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Quality of life in Bloomington: What needs to be done?

Quality of life in Bloomington: What needs to be done?

Bloomington, Indiana Herald-Times

Guest column

November 17, 2007

This column was written by Dom Nozzi. He is the executive director of Walkable Streets, and has been a senior city planner for over 20 years.

I was invited to speak in Bloomington on October 22, 2007. I am the author of two books on sprawl, congestion and quality of life. My expertise is quality urban design. In my 20 years of research, visiting countless cities and preparing development regulations for the “college town” of Gainesville, Fla., I learned that quality of life is a powerful economic engine that communities most effectively leverage by providing a range of lifestyle choices from walkable urban, suburban and rural.

My most important realization was this: Compact, lower-speed, human-scaled walkability (particularly in a downtown) is the lynchpin for achieving a sustainable, more economically healthy and pleasant future.

I was able to tour much of Bloomington while in town. It became immediately clear what measures Bloomington will need to improve its overall quality of life for its citizens, its businesses and its environment. These measures are the “low-hanging fruit” that must be incrementally achieved in the coming years for Bloomington (especially in its downtown), if the city is to realize a brighter, more prosperous and sustainable future.

Convert one-way streets back to two-way.

Creating one-way streets was popular a number of decades ago as an easy way to speed high volumes of traffic through downtown. Nationally, cities are converting these back to two-way because of the obvious problems that one-ways create. One-onewaystreetsway streets result in a significant increase in speeding, inattentive driving, road rage, traffic infractions and motorist impatience.

Former “shopping streets” (often including residences) become drive-throughs instead of drive-tos. Life for the now declining number of pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users becomes unsafe, inconvenient and unpleasant. Likewise, the street loses residences and businesses due to the more hostile conditions. The one-ways also require a great deal of extra motorist travel distance due to backtracking.

Install metered, on-street parking.

In a walkable location, on-street parking must be maximized. (In particular, College Avenue and Walnut Street downtown need on-street parking.) Such parking would be extremely beneficial to downtown businesses and pedestrians (the lifeblood of a downtown).

By contrast, off-street surface parking must be minimized, as it creates gap-toothed dead zones that inhibit walkability, create danger zones and undercut the “agglomeration economies” (the concentration of jobs, residences and commercial) that a downtown requires for health. On-street parking creates safer, slower-speed, more attentive driving, provides protection for pedestrians and offers high-quality, convenient parking for retailers.

On-street parking must be properly priced (targeting an 85-percent use rate), and the parking meter revenue must be dedicated to improving the streetscape in the vicinity of the meters, rather than being dispersed citywide.

Convert off-street surface parking to buildings.

Such parking is deadening to a walkable location, and makes retailing, office and residential substantially more costly. Surface parking — particularly when abutting streets — must be converted to active retail, residential and office buildings. Parking garages — especially when wrapped with retail — consume less parking space, and are much better for walkability than surface parking.conversion to town center

The tragic dilemma that cities such as Bloomington find themselves in is that most all of us are forced to drive a car (and park it) every single time we travel. By providing for cars, walking, bicycling and transit become more difficult. Understandably, we are compelled to urge that conditions be improved for our cars.

Wider, higher speed roads. Larger parking lots.

Yet the “habitat” for cars is at odds with the “habitat” for people, as people tend dislike being near high-speed roads or huge parking lots.

In the end, we find ourselves becoming our own worst enemies, fighting to improve life for our cars.

As we expand our communities for cars, the world for people shrinks.

The remedy is to return to the tradition we have abandoned. The tradition of designing our communities to make people happy, not cars.

Overall, Bloomington has much to be proud of. However, without incrementally taking the steps I recommend above, the quality of life for residents and retail is being severely compromised. I urge the city to start taking these steps as soon as possible.

 

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What the Top Florida Planners Think Florida Needs to Do to Fix It’s Growth Laws

By Dom Nozzi

I went to a forum held in early 2005 at a hospital auditorium in Gainesville, Florida. It was an assembly of each of the state Department of Community Affairs secretaries (directors of the state planning office) since the state growth management act was adopted in 1985. Each discussed at great length what they thought was working and not working with the state act in trying to “manage” growth.

I was astonished by the almost complete lack of awareness of what this state needs to do in order for there to be a decent, livable future here.

And this was a collection of the head honcho Florida planners over the past 20 years.

John DeGrove, the “godfather” of the 1985 law, thinks the crucial need is funding. I guess his sole focus is on the “dire” need to be sure that we widen roads concurrent with new population growth. Most of the others agreed that funding is critical so that the act can work.congestion

In other words, we’ll have good growth management and retain our quality of life as long as we can keep widening roads for free-flowing traffic (the major – yet unspoken — reason for the Act). We also need, they say, to build larger wastewater treatment plants, and building bigger insecticide factories (Oops! I mean public schools.)

Apparently, we have a desperate need to do this so that we can perpetuate the sprawl machine in Florida – which, by the way, is strongly incentivized by the Florida Growth Management Act (via its road concurrency rules).

Whoops!

No one acknowledged the crucially important point that I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream: For cities, congestion is our friend because it inevitably delivers us an enormous set of beneficial community objectives. Since the biggest “crisis” that most Floridians see with growth is congested roads, transportation concurrency is the only level-of-service standard that anyone gives a damn about in the state Act. The imperative is to not allow new growth if it will further congest our roads. Which often means that the development is approved only if there is an agreement to widen the road. Because most/all available road capacity is in our sprawl locations, transport concurrency is a powerful sprawl engine — totally counter to the growth management objectives.

Not only that. Because the needs of cars strongly clash with the needs of people, a quality car habitat (through the free-flowing traffic delivered to us by a “properly” functioning transportation concurrency law) effectively and substantially degrades the people habitat.

In sum, the state growth management law so many of us are proud of is a superb recipe for ruining the State of Florida for people. But an excellent recipe for creating a paradise for SUVs.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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