Category Archives: Walking

Lessons Boulder, Colorado Needs to Learn

Urban Wisdom Relevant to Transportation, Growth and Development in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

March 13, 2018

Boulder, Colorado has implemented a number of highly admirable tactics to protect and promote its high quality of life. However, many in the city, for several decades, have aerial-view-of-boulder-btragically concluded that an important ingredient for protecting quality of life is to stop — or at least slow down or reduce the density of — newly proposed development projects in town.

Another important mistake made by many in Boulder over the course of those decades has been to equate free flowing car traffic with quality of life.

Both of these measures have greatly amplified sprawl into outlying areas beyond the Boulder greenbelt, has made the city much less affordable, has made the community much less walkable or bikable, and has greatly increased the rate of per capita car travel in the city. Each of these things, of course, undermine quality of life in Boulder.

Boulder remains a wonderful place to live, but that is true despite the mistakes I mention above.

The following represents urban design wisdom that Boulder would do well in better incorporating into its understanding of improving community health.

  • As growth becomes denser, highway costs rise while transit costs decline. – Anonymous
  • Suburbanization is the biggest threat to cities in North America. -Paul Bedford, Toronto Planning Director
  • A good sustainability and quality of life indicator: The average amount of time spend in a car. – Paul Bedford
  • Office development…pollutes land, air, and water as surely as industrial development once did. Office buildings pollute by generating vehicle traffic. A downtown office building well served by transit pollutes far less than a suburban office building accessible only by car. – Steve Belmont
  • Nobody goes there anymore. It’s too crowded. – Yogi Berra
  • NIMBY reactionaries don’t stop change in the long run. They simply help to insure that it happens in the worst possible way. – David Brain
  • Americans are broad-minded people. They’ll accept the fact that a person can be an alcoholic, a dope fiend, a wife beater, and even a newspaperman, but if a man doesn’t drive there’s something wrong with him. – Art Buchwald
  • Automobiles need quantity and pedestrians need quality. – Dan Burden
  • If the city is not well-designed, its impact on the surrounding nature will be lethal. – Javier Cenicacelaya
  • Planning of the automobile city focuses on saving time. Planning for the accessible city, on the other hand, focuses on time well spent. – Robert Cervero
  • Density is the new green – Unknown
  • Bicyclists should expect and demand safe accommodation on every public road, just as do all other users. Nothing more is expected. Nothing less is acceptable. –
  • Convivial towns can offer solace in disaster, solidarity in protest, and a quiet everyday delight in urban life…Creating and revitalizing places that foster conviviality is essential to the good life. – Mark C. Childs
  • Vancouver killed the freeway because they didn’t want the freeways to kill their neighborhoods. The city flourished because making it easier to drive does not reduce traffic; it increases it. That means if you don’t waste billions of dollars building freeways, you actually end up with less traffic. – Rick Cole
  • When we build our landscape around places to go, we lose places to be. -Rick Cole
  • We have a military policy instead of an energy policy. – Barry Commoner
  • Density and environmental protection are not incompatible. If they are, we are in very deep trouble. – Patrick Condon
  • Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than knowledge. – Charles Darwin
  • It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. – Charles Darwin
  • Progress in every age results only from the fact that there are some men and women who refuse to believe that what they know to be right cannot be done. – Russel W. Davenport
  • New Urbanism = Universal Principles calibrated locally. – Bill Dennis
  • The greatest of all evils is a weak government. – Benjamin Disraeli
  • People yearning for community are like people at a party who crowd into the kitchen because they like it. – Bruce Donnelly
  • Parking is a narcotic and ought to be a controlled substance. It is addictive, and one can never have enough. – Victor Dover
  • To most Americans the cures for traffic congestion are worse than the congestion itself. – Anthony Downs
  • [Democracies] have great difficulty solving the long-run problems created by policies that provide short-term benefits. Once people receive the benefits, they do not want to give them up. – Anthony Downs
  • In Houston, a person walking is someone on his way to his car. – Anthony Downs
  • It is NOT the inaugural condition that is the determinant of a town that is decisive: it is the ability to molt that is important. – Andres Duany
  • The problem is not the profit motive–profit has always been the driver of building in this country–the issue is the pattern. So long as the pattern was the compact, walkable and diverse neighborhood, we could continue growing–and did so for 250 years. When the pattern changed after WWII, it became unsustainable. – Andres Duany
  • In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything. – Andres Duany, “Suburban Nation”
  • We are not running out of land. We are running out of urban places. – Andres Duany
  • The Department of Transportation, in its single-minded pursuit of traffic flow, has destroyed more American towns than General Sherman [in the Civil War]  Anti-urban uses (large parking lots, large setbacks, drive-thru’s, wide and high-speed roads, etc.) are the new slaughterhouses – the places that people fight against having as neighbors. – Andres Duany
  • . – Andres Duany
  • If a number of persons are not in some way angry at the planner, then no principles have been presented; the planner has been merely a secretary to the mob, and the plan will be weak to the point of being useless. -Andres Duany
  • The loss of a forest or a farm is justified only if it is replaced by a village. To replace them with a subdivision or a shopping center is not an even trade. – Andres Duany
  • Amateurs accustomed to emulation made great places. It is the professionals of recent decades that have ruined our cities and our landscapes with their inventions. – Andres Duany
  • Higher density housing offers an inferior lifestyle only when it is without a community as its setting. – Andres Duany
  • In the suburbs you have backyard decks; in towns you have porches on the street. – Andres Duany
  • The street, which is the public realm of America, is now a barrier to community life. – Andres Duany
  • NIMBYs [are often] disguised as environmentalists. -Andres Duany
  • The role of the street is social as well as utilitarian. – Andres Duany
  • We have legislators who think it their duty only to listen to the people instead of becoming expert on the subjects which they must decide upon. – Andres Duany
  • Anchorage is the most awful place. All people know is that nature is beautiful; and they do not give a thought to the city they inhabit. – Douglas Duany
  • We can’t simultaneously promote walking and bicycling while continuing to facilitate driving. – Albert Einstein
  • The world will not evolve past its current state of crisis by using the same thinking that created the situation. – Albert Einstein
  • …There are plenty of cars and traffic jams in European cities, but urban planning and design there does not simply revolve around making space for the car. In American downtowns, however, that has too often been the case. For years, downtowns have been decimated as buildings have been cleared and streets widened in an effort to get more cars into the city. Since most cars are driven only a few hours per week, storage is a big problem. Parking lots often take up more space than any other land use. – Larry Ford
  • Architects should favor the norm more often than the exception. – Sergio Frau
  • First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. – Mohandas Gandhi
  • How nice it is to wake up every morning and know that your city is a little better than it was the day before. – Jan Gehl
