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Selecting Sustainability Indicators

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2005, a committee in my community evaluated the value of various “sustainability indicators,” which are measures of trends that show whether a community is advancing or declining with regard to various measures selected by the community to show how well it is doing.Upward Trend

For example, a sustainability indicator might be the amount of gasoline consumed on an annual basis, either for the entire community or per capita.

The committee reviewed all the relevant documents from various community organizations, officials, media, and other sources.

The committee then vetted the indicators, discussed them with regard to the instructions from the Indicators Committee, and then seven members ranked them.

The results were as follows:

#1 Rank: SOx/NOx and other priority air pollutants

My evaluation:

This indicator would be relatively difficult to obtain on a regular basis and air pollution measurements in this sort of community tells us very little, or tells us the wrong thing. For example, higher air pollution levels in a town center could very easily be an indicator of a healthy, sustainable community because it can quite plausibly be due to more people/cars being in the town center. And this increase in the number of people or cars is likely to be due to an increase in town center health, attractiveness, or both. Manhattan certainly has higher Sox/NOx levels than most town centers, but Manhattan is perhaps the greenest city, per capita, in America.

#2 Rank: Total CO2 equivalent emissions

My evaluation:

Again, this data would be extremely difficult to come by, particularly on a regular basis. And might give us incorrect impressions of community health or sustainability. I am certain, for example, that the most UN-sustainable, environmentally ruinous communities in America have (or could have) an impressive collection of LEED buildings (buildings that are highly rated for energy efficiency and other green measures associated with building design), homes using solar energy/water, an impressive tree canopy, etc. Have we achieved sustainability and environmental conservation and a healthy community if all our homes have solar water heaters, but thousands of such homes are in remote, utterly auto-dependent, sprawling suburbs that are served by 8-lane arterials? Hardly. Every single building/home in Los Angeles could be an EnergyStar/LEED building. Every home could be consuming “green” energy. Does this mean that LA is meaningfully healthy?

#5 Rank: Acres of parks & conservation, preservation lands

My evaluation:

The supply of park acreage is very difficult to employ usefully. For example, if urban parks are located on large arterial roads and cannot be reached by bicycle or foot, they will tend to be underused (because of poor accessibility), and therefore not correlated to a more physically fit community. In town centers, parks can contribute to an enormous existing problem: Most all American town centers – despite what he conventional wisdom tells us — has a huge excess of open space (mostly consisting of parking or roads or private yards). Much of this urban “open space” needs to be put to urban uses such as residential, retail or office. Indeed, Steve Belmont (Cities in Full) makes the crucial point that the most important indicator of a healthy city is that lands are being converted from less intense to more intense uses (parking converted to retail, for example). Too often, in-town parks have a deadening effect on a town center. Note that I strongly agree that greenbelt land that rings the perimeter of a community is a very important sign of sustainability and health. Again, would LA be noticeably more healthy and sustainable if it had a big increase in parks? Absolutely not.

#6 Rank: Water quality (TMDL)

My evaluation:

Again, it would be exceptionally difficult to obtain this data. And there are a number of transportation indicators that can proxy for this indicator.

#8 Rank: Total Municipal Solid Waste Disposed & Recycled

Would it matter if the residents of LA all recycled their beer and soda cans? Or is this just an exercise in finding a convenient way of easing our guilty consciences because our lifestyle is so overwhelmingly unsustainable?

#9 Rank: Stormwater runoff

My evaluation:

Very, very difficult to gather data for this. And what would our public policy response be if we saw a declining trend? Put a moratorium on increasing the amount of asphalt parking? Much as I’d love such a tactic, it is a non-starter in American communities. Other conventional tactics, such as requiring the construction of enormous storm basins are commonly counter-productive because they create more unwalkable, car-dependent places.

#10 Rank: Biodiversity

My evaluation:

Again, this would be very, very difficult to gather data for.

