Tag Archives: car travel

Traveling by Train is So Civilized

By Dom Nozzi

September 7, 2017

Train travel is so civilized.

Car travel in a car-dependent society is barbarism. And a symptom of a society without a future.

I’m expressing how I feel when I ride a train in Europe and compare that experience to the extremely common rage and frustration that millions and millions of American motorists feel on a regular basis when they drive on American roads. Many drivers are stuck in rush hour traffic nearly every day and feel anything but fun or peacefulness, as some motorists claim they experience when driving.

The curious claim that driving is “fun” and “peaceful” sounds more like what we see in a TV commercial for a Ford.

Nearly always, when I am on a train, by contrast, I think to myself how civilized the experience seems. Personally, I don’t recall ever thinking that in a car. I guess some people feel that way in their hyper-expensive, plush car interiors with tinted glass and expensive sound systems, but the more luxury one experiences inside a car, the more isolated one tends to be from your fellow citizens. tra

Hypothetically, car travel CAN be somewhat enjoyable (even though I cannot, in a car, walk around or interact with my fellow citizens). But that experience tends to be rare for most Americans, who regularly drive in lower-cost cars on ugly, treeless, strip commercial roads (and isolated from others in their metal boxes). Roads that tend to be crowded and therefore frustrating and environmentally and regionally damaging due to the fact that so many are obligated to drive for nearly all of their trips. And by the fact that cars consume so much space (which makes for crowding even when the number of travelers is small).

One thing I notice, personally, is that on the rare occasions when I drive, I tend to feel a lot of rage and frustration toward others (feelings that are the opposite of what I tend to feel when biking or walking). That rage and frustration is very rare in my life because driving is rare for me, and is mostly caused by the large size of cars, which crowds roads and therefore tends to induce frustrating slowdowns.

In my 35 years of academic and professional work in transportation planning, I have read countless books and reports describing the road rage and bad mood that driving a car induces in people. I don’t recall ever reading about how driving puts people in a good mood. Or makes them feel peaceful. Or feel like they are having fun.

In my experience, even happy, mild-mannered people become angry demons when behind the wheel of a car.

I also notice that on the rare occasions when I am on a train or biking on roads filled with bicyclists (such as during a “critical mass” bike ride or when bicycling side by side with hundreds of other cyclists in a great many cities in Europe), nearly everyone around me seems to be sharing my joy and happiness.

I see a lot of smiles. And fun-loving, friendly people.

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Population Growth, Density, and Cars


By Dom Nozzi

January 3, 2016

I have a friend who fears a huge growth in population in our area due to how attractive our area is considered, and is worried that it will result in intolerable density.

I informed her, to the contrary, that for the past 80 years, America has seen population growth WITHOUT higher density. There is absolutely no certainty that more people in the area will mean more density. If the NIMBYs remain powerful in the region (extremely likely), we will instead see more low-density, car-dependent sprawl.

In addition to a lot more cars on the road.

We will see a lot more cars on the road than would be the case if the NIMBYs did not block cities like ours from having the projected growth in our area live in more compact settings. The NIMBYs fighting for low density, in other words, are responsible for giving our area a traffic jam on huge hwyLOT more cars. What an irony, since NIMBYs HATE more crowded roads and parking lots.

Yes, there is a trend over the past several years of people (especially young people) to want to move into town centers and not want to live in sprawl. A huge problem in our community, I informed her, is that the NIMBYs loving low density will continue to violently fight to stop ANY development in the town center because they HATE more compact development.

So while much of the remainder of the nation will see a growth in town center housing, the NIMBYs in our community — who love low density — will do whatever they can to stop pretty much all of that healthy trend.

Ironically, the NIMBYs will fight new housing to keep roads and parking from getting more crowded. The result of their efforts will, however, be MORE cars than would have been the case had they not fought against new housing.

Be careful what you fight for, I told her. You might get it.


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Steve Belmont on Successful Urbanism


By Dom Nozzi

January 17, 2003

I recently read the writings of Steve Belmont. He wrote a book called Cities in Full, and has published journal articles about the benefits of centralization. After reading Belmont and mentioning his thoughts on an urban design list I subscribe to, a comment was made that Belmont is not particularly bullish on new urbanism.

It is clear from his comments that Belmont does not like the idea of building new towns in greenfields. He is a VERY strong supporter of centralization and high (centralized) densities.

