Tag Archives: Bicycling

‘Slow-speed design’ a must for cities

Your Turn in Sunday, The Greenville (SC) News

Dom Nozzi

Guest columnist, September 11, 2022

‘Slow-speed design’ a must for cities

Dangerous, high-speed, inattentive driving is an epidemic. Vehicle collisions with bicyclists and pedestrians have been at unacceptably high levels for decades in Greenville and SC.

Hostile, high-decibel conditions caused by high vehicle speeds lead to costly efforts to buffer homes and businesses from overwide roads. Houses and shops unable to tolerate these roads are abandoned or relocated.

High-speed vehicles are incompatible with a safe, livable community, despite efforts to protect against the speedways.

High-speed roads create a ‘barrier effect’ by making it impossible to bicycle or walk (or take a bus). Consequently, driving grows. Fuel consumption and air pollution rise. Public health declines.

Vehicles require an enormous amount of space. A car takes up so much space that roads become congested with only a modest number of motorists. Because roads are congested so quickly, citizens endlessly demand wider roads.

Growth in the size of roads leads to an inexorable, vicious downward cycle. Bigger roads inevitably lead to a decline in safety and quality of life. This grows the desire to flee the increasingly congested, dangerous, noisy in-town locations for the suburbs. And this leads to a growing demand to widen roads to enable a growing number of cars to travel at high speeds for greater distances.

To escape this spiraling cycle, the path is clear. Slow down vehicle travel.

The good news is that we can keep our cars. But we must be masters of our cars rather than their slaves. We need roads designed to obligate motorists to be better behaved (by driving at more modest, attentive speeds).

Slow-speed design involves reducing horizontal road dimensions. We reduce the width of travel lanes, reduce the number of lanes (road ‘dieting’), use landscaped sidewalk bulb-outs, use modest intersection turning radii, install chicanes (horizontal deflection devices), restore on-street parking, change one-way streets back to two-way, use woonerfs (‘living streets’), and install traffic circles. These tactics reduce car speeds while allowing for emergency response by fire trucks

Undesirable vertical interventions, such as speed humps, must not be used as they impede emergency vehicles, damage cars, and create noise pollution. Also, Greenville must provide travel choices so that folks are not required to make all trips by car. We need more homes mingled with small shops, offices, civic buildings, and pocket parks. This traditional, mixed-use neighborhood design reduces trip distances. Walking, bicycling, and transit become more likely. The short distances mean that streets do not need to be oversized.

Driving becomes optional, not required.

Motorists drive on ‘forgiving streets.’ Designs ‘forgive’ motorists for driving too fast or not paying attention. Forgiving design, predictably, has ironically led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving. Forgiving design must be replaced with lower speed, attentive design, as described above.

Greenville must moderate vehicle speeds by designing roads that are smaller and obligate slower, safer, attentive driving.

Dom Nozzi holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental science from SUNY Plattsburgh and a master’s degree in town and transportation planning from Florida State University. For 20 years, he served as a senior town and transportation planner for Gainesville Florida, and was briefly the growth rate control planner for Boulder, Colorado. Today, he maintains a consulting practice.

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Widening a Road to Solve Congestion is Like Loosening Your Belt to Solve Obesity

By Dom Nozzi

Greenville is not “overcrowded.”  

There are not too many people. There are too many people in cars.

For there to be less “crowding,” we need more compact land use patterns. Counterintuitive, but true nevertheless.

True because the most important reason why most believe a community has become “too crowded” is that motor vehicles consume an enormous amount of space. Higher levels of per capita motor vehicle travel – levels that are highest when land use patterns are dispersed and low-density – are the primary cause of high levels of motor vehicle travel.

Compactness gives us better quality of life, less motor vehicle dependence, more transit use, more walking, more bicycling, more safety, better public health, better financial health for Greenville (and its small shops and its families), less air pollution, less car-crash deaths, and less climate change. Conversely, car-oriented development is a bankrupting Ponzi Scheme, because car-oriented development seems to produce attractive tax revenue up front, but actually fails to pay its own way, which bankrupts communities in the long run.

Oversizing for cars leads to a Greenville that is losing its desired “small town feel.”

Greenville has too much open space (most of us incorrectly think the reverse). We have excess open space because we over-allocate space for motor vehicles. Space for oversized roads, oversized parking, and oversized building setbacks needs to be replaced with buildings for a more human-scaled community. Two important ingredients for Greenville to be healthy: “agglomeration economies” (ie, clustered compactness), and slower speed vehicle travel. Indeed, there is a worldwide effort to create “slower-speed cities.”