In sum, it is crucial that the following criteria be used to select useful indicators:

  1. Tracking. Is the data for the indicator available? And is it easily tracked over time? Is it available on an annual or otherwise regular basis? If not, the indicator is nearly useless.
  2. Relevance. Can the indicator be used to draw conclusions based on the adopted community goals and objectives? Can it be used to make policy decisions? If not, how would the information be used?
  3. Durability. Can the indicator be used for the foreseeable future? Will data for the indicator be available in the future? For example, some indicators, such as lead levels in the air, are interesting, but may not be useful as a future measure of air quality if lead is completely removed from gasoline in the future.
  4. Accuracy. Does the indicator have a measurement methodology that produces accurate data?
  5. Responsiveness. Is the indicator relatively sensitive to subtle changes over time? If not, important changes can occur without being shown by the indicator.
  6. Clarity. Is the indicator readily understandable by the general public? Does it allow for a single interpretation, or is it so ambiguous that several conflicting theories can be used to explain the data?

Given the above six measures of indicator quality, I would suggest the following indicators for a community:

  • Citywide and town center residential density. There is no measure that more effectively creates a sustainable, environmentally benign community, on a per capita basis, than higher density. And nothing more environmentally ruinous than a low-density city. Higher densities are the most effective way to increase transit use/bicycling/walking, improve physical health, increase the number and viability of small & locally-owned/neighborhood-based retailers, discourage sprawl, minimize per capita energy/water use, and minimize per capita air/water pollution. Most, if not all, of the proposed indicators are strongly and directly correlated to residential density.
  • Mileage of travel lanes per capita. An effective measure of community quality of life, potential for sprawl, potential for transportation choice, and degree of tax burden. There is a strong inverse relationship here to a healthy, sustainable community. Less mileage per capita means more health and sustainability.
  • Gasoline consumption per capita. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita consumption indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Total number of town center parking spaces. Nothing degrades the walkable town center lifestyle and town center residential and retail viability more than excess (particularly free, surface) parking. Any net increase in the supply of town center parking puts another nail in the coffin of town center health. Currently, nearly all town centers in America have an enormous excess of town center parking spaces.  For a town center to be healthy, it must be compact, walkable, and cozy – which is delivered by relatively high density. Parking is perhaps the most effective way to minimize density and reduce walkability. Less town center parking is an indicator of a healthier, more sustainable town center.
  • Per capita motor vehicle registration. A powerful indicator of car dependence and community sustainability. More per capita motor vehicle registration indicates more pollution, lower quality of life, and less sustainability. A relatively easy—yet meaningful—indicator to gather data for.
  • Average speed of cars on major town center streets. Higher average speeds directly correlate to more sprawl, lower quality of life, less viability for town center residential and retail, and a less healthy town center.
  • Annual number of road diets. This is a very direct correlation to higher quality of life, community health, sustainability, retail and residential health, and minimizing sprawl and pollution. A larger number of diets indicates a positive trend.
  • Traffic congestion in the town center. For locations where the community seeks to promote more infill, residential density, or commercial health, the most effective tool available is a growth in vehicle congestion. Increased congestion is also a powerful disincentive to suburban sprawl. And an effective way to promote transportation choice.

In sum, without adding a number of transportation indicators I suggest above, the proposed indicators I evaluate above from the sustainability indicators committee are “feel good,” lip service measures that will have very little utility for the purposes of measuring health and sustainability, or guiding public policy.

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Filed under Energy, Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Fleeing from the Public Realm

By Dom Nozzi

Over the past several decades, Americans have increasingly cocooned themselves. As the fear of crime (and “strangers”) remains high, many spend more time than their parents and grandparents inside the private realm of their homes – homes that are increasingly becoming walled, fortified, burglar-alarmed fortresses on cul-de-sacs. Many have fled from the more communal, compact town center neighborhoods to dispersed, low-density sprawl neighborhoods. Some of us live within “gated” communities where a guard grants permission to visitors wanting to enter the “compound” of a walled-in neighborhood.Phoenix-Gated-Community

The move toward the private realm is a form of escape from public life. I believe the desire to escape is driven, at least in part, by the increasing misery, barren-ness, and danger associated with the relatively awful American public realm. As the public realm becomes increasingly dreadful in these ways, we have almost completely lost any sense of community, or the common good, or any form of civic pride. Of course, some might point to the jingoistic pride that is often exhibited (flag waving, “USA!!”chants, etc.), but I think that most of that sort of national “pride” is largely associated with the fact that our cheap energy economy is able to deliver a cornucopia of consumer goods (and political freedom, which has lost its meaning because there is no one worthy of our vote) to even those in the lower classes.

