Tag Archives: boulder

Neighborhood Parking Permits in Boulder Colorado?

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 9, 2016

“Spillover” parking, where a nearby business, shop, school, or park draws so many cars that on-street parking spaces in a neighborhood are used by such visitors, is a problem in a great many neighborhoods around the nation — including Boulder, Colorado. The tool that Boulder has employed since the 1990s is one that is commonly used to by a great many cities to address spillover parking: neighborhood parking permits (NPP).635836379848447331-20151120-7665

However, the Neighborhood Parking Permit program is clumsy, complicated, convoluted, crude, and makes it too easy for people to cheat (by, for example, selling their permits). The program has created on-going headaches for neighborhoods, staff, and elected officials.

A great many parking problems neighborhoods experience can be much better solved by using what Donald Shoup calls “Parking Benefit Districts.” Parking is metered with hanging tags or in-vehicle meters and the revenue is used in the neighborhood where it is generated to provide neighborhood benefits such as landscaping or sidewalk repair (rather than funneling the revenue into the General Fund).

Benefit districts would result in reducing many housing and development problems in Boulder by minimizing neighborhood opposition to development (caused by fear of spillover parking and too many cars). There would be less opposition – opposition that is fierce in Boulder, despite a universal recognition of an affordable housing crisis in Boulder — to Accessory Dwelling Units, compact development, or increased occupancy limits.

The City would also have less need to require developers to provide excessive amounts of off-street parking. Parking would become more convenient in neighborhoods and nonresident commuters would be paying for neighborhood improvements.

NPP has worked well in a few Boulder neighborhoods, but going forward, Boulder should move toward Benefit Districts.

 

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Housing Affordability Crisis in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

February 21, 2016

Having been in the market to buy a house in Boulder for over a year now, an article that was published in the 2/21/16 Boulder Daily Camera about the housing affordability crisis for middle-income households struck a chord with me.

Boulder needs to find ways to allow for the growth in the number of houses that consume relatively little land, since land is so expensive. I would love to find an affordable attached townhouse or rowhouse in Boulder. Or even a condo over a store (so that the store is paying for the land).

One thing I’ve learned/confirmed in my search is that way too many houses in Boulder have a very low walkscore. Such houses make the cost of housing very expensive in an indirect way, because the household tends to need more cars.

It will be interesting to see if there is a decline in opposition to compact/dense housing, a decline in opposition to mixed use, or both, in response to the severe and growing housing affordability crisis in Boulder.

I’m also wondering if Boulder is in a “housing bubble.”

A few factors keep some housing in Boulder fairly affordable: (1) proximity to very genMid.755216_2noisy and high-speed roads; (2) low walk scores; and (3) the many “modernist” houses in town (which tend to be ugly, unlovable places for many of us).

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Should Boulder Prohibit Bicycling on Sidewalks?

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 16, 2014

Boulder Colorado is well known for providing an impressive range of bicycling facilities. However, the City prohibits bicycling on several sections of commercialized streets.

I have serious concerns about this prohibition. I should state first that I am very well aware of how poorly bicyclists mix with pedestrians on sidewalks – particularly sidewalks that are heavily used. An important reason for the incompatibility is that bicyclists and pedestrians have a very large speed differential, and pedestrians often move from side to side unpredictably. For these reasons, I typically tend to oppose bicyclists on sidewalks. I was a bicycle commuter in Florida for about 25 years, and I made it a point to almost never ride my bike on a sidewalk, and would strongly prefer it if I (and other bicyclists) NEVER had to be on a sidewalk. Professionally, I have spent much of my career strongly advocating that bicyclists not be allowed on sidewalks, and often argue with friends and others when I frequently hear the claim that bicyclists are safer (and belong) on sidewalks. I have always taken the position that bicyclists don’t belong on sidewalks.

It is therefore highly ironic that here in Boulder, where bicycle facilities are extremely high-quality and abundant, I suddenly find myself riding on sidewalks almost every day I ride. Not because I prefer it, but because I feel forced to do so.

There are two main reasons why, for the first time in my life, I am often riding on sidewalks. First, Boulder has a number of extremely important streets (streets that most all travelers understandably want to travel on frequently – that includes bicyclists) that are nearly impossible for a bicyclist to ride on – including for highly experienced, skilled bicyclists (I include myself in that category). These car-only, large_SMBIKE 1 MCNISHhigh-speed highways are exceptionally hostile to bicyclists. The main offenders are Broadway (particularly in the town center), Canyon, and 28th Street. Second, Boulder has a made what I believe is the very bad decision to convert a number of two-way streets to one-way operation in the town center. A growing number of cities are converting their one-ways back to two-way operation after discovering how toxic they have become to a healthy city and street. With one-way streets, bicyclists are presented with three extremely undesirable choices: (1) opt for a very inconvenient, out-of-the-way route that adds significant distance to the bicycle trip; (2) ride in the street against traffic (which is extremely dangerous); or (3) ride on the sidewalk. I typically opt for #3, even though I am well aware of the incompatibility-with-pedestrians problem.

Given all of the above, I believe it is extremely problematic for Boulder to not allow bicycling on commercial streets such as town center Canyon and Broadway (or on one-way streets).