Greensville needs to reduce excessive town center noise pollution to better promote compact development. Sirens are overused. We need emergency vehicle agencies (police, fire, medical) and trains to significantly reduce their siren use and decibels. There are several ways to reduce siren noise without compromising public safety. Greenville also suffers from an abundance of loud mufflers.

We can lower noise and improve safety by designing our streets to obligate motorists to drive slower and attentively. A healthy town center has no streets larger than three lanes, and almost never uses turn lanes. I count 14 oversized Greenville downtown roads over that size that need a road diet (removing excess lanes). Slower speeds also happen with priced on-street parking, and Greenville needs a lot more of that parking.

Greenville’s Main Street – formerly suffering abandonment, crime, and speeding – experienced the best restoration in the nation when it was road dieted. The diet for Main – what many call the pride of Greenville — makes Main a place that attracts people and brings prosperity due to human-scaled, slower-speed, community-building charm. There’s no reason we could not apply the same restorative medicine to the other 14 oversized roads. The first step? Take ownership of those roads from the South Carolina DOT.

A similar (and enormous) success: replacing the four-lane bridge at Falls Park with a pedestrian walkway.

It is untrue that a growing Greenville requires wider roads. Widening has failed worldwide to “solve” congestion for a century. Instead, congestion becomes worse – at great public expense.

Best congestion response? As the Beatles would say, let it be.

Congestion delivers many benefits if we don’t widen: less “low-value” car trips (such as driving at rush hour for a cup of coffee), more travel by transit, walking, and bicycling, more health for small shops, more financially healthy governments, more affordability for households, less air pollution, more compact development, less sprawl, and less deaths from vehicle crashes.

Congestion does not keep worsening if we let it be. By paying a “time tax,” travelers use roads more efficiently (less low-value motor vehicle trips, for example, and less rush hour trips). People also take alternative routes, drive at alternative times, live closer to destinations, or use transit, or walk, or bicycle.

That is, congestion self-regulates. If we let it be.

Congestion is inevitable because, like Soviet-styled economics, motorists don’t pay their own way – the gas tax is too low, roads are not tolled, and parking is underpriced). Congestion, as basic economics shows, is inevitable when you underprice something (such are road space). The Soviet Union failed because it ignored this. The result: long bread lines. In Greenville, the result is congested roads and overcrowded parking. Ironic that nearly all of us rightly oppose Soviet economics except for roads and parking lots.

Because motor vehicles consume so much space, it only takes a few motor vehicles to create congestion. Therefore, any city worth its salt has congestion. Instead of widening, we must create alternatives to inevitable congestion. Three examples: a congestion fee, making it easier and safer to walk, bicycle or use transit, and leveraging proximity with mixed-use infill development.

Consider what Greenville and South Carolina could do if, instead of spending millions of public dollars to worsen congestion, air quality, finances, and quality of life by widening roads, they opted for road diets. Taxes would stop rapidly increasing (or decrease!), and a lot of new money would be available for quality-of-life improvements such as sidewalks, bike paths, street trees, parks, and world-class transit – to name just a few items in dire need of public money.

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Is a Bicycle Helmet a Key for Cycling Safety?

By Dom Nozzi

A friend of mine posted a note about the tiny amount of helmet use by European cyclists, and included a video clip of Melissa and Chris Bruntlett – authors of Curbing Traffic – bicycling in The Netherlands. I responded with the following:

Yesterday I finished reading Curbing Traffic by the Bruntletts. My main take-away: Time to move to the wonderful, safe, quiet, affordable, calm, happy, resilient, accessible, bike- and walk-friendly town of Delft!

I have written a number of blogs describing the downsides of helmet use — particularly mandatory helmet laws. Helmets signal to non-cyclists that cycling is too dangerous, is not fashionable, and is inconvenient.

Helmets also incorrectly suggest that the danger is mostly or entirely associated with what cyclists do while bicycling. Or that the primary risk of bicycling is associated with not wearing a helmet on their heads. This diverts our attention from the overwhelming, primary tasks needed to meaningfully improve cyclist (and pedestrian/transit user) safety: growing the number of cyclists (to leverage Safety In Numbers), establishing more compact land use patterns, and slowing down cars by creating low-speed (more narrow) streets and intersections.

