Tag Archives: car trips

Protecting “Neighborhood Character” through NIMBYism?

By Dom Nozzi

October 15, 2017

There are people in Boulder who regularly state that the City Council has turned a blind eye/ear to neighborhood concerns. That they are not concerned about “protecting neighborhood character” (which is a transparent euphemism for NIMBYism) in their allegedly corrupt rush as Council members to ruin Boulder with rapid, uncontrolled growth.nimby-web-2

The NIMBYs also make the bizarre claim that this “out of control” Council will lead to environmental degradation and loss of affordable housing.

But I utterly fail to see how the positions of the NIMBY people will achieve these worthy objectives if, as is clear to anyone paying attention, their positions result in a big jump in car travel and a perpetuation of rapidly rising housing costs.

If you oppose, as nearly all of these NIMBYs do:

Smaller homes



Smaller lot sizes

Smaller setbacks

More neighborhood mixed use

Less parking (and the conversion of existing parking to housing)

More density

Priced parking

Buildings over one or two stories

Road diets

…you are thereby calling for more per capita car trips, more carbon/air emissions, much higher housing costs, a continuation of neighborhood character being changed by the in-migration of much more wealthy residents, and sprawl into outlying towns.



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Leveling the Playing Field by Getting the Prices Right

A review by Dom Nozzi of “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy, and Urban Sprawl” (2010), by Pamela Blais

January 16, 2012

Blais describes a dizzying, almost countless number of ways in which suburban sprawl is heavily subsidized. Such strong market distortions expose the extreme falsehood of sprawl apologists who claim sprawl is the result of an unfettered free market. Instead, Blais shows over and over again the perversity of those living efficient, sustainable, walkable lifestyles in town center locations who are significantly subsidizing andpe artificially increasing the demand for inefficient, unsustainable, car-dependent sprawl lifestyle. As Blais notes, it is as if those driving small, fuel-efficient cars are subsidizing the purchase of Hummers.

“Much of the attention [by governments seeking to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inducing global warming] has been focused on programs that aim to reduce consumption within the home – energy-efficient appliances, windows, insulation, furnaces, and so on.” But Blais then points out that because household car travel creates such significant levels of emissions, and such travel substantially increases when homes are located in remote suburban locations, “when it comes to reducing energy use and GHG emissions, the location of the home is far more important than are the green features of the house itself…even the greenest house located in the suburbs…and an energy-efficient car, consumes more total energy than does a conventional house with a conventional car located in [a town center].”

How are so many North American cities (inadvertently?) subsidizing sprawl? One extremely important way is by using average cost pricing rather than marginal cost pricing. “…prices charged for [various urban services] rarely reflect the higher costs of servicing a larger or more distant [residential or commercial] lot; rather, prices based on average costs are used. In other words, costs are averaged across a range of different types of development associated with a range of actual costs…those properties that incur lower-than-average costs pay more than their [fair share of] costs, while those properties that incur higher-than-average costs pay less than their [fair share of] costs.”

Examples that Blais cites of this pricing perversity include:

  • “those who live on small lots subsidize those living on large lots;
  • Smaller residential units subsidize larger residential units;
  • Those who don’t drive or drive less subsidize uses that generate more trips;
  • Land uses that generate fewer trips subsidize uses that generate more trips;
  • Those who live in less expensive-to-service areas subsidize those who live in more expensive-to-service areas;
  • Those who live nearer the centre of the city subsidize those who live farther from the centre; and
  • Urban dwellers subsidize rural dwellers.”

Blais also notes that average cost pricing also undercharges those living in remote locations for the following goods and services: “water and sewer services, roads, parking, electricity, natural gas, basic telephone, cable TV, broadband internet, postal service, municipal snow clearance, recycling collection, garbage collection.” Each of these, Blais reminds us, tends to cost more to provide in outlying suburbs, yet average cost pricing charges such residents less than their fair share of community costs (and therefore overcharges those living in efficient town center locations).

“Sprawl is underpriced, and so the demand for it is exaggerated. Efficient forms of development – denser development, smaller lots and buildings, low-, medium- or high-rise apartments, mixed use, and central locations – are overpriced, so demand for them is reduced [below what would naturally occur].”

Local governments have been their own worst enemy. “…it may be troubling to think that the problem of sprawl – one that governments have been struggling to solve for decades – has, in fact, been largely created by those same governments…”

Contrary to what we hear from the defenders of sprawl, “[s]prawl is not the result of market forces but, rather, of a particular variety of distorted market forces. Moreover, these distortions emanate largely from public policy.” We can be somewhat hopeful, however, because since many of these market distortions arise from government decisions, citizens and elected officials have it within their power to correct such distortions. And as Blais says, “[g]etting the prices right, and getting an unbiased market operating, would go a long way towards curbing sprawl…more accurate price signals will prompt new kinds of decisions, choices, and market responses, shifting demand and supply towards more efficient development patterns.”