By doing so, Boulder is taking the position that bicyclists are not allowed to bicycle on some of the most desirable, heavily used routes in the city. Only pedestrians and cars are allowed on those streets. While the regulation is a significant inconvenience for someone such as myself, it is much more inconvenient (and extremely discouraging) for the “interested but concerned” bicyclist that Boulder is now seeking to put special efforts into encouraging.

Again, I tend to be strongly opposed to allowing bicyclists to ride on sidewalks. But when the Colorado Department of Transportation (and the City of Boulder?) opted to design town center Broadway and Canyon to be hostile, car-only superhighways (and opted to convert certain two-way streets to one-way), an unavoidable consequence (in my opinion) was to force the City of Boulder to take what is normally a very undesirable position (in some ways, a Faustian Bargain): allow bicyclists to ride on sidewalks on those exceptionally hostile streets. Building car-only Broadway and Canyon in the town center (as well as creating one-ways) makes such a policy nearly unavoidable, unless the City of Boulder wishes to significantly handicap or inconvenience bicyclists by not allowing them to ride along Broadway or Canyon in the town center.

In sum, I believe that the regulation discriminates against bicyclists. I should add that I recommend allowing bicyclists on sidewalks with deep regret (for the reasons I mention above), which to me adds urgency to the need to, say, road diet Canyon and Broadway in the town center to make them Complete Streets, because in general, bicyclists do not belong on sidewalks. But until that day of reform for Canyon, Broadway, and the one-way streets comes, bicyclists should be allowed on the sidewalks of those streets.

 

 

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Making the Boulder Comprehensive Housing Strategy Less Controversial

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 9, 2014

Much of the conversation regarding the Comprehensive Housing Strategy in Boulder Colorado has centered around the extremely important issues of affordability and neighborhood compatibility. The issue has been exceptionally controversial. A few suggestions to turn down the volatility:

  1. One of the most effective ways to create affordable housing in Boulder is to create more walkable, compact, mixed-use housing (what Boulder is now calling “15-minute neighborhoods“). On average, a car now costs about $9,500/year to own and operate. If a household is able to only have to own one car instead of two, or two instead of three — because compact neighborhood design allows such a reduction — those households would have almost $10K a year that could now be put into housing rather than motor vehicles. Personally, I could not afford to live in Boulder if I owned a car.
  1. A related, powerful affordability tool is to allow more housing where the price of the housing is unbundled from the price of the parking. Boulder Junction will be the first time that Boulder sees housing where the price of parking can be unbundled from the price of housing. Big savings, given how much parking (especially in Boulder) can cost to provide. In addition, the average parking space consumes something like 300 SF of real estate. The outdated, excessive minimum parking requirements that Boulder uses too often is making it impossible to build smaller, more affordable housing units on smaller lots, because so much space is needed for parking. We need to leverage this affordability opportunity by reforming parking regulations (mostly by converting minimum parking to maximum parking, and by making it easier to unbundle parking — or requiring parking to be unbundled).
  1. Boulder’s future will see a growing number of Millennials, and we know that demographic group (more so than earlier generations) is looking for more walkable, compact, mixed-use housing where the need for a household to own 2-3 cars is less necessary. Does Boulder provide enough of that type of housing for the coming growth in demand (and a more sustainable world where car co-boulder-pearlst-01ownership is less necessary and less affordable)? I don’t believe it does. An equitable, healthy community provides the full, adequate range of housing and lifestyle choices from urban to suburban to rural. In my opinion, Boulder has a mismatch of such choices. There is an oversupply and relative under-demand for drivable suburban housing. Conversely, there is a large (and growing) demand for compact, walkable housing, and a very scarce supply of such housing in Boulder.
  1. Increasing the number of unrelated adults who can live in a home, as well as easing up on accessory dwelling unit and co-op housing restrictions, are very important affordability tools. And one that causes relatively little neighborhood disruption.
  1. Neighborhood compatibility and neighborhood objections to new development are highly contentious in Boulder. Perhaps the most fundamental building block I know of for creating neighborhood compatibility (not to mention creating the much desired, yet elusive vision for Boulder and its neighborhoods) is to implement charrette-driven form-based coding, instead of the vision-less, conventional, outdated zoning-based coding that Boulder uses. An excellent example of the power of form-based coding is the code created by Dover-Kohl for North Boulder and the Holiday neighborhood. I believe that now is a wonderful time for Boulder to either adopt form-based overlay zones in targeted areas, or to engage in a citywide, perhaps incremental, replacement of conventional zoning codes with what are called Smart (form-based) codes. Such codes not only incorporate detailed, inspirational visions and compatibility tools (and most importantly, uniquely significant neighborhood buy-in), but are effective (when appropriate) in creating compatible compact, human-scaled, lower-speed and mixed use development that induce civic pride and powerfully achieve important City objectives.
  1. I am worried that actions taken by Council on the Comprehensive Housing Strategy might lock certain parts of Boulder into a highly undesirable status quo. There are many areas, such as East Boulder and important transit nodes, that are in desperate need of re-development — places that are overly car-happy, declining, parking lot-choked areas with a terrible economic and quality of life problem. These places, in particular, are overdue for restoration through catalysts such as the needed reforms to land development and parking that I outline above.