As a side note, a key for growing the number of bicyclists is to “normalize” bicycling so that it is easier for non-bicyclists to imagine themselves bicycling. When a non-bicyclist sees cyclists wearing lycra and helmets, the image of cycling is that of a non-normal behavior that only odd or strange or risk-taking people engage in. Normalizing bicycling, in this regard, is to not wear a helmet for low-speed town center bicycling, and to opt for casual street/office clothing rather than lycra when riding in the town center.

One last thing: I wear a helmet for two out of the three types of bicycling I engage in: off-road single track mountain biking, and long-distance high-speed riding in outlying areas. I believe it is counterproductive to aggressively promote or require helmet use for low-speed cycling in town centers. Helmets when cycling in a low-speed environment are akin to wearing a life preserver in a swimming pool. Yes, you might land on your head on a street, or drown in the pool, but the chances are so small that the tiny probability of injury explains why most Europeans do not wear a helmet, and why almost no one wears a preserver in a pool.

By the way, it is noteworthy that even though only a tiny number of bicyclists in Europe wear a helmet (whereas a very high percentage of Americans wear a helmet), the incidence of bicyclist head injuries is much lower in Europe — per capita — than it is for American bicyclists.

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Speed Humps Not a Good Traffic Calming Solution

By Dom Nozzi

Speed humps are a commonly used tool by cities to calm (slow down) car traffic.

In response, many bicycle activists rightly request that when speed humps are installed on a street that they be channeled so as not to be a hindrance to cyclists.

The best solution in the long run, however, is to end the installation of vertical interventions such as speed humps and remove all existing humps.

Horizontal interventions such as road diets, landscaped bulb-outs, raised and landscaped medians, canopy street trees, and on-street pocket parking are far better for quality of life, safety, noise pollution reduction, avoidance of emergency vehicle disruption, beautification, human-scale, reduction of speeding, and avoidance of vehicle damage.

It is long past time to end the use of speed humps in cities. Existing speed humps need to be removed, and replaced with design features mentioned above.

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Is Enthusiasm a Four-Letter Word?

By Dom Nozzi

April 3, 2018

On 11/23/17, H. Dewey Jones expressed alarm that the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) for the City of Boulder CO “is dominated by bicycle enthusiasts,” as if this is nefarious. Only by appointing more “auto enthusiast” members will TAB not be skewed toward continuing its War Against Cars.

Mr. Jones can relax.

All TAB members also drive cars. I don’t mean to worry you, Mr. Jones, but all members are also “walking enthusiasts,” “transit enthusiasts,” “affordable housing enthusiasts,” “child enthusiasts,” senior citizen enthusiasts,” and “traffic safety enthusiasts.” In other words, all current TAB members strive to find a balance between all forms of travel and all demographic groups. Finding this balance requires tradeoffs. An important role that TAB plays is to advise Council on the proper mix of tradeoffs that best allow Boulder to meet its many important objectives. TAB also evaluates costs and benefits of various options. Fairness, safety and cost-effectiveness are some of the guiding measures.

For the past century and up to the present day, despite what Mr. Jones implies, Boulder has over-catered to the needs of cars. Roads such as 28th, 30th, East Arapahoe, Broadway, Canyon, Iris, Valmont and Colorado are mostly or entirely car-only roads, and attest to pethe bias toward cars.

Over the past century and up to the present day, countless bicyclists and pedestrians have been killed by motorists (including over the past year or so) in Boulder. Not a single motorist during that time has been killed by a bicyclist or pedestrian. Seems like a war against bicyclists and walkers rather than a war against cars.

Mr. Jones wants to balance TAB “to better represent auto users.” For fairness, I think TAB membership should also include more members who are “speeding enthusiasts” or “cell phone use while driving enthusiasts.” Otherwise, TAB will be too skewed toward saving lives.

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Behind the Times: Making It Difficult to Walk or Bicycle in Boulder CO

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2017

Despite the conventional wisdom – that Boulder CO has long been a mecca of cutting edge, progressive transportation — Boulder has spent several decades making it very difficult to be a bike commuter (or a pedestrian). This happens in part because the citizens of Boulder are behind the times regarding transportation, but also because many actions taken by the City of Boulder are not easily seen as being detrimental to cyclists (or pedestrians).

Some examples.

Many signal lights at intersections are timed for car speeds rather than cyclist speeds.

Slip lanes and continuous left turn lanes are used in the Boulder town center. Such design is extremely hostile to pedestrian safety and significantly undermines the need to create low-speed, human-scaled design in the town center.