2012-garage-full-of-yard-saleIndeed, many, many people, in my opinion, mistake the ability to buy a bunch of consumer goods with political liberty, freedom, and quality of life. The end of cheap energy, I believe, will lead to big increases in political turmoil fueled by economic resentment and economic misery. Scarcity and the high costs associated with that will, I hope, compel us to be more interested in and drawn to community and the public realm, and less focused on an “all about me” attitude.

As a side note, I was horrified a number of years back to see a quote from a University of Florida student in the College Park neighborhood in Gainesville, Florida. The student was being cited by City Codes Enforcement for his unkempt, littered yard. He told the officer that he had a right to have his yard be a mess because of the political liberty that Americans enjoy.

WHAT??

In other words, a good many people apparently (and bizarrely) equate liberty with the right to litter or otherwise behave in an uncivil manner. “Screw others!”

In my travels in Europe, by stunning contrast, I am invariably completely astonished by the magnificent, ornamental, historic civic buildings, public squares, and shops that I see nearly everywhere I go. The public realm, unlike the downwardly spiraling and increasingly neglected place of misery that so many Americans are fleeing, consists — in the older parts of European cities — of places worth caring about.

In these charming, romantic, human-scaled sections of Europe, one finds it fantastically rewarding to walk the livable, human-scaled streets — many of which were bustling places filled with pedestrians and busy shops and outdoor cafes.

The vitality is contagious. And powerfully rewarding, because the human species is naturally sociable, yet as an American I so rarely can experience it in public – in American cities and suburbs. Nearly everyone on the European streets seem to be friendly and happy and sociable. It is so very exciting to me to see the enormous number of people walking and bicycling on very narrow, cozy streets. Traveling without a car is clearly and dramatically more humanizing for the Europeans.

In a car, even the most mild-mannered, friendly person is often compelled to get angry at “slow-pokes”, or to fume about pedestrians and other cars in the way, or how long it takes for the signal light to change. Blood pressure rises. Fellow citizens become enemies in a competition for road space. The ability to offer a friendly “hello” to your fellow citizen is lost inside a car, as is any real sense of SERENDIPITY, which is so important to a rewarding journey.

Inside a car, one usually feels as if he or she is always in a hurry.

Only as a pedestrian or bicyclist does one experience the unhurried pleasure of taking your time to smell the flowers and enjoy the morning sun. To stop to chat with an old friend you run into. To pop into a store because of something that caught your eye.

So the rich, rewarding experiences I so often joyously find in Europe are due to these human-scaled, slow-speed, pedestrian-oriented, activated streets I see there so regularly. Streets full of happy, sociable people, busy shops and cafes, and proud buildings lavishly ornamented.vibrancy stroget st

In America, most of what we experience is what Jim Kunstler calls an “auto slum.” Who wants to go for a walk in a place full of angry, high-speed motorists on 8-lane arterial roads, vast and empty asphalt parking lots?

The wretched, all-too-common experience of a strip corridor littered with auto repair shops and car dealerships, and buildings that are so far from the road that a person on the sidewalk would need a telescope to see into store windows? Assuming there even ARE windows, since growing numbers of buildings now turn their back to the street.

The natural, expected reaction for almost any sane person is to RUN FOR YOUR LIFE from such a place and safely cocoon yourself into your own little private realm, where you can endlessly, pathetically strive to be happy by buying flat-screen TVs, iPods, and luxurious furniture as a surrogate for living in a rewarding community. But how satisfying is it, in the end, to have a stupendous living room, when you don’t even know your neighbor? When all of your “friends” are simply characters in sit-coms you watch every night on TV? When your city is little more than a tangled, dangerous mess of stressed and hostile motorists, highways, parking lots, and fast food chains?