In sum, the Comprehensive Housing Strategy offers the City an excellent opportunity to implement the reforms I outline above.

 

 

 

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One Size Does Not Fit All

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 15, 2014

As the debate in Boulder Colorado is fought over development, density, neighborhood compatibility, and future vision, I keep thinking about the important truism in urban design:

One size does not fit all.

In the Sunday, September 14th Daily Camera, Mayor Matt Appelbaum indirectly made this point when he was quoted as saying that “There is not going to be a consensus.”

Precisely.

There will ALWAYS be a large number of folks in Boulder who passionately advocate for and desire to live in compact, walkable neighborhoods. There will ALWAYS be a large number of folks who desire more dispersed, drivable suburban neighborhoods. And there will ALWAYS be a large number who want an isolated, rural lifestyle.

How do we meet these three different lifestyle needs?

For over a century, most communities — including Boulder — have unfairly believed that there is a one-size-fits-all approach to community design. And land development regulations too often reflect this unfairness.

No, what is needed is not to find an impossible “consensus” amongst those seeking differing lifestyle paths (a recipe for a dumbed down, lowest common denominator plan). In my opinion, one huge solution is for Boulder to adopt what is called a Rural to Urban Transect Sandy Sorlien“Smart Code.” A Smart Code includes an “urban-to-rural transect,” where land development regulations are calibrated so that a quality urban lifestyle is achieved in the areas designated as compact and walkable, where another set of regulations are calibrated to achieve a quality suburban lifestyle, and a third set of regulations is adopted to achieve a quality rural lifestyle.

The transect concept asks this question: What elements are immersive in the habitat we are working in—be it Charleston or the Everglades? For example, the transect instructs that a sidewalk is immersive in Charleston, and a “transect violation” when within the Everglades. Conversely, a 200-acre marsh is immersive in the Everglades and a transect violation in Charleston. In other words, something is immersive if it promotes the quality of the habitat being designed. It is a violation if it harms the quality of the habitat being designed.

And frankly, this is where some of the conflict and impatience comes between those who are currently the loudest: many Better Boulder advocates and many with PLAN-Boulder County. A good number of PLAN-Boulder advocates don’t seem to have a conception of a transect or immersiveness. To such advocates, it is always a good idea to incorporate more nature, larger setbacks, and lower density everywhere—which fails to acknowledge that a 200-acre marsh in the middle of an in-town urban neighborhood harms the quality of a walkable Charleston. Natural features are not always immersive in all locations (it took me a while to realize that, since I came from an environmental academic background).

Conversely, many Better Boulder advocates are guilty of not taking proper care of sensitive ecosystems in projects they support. That more density, or taller buildings, or smaller setbacks are always appropriate in all locations. But it is also true that a many environmental scientists are guilty of not taking proper care of urbanism in their advocacy. Both advocacy positions (urban or suburban) can harm the other if not applied where it belongs.

Let the city be a city and let nature be nature. It goes both ways.

It has been accurately stated many times in Boulder that there is very little coherent “vision” for Boulder’s future in its Comprehensive Plan or its land development regulations. This is certainly true for Boulder’s largely conventional land development regulations, which utterly lack any vision. Instead, the regulations only tell us what we DO NOT want. The result, as we see, is unpredictable, often random, often unloved development — development that is certainly worrisome and opposed by many neighborhood groups.

A Smart Code effectively addresses this lack of vision, as well as the equitable need to provide lifestyle and housing options for the full range of community desires — from compact to rural. It does this by not only adopting a code that varies as it moves from urban to suburban to rural, but also by incorporating a “Form-Based Coding” system, which is in stark contrast to the conventional zoning used in much of Boulder. Instead of the conventional, use-based codes that are found in most all of Boulder — a code that is mostly concerned about what happens inside of buildings, only tells us negatively about what is not allowed, and strives to avoid any mixing of housing with retail, services, or offices — a Smart Code with form-based coding reduces the excessive concern about what is inside a building (by separating uses from each other with such regulations, the use-based conventional zoning makes it much harder for Boulder to achieve crucial transportation objectives).

A form-based Smart Code also provides us with a predictable, neighborhood-supported, positive vision for future development in neighborhoods. And that predictability and neighborhood buy-in is not only a wonderful way to reduce opposition to development, but is also a great way to ensure economic health (predictability is very important for business). Our regulations can show developers the building appearance and location on the property that the community and neighborhood desires in a given part of the “transect,” rather than the conventional use-based zoning, that only tells us what NOT to do.

In my opinion, Boulder should use this highly contentious debate over future development as an opportunity to call for the development of a form-based Smart Code — either in targeted locations such as what has already been done in North Boulder, or citywide. This code should be developed in a “charrette” process (intense, community- or neighborhood-based design workshop facilitated by trained professional urban designers). A charrette is an excellent way to provide community design education to citizens, as well as to achieve a great deal of citizen/neighborhood buy-in (because citizens end up making many of the design decisions).

The North Boulder Sub-Area Plan and the Holiday neighborhood within that location (prepared by Dover-Kohl consultants in the mid-90s) represents an excellent local model for a form-based Smart Code that has delivered popular, quality development. I understand that the plan and regulations remain popular after almost 20 years of adoption of that plan and its Smart Code.

 

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Maximum Height for Buildings?

