal street plan, and then find the courage to get the plan adopted and conformed to. And then have enough redevelopment interest to see meaningful redevelopment over a reasonable period of time.”

 

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