  • When there is a moment of grand unanimity, you can expect great foolishness. – Paul Giacobbi
  • If you design communities for automobiles, you get more automobiles. If you design them for people, you get walkable, livable communities. – Parris Glendening and Christine Todd Whitman
  • Tradition is the tending of the fire, not the worship of the ashes. – Johan Wolfgang von Goethe
  • Urbanism works when it creates a journey as desirable as the destination. – Paul Goldberger
  • If what you sell is the perception of privacy and exclusivity, then every new house is a degradation of the amenity. However, if what you sell is community, then every new house is an enhancement of the asset. – Vince Graham
  • If buildings are beautiful, higher density compounds that beauty. Conversely, if buildings are ugly, then higher density compounds that ugliness. – Vince Graham
  • Neighborhood lobbyists have far too much influence and this influence in the end almost always equals more sprawl. – Laura Hall
  • I’ve always described Density in terms of dollars: The more you have of it, the more you can “buy” with it — referring to amenities, of course (cultural, entertainment, dining, etc.). When I get asked what’s the single most important thing that can be added to a city to help revitalize it (they are always waiting for the latest retail or entertainment thing…), I always say “housing.” – Seth Harry
  • The “suburban conundrum”: As density goes down in a suburban setting, both arterial sizes and retail format sizes tend to go up, while the frequency of both go down, resulting in longer trips, to fewer boxes, of ever increasing scale. – Seth Harry
  • Adding lanes to solve traffic congestion is like loosening your belt to solve obesity. – Glen Hemistra
  • Setbacks, Height Limits, Open Space, Parking requirements (S.H.O.P.). The four stooges of zoning have effectively outlawed compact, affordable, walkable, mixed use (CAWMU) in the United States. – Fenno Hoffman
  • The “middle” density also has the problem of traffic: the more stuff gets built, the worse the traffic gets, because you still need to drive. At some point, there’s a flip, and the more stuff gets built, the less traffic is a problem, because the less you need to drive. That’s why the transition from low-density auto-oriented to high-density pedestrian-oriented is so painful. There’s a middle ground that doesn’t work for anybody. Lots of our urban suburbs now fit into that middle ground. The solution isn’t intuitive: when you tell people that the solution to the terrible traffic is to build even more stuff, it doesn’t make sense to most people at a gut level. – Jennifer Hurley
  • Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must first be overcome. – Samuel Johnson
  • Architecture without sensibility to its context is like sex without love: entertaining perhaps, but not the source of lasting joy. – Mark Wilson Jones
  • The more parking space, the less sense of place. – Jane Holtz Kay
  • Any city planner who thinks that easing the traffic flow will decrease the city’s congestion is simply living in a dream world. Likewise, the addition of parking facilities will not, and never has, eliminated parking problems. When you improve a small congested road, you wind up with a big congested road. Likewise, the better the traffic pattern, the more traffic on that pattern; the more parking lots, the more people looking for a place to park. – John Keats
  • If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent
  • Whatever a traffic engineer tells you to do, do the opposite and you’ll improve your community. – Fred Kent
  • My interest is in the future, because I am going to spend the rest of my life there. – Charles Kettering
  • Seductive congestion. It’s what the best cities are all about. – John King
  • 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. – Pit Klasen
  • The majority of sprawl in this country is produced by those who are fleeing from sprawl. -Alex Krieger
  • Containing this type of use of 50/50 [50 mph and 50,000 cars per day] streets is far beyond the will and ability of the typical local government. The 50/50 arterial is a gift-wrapped, gold-plated, gift to strip development. Once in place, almost no power on earth will stop its march toward strip commercial. Time spent berating local governments (counties and cities) for not doing better with these monstrosities (and I’ve done my share of this) is satisfying to the critic, but is unproductive. Once in place, it is too late to do much about the 50/50 arterial. – Walter Kulash
  • A road is a strip of ground over which one walks. A highway differs from a road not only because it is solely intended for vehicles, but also because it is merely a line which connects one point to another. A highway has no meaning in itself. Its meaning derives entirely from the two points which it connects. A road is a tribute to space. Every stretch of road has meaning in itself and invites us to stop. A highway is the triumphant devaluation of space, which thanks to [the highway] has been reduced to a mere obstacle to human movement and a waste of time. – Milan Kundera
  • It matters that our cities are primarily auto storage depots. It matters that our junior high schools look like insecticide factories. It matters that our libraries look like beverage distribution warehouses. It matters that the best hotel in town looks like a minimum security prison. To live and work and walk among such surroundings is a form of spiritual degradation. It’s hard to feel good about yourself when so much of what you see on a typical day is so unrelentingly drab. – Jim Kunstler
  • …there’s a reason that Elm Street and Main Street resonate in our cultural memory. It’s not because we’re sentimental saps. It’s because this pattern of human ecology produced places that worked wonderfully well, and which people deeply loved. – Jim Kunstler
  • We are never going to save the rural places or the agricultural places or the wild and scenic places (or the wild species that dwell there) unless we identify the human habitat and then strive to make it so good that humans will voluntarily inhabit it. – Jim Kunstler
  • The 20th Century was about getting around. The 21st Century will be about staying in a place worth staying in. – Jim Kunstler
  • It actually took more effort, and a deeper background in principle and technique, on the part of the 19th century architect to contrive proportioning schemes that would nourish the heart and soul of a normal human being. Today it is the common citizen, forced to live among the baleful monstrosities of 20th century architecture, who must expend extreme mental effort to keep from shrieking in agony at every turn. – Jim Kunstler
  • Finding ways to intervene positively rather than destructively in the old city is a lot of what pro-urbanist planning–new or old–is all about. — Nathan Landau
  • Density is necessary but not sufficient for walkable, transit-friendly urban(e) communities…without adequate baseline densities, communities can wind up building a lot of sidewalks that hardly anybody walks on. – Nathan Landau
  • As we all know, architecture and urbanism, unlike other specialties, such as surgery and biology, are susceptible to being valued, criticized and even vetoed by persons without the most minimal knowledge of their most elemental principles.” – Mario Lanza (Havana 2003)
  • I have never seen a fact that would stand up to a myth at a public hearing. – J. Gary Lawrence
  • …the state of Detroit today (1/3 of the city’s land is vacant, decrease in population by 1/2, etc.) is exactly what the automobile industry intended to have happen to formerly pedestrian-oriented cities.  Detroit probably has more freeway miles than most U.S. cities, and it sure hasn’t benefited Detroit.  (Reflecting upon this is the source of my challenge to freeway proponents — name one freeway construction project that has benefited the traditional center city more than the suburbs, or benefited the city at all.  The reality is that freeways are for suburbanites.) – Richard Layman
  • …walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that “more is less”; more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral.

Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral. – Christopher B. Leinberger, Dec. 20th, 2006. Author of The Option of Urbanism.

  • The essence of suburbanism is protection.  Protection against whatever is around you.  The essence of good urbanism is connection.  Connection to whatever is around you.  This is reflected in the physical form of development. – Bruce Liedstrand
  • When you’re making a housing decision, you’re also making a decision on transportation. – Barbara Lipman
  • You say what you think needs to be said. If it needs to be said, there are going to be a lot of people who will disagree with it, or it wouldn’t need to be said. – Herb Lock
  • …in general we call these sorts of claims [about why a road cannot be narrowed], by conventional thinkers (usually conventional, old-school, traffic engineers), “technical brush-offs.” The idea is that, through the misuse of their position, they simply blow off your legitimate design proposal with a technical brush-off. You are supposed to go away and not come back. The benefit to them is that they waste very little time on you and your proposal. However, you research the technical brush-off, find out that it is baloney, come back, and confront them. They then will say, “Oh, good job, you’re right. However, your idea won’t work because ….. and they will give you another technical brush-off. This pattern can continue until either you give up or it is too late. Plus, a lot of damage can be done in the meantime by stirring up the neighbors, the fire chief, and/or the police. You have been given two technical brush-offs so far…The next brush-offs will likely have to do with the classification of the street and that they can’t do what you propose. It might also be that they cannot use certain types of funding to reduce car-carrying capacity. By the time you get right down to the real issue, it will likely be that they simply do not want to do the road diet [narrowing]. It violates their paradigm. In these situations, you’ll have to decide, at some point, if you will be able to convince the traffic dinosaurs of the overall benefits to society of you proposal. – Ian Lockwood
  • LEED [a rating system that assesses energy conservation] architecture without good urban design is like cutting down the rainforest using hybrid-powered bulldozers. – Dan Malouff
  • [American] Planners fight against good urbanism every day of the week, and have for fifty years. – John Massengale
  • Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. – Matthew 7:13-14
  • One of the interesting features of much of [the recent research regarding walking] is that taken as a whole it shows that mixed use and walkable destinations have a bigger impact on walking than the quality of the pedestrian environment itself.  Beautiful sidewalks with nowhere to go don’t really cut it. – Barbara McCann
  • Growth is inevitable and desirable, but destruction of community character is not. The question is not whether your part of the world is going to change. The question is how. – Edward T. McMahon
  • …Rather than design a transportation system to get the most out of America’s cities, America redesigned the cities to get the most out of the automobile. – Richard Moe
  • The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney
  • Isn’t it paradoxical that the old factories are now the place of efficient and desirable urban living, while the suburban escape from them have become consumptive, environmentally unsustainable, noxious places. – Michael Morrissey
  • The most serious obstacles in our road building program are not money, nor engineering problems, nor cruel terrain–but PEOPLE. – James J. Morton
  • The car is not the enemy, nor is the elimination of cars the solution. It is our societal bias toward cars that must be questioned. – Anne Vernez Moudon
  • The vernacular process is based on things that resonates enough with the average citizen that they want to repeat it on their house or in their town. Repeated enough over time, it becomes a pattern, and then a tradition. The Most-Loved Places are therefore all by definition traditional places. – Steve Mouzon
  • The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle, is actually the right to destroy the city. – Lewis Mumford
  • We cannot continue to believe that the landscape is sacred and the city profane. They must both be considered sacred. – Paul Murrain
  • What kills a city are people who want only low taxes, only want a good deal and only want cities to be about . . . pipes, pavement and policing. – Glen Murray, mayor of Winnipeg, Manitoba
  • We are making great progress, but we are going in the wrong direction. – Ogden Nash
  • The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport. -Peter Newman & Jeffrey Kenworthy
  • Cities are for people. A city is where people come to work and raise their families and to spend their money and to walk in the evening. It is not a traffic corridor. -John Norquist
  • There is no greater form of subsidized social engineering than the interstate highway, which hastens the flight out of the city without doing much to ease traffic congestion. -John Norquist
  • This used to be Main Street USA. It’s now a code violation all over America. – John Norquist
  • Suburban planning is all about separation and segregation of uses. Buffers, enormous setbacks, masking. Urban planning, by stark contrast, strives for mixed and shared use, permeability, and compact dimensions. – Dom Nozzi
  • Smart Growth defined: Making the car an option, not a necessity. – Dom Nozzi
  • Places don’t become strip commercial because all the trees were cut down. They become strip commercial because the place has been scaled for cars. The road is too wide. The parking lot is too big. The building setbacks are too large. Ironically, saving a tree often promotes such an over-allocation of space. – Dom Nozzi
  • This nation is drowning in a sea of free and abundant parking. – Dom Nozzi
  • The pedestrian is the design imperative. – Dom Nozzi
  • If you are an elected official lacking in courage and leadership, and you face even a peep of opposition to a project, fall back on perfectionism to find a flaws so that you can shoot down the project. Perfectionism leads to paralysis. – Dom Nozzi
  • In part, public planning agencies have no vision because they are drowning in minutiae. – Dom Nozzi
  • We need to design our cities so that one feels embarrassed, inconvenienced, and like one who is missing out on all the fun when driving a car. – Dom Nozzi
  • Working adults formerly enjoyed an hour of “community time” after the workday was over and before they were expected home. It has been replaced by an hour of “commuting time.” The former warmed us to our fellow human beings, the latter conditions us to hate them. – Ray Oldenburg, Celebrating the Third Place
  • A good plan today is better than a perfect plan tomorrow. – George S. Patton
  • A city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Over the last 30 years, we’ve been able to magnify environmental consciousness all over the world. As a result, we know a lot about the ideal environment for a happy whale or a happy mountain gorilla. We’re far less clear about what constitutes an ideal environment for a happy human being. One common measure for how clean a mountain stream is, is to look for trout. If you find the trout, the habitat is healthy. It’s the same way with children in a city. Children are a kind of indicator species. If we can build a successful city for children, we will have a successful city for all people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • God made us walking animals—pedestrians. As a fish needs to swim, a bird to fly, a deer to run, we need to walk, not in order to survive, but to be happy. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Anything you do to make a city more friendly to cars makes it less friendly to people. – Enrique Penalosa
  • Americans are in the habit of never walking if they can ride. – Louis Philippe (1798)
  • Some collective practices have enormous inertia because they impose a high cost on the individual who would try to change them. – Steven Pinker
  • When you’re on the street [as a pedestrian], all cars are monsters. When you’re in a car, all pedestrians are idiots. – Alan E. Pisarski
  • Nothing looks so dated as yesterday’s vision of the future. – Christian De Quincey
  • Well planned cities can compensate for declining incomes by decreasing the cost of living. – Henry Richmond
  • To achieve excellence should be a struggle. – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley
  • We live in a country made of spare parts where the master plan has been lost. – Jaquelyn Robertson
  • Every freedom has a corresponding responsibility. – John D. Rockefeller
  • Over-emphasis on mobility is what’s destroying our cities now, and “improved” mobility could make things worse. So maybe my views on transportation have become extreme if you consider that I’m becoming an advocate for LESS mobility, and more place-making. Famous urbanist Jan Gehl says “Judge the walkability of a city not by how many people are walking, but by how many people are lingering.” The places people love are actually quite hard to get around in, and the places with great mobility are usually dead and sterile places. – Michael Ronkin
  • There is no lack of space [in cities]. It is just that most of it is in the form of vacant parking lots and extra wide roads. -Michael Ronkin
  • The measure of any great civilization is in its cities, and the measure of a city’s greatness is to be found in the quality of its public spaces, its parks and squares.  – John Ruskin
  • The only way you run into someone else in LA is in a car crash. – Susan Sarandon, on why she moved to NY.
  • From time to time, little men will find fault with what you have done…but they will go down the stream like bubbles, they will vanish. But the work you have done will remain for the ages. – Theodore Roosevelt
  • When a new truth enters the world, the first stage of reaction to it is ridicule, the second stage is violent opposition, and in the third stage, that truth comes to be regarded as self-evident – Arthur Schopenhauer
  • A culture of inertia has set in. Criticism predominates over construction; critics are given more weight than those trying to build. It doesn’t matter how small a constituency or flawed an argument the critic possesses. He or she always seems to predominate in political circles, in the news media, and in the public debate. – Senator Charles E. Schumer
  • Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. – Albert Schweitzer
  • Although the American scarcely thought of his car as an instrument for reshaping the city, it was to prove the most potent means of crippling Central Business Districts and upbuilding outlying shopping areas that had ever been invented. It was the most effective device for spreading the city over a vast territory that history had ever seen. Its potential for destruction and for construction was, in short, awesome. – Mel Scott
  • Off-street parking requirements [imposed by a city for new developments] and cars…present a symbiotic relationship: the requirements lead to free parking, the free parking leads to more cars and more cars then lead to even higher parking requirements. When 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet [of new building] no longer satisfy the peak demand for free parking, a stronger dose of 4 spaces per 1,000 square feet can alleviate the problem, but not for long because cars increase in numbers to fill the new parking spaces. Every jab of the parking needle relieves the local symptoms, but ultimately worsens the real disease — too much land and capital devoted to parking and cars. Parking requirements are good for motorists in the short run but bad for cities in the long run. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • For a concert hall, Los Angeles requires, at a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco allows as the maximum. This difference in planning helps explain why downtown San Francisco is much more exciting and livable than downtown Los Angeles. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • American cities put a floor under the parking supply to satisfy the peak demand for free parking, and then cap development density to limit vehicle trips. European cities, in contrast, often cap the number of parking spaces to avoid congesting the roads and combine this strategy with a floor on allowed development density to encourage walking, cycling, and public transport. That is, Americans require parking and limit density, while Europeans require density and limit parking. When combined with complaints about traffic congestion and calls for smart growth, the American policy looks exceptionally foolish. – Donald Shoup, The High Cost of Free Parking
  • Minimum parking standards [regulations that require the provision of parking] are fertility drugs for cars. – Donald Shoup
  • Staunch conservatives often become ardent communists when it comes to parking, and rational people quickly turn emotional. – Donald Shoup
  • If we continue to do what we’ve always done with curb parking, we will continue to get what we now have — the “parking problem,” with all its ramifications. Fortunately, we can resolve this problem if we: (1) charge market prices for curb parking; (2) return the revenue to finance neighborhood public improvements; and (3) remove off-street parking requirements. No other source of public revenue can so easily bring in so much money and simultaneously improve transportation, land use, and the environment. – Donald Shoup
  • A suburban through street is similar to a New Urbanist through street in the same way that a concrete flood channel is similar to a babbling brook. – Patrick Siegman
  • Preserving natural habitat by creating better human habitat. – Smart Growth America’s web site
  • People move to the suburbs for the illusion of greater freedom, but it is where there is density – more people & more kinds of people, more buildings & more kinds of buildings – that there are more choices. – Sandy Sorlien
  • The house itself is of minor importance. Its relation to the community is the thing that really counts. A small house must depend on its grouping with other houses for its beauty… – Clarence Stein
  • The opposite to bad development is good development, not no development. – Padriac Steinschneider
  • Environmentalists fail to understand that human beings are a life form. – Dhiru Thadani
  • Consensus is the absence of leadership. – Margaret Thatcher
  • The paradox of transportation in the late 20th Century is that while it became possible to travel to the moon, it also became impossible, in many cases, to walk across the street. – Joell Vanderwagen
  • 50 years ago, city planning practices and codes moved from being community unifiers to suburban dividers. – Tom Walsh
  • Placing surface parking lots in your downtowns is like placing a toilet in your living room – Unknown
  • A community has to have the capacity to envision a future they want, and not just the one they are likely to get. – Unknown
  • The suburb fails to be a countryside because it is too dense. It fails to be a city because it is not dense enough. – Unknown
  • He who tells the truth must have one foot in the stirrup. – Old Armenian proverb





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

Phoenix or Siena? Do We Reduce Environmental Impact by Stopping Growth? Or Ensuring Growth is Better?