I would note that this has already started happening over the past decade – albeit not because of government action, but where a noticeable shift toward more fuel-efficient cars and a growth in town center living has been sparked by such factors as rising and volatile gasoline prices, and overall economic woes.

Stronger local government regulations requiring smart growth, compact development, and prohibitions against sprawl have been tried for several decades throughout North America, yet have been almost a complete failure. “This failure is a very expensive proposition, given the considerable resources devoted to this effort compared to tangible results…one could say that we have the dubious honour of being blessed with both the costs of planning and the costs of sprawl.”

According to Blais, this is largely because “sprawl has been viewed narrowly within the planning paradigm – as a planning problem that calls for a ‘planning’ solution. The focus has been on solving sprawl with regulatory and design approaches. While these approaches are without question a critical part of the solution to sprawl, the problem is that they have not addressed, nor are they capable of addressing, other critical causes of sprawl, in particular, the mis-pricing issues [this book describes]. Unless these causes are addressed directly, sprawl will remain an elusive and intractable problem.”

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Transportation Remedies

by Dom Nozzi

June 1, 2000

In theory, being concerned about the added traffic (the additional number of car trips) a new development will create is helpful. It recognizes that increasingly, the new form of pollution in our age is not belching smokestacks and sewer pipes so much as it is the number of car trips coming from the new development. But conventionally and historically, our “remedy” has been to widen the nearby roads, add huge seas of asphalt parking, and make the street intersections enormous.download

It has been only recently that we are finally starting to realize that this “remedy” ironically makes things worse. Such a “remedy” accelerates suburban sprawl, chases away residences (which cannot tolerate proximity to car-intensive areas), makes it more difficult to walk, bicycle or use the bus, degrades our quality of life, moves us closer to being an “Anywhere USA” instead of a unique town, and forces us to make nearly all of our trips by car.  These remedies make cars instead of people happy by creating the “induced traffic” problem in which we stimulate new, additional car trips that would not have occurred had we not tried to make cars so happy with wider roads and more parking.

Instead, our concern about a new development and the car trips it will potentially generate should be focused on strategies that are effective in reducing this new form of “pollution.” We need to insist that the new project, when feasible and appropriate, is walkable, and mixes residences with offices, retail, services, schools, and parks. That is, we need to return to the timeless, traditional, pre-WWII way of building our town and neighborhoods.

It is only through this approach that we can ensure that new developments deliver a quality of life that is free from excessive car trip “pollution” — developments we can look forward to, instead of dread.


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Reducing Car Trips in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

July 25, 2017

Way back in 1989, Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy showed that traffic congestion REDUCES air emissions and gas consumption at the regional level. This is in part due to the reduction in low-value car trips caused by the time tax that congestion imposes.

The compact development pattern that can result from more housing being built in Boulder would reduce the PER CAPITA trips made by car. Since Boulder currently has very low-density, dispersed patterns of development (and WAY too much free parking), per capita car trips are very high.large lot subdivision

Boulder is way better off — and is much more affordable and equitable — if the City successfully encourages more compact development patterns through the construction of more housing.

It would mean a lot more Boulder residents can choose to travel by walking, bicycling, or transit.

Environmental quality goes way up when per capita car trips go down. And Boulder will be a much friendlier and happier and healthier place, as healthier, more enjoyable, sociable interaction is much more likely when using transit, when walking, or when bicycling.

Boulder has made a huge tactical error over the past several decades by thinking that minimizing population growth and reducing density was the way to reduce car trips. Instead, that tactic has put too many Boulder residents in cars, made it much more difficult to travel without a car, and has made Boulder a lot less affordable.


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The Ruin of Frontage Roads


By Dom Nozzi

April 19, 2002

I’m getting ready to lead a transportation and land use “revival” in a coastal Florida town this weekend. Those folks are apparently drowning from sprawl and auto dependence, their elected officials don’t “get it” (as is true everywhere), and some of their activists have invited me to speak at a big growth management forum there to see if I can to open their eyes before they continue on their road-to-ruin path.

Should be a lot of fun. Say hallelujah!!

A friend recently asked what I thought of “frontage roads.” (roads paraldownloadlel and flanking a larger, typically strip commercial road designed to keep local shopping trips from slowing more regional trips on the main road).

The following is what I told her.

Walter Kulash – a traffic engineer who strongly shaped my views over much of my career – briefly addressed frontage roads in a famous speech he gave a number of years ago. He didn’t say much about them in the speech, but did indicate that he thought they were a bad idea.

I told her I didn’t have anything else in my files about frontage roads, but I did know enough o warn her that from an urban design and transportation perspective, frontage roads must be avoided at all costs.

For the uninformed, they seem like a common sense, obvious solution to avert a congested strip commercial future. But as I will say until I am blue in the face, we cannot build our way out of congestion!