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 14, 2014
I continue to believe that five stories generally makes sense as a maximum height for a smaller city such as Boulder Colorado. I wouldn’t be rigidly opposed to taller buildings, but I think taller buildings in Boulder should be extremely rare (and probably clad in brick or stone to reduce the jarring nature of a relatively tall building).

Besides the human scale that is lost when a building gets taller than five stories, there are other important concerns I have. Speaking from experience (and particularly in a city such as Boulder where transit service is good but not great, as it is in many big cities), when a building has a lot of stories, it is very likely that there will be an enormous amount of financial, political, and employee/resident pressure to serve that building with massive surface parking lots, monstrous (and monstrously expensive) parking garages (and underground parking). There will, in other words, be huge expenses associated with storing the huge number of cars, and the taller building will therefore be drawing a rather large number of cars — which is generally not good for a relatively small city or a place that seeks to be walkable. Relatively tall buildings can generally avoid this problem if served by very frequent bus or rail transit. In addition, that huge influx of cars can put a LOT of pressure on local and state government to add a lot of toxic, ruinous roadway capacity to the existing street system in order to serve that influx of cars — not at all good for a small city wanting to be walkable.

Monster roads and monster parking is deadly to efforts to create walkability.

It is probably true that a given city can only expect to support “X” number of jobs or housing or retail space. I think it is much preferable for a city that wishes to be walkable, vibrant and interesting to have, say, 50 buildings that are five stories tall than to have 25 buildings that are 10 stories tall.

Aesthetics (including properly proportioned windows) are extremely important in this discussion. We’ve given density a very black eye by allowing aesthetic atrocities when density is attempted in the US.

The Boulderado hotel in Boulder is a great example to point to when folks express screaming agony over density and large buildings. We need to put buildings like the Hotel_Boulderado1-T1Boulderado into a pattern book…

Excessive focus on size/height distracts us from the important, necessary discussion we need to have about design and details. This reminds me of a similar issue: Too many in Boulder are convinced that putting a cap on the number of people in Boulder is the be-all-and-end-all of protecting quality of life. Too many think that such a cap is all we need to create or protect the lovability of Boulder.

Nonsense.

I very much like the idea of making structured parking more common, and agree with how taller buildings can do that. Taller buildings create needed concentrations for transit nodes.

I love the idea known as “inclusionary upzoning,” which makes affordable housing more economically, legally, and politically feasible.

For walkability, I want to see as many buildings as possible (which taller buildings might work against). I want to see surface parking prohibited in places intended to be walkable. I want to see lenders stop demanding excessive amounts of parking for taller buildings before they agree to lend money. I want to see the price of structured parking unbundled from residential units. I want to see building setbacks minimized and “open space” or landscaping requirements relaxed substantially in places intended to be walkable. I want to see minimum parking regulations converted to maximum parking regulations. I want a requirement that parking be priced. I want to see a form-based code. And I want to see Floor Area Ratio limits raised substantially.

Oh, and I also want to enact a moratorium on street/intersection size, and a cap on the total amount of parking in various districts.

Then we can talk about taller buildings…

Many in Boulder claim that the City engages in “punishing” drivers. By contrast, I’ve been shocked by how PAMPERED drivers are in Boulder. And by how many “environmentalists” in Boulder are supportive of such pampering. Many greens here wrongly think that free-flowing traffic and the oversized roads and intersections that result from that) reduces air emissions and fuel consumption. It is actually the other way around. They forget about induced demand and low-value trips. By joining with the sprawl lobby in Boulder, they have created a very car-happy community.

Drivers in Brooklyn or Amsterdam are maybe “punished.” But not in Boulder.

If anyone is “punished” in Boulder, it is pedestrians and cyclists. Certainly there is a fair amount of lip service paid to pampering pedestrians and cyclists, and “punishing” drivers, but the reality is light years from that.

 

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The Many Transportation Reforms Needed in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

 If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent

Boulder, Colorado is rightly considered throughout America to be a model for instituting facilities and programs that create sustainable transportation choices that promote equity and quality of life. However, it is important to recognize that Boulder is far from being able to “rest on its laurels,” as too many in Boulder seem ready to do. Even in Boulder, there are a large number of transportation reforms that are essential if Boulder is to have a chance to achieve important transportation and quality of life objectives.aerial-view-of-boulder-b

To start this paper, here is a list of objectives that Boulder (like most other communities) seeks to achieve:

Objectives

  • Reduce carbon/greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reduce SOV and other gasoline-powered transportation.
  • Increase the proportion of bicycle, pedestrian and transit trips.
  • Increase the amount of affordable housing.
  • Promote compact, walkable urban design in town centers.
  • Increase the proportion of transportation revenue that is user fee based.
  • Promote slower and attentive car traffic.
  • Promote quality of life via more healthy residential and commercial areas.

This paper offers my suggestions for needed reforms to effectively achieve these objectives. In general, to be transformative (and to avoid needing to increase needed transportation funding), recognize that it is not about providing new transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. It is about taking away space and subsidies and speed for the car, by shrinking size of roads and parking, and increasing the cost of driving.