By Dom Nozzi

February 13, 2018

Someone posted a rebuttal to the excellent guest opinion in the Boulder, Colorado newspaper by Zane Selvan’s about the environmental impacts of low density development in Boulder:

“There it is again: ‘per capita carbon footprint’. I’m concerned with Boulder’s ‘net’ carbon footprint. Density and infill proponents want to increase the population and increase the net carbon footprint in order to achieve a decrease in per capita carbon footprint. It’s the only way they can do it. It’s oxymoronic. Boulder will become a bigger, dirtier more crowded city overall in order to become slightly cleaner per individual. It’s a self defeating policy.”

My response: If Boulder’s 108,000 people were spread out over a lower density, more dispersed and car dependent pattern, the impact on the environment would be much more brutal and unsustainable. As it stands now, Boulder’s low-density pattern already fuels a huge amount of car travel and carbon emissions — way more than if that 108,000 people were in a more compact, human-scaled pattern.

For those, like me, who prefer a “small town character,” Boulder would feel much more like a small town if the city was much more compact, rather than dispersed. If our parking lots were smaller and more rare. If our roads and intersections were less massive. For me and many others, “small town ambiance” is much better achieved when we have a compact, human-scaled dimensioning of our neighborhoods and town centers and road infrastructure.

Small town character, for me, has far less to do with the number of people who live in Boulder.

There are hundreds of cities and towns in Europe that demonstrate this.

When I am at a monster huge Boulder intersection with a double-left turn lane and six or so through lanes, I feel like I am in Houston or Phoenix. I feel uncomfortable, exposed, unsafe, anxious to leave, and disappointed about what has been done. There is no sense of place whatsoever, and it feels “big city” even though I would often be about the only human at that intersection. By contrast, I can be in, say, Pearl Street Mall with hundreds of people, but the human-scaled dimensions create a small town sense of place and comfort and pride.

It is sometimes claimed that the only reason certain cities are compact and walkable is that they have convenient public transportation (and “my city does not have convenient transit”). But having convenient transit service is not simply a matter of citizens asking for it or elected officials providing it. Places like Phoenix and Houston and many neighborhoods in Boulder don’t have convenient transit because citizens have spent decades demanding…

  • Low density
  • Short suburban buildings
  • A huge amount of free parking
  • Wide, free-flowing, and free-to-use roads

Each of those elements make it extremely difficult if not impossible to provide convenient transit in a city. The fact that Siena and NYC and much of Boston and DC have convenient transit is that they opted to build densely and did not go hog wild in making cars happy. Why is transit not convenient in much of Boulder? Why is it so convenient in bigger US cities? Is it because they are smart and Boulder is stupid? I think not.

I prefer convenient transit and “small town ambiance,” which is why I regularly advocate compact, 2-5 story neighborhoods and town centers with scarce, priced parking and human-scaled streets. The fact that so many in Boulder fight to the death for low density, one-story subdivisions with abundant parking and wide roads largely explains why Boulder is losing its “small town ambiance.”Big city vs small town ambiance

How ironic.

Notice in the photo set that in the “small town ambiance” places in Siena and Boulder, we are looking at places that have a relatively compact collection of people living, working, shopping, and playing. In other words, “small town ambiance” is often found when we have a relatively large population size. Also notice the taller buildings in the two “small town ambiance” images compared to the two “big city ambiance” images. In other words, “tall” buildings do not necessarily create a “big city ambiance.” Indeed, the opposite is often true.

Some people say that a larger number of people have a larger carbon footprint than a smaller number of people. Well yes, that is obviously true. But is there a practical way for us to halt population growth? After working academically and professionally in environmental science and town planning for 40 years, I know of no humane or constitutional way for us to stop population growth.

What some would like us to do is to nudge the growth toward other communities, but that does not reduce the carbon footprint. It just shifts it to less politically powerful or more affordable places. Such an effort also disperses human settlement rather than having human settlement be more compact, and that ramps up the overall carbon footprint.

The effective way to reduce overall carbon footprint, then, is to not waste our time trying to do the impossible (stopping human population increases) or being NIMBYs (by shunting the growth to politically weaker places).

The key is to work to have development occur in a more compact, sustainable way that promotes a healthy, happy city. When we do that, people are less likely to want to live in low-density, car-dependent places (because town center living is more enjoyable and enticing).

Boulder’s dispersed, low-density development pattern means we have plenty of infill development opportunities so that we can become more compact, safe, sociable, and walkable.

With compact, relatively gentle, context-sensitive infill (small condos, compact apartments, mixed use, small houses, row houses, small lot sizes, small or no setbacks, 2-5 story buildings, accessory dwelling units, co-ops, replacement of surface parking and suburban setbacks and sprawling industrial/warehouse areas with urban buildings) — not to mention the elimination of required parking — we substantially increase affordable housing opportunities. That would mean we’d have less people being forced — for financial reasons — to move to outlying, car-dependent places. Again, the overall carbon footprint would go down.

Despite the conventional wisdom we still hear too often in Boulder, it turns out that being pro-city is to be pro-environment. To be anti-city is to be anti-environment. Compactness is the new green.

Phoenix or Siena? I prefer the compactness of a Siena over the low-density Phoenix (or Orlando)…


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A Conversation with a Graduate Student Regarding Transportation Planning and Complete Streets

By Dom Nozzi

November 22, 2012

A graduate student in transportation planning at the University of Florida contacted me with questions regarding Complete Streets on November 21, 2012.

She wanted to answer the research question that asked, “Would implementation of Complete Streets policies be feasible and beneficial in the Gainesville region?”

The following are her questions and my responses.
How would you define a complete street?

A Complete Street is safe, comfortable and convenient for travel by car, by walking, by bicycle, and by transit. The design of a Complete Street varies, however, based on the context (or location) of the street. In a town center, for example, a Complete Street tends to have car travel lanes, sidewalks, and bus stops/seating. In a suburban context, a Complete Street tends to have car travel lanes, in-street bike lanes, sidewalks, and bus cspull-out lanes. In other words, Complete Streets is not a one-size-fits-all concept.

Do you support complete streets in general (not specific to Gainesville region)?

Complete Streets should be the default design, based on context, for all new and modified streets in the US. Doing so promotes travel choice, fairness, equity, sustainability, public health, affordability, civic pride, economic health, and public safety. Only when special studies determine that a Complete Street is not justified should an incomplete street be built. Note that the reverse is the case for nearly all American communities for the past century. That is, special studies are needed to determine that a Complete Street is justified and should be built.

What can you tell me about Gainesville’s transportation policies?

I was the lead planner and author of Gainesville’s long-range transportation plan that was adopted as part of the City’s Year 2000 Comprehensive Plan (the “Transportation Mobility” Element of the Plan). I am nearly certain that nearly all of the policies in the Year 2000 plan, as well as Gainesville’s overall traffic engineering, MTPO, City Commission, and other transportation-related goals, objectives and policies remain essentially the same today as they were in 2000 and when I left in October 2007. Those policies – many (most?) of which I was not personally or professionally supportive of – sought to promote free-flowing car traffic, convenience and low cost for traveling and parking by car, implicitly calls for the allocation of nearly all public transportation revenue to car-supportive infrastructure, promotes dispersal of development (i.e., suburban sprawl), calls for a level of service for cars that is too high, and calls for land use densities that were low enough to be conducive to convenient and free-flowing car travel.

For decades, the City has adopted Comprehensive Plan goals, objectives and policies that promote bicycling, walking, and transit use. However, these bicycling, walking, and transit policies have not been effective in promoting transportation choice (i.e., meaningfully higher levels of bicycling, walking, and transit) because the policies promoting car travel that I noted earlier have resulted in a significant suppression in bicycling, walking, and transit travel (due to inconvenience, high cost, and danger that the previously noted policies create for bicycling, walking, and transit). An important flaw in Gainesville’s transportation plans is that car mobility continues to be emphasized, rather than transportation accessibility, and car mobility is a zero-sum game. That is, the more the City promotes car mobility (via wider and wider free-flowing streets and abundant/free car parking), the less conducive the city becomes for bicycling, walking, and transit. Unfortunately, Gainesville continues to believe that transportation is a win-win situation, and I firmly disagree with that view.

Does the city council have complete streets goals in its comprehensive plan?

Gainesville did not have goals, objectives or policies in its comprehensive plan that explicitly called for Complete Streets as of October 2007 when I left the city. However, the year 2000 Comprehensive Plan implicitly called for Complete Streets in a great many goals, objectives and policies. I am sure this is also the case in the more recently adopted Comprehensive Plan. This is not to say that the existing goals, objectives and policies are adequately calling for Complete Streets. It is certain that the existing goals, objectives and policies can be revised to more clearly direct the City to create Complete Streets in the future.

Do you think that Gainesville’s current policies would accommodate complete streets or would there need to be extensive revisions?