The construction of oversized roads and intersections that are too often deadly or intimidating for those not in a car (streets such as Colorado, Broadway, Arapahoe, Canyon, and the many double-left turn intersections are examples).Arapahoe Ave Boulder CO

Terrible design of bike parking racks (or insufficient amounts of racks) all over town. Like a great many American cities, bicycling is trivialized by assuming that “innovative” bike parking rack design is desirable, instead of functional, easy-to-use design. This assumption trivializes bicycling because we all know that there is only one acceptable way to design a car parking space. Why do we allow an “anything goes” approach when it comes to bike parking?

Traffic rules that are designed for heavy, high-speed cars rather than cyclists. An example is something that only a tiny number of places in America have avoided: the requirement that bicyclists must stop at stop signs. Another example: traffic signals that are needed for cars but not bicyclists.

High-speed road geometries. Examples include overly wide car travel lanes, overly wide intersection turning radii, banked curves in a road (so cars can travel on the curve at higher speeds). Street lights and street signs that are too tall – thereby creating a highway ambience that induces higher car speeds.

Too often allowing a business to place car parking in front of a building. Among the great many problems associated with this all-too-common urban design mistake is the fact that parking lots in front of buildings substantially increase walking and bicycling distances, and destroy the human-scaled ambience that most people enjoy.

Not requiring developers to unbundle the price of parking from the price of the home or business. This action means that bicyclists or pedestrians who don’t need the car parking pay higher prices for goods and services to pay for expensive parking they do not need.

Lack of on-street bike lanes on many hostile, high-speed roads. Roads such as Broadway, Canyon, and East Arapahoe are nearly impossible for all but a tiny handful of bicyclists to feel comfortable bicycling. Boulder’s major streets are so hostile because Boulder has strongly bought into the failed, outdated concept of the “street hierarchy” system of roadways. In this system, roads are designated as arterials, collectors, and local roads. Local, low-speed, low-volume neighborhood roads (relatively safe places for bicycling a walking) feed traffic into collector roads (which are more unsafe due to higher speeds and larger widths), which feed into arterial roads (which are the most dangerous, high-speed, very wide roads). Because of the hierarchy of smaller roads feeding larger and larger roads (in the same manner as a watershed, where smaller streams feed larger and larger creeks and rivers), the larger (arterial) roads often become congested because they must handle car trips from throughout the community. Similarly, larger rivers often flood because they must handle water flowing from throughout the watershed. In addition to increasing the likelihood of congestion, the road hierarchy system also and inevitably creates roadways that are not complete streets. They are too high-speed, too wide, and too hostile for safe, comfortable walking or bicycling.

Lack of compact development, which disperses destinations so they are too far to bike or walk to.

Traffic signals that don’t detect cyclists or pedestrians, which means that cyclists and pedestrians must often suffer the indignity and inconvenience of having to wait for a motorist to arrive before the traffic signal will change to a green light.

There are many, many more examples.

Many of the above impediments to cycling or walking are due to the ruinous transportation imperative that all American cities (including, shamefully, Boulder) have pursued for more than a century: high-speed, unimpeded, free-flowing car traffic. This objective has — as an unspoken objective – been designed to keep cyclists and pedestrians out of the way so motorists can avoid being slowed down in their oversized, high-speed cars.

Stepping up enforcement of the pedestrian crossing rule, for example, masquerades as a way to improve pedestrian safety, but the primary reason is to allow motorists to drive at high, inattentive speeds without needing to slow down and pay attention. Such a rule is a form of victim-blaming.

Boulder and nearly all American cities have a lot of work to do if it expects to remove the many obstacles to safe and easy bicycling and walking in town.

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Boulder Shows It Still Doesn’t Get It on Proposed Widening of Arapahoe Road

By Dom Nozzi

June 27, 2017

A news article and an accompanying op-ed by the editor in chief were published in the Daily Camera in June 2017, and it made my blood boil.

Here we are in 2017, and despite over 100 years of repeated failure, too many citizens, elected officials, and staff continue to be convinced that it is necessary to spend a huge amount of what I thought were scarce public dollars (not so scarce when it comes to road/intersection widening and buying Pentagon weapons, though…) to worsen transportation, taxes, land use patterns, and quality of life by widening roads and intersections.

My friend Michael Ronkin informed me later that day, after I read these disheartening newspaper submissions, that even Geneva, Switzerland is not truly getting this.

