Tag Archives: air pollution

Green Cars are Nowhere Near the Complete Solution

By Dom Nozzi

October 17, 2017

I don’t think anyone disagrees with the point that we need to promote both “green” cars and fewer cars.

The problem in cities such as Boulder CO, though, is that it seems like most or all efforts are directed at cleaner “green” cars (which makes it seem like dirty cars are the only problem). I and many others in Boulder believe Boulder has plateau’d in shifting people from cars to bicycling, walking, and transit, and there are still far, far too many per capita trips by car.

There are many reasons for this: Densities too low; too many major roads and Double-Left Turn Intersection 2 Pearl n 28th by Dom Nozziintersections oversized and therefore nearly impossible to walk or bike; too little mixing of housing with offices or shops; too much free parking; too little traffic calming; too little road tolling; gas and gas taxes (and other motor vehicle taxes/fees) too low in price or absent; too many one-way streets; excessive parking requirements; over-concern about traffic congestion; failure to adopt an “Idaho Law;” silo-ing transportation and land use so that each is considered without the other; widespread lack of knowledge about (or outright opposition to) effective tools to shift motorists from cars to non-motorized travel; signal lights synchronized for car speeds rather than bus/bike speeds; failure to slow the growth in over-sized service vehicles; widespread belief in the myth that freer-flowing traffic reduces emissions and fuel consumption; over-emphasis on mobility rather than accessibility; no trend analysis of important measures such as quantity of parking or VMT per capita; extremely inflated estimates of bicycling levels that are not even close to reality; over-emphasis on stopping growth or minimizing density as a way to reduce car trips (such efforts actually increase per capita car trips); too much effort directed at creating more open space within the city (the city has way too much open space in part because so much of it is for cars); too much use of slip lanes and turn lanes in places they do not belong; widespread belief in the myth that car travel is win-win (it is actually zero-sum); failure to use raised medians in several locations; making bicycling impractical on hostile streets (due to extreme danger); and over-use of double-yellow center lines.

I also believe that installing bike lanes, bike paths, sidewalks, and improved transit has about reached its limit in recruiting non-car travel.

It seems to me that Boulder’s relatively high city government wealth has allowed the city to over-rely on politically easy tactics (more paths, bike lanes, sidewalks, buses) that involve throwing money at problems. To a great extent, the City rests on its laurels by pointing to the (inflated) bicycling rates, and buys into the societal narrative that dirty cars are the only problem with cars. Too little effort is therefore directed toward the tactics I list above.

I and many others in Boulder fear that the strong, highly visible push for clean cars is in certain ways distracting us from the extremely important need to make progress on the tactics I mention. Much of my tenure on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), for example, has featured a lot on green cars, and pretty much nothing on the tactics I mention.

I think green cars are important, but even if we substantially increased the percent of such cars on our streets, we’d still have a huge amount of work in front of us to address the enormous number of substantial problems associated with per capita car travel – car travel that is way too high.

But I and many others in Boulder fear that the strong, highly visible push for clean cars is in certain ways distracting us from the extremely important need to make progress on the tactics I mention, and makes it too easy for people to conclude that dirty cars are our only problem with transportation.

The comments I make in this blog also apply equally to the promotion of self-driving cars, which is another silver bullet that too many believe will be a sufficient means of solving most or all of our traffic woes. Not only will they not do so if they become a large percentage of cars on the road. I also believe it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a large number of such vehicles on the road. So again, another unfortunate distraction when we have so many important, effective transportation tactics that are languishing for lack of strong advocacy.

I’m afraid that the lack of political will, and the surprising number of citizens who are misinformed, means that for Boulder to start moving on non-green car tactics, severe crisis will be needed that gives the city a kick in the butt.

 

 

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Traffic Congestion

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 10, 2004

We all despise traffic congestion. Yet traffic congestion is an inevitable sign of a healthy, thriving, alive city or community. It shows that the community is attractive enough that people want to be there. It also shows, in some instances, that the community has not degraded itself by excessively catering to the needs of the car.