As I noted above, Gainesville – like nearly all cities – has transportation policies that at least implicitly promote Complete Streets. But like most cities, those policies could benefit from substantial re-wording to make them more effective in achieving Complete Streets. Examples: (1) The policies could call for a substantial shift in public revenue allocation so that significantly more public transportation dollars are allocated to bicycling, walking, and transit. And substantially less allocation of dollars to car travel promotion (including revisions to the Capital Improvements Program Element); (2) The policies could call for a seamless integration of the Complete Streets policies with those found in the design manuals, implementation policies, bicycling and transit, construction/rehab/resurfacing checklists, and procedures used, for example, by the City and County Public Works/Traffic Engineering Departments, the MTPO policies, the FDOT, the City and County Offices of Management and Budgeting, the City and County Fire Departments, and the City and County Housing Departments; (3) The policies could include Complete Streets “performance measures” so that the City would know – quantitatively – whether it was making progress in achieving more complete streets over time; (4) The policies could call for opportunistically adding complete streets elements to streets which are undergoing modifications for such things as stormwater or restriping; and (5) Revising the scoring and prioritizing of City transportation projects so that walking, bicycling and transit score higher.

How could we implement complete streets into those streets which have already been developed without accounting for all users?

There are a number of tactics, depending on the street. For example, space for sidewalks or bike lanes can be created by narrowing travel or turn lanes (when restriping, for example), or removing turn lanes. Transit facilities can usually be retrofitted without any need for additional street right-of-way. Many streets have an excessive number of turn or travel lanes, and new space can be found on such streets by removing such excessive lanes. The “road diet” on Gainesville’s Main Street is an example of a tactic that can be used on a great many streets in Gainesville.

How do you think that Gainesville’s complete streets could be funded?

The point we often make at the Complete Streets workshops we conduct throughout the nation is that more complete streets can be achieved without any increase in revenue to the community. Many complete streets designs can be achieved in a cost-free manner (a restriping project could include bike lanes, for example). A community could also re-allocate its transportation dollars so that a higher percentage of such dollars are allocated to bicycling, walking or transit. Funding for a single purpose could be used for multiple purposes (stormwater funding might also be used to install a sidewalk, for example). If these approaches are not sufficient, there are many federal, state and local funding programs that can be tapped for complete streets design.

Do you think that investing in complete streets now would save transportation related costs in the future?

Absolutely. When done right, more durable methods and materials are used for street modification projects. When complete streets elements are included in the initial construction of the street modification project, both this and the more durable methods and materials reduce the need for – and cost of — retrofitting. There is a growing consensus that due to demographic, energy and other inevitable changes, Gainesville will see a shrinking number of motorists and a growing number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. By taking that into account with a Complete Streets program now, Gainesville will save substantial infrastructure costs that would otherwise be needed in the future to accommodate this new composition of travelers. Because it is inevitable that larger percentages of Gainesville travelers will be bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users, it is much less costly to acquire needed materials and right-of-way for such travelers now, rather than in the future, when such costs will be much higher.

How do you think that complete streets, if developed properly, would change the Gainesville community?

If Gainesville successfully creates a comprehensive set of policies, procedures, complete streets infrastructure, and the nine essential elements I list below, Gainesville would see a substantial increase in bicycling, walking and transit use. It would become more healthy, would see medical expenses go down, would see its taxes increase less rapidly, would see local government expenses drop substantially, would see more civic pride, would enjoy more “social capital,” would see less suburban sprawl, would see a more revitalized town center, would have cleaner air and water, would have healthier wildlife ecosystems, would have more affordable housing, would have less crime, would have less travel injuries and deaths, would have healthier locally-owned retail, would have better high-quality job growth, would have reduced noise pollution, would have less visual blight, and would have more stable property values.

Do you feel that Complete Streets policies would be beneficial and/or feasible to the Gainesville community? Why or why not?

Yes, for the reasons I list in a number of other answers I provide above and below. The most important obstacle to achieving the beneficial aspects of Complete Streets policy, as I point out below, is achieving sufficient will to do so. Political, citizen and staff will.


 In sum, while I believe that Gainesville would need (and benefit from) a substantial revision in its long-range plan goals, objectives and policies, its design manuals, its departmental procedures, and its funding formulas to better promote Complete Streets, doing so will also require substantial changes in other areas if Gainesville is to successfully create a successful Complete Streets program, as well as substantially shifting a large number of car trips to walking, bicycling and transit.

First and foremost, I do not believe that Gainesville has the political will, the staff will, or the citizen will to create complete streets and an overall environment rich in transportation choice. Like nearly all cities, Gainesville has had goals, objectives and policies that are quite supportive of complete streets. But such overwhelming support, on paper, is little more than paying lip service to complete streets and transportation choice – unless other essential elements are achieved. The main obstacles that will remain, even if Gainesville adopts high-quality Complete Streets policies, include:

  • An almost complete lack in political, citizen or staff will to create complete streets and transportation choice.
  • An excessive provision of free (and underpriced) car parking throughout the Gainesville urban area.
  • Excessively wide streets throughout the Gainesville urban area. In general, streets wider than three lanes in the Traditional City town center and five lanes in suburban areas is excessive. Overly wide roads in Gainesville lead to even larger intersections, which are deadly to people walking and bicycling.
  • A gas tax which is too low.
  • An extremely dispersed, sprawling city geographic spread. A city that is over fifty five square miles in size (as well as the unincorporated urban area) creates distances that are far too excessive for regular travel by walking, bicycling or transit.
  • A lack of tolling (pricing) of roads in Gainesville.
  • A lack of a mixing of homes with offices, retail, civic, cultural, and job land uses.
  • A lack of sufficiently high residential densities in appropriate locations.
  • A lack of a parking cash-out program that provides financial (or other) incentives for commuting to work without a car.

Without achieving the nine items I mention above, even adopting the best Complete Streets policies will do very little to achieve Complete Streets or transportation choice in Gainesville. Furthermore, even if the City did create a citywide street infrastructure that provided complete streets comprehensively (all streets had sidewalks, were bike-friendly, and were transit-friendly), only a small shift in car travel to walking, bicycling or transit would occur because of the above nine items. As a friend and colleague has pointed out, meaningfully increasing the number of pedestrians, bicyclists or transit users is not about creating new bike lanes, sidewalks or transit facilities.

It is about taking away space, speed and subsidies that motorists now enjoy.



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30th Street and Colorado Avenue Redesign: Boulder Colorado is Not Ready

By Dom Nozzi

February 8, 2018

Boulder established a Community Working Group (CWG) in 2017 which was tasked with helping to redesign 30th Street and Colorado Avenue. The redesign effort was motivated by the fact that these roads are characterized by important concerns: a high level of crashes, low levels of bicycling, walking, and transit, poor aesthetics, and issues with residential and retail development along these roads.

The 30th Street and Colorado Avenue redesign should significantly improve health for small retail shops and homes. It should significantly improve safety for all users. It should beautify the corridor. It should be designed to ensure that land uses along the corridor produce sufficient taxes so that the street is financially self-sufficient (in its current state, it is a financial drain). It should, in other words, be a street and not a stroad. Unfortunately, as of February 2018, four of the six options are window dressing options that are doing nothing to advance these important objectives.

I will focus my comments on 30th Street for the sake of simplicity and brevity, but much of this could also be applied to Colorado Avenue.

With regard to mobility vs accessibility, it has become clear to me that the focus of the 30th and Colorado project is heavily tilted toward mobility. Four of the six design options, for example, would maintain the current configuration of four general purpose (GP) car lanes. I have a number of problems with the car-centered bias, and the overall project evaluation.

Including the “No Build” (existing conditions) scenario, there are six design options for 30th:

  1. No Build (existing): Four GP car lanes, bike lanes, sidewalks. Very low financial cost.
  2. Option 1 and 1a: Two GP car lanes, center turn lane, wider bike lanes with buffers, protected bike lanes for 1a, no added ROW needed. Very low financial cost.
  3. Option 2: Two GP car lanes, two bus lanes, center landscaped median, wider bike lanes protected by tree strip, 30 ft more ROW needed. Very high financial cost.
  4. Option 3: Four GP car lanes (with wider outside lanes), wider (and protected?) bike lanes, landscaped tree strip, 20 ft more ROW needed. Very high financial cost.
  5. Option 4: Four GP car lanes (with wider outside lanes), bike lanes removed, wider ped/bike shared sidewalks, 20 ft more ROW needed. Moderate financial cost.
  6. Option 5: Four GP car lanes (with wider outside lanes), wider and buffered or protected bike lanes, no added ROW needed. Very low financial cost.