Our consumer economy thrives because it is simply not possible to buy things as a way to be happy, yet we feel compelled to buy, buy, buy in our endless, hopeless pursuit of happiness. There is, after all, no alternative, since we have no community or quality public realm to satisfy our gregarious human desires. Advertising constantly tells us that we will feel so much joy if we buy their product. But we learn that buying and owning the latest gadget is, ultimately, an empty, sterile way to live and enjoy life.

I’ve heard more than once that the Europeans are destined to a future quality of life that nearly everyone throughout the world will see as higher that the quality of life experienced in America. A recent book is titled “The European Dream” (an illuminating play on the “American Dream” we have grown up with).

I am convinced that this transition to looking at older Europe as the new dream is certain, because the European public realm is very high in quality (light years better than the miserable public realm in most all of America), and a quality public realm is the fountainhead to a high quality of life for the entire community. Quality of life is NOT found by buying the latest plasma TV set or SUV.

 

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Transportation is Destiny: Design for Happy People, Not Happy Cars

by Dom Nozzi

The following is a summary of a talk I was invited to give at a PLAN-Boulder County forum on Friday, January 24. As a town and transportation planner, I cautioned Boulder not to put too much emphasis on easing car traffic flows—particularly by such conventional methods as adding a second turn lane at intersections or requiring a developer to provide too much car parking. I described the ingredients of a healthy, vibrant city, summarized how a seemingly beneficial city objective of reducing traffic congestion can often undermine important Boulder objectives, and offered a number of strategies that would help Boulder both properly manage transportation and promote its long-range goals.

A great city is compact, human scaled, has a slow speed center, and promotes gatherings of citizens that catalyze “synergistic interaction” (brilliant ideas and innovations, as the sum becomes greater than its parts). Most importantly, a quality city does exceptionally well in promoting “exchanges” of goods, services, and ideas, which is the most important role of a city, and is best promoted by the interaction that occurs through compact community design.

About 100 years ago, automakers, home builders, and oil companies (“the Sprawl Lobby”) started realizing that they could make lots of money by creating what has since become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle in communities. If communities could be convinced to ease the flow of car traffic by building enormous highways and parking lots (and subsidizing car travel by having everyone—not just motorists—pay for such roads, parking, and gasoline), huge amounts of money could be made selling cars, homes and gasoline. The process eventually was feeding on itself in a growing, self-perpetuating way, because the highways, parking and subsidies were forcing and otherwise encouraging a growing number of Americans to buy more and more cars, use more and more gasoline, and buy sprawling homes that were further and further from the town center. Why? Because the subsidized highways and gasoline were powerfully promoting community dispersal, high speeds, isolation, and an insatiable demand for larger highways and parking lots. Each of these factors were toxic to a city, led to government and household financial difficulties, destroyed in-town quality of life (which added to the desire to live in sprawl locations), and made travel by transit, bicycle or walking increasingly difficult and unlikely (an added inducement to buy more cars).

The inevitable result of the Sprawl Lobby efforts has been that cities throughout America are dying from the “Gigantism” disease.

The “Gigantism” Disease

One of the most important problems we face is that cars consume enormous amounts of space. On average, a person in a parked car takes up about 17 times more space than a person in a chair. And when moving, a motorist can take up to 100 times as much space as a person in a chair. Cities are Untitledseverely diminished by this level of wasteful use of land by cars—particularly in town centers (where space is so dear), and especially in communities such as Boulder, where land is so expensive.

Overemphasis on car travel breeds and spreads the gigantism “infection,” and promotes ruinously higher travel speeds. What happens when we combine the gigantism and high speeds with the “travel time budget” (humans tend to have a budget of about 1.1 hours of round-trip commuting travel each day)?