Putting too much into car needs inevitably leads to a degradation of conditions that make PEOPLE happy, since people and cars have disparate needs. Cars like huge asphalt parking lots, high-speed roads, lots of lighting, and no other cars around (cars are anti-social). huge turn radius for roadPeople outside of cars feel unsafe, inconvenienced, unpleasant and exposed in large parking lots or near high-speed roads. As sociable animals, people also tend to enjoy having other people around.

Often, people confuse traffic congestion with a sign that the community is unhealthy. As Yogi Berra once said, “The place got so crowded that no one went there anymore.”

Traffic congestion is nearly always our friend, and should not be fought against by improving car travel conditions.

Congestion, for example, does the following beneficial things:

  1. Encourages infill development.
  2. Encourages higher residential and commercial densities.
  3. Encourages compact, mixed-use development.
  4. Slows down cars.
  5. Slows down suburban sprawl.
  6. Slows the decline of downtowns and in-town, locally-owned retail.
  7. Reduces regional air pollution and gasoline consumption.
  8. Discourages low-value car trips.
  9. Encourages residential development near or in downtown and employment concentrations.
  10. Reduces car dependency.
  11. Improves the quality of public transit.
  12. Improves conditions for walking and bicycling.

In sum, congestion is caused by a community being attractive and vibrant. It is a community that is wealthy enough for its residents to be able to afford to own cars. A community without congestion is an unhealthy, unattractive community. Or its residents are unable to afford to own cars.

The beneficial way to address car congestion is not to try, hopelessly, to reduce it. The best way to deal with congestion is to establish ways to avoid it.

Create multiple routes to destinations. Make it easier to walk, bicycle or use transit. Build compactly so distances are shortened. And so on.

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Free-Flowing Traffic Tends to Increase Emissions and Fuel Consumption

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2013

Most American cities are a long way away from where they need to be on an over-arching position on transportation and land use. In particular, it is a nearly universal belief that it is essential to promote free-flowing car travel (by adding turn lanes, generally opposing road diets, establishing continuous left-turn lanes, synchronizing traffic signals for cars, etc.) in order to reduce emissions and fuel use. By striking contrast, I am of the opposite view. I am firmly convinced of two things on this issue:

  1. Car travel is a zero-sum game. Nearly always, when car travel is made more convenient or free-flowing (usually by giving cars more space), bicycling, walking and transit decline (due to “barrier effect” problems). Promoting free-flowing traffic shifts many trips from non-car travel to car travel as a result.
  1. Low-value car trips. When roads and nearly all car parking is free, we are begging people to drive a car with those big subsidies. After all, there are so many rational reasons to drive a car: cargo carrying, convenience, security, speed, status, flexibility, protection from weather, etc.). Since motoring appears to be “free” when roads and parking are free, there are little if any disincentives to driving. First-year economists know quite well what the inevitable result will be: Over-use of roads and parking due to the INDUCEMENT of new car trips (particularly “low-value” trips such as driving a car to rent a video at rush hour) that were formerly discouraged from happening at rush hour or on certain roads. In other words, if a road is carrying, say, 20,000 vehicles per day, and the City or State opts to make the road more free-flowing, that road will NOT continue to carry 20,000 ADT. It will now carry, say, 25,000. The 5,000 new (latent, induced) trips were formerly discouraged by the less free-flowing conditions in the past.

An example of latent demand: I hear friends say over and over again that they are not going to drive at such and such a time or on such and such a road because those times or roads are too crowded with cars. It does not take rocket science to know what will happen if we make those times or roads more free-flowing…

The combination of the above two factors therefore means that free-flowing cars produce MORE car emissions and gasoline consumption, not less (as the advocates of free-flowing traffic would have us believe). Yes, in free-flow conditions, an 1158INDIVIDUAL CAR produces less emissions and uses less fuel, but on a community-wide basis, the induced new trips result in more emissions and fuel use overall. In effect, engineers in this case fail to understand simple economics and changes in human behavior (economics and psychology, again) when they strive for free-flowing conditions. They fail, in other words, to realize that free-flow induces new car trips that would not have occurred had the free-flow conditions not been promoted. This inducement, again, is inevitable when we have free-to-use roads and (mostly) free parking. Largely because there is a great deal of latent demand for more car travel if conditions are made more convenient or pleasant for car travel.