Over the course of a great many meetings, the staff and consultant worked with the Community Working Group (CWG) to come up with criteria to evaluate the ability of various design options to achieve various community objectives. Unfortunately, these evaluation criteria are flawed and are missing important measures. For example:

  • No evaluation of which design options will result in the highest average motorist speeds (clearly, the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will result in far higher average car speeds).
  • No evaluation of which design options will result in better accessibility rather than an over-emphasis on mobility (clearly, the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will result in excessive car mobility at the expense of accessibility).
  • No evaluation of which design options will result in the largest number of crashes (clearly, the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will result in a far higher number of crashes). There are four evaluation criteria which address safety, and I find it highly misleading that the evaluation scoring shows all six design options making safety “better.” This is highly misleading because it strongly implies that all six design options will be equally beneficial in improving safety. In my opinion, this is absolutely untrue, as the four options maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will be far less safe. For example, let’s say that 10 car crashes occur each year on 30th. While it may be technically true that safety tweaks in the four options proposing to maintain the 4 GP car lanes will result in, say, 9 crashes instead of 10, the two design options which propose 2 GP car lanes will result in, say, 2 crashes instead of 10. Clearly, the 2 GP car lane design options are far safer, but again, the evaluation implies they are all equally beneficial for safety by labeling all of them as “better” for safety.
  • No evaluation of which design options are most conducive to more compact, accessible, walkable, bikeable, transit-friendly retail and residential land use patterns (clearly the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes are far less conducive to such retail and residential development along 30th).
  • No evaluation of which design options are most likely to promote an increase in walking or bicycling or transit travel (clearly, the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will result in far fewer walking or bicycling or transit trips on 30th).
  • No evaluation of which design options are most likely to advance Boulder GHG emissions and climate change goals (clearly, clearly, the four options which propose maintaining the 4 GP car lanes will result in far higher emissions and failure to meet climate change goals).
  • No evaluation of which design options are most likely to advance the Boulder Vision Zero goal (clearly, only the two options which propose to establish 2 GP car lanes have any realistic chance of achieving Vision Zero).

The four design options which propose 4 GP car lanes (No Build, and Options 3, 4, and 5) are exceptionally unsafe for at least three reasons: (1) They induce far higher average car speeds than do Options 1 and 2 (and the speeding driver sets the pace, rather than the prudent driver); (2) They induce frequent lane changing by cars, which is extremely dangerous at higher speeds; and (3) They induce more inattentive driving (due to the large width and relatively low level of “friction”). On the issue of speed, studies have found that the probability of death in a car crash at 20 mph is about 5 percent. At 30 mph, the probability is about 45 percent. At 40 mph, it is 85 percent.

It is now acknowledged by a large and growing number of American traffic engineers (including the US DOT) that a 3-lane road (which is the configuration for the two proposed “2 GP car lanes” design options on 30th ) carries about the same volume as a 4-lane road. That, in addition to the rather large number (and significant) benefits that converting from 4 GP car lanes to 2 GP car lanes delivers, helps explain why City of Boulder staff supported the “2 GP car lanes” design option a few years ago for 30th. The reason 3 lanes carries about the same as 4 lanes is that like on 30th, when there are many left turns not supported by a left-turn lane, the inside lane of a 4-lane road behaves as a 3-lane road because the inside lane is regularly acting like it is a turn lane.

Some on the CWG objected to the evaluation criterion of “reliable” travel times. The thinking of those who objected was that this did not capture the overwhelming objective held by most Boulder residents: That travel time not be increased by a design option. I pointed out that we must first define what we mean by “increased travel time.” Is one additional second of travel time considered unacceptable (in exchange for far fewer car crashes)? Is five seconds unacceptable? How about three minutes? Without defining what we mean by an unacceptable increase in travel time, I don’t believe it is a good idea to change this criterion from “reliable” to an “increase in travel time,” as some CWG members suggested. Personally, I don’t believe it is possible for Boulder to come up with a community-wide, agreed upon definition for what is the unacceptable threshold for increased travel time. In part because there are so many trade-offs (safety, promoting bicycling, retail health, etc.).

In sum, of the six proposed design options, only the two options which propose 2 GP car lanes (Options 1 & 2) have any chance of achieving land use, transportation, climate change, or safety goals adopted by Boulder. Besides the “No Build” option, the other three options which propose 4 GP car lanes (Options 3, 4, & 5) are essentially also “No Build” options with window dressing such as added landscaping or wider bike lanes. In part, these three are “No Build” options because they do almost nothing to advance Boulder objectives. In addition, as Charles Marohn has pointed out in his work for, the four options which maintain 4 GP car lanes impose a severe and unrelenting financial burden on Boulder because they induce high car crash and maintenance costs, as well as inducing land uses which do not produce taxes that are high enough to support the costs they impose.

For the record, I support Option 1a (2 GP car lanes, center turn lane, and protected bike lanes).Road-Diet

It should be noted that in the scoring of the six design options by staff and the consultant, Option 2 (2 GP car lanes and two bus lanes) scored far better than any of the other options. Curiously, at the January 22nd CWG meeting, nearly all CWG members indicated a preference for one of the three “No Build with Window Dressing” options (4 GP car lanes). Option 3 was particularly popular. Tellingly, even though these three “No Build with Window Dressing” options were by far the most popular among CWG members in attendance, there seemed to be great reluctance for anyone to speak up and explain the benefits. My speculation as to why the three “No Build with Window Dressing” options were preferred by most, then, is either that CWG members were looking out for their own personal interests (despite being told up front that community interests should take precedence over personal interests), or that CWG members were considering the reaction to the Folsom Street project and deciding that the political winds would not make Options 1 or 2 viable.

As I have pointed out previously, I don’t believe Boulder is politically ready to adopt a design option for 30th that will meaningfully achieve a great many important community objectives. I therefore believe that Boulder should suspend this project until such time as the residents of Boulder are politically willing to support a design that is effective in achieving community objectives. Proceeding under existing political conditions wastes time, effort, and money.



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If I were King of My City

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

May 1, 2006

I often find myself highly frustrated by the actions or inactions of the city I live in. Because many of my views are so “controversial,” I have little chance of ever being elected to office in order to seek such changes from such a decision-making position. Instead, I am left to speculate what I would do if I were the “king” of my

If I were king, I would make deep and permanent cuts in police and fire budgets. Nearly all cities in America put excessive amounts of public tax money into the police and fire departments. Crime rates counter-intuitively increase when police expenditures increase (partly because doing so starves public programs that more effectively reduce crime rates, and partly because more police dollars means there are more police available to detect crime). Nearly every year, due to the politics of fear (“Babies will die in burning buildings if you don’t give the fire department another $30 million!” or “Your homes will be burglarized if you don’t give the police department another $10 million!”), communities spend excessive amounts of money on police and fire services. While these services are extremely important, they should not be funded by starving other services essential to local quality of life (parks and recreation, streetscaping, code enforcement, traffic calming, energy conservation retrofits, restoration of environmentally degraded natural areas, road diets, efforts to reduce noise pollution, open space acquisition, town and regional planning, bus service, and bike and pedestrian paths, etc.). More money for police also increases the number of times that citizens are charged with petty crimes (because the police have more resources to do so). This also promotes a “police state” atmosphere. In large part, the excessive moneys cities tend to allocate to police and fire services is based on extreme levels of societal hysteria, which candidates for office and elected officials both promote and leverage for their own ends. The excessive and continuously increasing police and fire budgets are a recipe for community ruin. A companion reason for this over-allocation is the utter lack of leadership found in America.

If I were king, I would ground law enforcement helicopters (used in many cities). A police helicopter creates substantial noise pollution (particularly in central city neighborhoods) and has little payoff in comparison to the high on-going maintenance costs. In addition, such helicopters create citizen anxiety in the sense that they create a “war zone” ambience in the community.

If I were king, I would establish and implement a citywide Road Diet and traffic calming plan. There is nothing that city government can do that would more effectively improve in-town retail, residential and office health and safety than to remove travel lanes from 4-, 5- and 6-lane roads and slow average car speeds. Such road modifications would also dramatically improve street safety and promote bicycle, transit and pedestrian travel. This would also be the most powerful way to slow and reverse suburban sprawl, discourage Big Box retail, reduce property taxes, reduce regional air pollution and fuel consumption, promote infill development, reduce sign pollution, improve property values and improve quality of life. I would couple diets/calming with a charter amendment which would set a 3-lane maximum street size in an urbanized area and 5-travel lane maximum road size in suburban areas.

