Tag Archives: bike paths

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

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

The Ineffectiveness of New Sidewalks and Bike Lanes

By Dom Nozzi

What are the effective tactics to induce more bicycling and walking?

In my research and experience, the following are the most effective ways to induce a significant increase in bicycling and walking.

  1. Scarce and priced car parking.
  2. Proximity, through relatively compact land use patterns (including a mixing of homes with shops and culture and jobs).
  3. VERY high gas prices, through an increase in the gas tax, or market forces.
  4. Slower speeds. When the difference in speed between cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists is high, it is very difficult for nearly all of us to feel comfortable walking or bicycling. High car speeds create enormous barriers to walking and bicycling.
  5. Full-time staff needs to be devoted to walking and bicycling in local government.
  6. One-way streets need to be converted back to two-way operation.
  7. Short block lengths need to be created in street design. About 200 feet is an excellent length for walking.
  8. Create human scale in street, intersection, and building setback dimensions. Rule of thumb: Smaller is better.
  9. Achieve street vibrancy. There should be 24-hour activity on streets and sidewalks. Vibrancy attracts pedestrians and bicyclists. Deploying tactics on this list helps create vibrancy.
  10. Create the perception that walking and bicycling is safe, pleasant, and hip. Understand and act on the reality that there is safety in numbers. When we effectively induce a large increase in walking and bicycling, we create a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle. Many who see large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists are convinced that walking and bicycling is safe, pleasant, and hip. Being convinced of that leads many to start walking and bicycling more often themselves.

Notice the glaring lack of “new sidewalks and bike lanes” on the above list. It is no coincidence that many of the great walking and bicycling cities in the world have awful or scarce sidewalks and bike lanes.

Will the provision of more sidewalks lead to more walking?

I’m still waiting for the nearly 100 percent coverage of sidewalks in Gainesville FL – where I toiled for 20 years as a town planner — to induce more than 0.0001% of healthy, young, student-oriented Gainesville to engage in utilitarian walking. IMG_3045Why are more in Gainesville not walking? Is there something we could do to sidewalks to make them more “enjoyable,
comfortable, and safe”? Could it maybe be that people prefer driving to all that free and abundant parking that awaits them everywhere, rather than walking five miles? Could it be that land use densities are so low – that, therefore, walking distances are so long – that walking is nearly impossible for the vast majority of residents?

Is it a good idea to encourage more bicycling by installing more bike paths that are physically separated from motor vehicle travel lanes?

As I’ve said many times in the past, I’m still waiting for ONE example of a community in the US which has successfully employed this strategy. I know of none. Even if there was a community which could afford the astronomical costs, sidewalks, bike lanes and bike paths are not likely to induce regular commuting by mom, kids and seniors (and healthy young people) when the distances are extreme, as they are in almost all of suburbia.

Are bike lanes and sidewalks sufficient to induce more bicycling and walking?

I continue to be convinced that bike lanes and sidewalks do not meaningfully induce bicycling and walking BY THEMSELVES. Gainesville is an excellent example (as are a number of communities I have visited). Gainesville has one of the most comprehensive and adequately provided set of bike lanes and sidewalks I know of. The climate is good year-round. The topography is flat as a pancake. And the University of Florida, being the third largest university in the US, provides the city with an unusually large number of young, healthy, fit, poor, educated citizens.

Despite all those things going for it, the number of utilitarian bicyclists and walkers is tiny in Gainesville. I contend it is because Gainesville is an utter failure when it comes to car parking, density/mixed-use, gas taxes, size/speed of roads, size of blocks/connectivity, etc. If it were true that bike lanes and sidewalks induced lots of bicycling and walking, why is almost no one doing it in Gainesville?

I’ve heard people tell me over and over again that if paths or sidewalks were provided, they’d bike or walk a lot more. I’ve not noticed that being true in the cities in the US that have a failing score on my list of effective tactics. I understand that it is common for folks to say things in surveys just because they believe that it is ethical to believe or behave in the way they indicate in the survey. But it ends up mostly being lip service. Almost everyone says they’ll bike/walk/transit more if we put in the bike/walk/transit faculties. But mostly they are not being honest (or don’t realize there are a lot of additional factors that have them decide not to change the way they travel).

My list strives to identify the most effective tactics to induce travel change. Bike lanes and sidewalks are necessary, but not effective enough to be on my Top Ten list. I also didn’t have showers on my list for the same reason. Or bike parking.

By the way, one of the reasons I think it is a good idea to not have bike lanes/sidewalks on the list is that far too many people think the war has been won if those things are installed (but nothing has been achieved for the items on my list). I’m tired of that. I’m ready for some wise leadership. For a change.

Keeping bike lanes and sidewalks off a tactics list might lead to some serious thinking. America has had how many decades of failure to meaningfully increase bicycling and walking? Isn’t it time for a change in what we do?

In my experience (and note that I am referring strictly to utilitarian/commute walking/biking and not recreational), sidewalks and bike lanes don’t seem to induce a meaningful number of utilitarian trips by pedestrians or bicyclists — particularly in suburbia. In my opinion, it is irrational and therefore extremely unlikely that people will opt to walk or bike (even on bike lanes or sidewalks) instead of drive a car, for trips to work or a store or other utilitarian trips. Particularly because, as Donald Shoup so convincingly points out, the free parking spaces that Americans find on nearly all of their car trips are begging people to drive a car. Other factors that make bike lanes and sidewalks unlikely to induce new utilitarian bike/ped trips are the enormous distances one finds in low-density, single-use suburban settings.

