Tag Archives: car subsidies

Boulder, Colorado Traffic Safety is Ineffective and Behind the Times

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 11, 2016

Every few years for about 80 years, Boulder and pretty much every other city in the US “redoubles its efforts” to engage in more education and enforcement to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety.

At best, such efforts have had marginal benefits.

After 80 years of “redoubling our efforts,” Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever.

In my view, these endlessly repeated campaigns are largely a waste of time and money (except to show symbolic support for political reasons), and the very minor benefits diminish each time we implement these campaigns (the dilemma of diminishing 3556802_origreturns). Indeed, such ineffective and repeated campaigns may be worse than a waste of time, as they can distract the City from engaging in pursuing meaningful strategies. Strategies such as retrofitting streets for slower and more attentive car travel, reducing the size of roads and parking lots, significantly increasing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians by removing motorist subsidies and making community development more compact.

Nothing else comes remotely close to being as effective as these tactics in increasing motorist attentiveness, slowing down motorists, and growing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians. I am ashamed of how much Boulder has delayed doing these things – particularly in the face of the many recent traffic fatalities and the plateauing of the levels of bicycling, walking, and transit use.

If it were up to me, Boulder would forego a number of expensive, big-ticket “safety” projects in the pipeline right now (which I believe do almost nothing to improve safety) and divert that money to effective tactics I mention above.

And start doing that immediately.

Shame on Boulder for dragging its feet and being so far behind the times regarding redesigning our streets effectively. Shame on Boulder for thinking it can just give up on trying to calm larger roads and monster intersections. For thinking that it is a good idea to create an alternative (“separate but equal”?) off-street path system for cyclists – a system that will never allow commuter cyclists to reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations cyclists have a right to get to by bike.

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

The Consensus on Making Cars Happy

By Dom Nozzi

For the past century, Americans have been nearly single-mindedly focused on making it easy and cheap to drive a car everywhere imaginable. An unforeseen consequence is that doing so has now made it nearly impossible to travel by transit, bicycle or foot. That has led to enormous financial strain for households and government, strongly contributed to the obesity crisis, created severe environmental problems, dispersed and “uglified” our communities to make them less strong, and made our transportation system much less resilient to change.

One would expect this to result in a massive societal uprising to reverse this catastrophe. Tragically, no such thing has happened. Instead, shockingly, we have the reverse. All walks of life are at a near consensus that we must CONTINUE to spend every available dollar to make us even MORE dependent on car travel. Democrats, Republicans, Feminists, Environmentalists, Planners, Council Members, Libertarians, Socialists, Dieticians, and Academicians almost all join hands in DEMANDING that everything imaginable be done to keep us happily driving cars everywhere.

How did we become trapped in this downwardly spiraling vicious cycle?

In my opinion, the explanation is clear. By making it almost entirely impossible to travel by transit, bicycle or foot, nearly all of us have no choice but to make most all of our trips by car – even if we are green environmentalists SCREAMING about climate change.

Combined with that trap is the toxic mix of the large size of a motor vehicle coupled with the exceptionally busy nature of our lives. The huge size of our vehicles inevitably results in frustrating slowdowns in our travel, as nearly all of our fellow citizens are ALSO trying to travel in their huge vehicles at many of the same times. Roads and parking lots quickly fill to capacity when even a relatively small number of us are competitively jostling for space in our space-hogging sedans and wagons.angry-motorist-yelling

Add to that the fact that almost every time we drive, we are “running late,” or “in a hurry,” or “out of time.” With huge numbers of us in a hurry and driving a big vehicle, the
outcome is unavoidable: We are ENRAGED because SOME INCOMPETENT SLOW POKE IS IN OUR WAY!!

With high (yet mostly hidden) transportation costs, huge vehicles, lack of time, and extreme frustration, is it any wonder that nearly all of us insist that car travel remain cheap and easy, regardless of our “green” or “libertarian” values? Even an Earth Firster! is stuck if she cannot travel by car – cheaply and at high speeds. No-brainer proposals, such as user fees such as parking charges, and efforts to slow traffic to safe speeds are met – even by the most fair-minded and humanitarian of us – by blood-curdling opposition.

Happy Cars has become our way of thinking. Our worldview. Our paradigm. No other world is imaginable. Or politically possible.

When I see so many “progressives” and “intellectuals” and “environmentalists” and “growth management advocates” opposing things like traffic calming — and instead usually being fully supportive of pampering car travel with oversized, free-to-use roads and parking lots – I am seeing this societal worldview on full display.