It galls me that those proposing these road or intersection “improvements” in the face of growth projections consider themselves to be “far-sighted” in calling for this in advance of the growth. Part of the thinking, as Charles Marohn points out, is that road and intersection widenings in the past were not widened “enough,” the road or intersection was soon overwhelmed with “excess” car trips, and it was discovered that the need for a SECOND widening was far more expensive, overall, than if the road or intersection was widened “enough” in the first place. “Enough” so that the second widening would have been unnecessary. The solution? Deliberately overbuild the size of the road or intersection so that the unexpected surge in car trips in the future could be accommodated without the need for a very costly second widening. This is considered being “farsighted.”

However, by widening roads or intersections, at great public expense, such “far-sighted” people are locking their communities into a far worse future. They don’t have a clue about things like induced car travel demand (new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened) and how bigger roads/intersections inevitably lead to more sprawl and car dependence. And a loss of a sense of place or a sense of small town charm.

They don’t realize there is an alternative to the century-long ruinous widenings. “Let It Be,” as the Beatles once said, and socially desirable results will emerge (rather than be undermined by widening). If we don’t try to “solve” anticipated congestion by widening, we will realize slower speeds, less car travel, more bicycling/walking/transit, more compact development, more of a sense of place and charm, lower taxes, less car crashes, less obesity, etc.

I am convinced that once a society commits itself to a car-happy world by building happy-car infrastructure (dispersed low density development, big parking lots, big roads, big setbacks, big intersections, single-use development, etc.), it traps itself in an irreversible downward spiral, because even in “enlightened” communities such as Boulder, the car-oriented road infrastructure and the dispersed land use patterns needed to make car travel free-flowing obligates citizens to angrily insist that car-happy design (which is extremely hostile to non-car travel) continue to be provided. After all, the community now forces citizens to travel by car. There is seemingly no alternative. We must dig the hole deeper. We must lock ourselves further into car dependence.

Given this downwardly spiraling trap, America and its cities will need to run out of money before it is forced to stop the unsustainable insanity of widening roads and intersections. After all, even a century of failed widenings has apparently taught us nothing at all.

A final note: Boulder and Boulder County pride themselves in being smart, progressive, and cutting edge — particularly when it comes to transportation. But these planned road and intersection “improvements” on Arapahoe Avenue illustrates that Boulder is far behind the times and continues to be moronic when it comes to transportation.

By the way, a number of folks in Boulder like to respond to my pointing out that Boulder doesn’t get it regarding widenings by saying that Boulder no longer widens roads. While that may be true, Boulder continues to widen INTERSECTIONS (by creating double-left Arapahoe Ave Boulder COturn lanes, for example) all the time. But bigger intersections are worse than wider roads in many ways. For example, oversized intersections forever lose the ability to create a small town sense of place. It will always be a placeless, car-based location where people will never want to hang out. Such intersections will forever fail to pay for themselves because they eliminate the sales tax and property tax potential of those locations.

One of our societal problems is that news reporters often perpetuate myths when they write on topics they are not informed about. Many readers assume that if the comments are published in a newspaper, they are probably true.

This is a particularly big problem on the topic of transportation, as citizens (including reporters) tend to think it is so obvious what needs to be done to improve transportation. It is common sense! They fail to realize that many effective transportation tools are counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, I will be stepping down from the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board before I get a chance to speak out against this tragic mistake and cast a lone vote against the proposed Arapahoe Avenue “improvements.”

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Is Boulder, Colorado in Danger of Becoming Too Dense?

By Dom Nozzi

March 9, 2017

I hear it all the time as a resident of Boulder, Colorado: “Boulder is too dense!”

I beg to differ.

I support Boulder’s long-standing objectives, such as reducing noise pollution, improving affordability, increasing the number of trips made by foot or bike or transit, slowing tax increases, ensuring the City has the fiscal capacity to engage in needed/ongoing maintenance of our infrastructure, protecting environmentally sensitive outlying areas from suburban development, reducing traffic injuries and deaths (in part by designing streets to be slower speed and obligate motorists to be more attentive), promoting small retail shops and discouraging large retail shops, encouraging diversity and creativity, improving public health, and retaining a lovable character rather than an Anywhere USA character.

Each of these worthy objectives are furthered by more compact (dense) development.

Unfortunately, despite the conventional wisdom, Boulder is actually quite dispersed. Shockingly so.