In fact, trying to add more capacity to hopelessly try to avoid congestion (which is an important justification for frontage roads) will lock us into a downward spiral of accelerated suburban sprawl, extreme auto dependence, unbearably high taxes, declining in-town (and locally-owned) businesses, a miserable quality of life, bankrupted households and local governments, a loss of a unique community identity, a loss of civic pride, higher levels of congestion (which is helpful in a town center but generally a problem in suburbia), less walking/bicycling/transit, and worsened safety conditions.

From an urban design perspective, frontage roads are a disaster. To be convenient for bikes/ped/transit and to promote a quality ambience, buildings must be as close to facing buildings across the street as possible. Frontage roads spread buildings further apart, destroy any sense of human scale, and make it impossible to cross the “street” to go from one building to a building across from it. Every trip where you have frontage roads and big parking lots in front of buildings set way back from the road MUST be by car.

The inevitable result of frontage roads, like every single other urbanizing or strip commercial area where they have been tried, is worsened transportation and quality of life. It is impossible to EVER build enough capacity to handle the demand for car travel in any place besides a declining rural farm town with no growth foreseen. In fact, adding more road capacity with frontage roads will INDUCE car trips that would have never occurred had the capacity not been added.

This is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Traffic engineers urge more road capacity. When the capacity is added, the widened road induces new car trips above and beyond the number of trips before the widening. The result is that the widened road quickly gets choked with car gridlock, and the engineers say, “See! We told you! It was a good thing we widened or the traffic would be ‘worse’!!!” Actually, what would really happen without the widening is that there would be a lower demand for car trips — congestion regulates itself unless we let road widening short-circuit the process…

In sum, frontage roads are a wonderful way to spend millions of public dollars to destroy a community. What a bargain! We are essentially bankrupting ourselves to foul our own nest. Have we lost our minds?

Work to stop the frontage road idea at all costs.

Hope that helps, and hope you are well.




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Gigantism Versus a “Small Town Feel” in Boulder Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2013

A great many citizens Boulder, Colorado admirably seek to retain or restore a “small town feel” (or “ambiance”) in our community. The most significant transportation action (or, arguably, ANY action) a community can take to obliterate that “small town feel” and instead create a feeling of placeless sprawl or “big city feel” is to build oversized roads, intersections, and parking lots.

Tragically, this is precisely what Boulder has done too many times in its frequent (and highly counterproductive) efforts to “reduce congestion” or “promote free-flowing car traffic.” Boulder has oversized a great many of its roads and intersections (and required developers to build too many oversized parking lots), which powerfully admin-ajax (3)induces excessive car trips, regional sprawl, local government financial woes, a large increase in traffic injuries and deaths, a large impediment to bicycle, walking, and transit trips, and much higher levels of fuel consumption and air emissions (despite the conventional wisdom).

The end result of this ruinous pursuit of free-flowing car traffic is a loss of that “small town feel” – that “human scale” – that so many in Boulder seek to protect and retain.

The much more progressive way to address traffic congestion is not to reduce it (which is nearly impossible given the HUGE space-hogging nature of cars, and given a healthy city), but to create ALTERNATIVES to congestion so those unwilling or unable to tolerate it can avoid it (via alternative routes, traveling at non-rush hour times, driving on routes optimized by pricing, or traveling by bicycling, walking, or transit).

The provision of “bus queue lanes” or “protected bicycle tracks” should not be at the expense of removing on-street parking or by widening a road. Instead, such facilities should only be installed by replacing existing car travel lanes.

In sum, the primary task of the urban designer is to control size. By not controlling size – in this case, the size of transportation facilities – the resulting gigantism



obliterates that small town feel that so many of us love.


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Planners Recommending Road Widening?


By Dom Nozzi

September 29, 2008

The author of “Our Daunting To-Do List” (Planning Magazine, October 2008) rightly points out the pressing need to address the staggering and neglected backlog of infrastructure repair needs throughout the U.S.—particularly with regard to roads and bridges. But in the next sentence, he informs us that our failure to widen roadways has resulted in growing congestion.

Am I to understand that “sufficient” road widening would allow us to avoid this costly congestion? That a growing amount of “induced demand” research is wrong? That we can, in fact, build our way out of congestion?Carmageddon highway

And even if widening could eliminate congestion, where would this debt-ridden nation find the revenue? Furthermore, given the scarcity of public revenue, is it advisable to continue expanding infrastructure when we cannot come close to maintaining the infrastructure we already have?

The last time I checked, we have entered the 21st Century. Don’t we know by now that widening does not ease congestion? That widening will induce catastrophic, unaffordable and unsustainable sprawl? That widening results in substantial increases in motor vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and gasoline consumption? That wider roads make it more difficult to walk, bicycle or use transit. That widening subverts quality of life?

Shouldn’t planners be urging travel choices, sustainable and lovable communities, environmental conservation and fiscal responsibility? Don’t we have a professional responsibility to point out that widening results in the undercutting of these essential objectives?

Is there anything worse, in other words, for American planners to advocate than widening roads?



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