Belmont urges that for the sake of healthy transit, and to achieve noticeable environmental and social benefits, cities MUST retain the lion’s share of employment, shopping, and higher density housing. The idea of moving jobs and shops to “edge cities” as a way to reduce trip distances (due to suburban housing migration) is NOT supported by logic or data. He points out that given a fairly uniform dispersal of housing in a region, moving jobs to the suburbs might reduce commute distances for the subdivisions in that one portion of the urban area, but moves the jobs FURTHER from those who live in other parts of the region. The only way to minimize travel distances for the entire region is to centralize them.

Keeping employment, shopping and compact housing in the downtown is important, according to Belmont, but it is also essential that low-density, detached suburban housing be kept OUT of downtowns (suburbanizing downtowns is an extremely common and counterproductive practice, as Paul Bedford would point out).

The housing market seeking a walkable urban lifestyle, states Belmont, is most likely to be lured by walkable amenities such as proximate distances to retail, services, small parks, and offices. These amenities can only be established in a walkable manner when residential densities downtown are relatively high.

My presumption is that Belmont is not supportive of walkable new towns in greenfields because he believes it would not only drain energy from a downtown, but would also (even over the long run) increase trip/commute distances. That is, the greenfield new town could not be designed to be “self-contained” enough to capture most trips (unless there was no urban development within driving distance of the new town project, presumably).

Similarly, Belmont argues against the “polycentric” model, in which multiple (activity/town/neighborhood/commercial) centers are designated and promoted in a city. He points out, accurately, that a great many city planners have urged this form of urban development as a way to minimize trip distances (in my opinion, “multiple centers” are frequently promoted because the inevitable establishment of major shopping centers at major intersections has reactively compelled planners/officials to do so). But as he says, when both spouses work, it is extremely unlikely that they will work in the same (nearby) center, even in the long run, and especially given the frequency of changing jobs. In addition, with the exception of chain stores/restaurants (where there is no distinction between them), people will continue to travel to their favorite stores, restaurants, etc., often in places remote from the nearby sub-center. And continue to want to visit their friends and relatives in other parts of the region. The result: An increase in travel distance and an increase in auto commuting when we move jobs/commercial/entertainment centers out of our central downtown.

The only way to minimize trip distances for the region, and to promote a healthy city, in Belmont’s point of view, is to keep urbanism centralized.


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Are We “Forced” to Drive a Car?

By Dom Nozzi

September 19, 2004

People often say to me that it is IMPOSSIBLE to survive without a car. Whenever I tell people that I’ve lived most of my adult life without owning a car, they look at me like I am some sort of dangerous lunatic. Or that I am from outer space.

They quickly rationalize about how “its possible for you, Dom, because you don’t have kids.” Or “you live close to work.” Or “you don’t have to run errands during the day.” Or “you don’t need to wear a dress.” And as I often say, it is IRRATIONAL not to drive a car quite often, because of the way we’ve designed our communities.

Sure, it is possible to live without a car. No one “forces” a person to use a car all the time. One has the “option” of walking or riding a bicycle seven miles, at night, in terrible weather, on a busy 5-lane road – a road without a safe space for wastreet without on street parkinglking or bicycling — to go shopping at the mall, or attend a meeting, or come home from work, or ferry kids and cargo. On a road that contains HUGE intersections that are extremely dangerous for a bicyclist or pedestrian to negotiate.

A person has the “option” of taking a bus filled with sketchy people, that arrives once every hour or so, and then takes an exceedingly slow route to your destination – assuming it actually goes anywhere near your destination.

But I question how many times a year that actually happens.

Our society makes it VERY difficult to travel without a car. I would say that on average, I attend about 5 events per week and I am almost always the only person there who has bicycled or walked. Indeed, bicycling and walking (or riding a bus) are considered so difficult and unlikely that almost no city government is willing to even set up a parking cash-out program — a program in which motorists would have the option of retaining the status quo of a free parking spot, or instead being awarded a higher salary [maybe $25-$100 per month] if they chose to walk, bicycle or bus to work. In other words, it is inconceivable to most all local government decision-makers that ANY employees would actually decide not to drive to work thru such an incentive. So why offer it?

So yes, no one is “forced” to drive a car. But it takes heroic efforts to NOT drive a car.

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Will Free Bus Fares Significantly Increase Bus Ridership?


By Dom Nozzi

September 8, 2005

It is commonly believed that free bus fares will substantially increase bus ridership.


