Category Archives: Walking

A Call to Arms for Dramatically Improved Public Health and Safety

A Manifesto

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

A Time of Crisis

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

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

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

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

Misconceptions

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

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

Opportunities

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

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

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

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

What Is To Be Done in America?

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

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

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

Plain English and Objective Language Guidelines

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/plain-english/

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/unbiased-terms/

 

 

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

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

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Woonerf examples

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Dom’s Top Five All-Time Favorite Festive Walks

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my criteria for a great festive walk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

  1. Corso Umberto, Taormina, Italy.

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

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

 

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

Honorable Mentions

Monopoli Centro Storico (Old Town)

Bari Centro Storico (Old Town)

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

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

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

Centro Storico (Old Town) of Venice, Italy

Marktplatz, Centro Storico (Old Town) Aachen, Germany

Bonn Old Town

Copenhagen Old Town

Dusseldorf Old Town

Madrid Old Town

Sevilla Old Town

Toledo Old Town

Valencia Old Town

Honorable Mention streets part one

Honorable Mention Streets two

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No Such Thing as a Free Lunch

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

I went on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

suburbia vs walkable3

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size, the smaller amounts of land owned, and the ability of the household to survive with a smaller number of (extremely expensive) household cars. This is because more compact development patterns allow people to engage in many daily tasks without needing to travel by car.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem with the disconnect between the many benefits of compact development and the high level of citizen opposition to such development is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often and understandably makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car.

It threatens the very core of their drivable lifestyle.

Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

 

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Gaining Support for Walkable Urbanism and the Threat to Cities

By Dom Nozzi

I’m convinced that one very important way to build more citizen support for compact, walkable, loved urbanism is to insist that building architecture move back to timeless, traditional design. I believe modernism is a failed architectural paradigm that is giving urbanism and compact development a black eye due to the large number of us who find it to be jarring, non-contextual, and ugly. Here is a recent essay I wrote on this.

A friend then asked, “Why not move to a big city?” To which I replied…

There are a great many things I dislike about bigger cities. I’ll mention a few: They almost always tend to go WAY overboard on providing gigantic, car-based infrastructure such as high-speed and oversized highways and highway overpasses.

Human scale is obliterated.

I also find it much more difficult, as a result of this gigantism, to find a sense of community. Additionally, bigger cities tend to have big noise pollution problems due to either a lack of political will or lack of noise pollution knowledge.

I have always, by contrast, enjoyed living in smaller “college town” cities for a great many reasons. My biggest fear is that such cities — such as Boulder — will wrongly conclude that the way to protect “small town character” is to stop development (in other words, stop population growth), stop compact and mixed-use development, and demand huge suburban building setbacks. Doing this threatens cities such as Boulder with the Threat of Car-Based Suburbia.

Too many in Boulder equate happy car driving and parking with quality of life. This leads to the political demand that densities be kept at levels that are far too low to support anything but car travel. It makes housing unaffordable since too much (expensive) land is allocated to each home. Suburban objectives – which center around easy, unobstructed car travel and car parking – inevitably leads to oversizing roads and intersections and parking lots (all of which kill “small town character” far more than anything else).

Europe shows us many cities that are the size of Boulder yet have fantastic, lovable, walkable urbanism. Boulder, in other words, can be far more compact and accommodate far more people, while still retaining lovable, prideful small-town charm, if we design for people rather than cars. Here is one of my essays on this topic.

In other words, a city needs to resist the strong temptation to over-build for happy cars. Striving for “happy cars” is one of the most dangerous temptations — one of the most dangerous threats to our quality of life. It is so dangerous because it can garner a juggernaut of nearly universal, bi-partisan, unstoppable political support from a community that does not realize doing so is a powerful yet initially unrecognized way to foul your own nest.

Cities can grow and develop and infill and become more compact without over-designing for easy car travel and easy car parking.

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Will the True Progressives and Promoters of a Quality, Sustainable Future Please Stand Up?

By Dom Nozzi

A “PINO” is a Progressive in Name Only. A person who holds deceptive political beliefs. A person who is engaged in virtue signaling, wherein the person seeks to give others the impression that they are ethical or part of the tribe.