Note that car transportation is a zero-sum game. Increasing the ease of car travel, or reducing the cost of car travel, inevitably makes bicycling, walking and transit use more dangerous, less pleasant, and less practical. This becomes a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle, as easing car travel ends up inducing a growing number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users to drive cars more often. And that growing number of motorists then increase political pressure to ease car travel EVEN MORE. And so on…

It is essential to recognize the negative feedback loop of the travel time budget, the triple convergence, and induced trips. For example, designing streets to speed car travel results in increased community dispersal because travelers have an internal “travel time budget” that compels them to allocate travel time to their daily routine. If car speeds increase due to enabling street design, commuters respond by living further away from their destinations, because higher speed streets enable them to remain within their travel time budget.

The “triple convergence” informs us that whenever we widen a road, we inevitably induce three motorist behavior changes that result in a quick return to congested road conditions: Motorists drive more often at rush hour, they drive more often by car, and they drive more often on the newly-widened street. The widening of a road (or intersection) thereby “induces” new car trips that would have never occurred had Boulder not spent large sums of public dollars to widen a road or intersection.

Why Driving a Car is Rational

Even in Boulder, the vast majority of citizens find that car travel is the most rational way to drive. As an aside, this is why adding new bike lanes, more frequent bus service, or adding new sidewalks are generally not effective in significantly reducing car use.

In Boulder, the following factors make car travel quite rational.

  • Protection/security from “bad guys.”
  • Comfort (temperature control, protection from weather, music, comfy seat, etc.).
  • Low physical exertion.
  • Status/ego.
  • Cargo carrying capacity.
  • Ability to carry lots of passengers.
  • Ability to travel long distances — particularly at times of your choosing, rather than based on a bus schedule.
  • Free parking for nearly all of your trips.
  • Untolled roads.

Boulder needs to strive to make bicycling, walking, and transit use more advantageous than car travel, and addressing the above factors (so that car travel is less advantageous in these categories) is an important way to start doing that.

Boulder’s transportation staff is well-educated about the following recommended reforms. Their infrequent instances of suggesting such reforms is therefore not due to their being unaware of such tactics. Staff would make such recommendations regularly if or when their supervisors and elected officials gave them PERMISSION to make such recommendations.

Needed Boulder Transportation Reforms

Parking

  • Eliminate any code barriers to infilling on off-street parking lots. Off-street parking is an extremely inefficient way to use the extremely costly land in Boulder – particularly in the town center, where no off-street parking should be allowed at all.
  • Eliminate minimum parking requirements and consider converting them to maximum parking requirements (particularly in the town center). In addition to converting minimum parking to maximum parking, allow increased shared parking, require the unbundling of the price of housing from the price of the associated parking, and offer employees a parking cash-out option. Regulations currently require too much off-street parking.
  • Only allow Inverted-U bike parking (or minor variations), and specify required spacing as well as required height. Regulations currently allow highly undesirable bike parking designs. The inverted-U design is about the only acceptable bike parking design. We don’t allow several car parking designs. Why do we allow it for bike parking?
  • Conduct an on-going trend analysis of the quantity of free parking – particularly in the town center. This measure is an excellent proxy for quality of life changes over time. Quality of life is inversely related to the quantity of free parking. Parking quantity changes correlate with several city objectives in a way that “green” cars/fuel does not:
    • Less noise pollution
    • Less sprawl
    • Less heat island effect
    • Less flooding and stormwater runoff
    • More affordable housing
    • More affordable transportation budget
    • More healthy population
    • More healthy retail & residential
    • Less injuries and deaths due to crashes
  • Hire a Shoup-based parking consultant to conduct a parking study for Boulder.
  • Boulder should conduct an on-going inventory of how many regional commuters park in a free parking space. This can inform the City about how aggressively to push for parking cash-out, and whether the region will be able to shift regional commuters to transit (too much free parking for such commuters makes such a shift highly unlikely).
  • Off-street parking should not be allowed to front streets – particularly in the town center. Exceptions should be only allowed on wide, high-speed streets, where conditions are too inhospitable to abut the street with a building entrance.
  • Parking in Boulder should be more comprehensively priced (market-based pricing).
  • The price of free parking should be unbundled from the price of housing so that those with fewer or no need for car parking can have more affordable housing (and reduce the incentive for owning cars). Reports providing details about unbundling the price of parking can be found here, here, and here.
  • Each year, the total percentage of total free, off-street parking converted to priced parking shall be increased.
  • Incentivize infill construction on off-street parking lots by, for example, exempting the property from FAR or density limits, and reforming property taxation.
  • Conduct an inventory of on-street and off-street parking in the Boulder town center on an annual basis. Each year, the amount of town center off-street parking shall be reduced to a quantity lower than the prior year. Essays I wrote about town center parking can be found here, here, and here.
  • Parking shall be more efficiently provided by generously allowing the sharing of parking, fee-in-lieu parking, leased parking (public ownership of parking). An essay I wrote about providing more efficient parking can be found here.
  • Work with CU to reduce Single-Occupant Vehicle travel by faculty, staff, students, in part by increasing the cost of campus parking, and reducing the number of on-campus parking spaces.