Given all of the enormous, often subsidized benefits that nearly all Americans “enjoy” as motorists, free fare is unlikely to attract a meaningful number of motorists. In particular, as Donald Shoup would point out, free and abundant parking almost begs people to drive a car. Since almost every car trip an American makes (98% is, I think, Shoup’s number) is to a free and abundant parking space, this is a huge barrier that alone will trump free fare, in my opinion.

bus stop next to bulb-outBut there are many other reasons I don’t believe free fares would recruit a significant number of motorists.

For starters, buses don’t allow passengers to carry a lot of cargo, as can be done with a car.

In addition, buses tend to be “loser cruisers” that bruise the ego (at least in most communities).

Buses are less secure than suit-of-armor cars. This is particularly a problem for many women, who often don’t like the idea of sitting next to smelly, leering, potential rapists and muggers.

Buses tend to be way slower than cars, which is a huge problem in our busy lives.

Buses don’t send the message that you are “hip” or “important.”

Buses reduce travel flexibility. You cannot go to destinations not served by the bus route, and you cannot depart whenever you wish.

Bus service tends to be far too infrequent to be convenient and fast to use.

Roads are free to use when driving a car. Nearly all roads in America are not tolled (ie, motorists tend not to pay a user fee for the expensive asphalt they use).

I could go on and on with this list.

Given all this, I don’t see how free bus fare will recruit a meaningful number of motorists. There is simply too little reward in comparison to all of the huge benefits given up.

As Shoup would point out, there are one or two things that CAN trump those benefits for a lot of motorists: priced and scarce parking, and more compact residential development. Each of these inducements tend to be the case for students attending universities, which goes a long way toward explaining their relatively high bus ridership.

I’ll admit that free fares have a decent chance of recruiting poor people, those without a car, or both. But in this case, the question comes down to this: Should we operate a bus system to be, in effect, a social service agency?

If so, bus service is likely to be doomed to a future of low-quality service that won’t do much to recruit motorists.

After all, why put effort into improving a service that your impoverished, car-less customers are often FORCED to use anyway? And why put money into a service that is used by such a small number of people?

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Does the Price of Gasoline Modify Travel Behavior?

By Dom Nozzi

Studies show that American demand for high-priced gasoline is extremely inelastic (that is, Americans are willing [compelled?] to buy gasoline at their current promiscuous rate regardless of how high the price goes).

Why inelastic?

Because it is currently so incredibly rational to drive a car, even high-priced gas has only a relatively minor impact on changing travel behavior. After all, driving gives you extreme comfort, freedom from criminals, status, speed, convenience, heavy government subsidies, etc. By contrast, taking the bus, walking or bicycling requires one to recklessly and irrationally avoid all these wonderful benefits and instead, risk your life. As for “putting up with extra time,” studies show that Americans hate congestion almost as much as they hate density (which is a related problem in their minds). That is why we have a NIMBY epidemic, and why Americans hardly blink when their federal elected officials spend hundreds of billions of tax dollars each year to make cars happy (less burdened, in the very short term, by congestion, that is). It is also why, at the local level, Americans show “road rage” to the point of shooting people who make a left turn too slowly, and only elect commissioners who promise to spend all our local tax dollars to widen all the roads. I’ll never be mayor…

For all these reasons, I recommend “planned congestion” as a very effective aversive technique for car travel. “Planned congestion” is a tool with which a community makes a conscious decision NOT to widen roads/intersections or synch traffic signals, or engage in other conventional methods to “reduce” congestion.

Significant restrictions and higher prices for parking are also relatively effective ways to influence travel behavior. In Gainesville, Florida, very high parking costs and parking inconvenience on the University of Florida campus led to a nation-leading increase in bus ridership by UF students in the late 1990s.

As Donald Shoup points out, higher priced parking overwhelms higher priced gas in terms of impact on your pocketbook. After all, even with a gas guzzler car and gas that costs, say, $4 per gallon, howmuch would it cost to drive across town? But look at how quickly the price of that trip goes through the roof if we jack up the price of parking from, say, $1 to $10 per time parked across town (which is M~ SUN0805N-Gas 5quite fair, given the public and private costs to provide parking).

This is not to mention the highly effective nature of “congestion fees,” in which you charge motorists fees based on when they are driving on major roads that tend to become congested, and even better, to charge fees that vary throughout the day (higher fees charged when the road is more congested).

For the record, I am not recommending that Americans “give up their cars.” I just want the cars to behave themselves — by driving more slowly and attentively in towns, and by having their drivers pay their fair share.