Indeed, Boulder is so extremely low-density suburban that if we don’t become more compact and add a lot more housing, we will continue to undermine each of the objectives I list here.

Besides the low density and short-statured nature of development I have observed in Boulder, there is another element that strongly signals that Boulder is suburban in character. sprawl
Christopher Leinberger has pointed out that in compact, walkable neighborhoods, “more is better.” That is, new, more compact development tends to be welcomed because it typically improves the quality of life of those living a walkable lifestyle (more things to walk to, for example). By contrast, says Leinberger, in a drivable suburban neighborhood, “more is less.” In such a setting, new and more compact development tends to be detrimental to the drivable quality of life of residents (roads are more congested and parking is more scarce, for example).

For decades, Boulder has had a near consensus that “more is less,” which is a strong signal that Boulder is a drivable suburban community. Indeed, stopping development – or, if not possible, at least minimizing the density of new development — tends to be the be all and end all of protecting or improving quality of life in Boulder.

Our very low-density, dispersed suburban character means that Boulder’s per capita environmental impact is, ironically, very large (being “green” means far more than engaging in curbside recycling or driving a Prius). Dispersed land use patterns found in Boulder are unsustainable, very environmentally destructive, and ensure that nearly all trips in Boulder will be made by motor vehicle.

There is a growing desire for compact, walkable, town center housing — particularly with the Millennial generation — yet Boulder provides very little if any of that sort of housing. Demand for such housing is substantially higher than the supply of it. Which severely amplifies the affordable housing crisis in Boulder.

Sustainability is far out of reach for Boulder unless we provide a lot more compact, walkable housing.

In sum, I think Boulder is quite far from being “too dense.” So far that a “too dense” Boulder will not happen in our lifetimes — if ever. Indeed, it seems to me that Boulder’s biggest concern should be that we are too dispersed.

I previously wrote about why I believe so many people in Boulder (like in so many other American communities) believe their community is “too dense,” despite the obvious signs I cite above.

It is enormously ironic that a great many Boulder residents — not to mention the millions worldwide — love the great historic cities and towns of Europe so much that they happily spend huge sums of money to visit such towns on a regular basis. Nearly all of us love Copenhagen. We adore Amsterdam. We are charmed by Perugia. We are delighted by Dubrovnik. We cannot get enough of Granada.

Yet each of these celebrated cities are far more compact – far more dense – than Boulder.

Why this disconnect?

I believe there are three important reasons. First, the contemporary modernist architectural paradigm we have been saddled with for several decades has thrown the inherently lovable 315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lotand timeless traditional building design into the waste can in favor of repellent, “innovative,” look-at-me design. Citizens are thereby conditioned to equate new compact development with hideous buildings. Second, local zoning regulations in cities such as Boulder have made lovable, human-scaled design illegal by requiring excessive setbacks, excessive car parking, and excessive private open space. Third, nearly all citizens live car-dependent lifestyles. And because their cars consume such an enormous amount of space, motorists are compelled to fear and oppose town design that they otherwise love as tourists. They have, in essence, become their own enemies by striving to improve their life as motorists (equating quality of life with easy parking and free-flowing traffic), not realizing that doing so is ruinous to a healthy city and a lovable quality of life.

For much of our history up until the 20th Century, citizens welcomed and celebrated new development in their communities because they knew that almost invariably, the new development would improve the quality of life in their community.  Steve Belmont has informed us that a densifying city is a sign of city health. But that welcoming of new development has been understandably inverted into a widespread opposition to new modern-architecture-Ronchamp-Chapeldevelopment, largely due to the modernist architectural paradigm, local car-friendly development regulations, and car-dependent citizens who have become cheerleaders for their cars rather than for themselves, their family, and their neighbors.

Boulder can comfortably house a great many more newcomers, and if our land development regulations are properly crafted to insist that new development be walkable, our community will be greatly improved in each of the ways I list above.

For the record, I generally dislike buildings taller than 5 stories (the limit set by city charter), but know that the city can be much better and provide a lot more housing by allowing buildings to be 3-5 stories in appropriate locations.

Note, too, that I do not believe that EVERYONE should be obligated to live in more compact, walkable housing. A community should always provide sufficient housing for the full range of lifestyle choices: walkable town center, drivable suburban, and rural.

Unfortunately, drivable suburban is about the only lifestyle option offered in Boulder. Because we have made the cities we love impossible to build.