Roads and Streets

  • Convert one-way streets back to two-way in Boulder town center. Several cities throughout the nation are converting one-way streets in their town center back to their original two-way operation. Why? One way streets…
    • Increase speeding
    • Increase inattentive driving
    • Increase motorist impatience
    • Make street less conducive to residential & retail, as well as bicycling and walking
    • Newcomers more likely to get lost
    • Studies show they increase motorist travel distances, which increases GHG emissions & fuel consumption
    • Make dangerous wrong-way travel more likely.

An essay I wrote about the impacts of one-way streets can be found here.

  • Install more roundabouts and traffic circles to slow down traffic, make motorists more attentive, improve residential quality of life, and reduce intersection crashes.
  • Install raised, landscaped medians where continuous left-turn lanes are found in the Boulder town center, such as Pearl Street, Broadway (Meadow to US 36), and Arapahoe Ave (turn pockets/raised medians). Doing this will dramatically improve pedestrian safety and comfort, reduce excessive car speeds, reduce inattentive driving, create a more human scale on Boulder streets that are excessively wide, and substantially improve the visual quality of streets.
  • Humanize Canyon (20K ADT) and Broadway in the Boulder town center by putting them both on a diet. The rule-of-thumb threshold for relatively easy road diets are for streets that carry up to 25,000 average daily trips (ADT). An essay I wrote about the unintended consequences of Boulder seeking to reduce congestion, and recommendations about humanizing such streets as Canyon and Broadway, can be found here.
  • Within city limits, five lanes shall be the maximum size of streets, and no more than one turn lane shall be installed at an intersection. In the town center, the maximum shall be 3 lanes.
  • Do not create double-left turn lanes, and remove double-left turns now in existence. An essay I wrote about the folly of double-left turn lanes can be found here.
  • While synchronizing traffic signals is discouraged, when such a measure is unavoidable in the Boulder Town Center, signals shall be timed for the speed of buses and bicyclists. Signals on Spruce and 13th in the Town Center are timed for cars and are very difficult to reach at cyclist speeds. An essay I wrote about problems associated with traffic light synchronization can be found here.
  • Each year, there shall be a reduction in the amount of road space allocated to motor vehicles. Seek road diet opportunities (partly to save money in creating bike/pedestrian/transit facilities). Moratorium: No expansion of road space for car travel (via the addition of travel lanes, turn lanes, etc.) shall occur in the Boulder town center.
  • Continuous left-turn lanes within the Boulder town center shall be retrofitted to install raised medians.
  • The Transportation Master Plan contains an objective that states that “No more than 20 percent of roads shall congested.” This is counterproductive. It induces low-value car trips, more car travel, more air emissions, and more sprawl. More people bicycling, walking and using transit will NOT reduce congestion (due to gigantism, unpriced roads/parking and latent/induced demand). Contray to conventional wisdom, the “free-flowing” traffic sought after by this objective does NOT reduce air emissions and fuel consumption. On the contrary, because conventional tactics such as free roads/parking, synchronized signal lights, an excessive number of travel lanes (roads that are too wide) induce “low-value” car trips (trips on major roads to, say, buy a cup of coffee at rush hour), air emissions and fuel consumption INCREASE on a community-wide basis. An essay I wrote about the counterproductive aspects of seeking to reduce traffic congestion can be found here and here.
  • Revise the definition of Complete Streets. The definition Boulder currently uses allows the City to make the bizarre claim that Broadway is a “model” Complete Street. The definition states that if there are bicycle facilities within a quarter mile parallel to the street, the street can be considered “Complete.” This definition gives a false impression that Broadway is “complete” and therefore needs no modification (such as a road diet) to be Complete.
  • The creation of Complete Streets does not necessarily require the expenditure of money to build facilities or buy right-of-way. Often, a street can be made more Complete by simply allocating the ROW space differently, so that less space is allocated to cars and more space to bikes, pedestrians, or transit.
  • Boulder should require that service vehicles be kept relatively small in size so that large vehicles don’t drive the creation of excessively large street dimensions.
  • Boulder must emphasize accessibility when streets (and parking) are designed, NOT mobility. Mobility privileges car travel and discourages bicycling, walking and transit. Accessibility promotes transportation choices. A report I prepared which compares mobility to accessibility can be found here.
  • Boulder needs to implement traffic calming on a large number of streets, as a huge percentage of streets are overly wide and induce excessive, inattentive, dangerous speeds. An essay I wrote about the merits of traffic calming can be found here. An essay I wrote dispelling the myth that calming increases air pollution can be found here.
  • The Transportation Master Plan should list street segments needing Complete Streets or Road Diet treatments. The City should prepare a citywide road diet plan (examples of low-hanging fruit includes the conversion of continuous left-turn lanes to turn pockets). See “Humanize Canyon (20K ADT) and Broadway” above.

Promoting Pricing Equity

Currently in Boulder, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users pay unfairly high prices to travel, and motorists pay much less than their fair share of the costs of their travel. The following reforms would promote much more cost fairness for traveling in Boulder.