By the way, the concept of induced car travel has been quite well-established for a number of decades. A great many traffic engineers know it exists. But almost no conventional traffic engineer will act on their awareness of induced demand – probably because they have not been given permission to do so.

The above also illustrates why, even in theory, it is impossible to build (widen) our way out of congestion. Induced demand for car trips is the bugaboo elephant in the bedroom that nearly all American cities ignore.

 

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Does Traffic Calming Increase Air Pollution?

By Dom Nozzi

In May of 2000, a resident of Boulder, Colorado emailed a fairly common complaint to me in response to my praise of “traffic calming” (which uses street modifications to compel cars to slow down to safe, attentive speeds).

I thanked the gentleman for his comments. I went on to state that I had not spent a lot of time trying to track down every single report about traffic calming. But since I read a fair number of calming reports and have not seen a pollution problem reported, I’ve not had cause to doubt the claim of increased air pollution due to calming until I got his comments.

What I had learned from Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman, however, has made me highly skeptical of claims that suggest there is less air pollution from high-speed, free-flowing car traffic.

After all, it is too simplistic — too narrowly focused — to just think about the impacts of stop-and-start (or slow-and-start) car travel on air pollution emitted by individual motor vehicles. Yes, it is nearly certain that stop-and-start motor vehicle traffic increases air pollution emitted by individual cars in a highly localized, discreet location where the stopping and starting occurs. skycrest_2But this micro focus ignores the important but typically overlooked motorist behavior modification that occurs at the regional level when we widen streets or calm them. For example, how many trips are encouraged or discouraged (especially the low-priority car trips) when we widen a street or install traffic calming measures? How many more or less car trips occur at rush hour? How many more or less will drive instead of take transit, bicycle, or walk?

Kenworthy and Newman make the crucial point that travel behavior changes that we induce through widenings or calming on the scale of a community totally overwhelms any benefits of free-flowing traffic at the micro level of a given segment of street.

Consider the comparison between higher density congested areas and lower density, free-flowing areas. One would expect that the congested areas generate higher levels of air pollution than the free-flowing areas. But we know that people who live in higher density, more congested areas where transportation choice is high have been clearly shown to produce much less air pollution, per capita, and generate much less air pollution, per capita, than those who live in remote locations without a travel choice (those who have no choice but to travel by car). The worldwide analysis of cities conducted by Kenworthy and Newman confirms this.

Yes, on various congested street segments, air pollution is relatively high. But at the community-wide level, air pollution is much lower than cities with lower-density, free-flowing traffic. And this is because of the large reduction in the number of rush hour, major-street car trips that occur due to congestion, traffic calming, and other measures (“low-value” car trips that are induced when streets are widened or made more free flowing).

It is illogical to assume that making car travel easier with higher speed, free-flowing designs will reduce air pollution (and fuel consumption) impacts — given the likely behavior modification that induces motorists to engage in more driving than they would have engaged in had the street been more congested or more traffic calmed.

As Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, it is nearly impossible for those who have worked under the traditional paradigm to accept overwhelming evidence or conclusions from the new paradigm. For example, most of us will go to our graves steadfastly refusing to accept the premise that traffic congestion and traffic calming have a number of benefits, even though the evidence is mounting.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

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Traffic Light Synchronization is NOT a Good Idea