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Bicycling in the Boulder Colorado Town Center

By Dom Nozzi

October 7, 2014

I wrote an essay describing the unfortunate, surprising condition in town center Boulder, Colorado – a city rightly known for being exceptionally bike friendly, yet a city which offers a quite hostile environment for bicycling in the town center.

A friend responded by saying he did not understand. “I never bicycle on Broadway [the main north-south state road] (except the north end) since there are side streets nearby that are much better for cycling. You can get anywhere in town via bike paths and bike lanes. I don’t see any need to make Broadway any more accommodating.” He concluded by noting that the City has built a creek path running parallel to the main east-west state road for its entire length. “When I see someone riding either Broadway or Canyon [the main east-west state road] I assume they don’t know their way around town.”

I thanked him for his comments.

I told him that as was found in Copenhagen (and in my own experience), it is noticeably inconvenient for a bicyclist to have to go a block or three out of their way to get to a destination (to avoid Broadway, Canyon, or a one-way street). The vast majority of travelers are motorists, and of course they do not care about a one to three block diversion since gas-powered cars make the extra distance almost unnoticeable.

There is an important reason why a huge percentage of motorists use Broadway: It is usually the shortest distance between two points. Bicyclists ALREADY face a huge number of inconveniences. Why are we adding distance to that list when we don’t have to? Are we serious about getting more people to be bicycle commuters, or is it just lip service?

Bicycle commuters predictably have the same desire to minimize their travel distance, as was found in Copenhagen. It is inexcusable (and ruinous and unnecessary) to make Broadway and Canyon car-sewers that only accommodate cars — particularly in a town center (which, to be healthy, must have low speeds and high levels of travel choice on ALL corridors).

To argue that it is okay to inconvenience bicyclists by continuing to make Canyon and Broadway car-only highways reminds me of the civil rights battles in the 50s and 60s where it was argued that segregation was okay because bicyclists are “separate but equal.”

A great many cities in the US have converted their car-only major corridors in their town center so that instead of being car-only highways, they are now safely accommodating other travelers (and reducing crashes and improving retail and improving quality of life and improving town center health…). Shame on Boulder for not having the political will to want to do likewise.

Again, there is no excuse for keeping Canyon and Broadway as hostile, high-speed, car-only highways IN THE TOWN CENTER. Remember: Copenhagen’s bike planners originally thought there was no need to design their major streets to safely accommodate bicyclists because they felt that bicyclists would, as this friend indicated, find the side streets “much better for bicycling.”

This idea turned out to be wrong, as they learned that bicyclists have the same desire lines as motorists.3065696-poster-p-1-copenhagen-now-has-more-bikes-than-cars

Copenhagen has been serious about promoting bicycling, rather than just paying lip service.

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Some Problems Associated with Low-Density Residential Living

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 14, 2001

A large percentage of Americans LOVE low-density residential living, and regularly fight against any proposal that would bring more compact development anywhere near them.

But low-density development has many problems – problems that a growing number of Americans are beginning to recognize.sprawl-development

For example, low-density development locks everyone into extremely high levels of car dependency. Transit, walking, bicycling and carpools become nearly impossible. A sense of community is often non-existent. Auto-dependent communities suffer because there tends to be no “there there.” Seniors and kids lose their independence because they are forced to rely on others to get around. Suburbs are more dangerous than walkable in-town locations because the risk of a car crash is much higher than “stranger crimes” like murder, mugging, rape, etc.

Car dependent designs are not only unaffordable for all levels of government. They are also unaffordable for households, since the average car costs the equivalent of a $50,000 home mortgage, and nearly every family must now own more than one car. Low-density, disconnected street patterns create congestion even at very, very low levels of car trips because ALL trips are forced onto one or two major roads (and because cars consume such a vast amount of space). Disconnected roads therefore create the misperception that things are “too crowded.” The naive, misguided knee-jerk “solution” is to fight for lower densities, which, of course, simply makes things worse. Increasingly, what this means is that people who should know better (liberals, intellectuals, greens) are urging “no growth” and “no change”, and fighting AGAINST smart growth tactics — thereby unintentionally aligning themselves with the black hat sprawl developers.

Tragically, the low-density lifestyle compels people living in such a setting to fight hard against the compact development that would actually reduce the problems cited above. They do so because the low-density pattern quickly results in enraging traffic congestion and loss of car parking. This vested interest in low density locks such residents in a long-term downward spiral, as positive change tends to be fiercely resisted.

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