If I were king, I would inventory downtown improvement needs, and then correct them. Conduct a thorough, detailed, walking tour of downtown to identify existing downtown needs—such as sidewalk gaps and other sidewalk flaws, needed road diets, needed on-street parking, needed raised medians, and surface parking that should be converted to infill buildings. Following the inventory, I would devote resources sufficient to aggressively eliminate such needs each year. Many downtowns fail to reach their full potential and are unable to invoke much civic pride due to the large number of neglected downtown infrastructure needs.

If I were king, I would shrink the size of most elected city commissions/councils. A larger number of commissioners ensures that decisions are dumbed down, and the necessary yet more controversial decisions are less likely to be approved. This defect is exemplified by the dysfunctional fiasco of “trying to do something by committee”—a universally recognized recipe for mediocrity – mediocrity that gets worse as the size of the group increases in size. Larger decision-making bodies also increase city administrative costs and lengthen city commission meetings.

If I were king, I would crack down on major noise polluters. Emergency vehicle sirens, cars, power landscape tools, burglar alarms, etc., have exponentially increased city noise pollution problems. The most effective method for controlling noise is to establish a powerful, full-time city noise pollution control office.

If I were king, I would reduce excessive car parking and road subsidies.  It is monstrously counterproductive for cities and private businesses to heavily subsidize solo auto commuting by offering free parking to their employees. Parking cash-out—where employees are given the option of either retaining their free parking or being given a salary increase—is the most effective way to reduce the excessively high and extremely costly single-occupant vehicle employee commuting patterns in cities. Such a program would also end the exceptionally unfair practice of not offering non-auto commuters an equivalent subsidy. Cash-out should be required for both local government agencies and for large private organizations in the area. Coupled with this should be a strategy to shrink the supply of free parking citywide. I would convert parking minimums to parking maximums in land development code citywide. I would eliminate required parking regulations and set parking maximums. I would establish market-rate metered on-street parking, and return the meter revenue to surrounding neighborhoods (in other words, create parking benefit districts [based on the recommendations of Donald Shoup]). Similarly, non-tolled, free-to-use roads promote excessive, long-distance, low-value, solo driving, as well as traffic congestion. User fees for both roads and parking would go a long way towards efficiently and affordably providing for car travel, and a more compact, livable community.

If I were king, I would effectively promote walkable, timeless, traditional development. In the city planning department, hire a set of walkable urban design planners to review site plans. In city public works department, hire a traffic engineer as director who is a skilled and enthusiastic supporter of transportation choice and walkable, compact urban design. Not doing so ensures that in walkable areas, site plans for new development and street designs for modified streets will be sabotaged by staff who have a suburban value system. I would revise city land development codes to be form-based and transect-based (graphics-rich, comprehensible, vision-based, and context-sensitive). I would move development regulations away from one-size-fits-all by establishing a set of urban/walkable regulations for walkable areas, a set of suburban/car-centric regulations for suburban areas, and a set of rural/preservation regulations for peripheral areas with important natural features or agricultural land.

If I were king, I would transform shopping centers into walkable town centers. Conventional shopping centers are over-designed for “happy cars.” Their excessive use of “sea of asphalt” parking in front creates a strip commercial, “anywhere USA” atmosphere that degrades quality of life and civic pride, and takes away from a unique community character. Travel by transit, walking or bicycling is significantly less likely because nearly all trips to such centers must be by car (due to the hostility of such design for bicyclists, walkers and transit users). I would require selected conventional shopping centers to incrementally transform themselves into walkable, mixed use town centers, as has happened across the nation.

If I were king, I would require buildings to behave themselves. When parking is placed in front of buildings, and buildings are set back an enormous distance from a road, human scale is lost, quality of life is harmed, development is less attractive, and travel by transit, foot or bicycle is less possible. In walkable areas, I would prohibit car parking in front of buildings, and require modest front building setbacks.

If I were king, I would improve citizen comprehension of development actions. Nearly all communities have a nearly incomprehensible set of land development regulations and have a staff which specializes in making presentations and writing reports that are nearly impossible for citizens to understand — thereby subverting democracy and citizen involvement. I would revise city land development codes to radically shrink the size of the land development regulations. Replace jargon and “legalese” with “Plain English” and simple drawings. I would train staff to make presentations and write reports that are easily understood by citizens. I would hire a full-time city employee whose only responsibility is to ensure that city documents and presentations are clearly understandable to citizens.

If I were king, I would create effective incentives for converting downtown surface parking lots into multi-story buildings. Nothing is more deadly to a downtown than the deadening influence of surface parking. To be an attractive destination and to be competitive with the suburbs, a downtown must maximize vibrant, active, economically healthy use of its land, and surface parking works strongly against these objectives. I would allow no net increase in downtown surface parking lots, and would incrementally reduce the amount of existing surface parking. Vertical increases through parking garages would be okay, but only if first floor is retail, office, entertainment, or a combination of these.

If I were king, I would improve sidewalks. Sidewalks improve property values, improve quality of life, create a formal and walkable ambience, create a more human-scaled streetscape, promote safety for pedestrians (particularly seniors and children), and send a message that the community values walking. I would significantly increase funding for sidewalk gap removal, and significantly reduce funding for repair of trivial sidewalk damage (hairline cracks repair is wasteful and gives city a very bad black eye). I would hire a full-time urbanist pedestrian engineer to review site plans.

If I were king, I would rehabilitate creeks. Many urban creeks are placed in pipes, covered over, or otherwise harmed ecologically. I would restore (“daylight”) concrete ditches and channelized creeks to naturalized, meandering creeks. I would rehab creeks in this way as long as walkability can be retained in walkable areas.

If I were king, I would reduce fuel subsidies. Motorists are heavily subsidized not only with free parking and free roads, but also by the fact that gas taxes only pay a tiny fraction of the cost of impacts that motorists impose on society. I would significantly increase the gasoline tax, but only if there is an ironclad assurance that revenue would only be used for bicycling, walking and transit — not road capacity increases.

If I were king, I would establish geography-sensitive impact fees. Nearly all new development—particularly in the suburbs—are heavily subsidized by existing residents. New or increased impact fees can reduce this market distortion by having development pay its own way. I would exempt walkable, self-contained, mixed-use projects.

If I were king, I would strengthen codes enforcement. When people live on smaller lots in a more urbanized area, it is especially important to enforce codes such as the noise ordinance, lighting, dumping, and the like. This is because in “close quarters,” people tend to be less shielded from the actions of their neighbors. There is, therefore, an elevated need for sufficient code enforcement for most people to choose to live in more compact locations to encourage people to live in or near such locations.

If I were king, I would build an off-street greenway system. An off-street greenway path system for bicyclists and pedestrians is a powerful means of improving community quality of life, promoting sociability, and enhancing civic pride. Such paths are also an effective way to provide a “training ground” for novice bicyclists who, through using the paths, can gain the confidence and skill needed to “graduate” to in-street bicycling. I would hire a “Get Things Done” Greenway Czar for effectively moving the city public works department in this direction.

If I were king, I would establish an urban growth or urban service boundary. Because nearly all communities have ruinously allowed departments of transportation to build enormous roads within the city and county, there now exists enormous market pressure to develop residential and retail projects in the remote sprawl areas of the county. The only way to correct that market distortion in the short term (so that the pressure to sprawl is emasculated) is to enact an urban growth boundary around the city. Because of big roads, plans and regulations are completely insufficient, even if every commissioner was anti-growth and pro-compact development.

If I were king, I would make downtown infill development less costly. Reuse and redevelopment in the town center is often highly desirable, and there is often market interest, yet such downtown improvements are not achieved because the developer learns that it is simply too costly to follow various building codes downtown (widening building hallways, for example, is commonly required by contemporary codes, yet such a building modification is nearly always prohibitively expensive). I would create more incentives for more residences and other forms of infill buildings downtown — in part, by lowering the bar for building codes that create obstacles for building retrofits or new buildings. States such as New Jersey and Maryland have effectively achieved this by adopting what they call a “Smart Building Code.”

If I were king, I would adopt a land value tax, which is a levy on the unimproved value of land. It is an ad valorem tax on land that disregards the value of buildings, personal property and other improvements. A land value tax (LVT) is different from other property taxes, because these are taxes on the whole value of real estate: the combination of land, buildings, and improvements to the site. A land value tax, as exemplified by Pittsburgh PA, is a powerful way to promote town center development, as conventional property taxes discourage town center development by punishing the property owner with higher taxes when building improvements are added to the land. The result of the conventional property tax is that it leads many property owners to speculatively hold their property in a low-value use such as a parking lot.