Judith Renfroe questioned how progressives can support more housing, infill, smaller houses, expanded transportation choices, smaller and local retail, and a lower carbon footprint.

My questions to her: In what universe do progressives support preservation of low-density, low-slung and large-lot suburban housing? Or take a stance that is detrimental to affordable and healthy travel options (transit, walking, bicycling)? Or be anti-walkable city and pro-drivable suburb? Or support such restrictive single-family zoning that house prices continue to skyrocket and middle-income families are increasingly excluded from living in a city where their job is located?

Does it make sense for progressives to promote policies that maintain and heighten the “financial wall” surrounding Boulder to keep out the undesirables?

I have several additional thoughts about the absurd ideas that the anti-city and pro-car folks such as this author hold on to:

We are told that it is wrong for some Boulder progressives (the pro-city and pro-housing folks) to “be in bed with evil, greedy developers who can’t ever be trusted to build desirable developments.” That it is instead progressive and promoting quality of life if we instead “protect neighborhoods from development.” Or “protect our views of the flatirons.”

Really?

Let’s see if I understand correctly. I’m living in Boulder in, say, 1890. According to the above logic, I must urge my neighbors and my elected officials to “protect our neighborhood” by not allowing an “evil, greedy developer” to building my home. Or any other home for that matter. After all, how can we trust a greedy developer? My two-story home will block my views of the flatirons! And cause traffic gridlock!

In response, you tell me that when you arrived in Boulder in the 1950s and your home and your neighborhood were built, things were wonderful in Boulder and that desirable “small town character” should be protected. The developer of your neighborhood was not evil when you came to Boulder.

Why, I ask, were developers heroic when you arrived in Boulder, but now that you are here, developers have become greedy and evil?

Putting aside the double standard – or the idea that I’ve got mine, so we can pull up the ladder now – let us consider this proposition that your home and neighborhood were wonderful when you arrived.

In the view of a great many in the field of town planning, science, medicine, engineering, and sociology, the past several decades has seen the development of neighborhoods that are…

…the most unaffordability expensive in American history, in terms of housing, land consumption, and transportation.

…the most anti-social, suspicious-of-neighbors, and isolating in American history (Robert Putnam’s research has shown that America is now a nation of loners).

…the most energy-intensive, air-polluting, and consumptive in American history.

…the most unhealthy in American history (studies show neighborhood design triggers obesity, heart disease, and diabetes).

…the most architecturally ugly buildings in American history.

…the most restrictive in travel options in American history – only motorized travel is possible.

…the most low-quality in American history – in terms of the durability of building materials used.

…the most isolating in American history – for seniors and children who cannot get around without a car.

Is THIS the sort of neighborhood design we should be protecting in the interests of quality of life and sustainability? In this age of crisis regarding affordability, climate change, health woes, loss of lifestyle and travel choices, and loss of beauty, shouldn’t we instead be incrementally tweaking the design of the neighborhoods built over those decades so that they instead deliver a better quality of life and more resilient sustainability?

Eighty percent of the land in Boulder is zoned single-family and has these features, compared to about 0.1 percent allocated to a walkable, sustainable lifestyle. Is it possible that the neighborhoods with the features I list above are outdated and unsustainable in a world of climate change and affordability woes? A world where the demand for walkable neighborhoods is enormous (and growing) compared to a tiny supply of such neighborhoods?

Shouldn’t we perhaps reconsider the angrily held view that your neighborhood is wonderful in design and should not be “harmed” by more housing or compact development? That perhaps maybe a few mistakes were made back when Boulder had a “wonderful small-town character” at the time you arrived here?

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The Charming Italian Tradition of the Passeggiata – the Nightly Community Stroll

By Dom Nozzi

Each evening, between the hours of 5 pm and 8 pm, Italians take to the streets, to walk and socialize, in a nightly ritual called “La Passeggiatta.” Sociologists label la passeggiata a cultural performance, and on Saturdays and Sundays entire families participate, this frequently being the main social event of the day. Afterward, everyone heads home together for the evening meal.

For Maggie and I, la passeggiata is one of our favorite treats when we visit an Italian town. It is the much-loved evening community stroll, and we love encountering it.