One highly frustrating aspect of this I’ve noticed over the years is that because America is full-speed-ahead committed to car travel, it tends to be SO EASY for someone with even the most uninformed, simplistic understanding of transportation to immediately kill an idea at a public meeting focused on transportation reform. And conversely SO DIFFICULT for someone at a public meeting to get others agree to transportation reform.

I see it all the time.

For example, let’s say we are at a public workshop where the assembled audience is divided into groups of people at individual tables in the room. The task for each table is to come up with transportation reform tactics. Occasionally at a table or two, a person might, say, mention that shrinking a road from four lanes to three might be a good idea on a street. Or narrowing a street with curb bulb-outs. The person points out that traffic volume is low enough. It would be easy to put in bulb-outs. Or remove a travel lane (because there is no meaningful loss in road capacity). Almost always, someone else at the table will then say “That is crazy. It will cause unbearable gridlock.” Everyone else at the table feels uncomfortable — even environmentalists and bike/walk/transit advocates – and will quickly nod in agreement that shrinking a road is crazy. End of the reform idea. Move on to something else — like landscaping.

Over and over again, for similar ideas, the pro-car person is seen as being level-headed and the person calling for transportation reform (in this case, to give more space to people and less to cars) is ridiculed and seen as unrealistic.

A common outcome when someone is outside of the recognized societal way of thinking.

Here in Boulder, Colorado, this phenomenon is particularly noticeable and surprising because the city is very well known (accurately or not) for progressive transportation initiatives. Despite this reputation in Boulder, the city history shows that it frequently only takes one or two Board or Council members to kill an idea for transportation reform. Such members — who are seen as “reasonable” and “level-headed” because they live in a society that assumes complete dependence on cars is normal and permanent — are quickly and easily able to squelch effective, equitable transportation reform ideas all the time. Even when a majority of the Board or Council are supportive of the reform.

As a result, over the decades, it has only taken one or two pro-car Board or Council members in “enlightened” Boulder to severely compromise or stop occasional efforts to have the City shed its numerous outdated transportation policies.

Colleagues of these Board or Council members commonly don’t stand up to this sort of squelching of transportation reform ideas — despite knowing there would be a 4-1 vote in favor of the reform.

Why?

Largely because they realize that the societal “pro car” narrative also permeates “progressive” Boulder. They therefore understandably expect that the point made by the squelcher would be supported by large majorities (or a VERY angry minority) of Boulder residents.

Even in Boulder, opponents of many transportation reform ideas are seen as level-headed realists. Supporters of reform are seen as living in “La La Land.” Over time, the “realists” grow more bold, to the point of becoming political populists for motordom. The “reformers,” on the other hand, grow increasingly timid about suggesting reform, to the point where reform proposals become rare. And require a relatively large amount of political courage.

In the end, those promoting transportation reform in a car-dependent society must rely almost exclusively on leveraging a crisis. Only when traffic crashes result in a shocking number of deaths, or the price of gasoline skyrockets – to cite two examples — can there be enough motivation to overcome the squelching by the pro-car “realists.”

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Transportation, Walking

Fare Free Bus Service?

By Dom Nozzi

I’m not sure how much of a good idea it would be to subsidize free bus use. I’ve not read much about it in the literature, so I assume there are important obstacles and problems. Given the fact that our heavy subsidies to single-occupant vehicle (SOV) travel practically beg people to get around in such an unsustainable way, it is entirely possible that even a free bus would not attract huge numbers of riders. And it would hurt the transit service image pretty badly if we were heavily subsidizing fairly empty buses. Again, the uneven playing field for transportation makes it quite rational to choose SOV travel.

SOV travelers also benefit from:

  1. Luxurious, plush, highly comfortable car interiors with full music, seat, and temperature control. Such amenities are rarely, if ever, available on a city bus.
  2. A perception of protection from crime. The car as a “suit of armor” helps explain why so many parents of their collegiate offspring want their children to own a car (especially in the aftermath of a headline news crime in the media). Bus rides involve riding with a group of strangers (who are potentially dangerous).
  3. Door-to-door speeds are usually much faster compared to a bus.
  4. Ability to tailor your trip: Carrying small or big loads, carrying carpooling friends or significant others, leaving and arriving when you want to, going to any destination that you desire.
  5. Driving a car is a powerful status symbol.
  6. Privacy.
  7. Free parking spaces are found at nearly all SOV destinations. As Donald Shoup points out, this is such an irresistible subsidy that free parking should be considered a fertility drug for cars.

Can free bus passes overcome all of that? Even in the face of cheap gas, free and abundant parking, and free roads?

Maybe, but I’m not sure.

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