If I were king, I would increase residential densities in appropriate locations. In walkable areas, establish higher residential and commercial densities and mixed use to make walking, transit, and bicycling more feasible, smaller and locally owned (and neighborhood-based) retail more possible, and to make the public realm more vibrant.

If I were king, I would ensure that the primary community farmers market is located within the town center. Too many communities blunder badly by deciding to locate their main farmers market in a peripheral location that can only be reached by car. The result is that it is more costly to shop at the market (in terms of time and transportation cost), and because there are no nearby retail, office or cultural facilities nearby, there are no “spillover” benefits. A number of downtowns throughout the nation enjoy such spin-off benefits, and promote transportation choice, by choosing a downtown market location.

If I were king, I would end the draining of downtown energy. To be healthy and vital, a downtown needs to exhibit “agglomeration economies.” That is, there must be a compact concentration of offices, retail, housing and civic buildings within a walkable, downtown location. Unfortunately, due to our car-crazed society, a number of such destinations have left for peripheral locations to find more free parking, bigger roads, less costly regulations, and less NIMBY opposition. I would prohibit the further dispersal of such “social condensers” from the downtown, such as the conference center, the farmers market, large movie houses, the main post office, government buildings, medieval faire, etc. Importantly, this is achieved by keeping town center roadways small in size and low in speed, as well as minimizing town center surface parking lots.

If I were king, I would adequately fund recreation. One of the great embarrassments of communities throughout the nation is the woeful state of undeveloped, unfunded parks and recreation system. Indeed, most communities spend only pocket change on recreation. I would re-allocate city annual funding (primarily by drawing dollars from the long over-funded police and fire budgets, which I would reduce substantially) to provide substantially more funding for parks and recreation development and programming. And do so without increasing taxes.

Concluding Thoughts

The above agenda is not one that will win any elections in this day and age. But they are all essential, long-neglected tasks that communities must achieve to avoid the downward spiral. It is telling that so much of the above agenda is politically toxic. A better future, however, can only be achieved if a community finds the political leadership to move in these directions.






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The Emperor is Wearing No Clothes: Exposing Town Planning for the Ruinous Travesty It Has Become

By Dom Nozzi

October 31, 2017

Back in 1985, I somehow managed to obtain a master’s degree in town planning. But it was not until about eight years into my professional planning career that I was to realize that for several decades, my chosen profession had become a sham.

This epiphany happened to me about 25 years ago when a friend of mine in Gainesville FL gave me a videotape of what I believe is one of the most important, influential, revolutionary speeches ever given on the topic of town planning. It was a speech delivered in 1989 at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts by a young Florida architect by the name of Andres Duany.

Duany’s speech gave town planning a well-deserved, much-needed kick in the pants.

I was shocked to learn from Duany that a century ago, town planners and developers were heroes. For several decades, of course, the opposite has become the case. Planners have become powerless incompetents and developers are more evil than Satan.

What caused this 180-degree shift in perspective?

What we learn in the Duany speech is that the reputation of town planners and developers was destroyed because the timeless tradition that communities followed for time immemorial was abandoned. That is, about a century ago, communities decided that instead of designing our community and our transportation system to make people happy, we would instead design to make cars happy.Road to Ruin book 2003

This powerful take on what has happened to our world explains so much.

It explains why town planners have become little more than mindless, robotic bureaucrats who have but one overriding mission: Become paper pushing clerks who issue or deny development permits based on whether the proposal will promote easy car travel or inhibit car travel.

It explains why developers are now villains. In nearly all cases, developers up to a century ago built things that improved quality of community life because the design objective was to promote human happiness. But the model for developers changed about a century ago. Now, the objective was to promote car happiness.

There are two primary reasons why this changed mission by town planners and developers is ruinous.

First, those community attributes that most people find appealing – compactness, human-scale, slower speeds, sociability, civic pride, timelessness, a subdued ambiance, and safety – are nearly the exact opposite of what is needed to make for easy car travel. Happy motoring requires dispersion, gigantic car scaling, dangerously higher speeds, glaring lights, and isolation – and each of these things undercuts civic pride, timelessness and safety.

The second reason this change is ruinous is that it is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. Car travel is a zero-sum game, because nearly everything we do to promote car travel makes walking, bicycling and transit more difficult. Car ownership also creates a strong vested interest on the part of the car owner to see to it that car travel is cheap and easy. By making walking, bicycling, and transit more difficult, car ownership continuously recruits new car owners. This century-long recruitment now means that even in the most bicycle-friendly US cities (including Boulder CO), there are more cars than people.

The result is that nearly all of us make nearly all of our trips by car. We angrily demand that our elected officials ease our car travel – after all, our cars make it so difficult to get around by walking, bicycling, or transit! We have therefore become our own worst enemies because as I note above, promoting car travel is an exceptionally powerful means of destroying quality of life.

Because cars require an enormous amount of space, motorists feel crowded even with just a tiny number of fellow citizens also in cars. As Dan Burden once said, “cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.” Given this, a large percentage of Americans are NIMBYs on steroids who engage in ongoing pitched battles with developers and elected officials and town planners to demand ultra low development densities (including short buildings), huge parking lots, and massively wide roads.

Developers, citizens, town planners, and elected officials therefore tend to have one overriding mission: promote easy car travel! We must have wide roads. More (and free) parking. More car subsidies and more glaring lights. We must stop compact development.

It is a mission of community ruin.

The key for a better future, then, is to return to the timeless tradition of designing for people, not cars.



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Will Boulder’s Traffic Safety Program be Effective?

By Dom Nozzi

October 24, 2017

Whenever I hear about a call for “more education” to improve traffic safety, I know that the issue is not one we are serious about solving (and the call usually comes from the political right wing). It is telling that we don’t hear calls for “more education” when it comes to robbery, murder, terrorists, etc.

Given the fact that all cities have, countless times, doubled down on more education for traffic safety for the past century (and our roads are now more dangerous than ever), traffic safety education campaigns probably suffer more from diminishing returns than anything I can think of.

It is a safe bet that all Americans, when they were children, were told over and over and over to LOOK BOTH WAYS or BE CAREFUL or WATCH OUT FOR CARS whenever crossing a street. For Boulder to aggressively push a HEADS UP campaign (or LOOK BOTH WAYS) at crosswalks is condescending, patronizing, and a shameful example of victim-blaming. It is treating adults like children.lo

Most all of us in traffic safety are well aware of the fact that road engineering to slow cars and obligate motorists to be more attentive is far and away the most effective tactic for traffic safety (using traffic calming interventions and other means of reducing space allocated to cars). No other tactic comes even close to improving safety, to the point of the other tactics almost not being worth even mentioning.

One thing that has really bothered me in my 4.5 years on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board is how often staff comes to us with solemn, proud sincerity to assure us of the importance of pursuing “the 4 (now 5) E’s”: the outdated, decades long tactic of having us work on Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation, and Engineering. Please. Doing this sets up a false equivalence which strongly implies that each is equally important. A much better way of stating this is that there is one big E (engineering), and 4 secondary E’s that are almost not worth considering.

I understand why the City of Boulder is pushing education so hard for its “Toward Vision Zero” traffic safety project (as it has done every few years for the past century). It is because politically, it is utterly impossible to push effective engineering solutions such as road diets (given the Folsom Street debacle that many people are still furious about years after it erupted).

It is so very easy, politically, to push education. Zero opposition from citizens. Who would oppose such a nice thing? When all you have is a hammer (education), all of your problems look like nails…

To its credit, the City has restarted funding for traffic calming, which can be very effective. But that was only after a huge number of citizens demanded it. Staff opposed restoring funding, and it is likely that the City will (intentionally?) continue to okay the construction of speed humps, knowing that humps are furiously opposed by some for their noise pollution and car damage and opposition by the fire department. Knowing, in other words, that humps are a poison pill that has a chance of killing traffic calming again.

It must also be said that even though traffic calming is effective, its effectiveness is substantially muted by the fact that it will not be applied to the major roads in Boulder, which are very hostile, dangerous death traps.

Frankly, given the large number of traffic deaths and serious injuries Boulder has suffered recently, I don’t know what it will take to get the City to take serious action to meaningfully improve traffic safety.

The education push in 2017 shows Boulder is not serious.

Given the above, I continue to recommend that the City suspend and discontinue its Toward Vision Zero program until the City is ready, politically, to seriously pursue it. As it stands now, the Toward Vision Zero program is giving Vision Zero a black eye by being almost entirely a lip service program.


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