The passeggiata in Palermo mostly occurs on their main walking street (Via Maqueda), and it is an unforgettable, inspiring sight to see. This link is a video I shot as we joined the stroll.

Via Maqueda is a large street, yet like our recent experience in Bologna, la passeggiata so fills the large street that it is a gridlock of pedestrian congestion that one normally only sees with a road clogged with cars.

But in contrast to car congestion, when everyone is angry with everyone else on the road, pedestrian congestion adds to the sociable joy of being on common ground with other people. As Dan Burden once said, cars are happiest when there are no other cars around. People are happiest when there are other people around.

One of many things that makes me proud to be an Italian is this lovely Italian tradition.

As I understand it, the size and popularity of la passeggiata on Via Maqueda has been growing over the years (it became a walking street in June 2018). I believe that is because such an event benefits from being a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. That is, because humans are a social species and our world tends to isolate us from each other, something that draws people to sociably be with others is so enjoyable, so rare, and such a people-watching treat that others in the city start learning about the enjoyable event and join in. And this growing number of participants induces even more to join as word about it is spread (or people encounter it on their own). And so on and so on.

La passeggiata is, in the words of urban designers, a “social condenser” that most humans seek out to enjoy.

In my view, all cities, to be healthy, should have a nightly passeggiata.

In her book titled The Passeggiata and Popular Culture in an Italian Town,  Giovanna Delnegro states that this custom “reinforces a sense of belonging. Individuals greet their friends and acquaintances while sharing all the latest news and gossip. Women frequently hold hands, walking together in what appears as an informal parade. As they mark the end of the workday, men can be heard to say andiamo a fare qualche vasca, or ‘let’s go do some laps.’ Not only is the custom of la passeggiata a social bonding experience, but also good exercise, and I can use all that I can get!”

According to Margie Miklas, “one of the original purposes of la passeggiata was to display the charms of young women who were eligible to be married, and in this process, parents of these girls encouraged them to be flirtatious. They wanted their daughters to fare una bella figura, or to look good. This could be one of the reasons that generally people change their clothing after working, and put on their finer attire, dressing to impress, for the evening stroll. The goal is, after all, or to see and be seen.

“In the larger cities such as Rome, some streets are just packed with people, making it nearly impossible for cars to get by. One of these streets, in particular, is Via del Corso, known for its shopping. As people are walking, it is not uncommon for them to stop and do some window shopping. Another favorite spot for everyone to congregate during this evening ritual is the piazza, and Piazza Navona is a wonderfully entertaining spot. Usually in the early evenings, you will find mimes performing, musicians entertaining and vendors demonstrating the latest new items. Piazza di Spagna, or the Spanish Steps, becomes another crowded spot for la passeggiata.

 

“As an integral part of everyday life in Italy, la passeggiata is an endearing custom in Italy, one that I enjoy very much.  Italians like to share things and be with one another, and they like to be outside, as their homes are frequently small. Unless it is raining, you can count on la passeggiata to occur in every city, town, and village in Italy every day of every week.”

 

Source: https://italoamericano.org/story/2015-5-19/passeggiata%20

 

 

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Top Priorities for the Boulder Colorado City Council in 2020

 

By Dom Nozzi

I submitted the following recommended priorities for the Boulder City Council for the year 2020.

Reform Parking

Boulder suffers from significant affordability woes and excessive dependence on car travel. By requiring new development to provide parking for homes, offices, and retail, the City is substantially worsening these problems. Requiring a parking space for a home, for example, adds $10,000 to $20,000 to the price of a home. And abundant, free parking is a fertility drug for cars.

As is recommended by the Boulder Master Transportation Plan for several years, required minimum parking requirements need to be converted to maximum allowable parking, as is now the case in a large and growing number of cities in the nation. The City needs to require that when feasible, the price of parking is unbundled from the price of housing. Both of these parking reform measures are part of the “SUMP” principles that staff has been working on and proposing for a number of years now. (“Shared Unbundled, Managed, and Paid”).

Policy 6.11 of the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan states that “…[t]he city will accommodate parking demands in the most efficient way possible with the minimal necessary number of new spaces and promote parking reductions through a variety of tools, including parking maximums, shared parking, unbundled parking…based on SUMP principles to support transportation and GHG reduction goals as well as broader sustainability goals, including economic vitality and neighborhood livability.”