By Dom Nozzi

Traffic light synchronization seems like a common sensical, no-brainer “solution” to relatively cheaply reduce air emissions and gas consumption. It seems so obvious that even highly intelligent progressives and environmentalists (nearly all of them) STRONGLY support this tactic. Michael Vandeman, in his article, “Traffic Light Synchronization — An Air Quality Benefit, or a Sop for Motorists?,” points out that many are misled when it comes to traffic light synchronization. “[W]hen a proposal sounds reasonable, and is at the same time extremely popular, scientific accuracy is often forgotten. In this case, none of the researchers [for synchronization] considered the possibility that making it easier to drive might cause people to drive farther and more often, cancelling the alleged benefits. They were apparently so eager to help their fellow motorists…that they neglected to apply strict scientific standards to this research.” Those who trumpet the alleged benefits of synchronization fail to take into account about the “induced demand” that Vandeman rightly points out. That is, they forget that the amount of travel by car is higher or lower based on the ease of car travel and the cost of car travel. The easier and cheaper we make car travel (As Jevons Paradox shows us. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jevons_paradox), the further people will travel by car and the more frequently that car travel will occur. In other words, if gas costs $20/gallon, people will drive less. If streets are congested or traffic signals force one to engage in start-and-stop driving, people will drive less. When people drive less, air pollution and gas consumption are reduced. Because traffic synchronization makes cars happier and thereby encourage more driving, air pollution and gas consumption are increased, not decreased (as most assume). Therefore, despite the overwhelming conventional wisdom, traffic synchronization does NOT reduce air emissions or gas consumption. Vandeman agrees when he points out that it seems like common sense that synchronization is a good idea. “Everybody knows that a motor vehicle pollutes more in stop- and-go traffic than in smooth-flowing traffic. This fact has been used to justify expanding freeways, synchronizing traffic signals, and a multitude of other measures to speed up traffic.” The big mistake, according to Vandeman, is to inappropriately generalize. “[I]t is not valid to generalize from a single vehicle on a single occasion to a whole street full of vehicles over a long period. Newman and Kenworthy demonstrated why congestion relief in the form of roadway expansion actually worsens emissions and fuel consumption: although an individual vehicle may benefit, that effect is far outweighed by the fact that making traffic flow freely encourages people to drive farther and more often and makes it much less likely that they will choose to travel via public transit, bicycling, etc. In other words, highway expansion doesn’t simply speed up individual vehicles, leaving the number of trips and VMT constant. If it did, it would be beneficial…Similarly, synchronizing traffic signals doesn’t just speed up existing trips. By making it easier for people to make long trips by automobile (while providing no benefit, or negative benefit, for bicycles and buses), could cause an increase in trips and VMT that would outweigh the alleged benefits.” Todd Litman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, adds a cautionary note. “Road widening and traffic signal synchronization are sometimes advocated as ways to reduce traffic congestion, and therefore energy consumption and pollution emissions. However, research suggests that at best these provide short-term reductions in energy use and emissions which are offset over the long-run due to Induced Travel. Field test indicate that shifting from congested to uncongested traffic conditions significantly reduces pollution emissions, but traffic signal synchronization on congested roads provides little measurable benefit, and can increase emissions in some situations. (See: http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm59.htm#_Toc193865016) This induced demand is the reason we cannot build (widen) our way out of congestion (because widening a road induces MORE car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened). If it is agreed that we cannot build our way out of congestion (or loosen our belt to solve obesity), why do some of us think we can synchronize our traffic lights out of congestion? The tragedy is that many communities — which have many vigorous advocates of synchronization, including “environmentalists” and other intelligent people who should know better — spend millions of public dollars to worsen transportation conditions, quality of life, air pollution, and gas consumption? In my view, proponents of synchronization are sadly wasting public dollars by moving communities further away from important community objectives. Traffic synchronization may be popular and may seem like an irrefutably good idea by most people, but the unintended consequences described above point out that synchronization is highly counterproductive to the objective of a more sustainable, pleasant community, less pollution, less gas consumption, and more transportation choices. _________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life. Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com 50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is Enemy cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

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My Author spotlight

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Thoughts about the Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ) Program

By Dom Nozzi

Early in 1999, the director of a county environmental protection office asked about a program known as

Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement (CMAQ). This is a federal program that was implemented to support surface transportation projects and other related efforts that contribute air quality improvements and provide congestion relief.

I passed along to him my thoughts about this program.

Based on what I have read over the past several years, there is a profound paradigm shift going on in transportation planning. The conventional thinking (that I reject quite vigorously) concludes that the way to effectively ease congestion, excessive energy consumption and air pollution problems is to:

  1. Increase road capacity by adding travel lanes and turn lanes and one-way streets;
  2. Enhance “free-flowing” conditions for cars with timed signal lights, wider streets, and other techniques that reduce “friction”;
  3. Provide abundant and free parking at all urban destinations so that people will not have to “hunt” for a place to park; and
  4. Build cleaner, more fuel efficient vehicles.