  • To increase transportation funding equity and diversify funding, establish one or more of the following: a VMT fee, priced roads (an essay I wrote about tolling Rt 36 in the Boulder/Denver region can be found here), pay-at-the-pump car insurance, and other user fees. If possible, make such new taxes/fees revenue neutral by reducing or eliminating other fees/taxes when the new user fee is instituted. A detailed analysis of these sorts of user fees can be found here and here.
  • Free parking for retail or services shops in Boulder is not “free.” Those “free” spaces, which are provided only for the benefit of motorists, are not truly free because they are indirectly paid by shoppers who buy products and services within the shops at an artificially elevated price that allows the business or property owners to pay for the purchase and maintenance of the parking. This hidden cost is passed on to ALL shoppers, even those who arrive by walking, bicycling or transit. This is clearly unfair, since such non-motorist shoppers are not using the car parking. Motorists are therefore unfairly subsidized, and non-motorists are unfairly punished financially. The City needs to enact policies that eliminate this pricing unfairness. Tactics include such things as unbundling parking, parking cash-out for employees, eliminating minimum parking requirements for the shop, reforming property taxes that financially penalize shop/property owners who replace parking with buildings, and requiring that parking for the shop be priced.
  • Town center properties should have lower transportation fees assessed by the City, since their location and compact, mixed-use design reduces car trips. Doing that thereby reduces the transportation cost impacts of these properties compared to “drivable,” outlying properties. It is therefore unfair to assess town center properties the same fees as areas with higher levels of costly motor vehicle travel.
  • Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies need to place more emphasis on sticks such as user fees and less emphasis on carrots such as bike lanes/parking.
  • Examples of user fees which would dramatically improve transportation funding fairness:
  • Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fees
  • Pay-at-the-pump car insurance
  • Parking fees
  • Congestion fees for roads
  • Weight-distance fees
  • Mileage-based registration fees
  • Mileage-based emission fees
  • Gas taxes.

Increasing the Number of Bicyclists

Many of the above recommendations promote more bicycle transportation. The following are additional suggestions.

  • A huge number of citizens are “interested but concerned” about bicycling. They are interested in bicycling, but too concerned about safety to want to bicycle regularly.
  • The city needs to remove (grind to smooth) raised “lips” at driveway ramps throughout the city – particularly in the town center. Such lips can be extremely dangerous for less-skilled or inattentive bicyclists. An inventory I conducted of locations where this corrective measure is needed can be found here.
  • Traffic calming (designing streets to obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively) is rarely employed in Boulder, and a enormous number of streets can benefit from such a treatment. Doing so would dramatically induce citizens to bicycle more often, as high/inattentive car travel is an important reason why “interested but concerned” citizens opt not to be bicycle commuters (see links above).
  • Road diets are a powerful way to promote bicycling, as they add more space for cycling, and reduce speeding and inattentive driving by motorists.
  • Reduce the excessive promotion or requirement that bike helmets be worn at all times. While helmets tend to be important when riding on higher speed suburban and rural roads, as well as on unpaved mountain bike trails, they tend to be unnecessary and counterproductive on low-speed streets. An essay I wrote about the unintended consequences of the tendency to obsessively call for (or require) helmet use can be found here.
  • The City should oppose any efforts at the state level to make bicycle helmets mandatory. Studies from around the world regularly show that mandatory helmet laws reduce per capita bicycling and do little if anything to improve bicycle safety – particularly in neighborhoods or town centers.
  • Repeal the Boulder law that prohibits bicycling on sidewalks of commercial streets. Canyon and Broadway are WAY too hostile to allow bicycling on street. See link to the BoulderBlueLine below.
  • As is done statewide in Idaho, allow bicyclists to treat stop signs to yield signs and red lights as stop signs. The vast majority of bicyclists already do this, and do it quite safely. An article describing, in detail, the merits of this approach can be found here.
  • “Protected bike lanes” have important drawbacks, despite their popularity with many people who strongly promote them. (1) Such lanes induce higher speed car travel (when a “painted buffer” is used to separate bicyclists from cars); (2) Such lanes lower the ability to see the cyclist (when the protected lane is created by parked cars on the left of the lane); (3) Such lanes increase the inconvenience of bicycling, because bicyclists often have a more difficult time making left turns (this directly violates the need to make bicycling more advantageous); (4) Such lanes increase the difficulty to maintain a bicycling surface that is clear of glass and other debris; and (5) It is only affordable to create such lanes on a tiny fraction of Boulder street mileage, which makes the treatment nearly useless for bicycle commuters.
  • Boulder’s town center is a surprisingly and inappropriately difficult place to ride a bicycle. There are a number of ways to correct this problem. An essay I wrote about how to do this  in Boulder can be found here.

Increasing the number of pedestrians and transit users

Many of the above recommendations promote more walking and transit ridership. The following are additional suggestions.

  • Boulder needs much more compact, mixed and dense development patterns to make transit and walking a substantially more desirable form of travel. These patterns need to be clearly, prominently called for by the Transportation Master Plan.
  • Parking cash-out should be made available for a higher percentage of employees working within city limits.
  • The quantity of “free” parking within city limits must be substantially reduced by pricing a much larger percentage of parking.
  • Add real-time information at bus stops that indicate the time before the next bus arrives.
  • Boulder should continue to require “cross-access” at mid-block locations so that pedestrians have shorter walking distances.

Some of my thoughts about increasing bus ridership can be found here.