Gainesville had sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere, yet it was VERY rare for me to ever see or hear of someone walking or bicycling for utilitarian purposes (even though we had an enormous number of college students there). I almost always felt that I was one of 3 or 4 bicycle commuters in allegedly bike-friendly Gville (where bike lanes and paths are all over the community).

In stark contrast, I have been to communities in both America and Europe (Charleston, Copenhagen, Rome, etc.) where there is an enormous amount of biking and walking. And quite frequently, such places have rather inadequate sidewalks or bike lanes. In my opinion, those places have lots of bikes/peds because of their compactly laid out town centers, their mixing of land uses (houses close to schools, culture, jobs, and shops), scarce and expensive parking, short travel distances, etc.

Other examples: A number of people have observed that in a number of “new urbanist” towns, many continue to drive despite sidewalks and short distances. Or notice that most everyone drives even though their trip is only a few hundred feet in length. Again, in my opinion, that is largely explained by the abundance of free parking that awaits at the destination.

Too often, I’ve seen elected officials unjustifiably pat themselves on the back for creating a bike-friendly community because they required installation of bike lanes or bike parking. But it was mostly window dressing, because in places like Gainesville, most everyone continued to drive for the reasons I mention above. Politicians are typically unwilling to show the leadership needed to use effective tactics like compact land use patterns, mixed use, efficient parking, etc. Instead, they engage in easy-way-out lip service that buys them votes but doesn’t meaningfully change the community.

In sum, the suburbs are in deep trouble in the inevitable future where car travel is substantially higher in cost. Their dispersed, single-use land use patterns and long travel distances means that even with bike lanes and sidewalks, most people will feel obligated to pay a lot more money to buy gas, because the distances are too daunting to walk or bike. Suburbs, to have a future, need to densify or at least create new town centers.

I am in full agreement, despite what I’ve said above, that communities should ALWAYS require new development to install bike lanes (particularly in suburbia) and sidewalks (particularly in town centers). In fact, I enthusiastically wrote ordinances that Gainesville adopted which required sidewalks for all new development. I fully agree that people should not be expected to walk on a road due to lack of sidewalks (except, perhaps, in very low-density rural conditions), or be expected to bike without bike lanes (except in low-speed town centers). If nothing else, such facilities show the community is bike- and ped-friendly. A very important message to send. It shows that the community respects such people.

Is it feasible to adopt the tactics I recommend? I am fully and sadly aware that the effective tactics I recommend are extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve in most of the US, politically. But opting for other more feasible tactics (bike lanes, bike parking, bike showers, sidewalks) doesn’t make them effective simply because we can do them easier.

Let’s be honest: Most American communities are doomed because we have spent several decades building communities that have no future because it is nearly impossible to retrofit them for transportation choice and other forms of sustainability. We have many years of painful and costly work in front of us.

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Which Elected Officials Are Unwilling to Spend Money to Improve Facilities for Bicyclists and Pedestrians?

By Dom Nozzi

In general, there are at least four (sometimes overlapping) types of elected officials who do not support putting more dollars into bicycle and pedestrian facilities:

  1. The Uninformed. This is the category of officials who have not been made aware of the benefits of more biking/walking. Over the course of the past few decades, as evidence of the merits of non-auto travel has become so overwhelming throughout the nation, this category is now a rapidly diminishing group. Those who don’t know are not paying attention.bicycling on path
  2. The Old School. As Thomas Kuhn points out in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, some people have devoted so much time and effort into the old school of thought (the old paradigm) that even an avalanche of evidence supporting the new paradigm and rejecting the old paradigm is insufficient to convince members of The Old School. To reject the old paradigm is to reject everything they have believed and worked for during their entire lives. Often, to do so is to have to reject their entire life’s work as a waste of time. For most people, this concession would be too awful to accept. Instead, they stubbornly hold on to their old views. The new paradigm is only accepted when this old school dies off and is replaced by a new generation which has not been immersed in the old paradigm.
  3. The Motorist. This category includes the elected officials who “get it” with regard to the merits of non-auto travel. But their suburban upbringing, their suburban lifestyle, or both, has convinced them that it is naïve or undesirable to strive for a return to a more traditional, walkable, compact community design. Of course, these car-happy views are not openly, publicly expressed. They are simply manifested in the votes such an official casts. The unfairness of this sort of public “servant” is that it is perfectly acceptable for such a person to opt to continue living the car-dependent, suburban lifestyle (as long as they are paying their fair share of costs). But shouldn’t other citizens have an opportunity to live in and enjoy a different, more walkable lifestyle? One that is rapidly vanishing from America?
  4. The Spineless. There is another category of officials who “get it.” These are the officials who, while they are strongly supportive of putting more money into bicycle and pedestrian facilities, always run for cover and cast a pro-car vote whenever the opportunity arises. Such a politician is terrified of the thought of an unhappy constituent – including those unhappy about the loss of those things that are detrimental to the community. These are the politicians who never make anyone unhappy. And therefore never get anything done.

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