You will notice that none of these techniques do anything to modify unsustainable American behavior towards more sustainable behavior.

Engineers and politicians in this country have always believed it is “unAmerican” to do things to modify behavior so that it is more socially responsible and sustainable. Instead, the engineer does what he or she is trained to do, and that is to tinker with the technology to solve problems.

When all you have is a hammer, all problems look like nails.

Engineers don’t have any training in human behavior.  No need to manipulate mysterious, irrational human behavior! Only totalitarians would do that, after all. The solution to energy and water problems is to enhance supply…

The newly emerging paradigm in transportation and environmental management is that solving problems by “enhancing supply” is not sustainable. We must do things that modify behavior (demand) so that it is more sustainable.

One very effective way to do that is with pricing, and if the market cannot properly price scare or vulnerable ecological and other resources, we need government to step in.

When it comes to transportation, we need to use both pricing and scarcity to modify demand toward sustainability. What the engineers and elected officials did not know (or were happy to ignore) is that doing things like increasing road capacity (road widenings, turn lanes, etc.) or providing more free and abundant parking (and other forms of transportation subsidies) totally swamps any gains we might realize in terms of reducing “stop and go” traffic, or in terms of getting more “free-flowing” traffic.

Why?

Because increasing transportation facility supply makes it easier and cheaper to unsustainably drive a car everywhere, which modifies behavior in an unsustainable direction. We do nothing to discourage “low priority” motor vehicle trips, such as a drive across town to rent a video. With the heavy subsidies to enhance supply, we almost beg people to make such trips and live in remote, sprawlsville locations.

As a result, many recent studies are finding that increasing supply (primarily by widening roads with more travel lanes or turn lanes) eases congestion for only a tiny period of time, after which the congestion becomes worse than before we Carmageddon highwayspent millions to “correct” the problem. The most concise, profound explanation of this is by Anthony Downs, who calls it “The Triple Convergence” in his Stuck in Traffic book. We are inevitably affected by the Triple Convergence when we add capacity to our transportation system, so every time we add capacity by widening roads, we make things worse.

An important corollary here is that transportation drives land use. It is our transportation system that will determine if we have sprawl into our outlying, environmentally sensitive areas — not regulations, land use plans, or enlightened politicians.

Increasingly, therefore, honest and informed researchers and planners are referring to the problem of “induced demand,” in which we always get more vehicle trips after widening roads. Apparently, it is perfectly okay for defenders of the status quo to modify demand when it moves us toward unsustainable consumption…

These informed researchers and planners increasingly call for “planned congestion,” in which we passively apply none of the conventional “supply” methods (expanding road capacity, etc.) to address congestion. Instead, existing congestion is leveraged as a very effective way to get compact development, discourage sprawl, reduce air pollution, and reduce gasoline consumption.

Because congestion discourages motor vehicle trips (and encourages bicycle, bus, carpool and walking trips), research now shows that more congested areas (on an area-wide basis) produce less air pollution and gas consumption.

Because this seems so counter-intuitive and non-sensical, politicians, engineers, and real estate people (who benefit from unsustainable transportation and sprawl) can get away with claiming that road widenings, turn lanes, free and abundant parking, etc. will reduce air pollution and gas consumption.

But it is just not true.

Expanding road and parking capacity ignores the behavior-modifying effects of increasing the transportation facility supply, which totally overwhelms the minor benefits to individual cars of enhancing free-flowing traffic.

When we take into account the system-wide impacts and behavior modification that occur when we do things like widen roads, we find that the emperor is wearing no clothes.

Transportation is truly a zero-sum game. Nearly always, if not always, when we make it easier to drive a motor vehicle, we make it harder to travel another way, which profoundly modifies behavior. We should not be fooled into thinking it is inevitable that we are all doomed to live a life of extreme auto dependence, wherein we are forced to make every trip, no matter how trivial, by car.

So in conclusion, we need to be very, very careful when we hear claims that it is best to solve congestion, energy, and air pollution problems by making it easier and cheaper to drive a car. My opinion is that the millions we spend to do that only make things worse.

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