Reforming the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board

  • Each TAB member should submit their list of top 10 or 20 transportation issues. Doing this would alert staff and elected officials about the priorities of this citizen board (and possibly inform staff and officials of issues they are unaware of), and better enable board members to collaborate with other boards (there is an admirable effort by the City to have board members collaborate with members of other boards, so that boards are more aware of what various other boards seek). By not knowing the priorities of other TAB members, TAB members are less able to convey to other boards anything about the priorities of TAB.
  • Amend TAB by-laws to allow TAB members to discuss urban design and land use. Not allowing TAB to discuss urban design or land use for particular development proposals is extremely unwise, as urban design and land use are integral to achieving transportation objectives. Without conducive land use and urban design, such transportation objectives are extremely unlikely.
  • Clarify whether TAB is reactionary or proactive. Is the role of TAB to simply react to development projects or issues brought to them by staff? Or are there benefits to having TAB members raise issues not brought before them? (issues that staff or officials may be unaware of).
  • TAB members should maintain a standing legislative agenda (issues that TAB believes should be promoted at the state level by Boulder. This is important in part because there may be state-level issues that TAB is aware of that staff or elected officials are not aware of.

Land Use

  • Designate “walkable/compact” and “drivable” zones in city so we can apply “walkable” policies fairly and appropriately. For example, features such as the ECO bus pass, reduced setbacks, and mixed use land use patterns tend to be primarily appropriate only in the zones designated by the City as “walkable.” Such tactics tend to be less appropriate in the more “drivable” outlying zones of the city. More details about such “transect” zones can be found here. Some of my own thoughts about such zoning can be found here.
  • Increase the amount of affordable housing by creating land use patterns which reduce the number of cars a household must own. Such tactics, which are mostly prohibited in Boulder, include allowing Accessory Dwelling Units, and mixing residences with relatively small, low-impact retail, services and jobs. Some of my more detailed recommendations for creating affordable housing can be found here.
  • Create more housing and mixed use in Boulder town centers. Currently, Boulder provides far too little compact, walkable housing options in comparison to a demand which is far larger and growing (particularly because the “Millennial” generation seeks walkable housing at much higher levels than older generations).

 Miscellaneous

  • Hire Donald Shoup and Todd Litman to speak/consult in Boulder.
  • VMT and ADT are an excellent proxies for quality of life changes over time. Quality of life is inversely related to VMT and ADT. VMT and ADT changes correlate with several city objectives in a way that “green” cars/fuel does not:
    • Less noise pollution
    • Less sprawl
    • Less heat island effect
    • Less flooding and stormwater runoff
    • More affordable housing
    • More affordable transportation budget
    • More healthy population
    • More healthy retail & residential
    • Less injuries and deaths due to crashes
  • Adopt an unbiased and plain English Stylebook. Use “Plain English” for plans, regulations, and presentations. Remove bias in transportation terminology. My detailed recommendations for doing this can be found here.
  • Work with Colorado University to reduce SOV travel by faculty, staff, students. Tactics: disallow ownership of cars by freshmen, and increase the amount of on-campus housing.

Expert Transportation Speakers

To kick off these reforms and increase citizen awareness of (and support for) helpful transportation tactics, I believe it is important, early on, to hold a transportation speaker series.

Speakers I would suggest (links show each of these speakers making a sample presentation):

Summary

Boulder has failed to learn Fred Kent’s essential lesson. That “[i]f you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” Instead, the City counterproductively continues to strive to make cars happy by, for example, synchronizing traffic signals, keeping densities in central areas and major corridors too low, building and retaining overly wide roadways and intersections, and requiring excessive amounts of underpriced parking. Boulder has made the ruinous mistake of thinking that happy cars promote quality of life and reduces air emissions.

But happy cars are the enemy of a quality city, and actually INCREASE air emissions.

It is no coincidence, for example, that the places in Boulder where cars are happiest — the huge asphalt parking lots and the overly wide monster highways — are the places where people feel most exposed, most uncomfortable, most in danger, and least willing to linger or hang out. They are car places, not people places. They have obliterated what makes Boulder Boulder.

This misguided path means that Boulder is, ironically, losing its ability to improve and protect its quality of life — its “small town” ambience, This road to ruin also means that achieving a community design which makes walking, riding a bicycle, or using transit practical for the vast majority of citizens is not at all possible. In Boulder, despite many achievements, it remains extremely DIS-advantageous to walk, bicycle or use transit.

A great many of the recommendations above, if employed, are essential ways to reverse this.

Mr. Nozzi has a BA in environmental science from SUNY Plattsburgh and an MS in town and transportation planning from Florida State University. For 20 years, he served as a senior planner for Gainesville FL and was briefly the growth rate control planner for Boulder CO. Today, he maintains a consulting practice in which he writes and speaks about street design, urban design, and quality of life. His primary skills are in urban design (particularly walkable streets and form-based codes), bicycle planning, transportation choice, “plain English” land development codes promoting quality of life, and comprehensive planning. He serves as a Complete Streets instructor for communities throughout the nation. He has been a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He wrote several environmental, transportation and urban design plans & regulations for Gainesville. He is in Who’s Who for the South & Southwest. His most recent book is The Car is the Enemy of the City. His second book, Road to Ruin: An Introduction to Sprawl and How to Cure It, was published in 2003. He has been an adjunct professor for the University of Colorado at Boulder, and currently serves on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board and the PLAN-Boulder County Board of Directors. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of other organizations or boards.

 

 

References

 

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