Action 5.E of the Boulder Master Transportation Plan calls for the City to “[m]odify the city parking code to support policies in the BVCP that promote mixed-use development and higher densities where appropriate. Transition parking to other uses as needs change.”

Reform Single-Family Zoning

Boulder suffers from an extreme affordable housing crisis that is now worsening each year. In addition, about 80 percent of Boulder is zoned single-family residential. Both of these factors lead to very low levels of racial and income diversity and results in nearly all lower- and middle-income households from being able to move to or remain in Boulder. It must be pointed out that the origins of single-family zoning a century ago had as its primary (but unspoken) objective, the promotion of racial and income discrimination.

Like a growing number of cities nationwide, Boulder needs to reform single-family zoning regulations so that smaller homes, smaller lots, duplexes, and neighborhood-scaled office and retail are allowed in that zoning district, as well as accessory dwelling units, co-housing and co-ops. In addition, the maximum number of unrelated people living in a household must be increased – at least to a level similar to that of most other cities in the nation. Allowing these new housing types in Boulder’s single-family zoning district must be coupled with:

  1. A visual preference survey that ensures that allowable building design is compatible and desirable to most residents of Boulder’s neighborhoods;
  2. Stepped up code enforcement; and
  3. Expansion of Managed Parking.

Policy 2.11 in the Boulder Valley Comprehensive Plan states that “…granny flats, alley houses, accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and owner’s accessory units (OAUs)) will be encouraged by the city to increase workforce and long-term rental housing options in single-family residential neighborhoods.”

Policy 2.16 states that “[t]he city will encourage well-designed mixed-use and higher-density development that incorporates a substantial amount of affordable housing in appropriate locations, including in some commercial centers and industrial areas and in proximity to multimodal corridors and transit centers. The city will provide incentives and remove regulatory barriers to encourage mixed-use development where and when appropriate. This could include public-private partnerships for planning, design or development, new zoning districts, and the review and revision of floor area ratio, open space and parking requirements.”

Policy 2.14 states that “[i]n existing neighborhoods, a mix of land use types, housing sizes and lot sizes may be possible if properly mitigated and respectful of neighborhood character.”

Policy 7.06 states that “[t]he city…will encourage the private sector to provide and maintain a mixture of housing types with varied prices, sizes and densities to meet the housing needs of the low-, moderate- and middle-income households of the Boulder Valley population. The city will encourage property owners to provide a mix of housing types, as appropriate. This may include support for ADUs/OAUs, alley houses, cottage courts and building multiple small units rather than one large house on a lot.”

Policy 7.10 states that “…[t]he city will explore policies and programs to increase housing for Boulder workers and their families by fostering mixed-use and multi-family development in proximity to transit, employment or services…”

Be Effective with Vision Zero for Traffic Safety

Boulder’s Vision Zero program (intended to reduce traffic deaths and serious traffic injuries to zero) is far too timid to achieve meaningful traffic safety improvements. It continues to focus on the failed methods Boulder has used for over a century: An emphasis on Warning Signs, Warning Lights, Warning Paint, Warning Education, and Warning Enforcement. And for most of that century to this day, City roadway design has had the unintended consequence of inducing excessive speeds and inattentive driving. After a century of these methods, Boulder’s roads are now more dangerous than they have ever been.

To effectively reducing the appalling number of serious traffic injuries and deaths that continue to occur on Boulder roads, the City must emphasize the redesign of city roads. For example, there must be a much more thorough use of effective traffic calming methods that induce slower and more attentive driving: Narrowing streets with bulb-outs, lane width reductions, installation of more on-street (and priced) parking, and removal (or re-purposing) of unnecessary lanes. This effort should not include “vertical” interventions such as speed humps, as this creates problems for emergency vehicles as well as creating noise pollution and vehicle damage.

Action 1.D of the Boulder Transportation Master Plan states that the City should “[d]evelop and implement a Speed Management Plan to decrease travel speeds on city streets; and explore reducing the speed limit on residential (local) streets from 25 mph to 20 mph, and 15 mph in school zones.”

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The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 6, 2019

 

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size and smaller amounts of land owned.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car. Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

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