Fairly priced parking, parking scarcity, and congestion fees are very durable (in terms of modifying behavior), if designed correctly. They effectively send a very loud signal each day: If you choose the socially irresponsible, unsustainable travel behavior, you will pay through the nose. If not, you are free from such payments and can instead use your hard-earned money to spend a romantic weekend in Paris…  The message is especially clear if you see your fellow citizens zipping along in the tolled or high-occupancy vehicle lane next to your bumper-to-bumper congested “free” lane, or if you see your co-worker chuckling over his/her higher paycheck because he is not needing to pay for his workplace parking space with his paycheck, since he/she gets to work by bus, and has “cashed out” their “free” job site parking space.


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Cars and Vicious Cycles

By Dom Nozzi

January 11, 2000

Driving cars and the land uses such travel spreads out feeds on itself.

That is, car travel is a zero-sum game in which a car trip has a ripple effect: Each trip discourages others from walking, bicycling or using transit (because such travel is less safe/pleasant), and such trips chase away land uses to remote areas (because in-town car noise is unpleasant, regional consumer-sheds can be served due to cars, and lots of cheap land is needed to provide free car parking).

This, of course, sets into motion more people traveling by car. Very quickly, the roads are filled with car drivers, who quickly become angry with other drivers because the driver is leading a busy life, is late for something, and therefore needs to drive at high speeds. Unfortunately for quality of life and safety, the car allows the driver to drive at high speeds.

The driver typically becomes enraged, because while she/he has the ability to drive fast, so does everyone else (and everyone else is now driving a car, too). The result is that roads and parking lots almost immediately become crowded with impatient car drivers, which creates road rage, because the driver is forced to have to slow down by the space-hogging motorist in front of her/him, who has made a left turn too slowly. Thus, nearly everyone ends up racing their car when they find openings on the road, to make up for the slow-downs.

Which accelerates the cycle: More people travel by car and flee to sprawlsville because it is too unsafe and unpleasant to do otherwise.

Politically, this means that nearly everyone desperately wants billions of public dollars spent for road widenings and parking (when they don’t, of course, live in the neighborhood that is proposed for degradation by the widening or parking), and are aghast when others call for traffic calming and car trip reduction strategies (such as transportation demand management – TDM) to try to reverse the insanity. It becomes a growing, mad dash to foul the nest and ruin ourselves.

And then we have conventional transportation engineers making themselves out to be “far-sighted” and “rational” and “reasonable” and “realistic” when they recommend road and intersection widenings. They trot out a bunch of red herrings and straw men: “We cannot get rid of cars!” “We cannot stop growth!”  “We cannot slow the growth in car travel!”

They even had the audacity to criticize the point that you cannot build yourself out of congestion. The engineer thinks that if we buy that, we’ll face intolerable gridlock.


And the cycle continues. What a legacy our publicly-funded engineers will be leaving us…

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

It is Irrational to Not Drive a Car

By Dom Nozzi

People fool themselves into thinking that we’ll get great bus ridership or much higher levels of walking or biking if we create good facilities for such travel.

That is nonsense.

It is WAY too rational to drive alone by car, given our heavy car subsidies. Unless a person is an ideologue, like me, it is senseless to opt for a form of travel that is less safe, less convenient, WAY less pleasant. You can haul more cargo. Your speed is much greater (critical in this day and age). You have perfect flexibility to travel when you please. You can give friends and family a ride.

Best of all, you only have to pay a fraction of the true cost of enjoying all those benefits.

Better bus service, bike paths or sidewalks simply cannot compete in such an unbalanced playing field.

The research literature shows that we can only make headway on SOV travel if we level the playing field by charging congestion fees and parking fees, limit car parking, letting congestion get bad, achieve high residential and commercial densities, have mixed use, reduce travel distances, make our streets interconnected, etc.

I’m hoping we can make such meaningful changes someday, and have always realized that we need to have the bus, bike and sidewalk infrastructure in place so that people are not forced to bear huge burdens of car dependency in a happy future in which it is no longer rational to drive SOV.

To me, that is a key role of planning and sustainability. Will we have choices when the shit hits the fan? The important strategic/political question, though, is how do we get the bus, bike and pedestrian stuff in place? And I’m convinced it will only happen in a meaningful way when we are forced, by environmental/economic conditions, to provide it.

As a planner, I’d love it if we could have these facilities in place in advance of the coming hard times. But that is not how it works in a democracy, where we are inherently reactionary. That is why I lean more and more toward wanting a benign dictatorship to save us.

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