People demand larger highways and parking lots. Gigantic highways, overpasses, and asphalt seas of parking are necessary to accommodate the space-hogging, high-speed needs of the growing number of cars. This process dramatically increases the “habitat” for cars, and because such places are so utterly inhospitable to people, substantially shrinks the habitat for people.

Because it is so dangerous, unpleasant, and infeasible to travel on these monster highways by bicycle, walking, or transit (what economists call “The Barrier Effect”), an endlessly growing army of motorists and sprawl residents is thereby created, which, of course, is a financial bonanza for the Sprawl Lobby.

It is surprising and disappointing that Boulder has, on numerous occasions, shown symptoms of the gigantism disease (surprising because citizens and city staff are relatively well-informed on transportation issues). A leading concern in Boulder is the many intersections that have been expanded by installing double left turn lanes. Installing a single left turn lane historically resulted in a fair improvement in traffic flow, but when a second left turn lane is installed, intersections typically suffer from severely diminished returns. There is only a tiny increase in traffic accommodated (and often, this increase is short-lived) and this small benefit is offset by a huge required increase in walk time for crosswalks that are now very lengthy to cross on foot (which necessitates a very long “walk” phase for the crosswalk). Indeed, some traffic engineers or elected officials are so intolerant of the time-consuming long walk phase that many double-left turn intersections actually PROHIBIT pedestrian crossings by law.

These monster double left turn intersections destroy human scale and sense of place. They create a place-less, car-only intersection where walking and bicycling (and, indirectly, transit) trips are so difficult and unpleasant that more trips in the community are now by car, and less by walking, bicycling and transit. And those newly-induced car trips, despite the conventional wisdom, actually INCREASE greenhouse gas emissions (due to the induced increase in car trips).

Double left turn lanes (like big parking lots and five- or seven-lane highways) disperse housing, jobs, and shops in the community, as the intersection—at least briefly—is able to accommodate more regional car trips. Because the intersection has become so inhospitable, placeless and lacking in human scale, the double left turn repels any residences, shops, or offices from being located anywhere near the intersection, and thereby effectively prevents the intersection from ever evolving into a more walkable, compact, village-like setting.

The following chart shows that, because of the enormous space consumption caused by higher-speed car travel, land consumption rate increases are far out-pacing growth in community populations. For example, from 1950 to 1990, the St. Louis population grew by 35 percent. chartYet land consumption in St. Louis grew by 354 percent during that same period.

Given all of this, a centerpiece objective of the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (no more than 20 percent of road mileage is allowed to be congested) may not only be counterproductive in achieving many Boulder objectives, but may actually result in Boulder joining hands with the Sprawl Lobby.

The congestion reduction objective has a number of unintended, undesirable consequences. The objective tells Boulder that the highly desirable tactic of “road diets” (where travel lanes are removed to create a safer, more human-scaled street that can now install bike lanes, on-street parking, and wider sidewalks) are actually undesirable because they can increase congestion. The objective provides justification for looking upon a wider road, a bigger intersection, or a bigger parking lot as desirable, despite the well-documented fact that such gigantic facilities promote sprawl, car emissions, financial difficulties, higher taxes, and lower quality of life, among other detriments.

The objective also tells us that smaller, more affordable infill housing is undesirable—again because such housing can increase congestion.

The Shocking Revolution

The growing awareness of the problems associated with easing car travel (via such things as a congestion reduction objective) is leading to a shocking revolution across the nation. Florida, for example, now realizes that if new development is only allowed if “adequate” road capacity is available for the new development (which is based on “concurrency” rules in Florida’s Growth Management law), the state is powerfully promoting sprawl. Why? Because the available road capacity tends to only be found in sprawl locations. In-town locations, where new development tends to be much more desirable, is strongly discouraged by this Florida concurrency rule because in-town locations tend to have no available road capacity (due to existing, more dense development in town).

As an aside, “concurrency” is a rule that says new development is not allowed if it will lower service level standards adopted by the community. For example, standards might state that there must be at least 10 acres of parkland provided for every 1,000 residents. While concurrency is clearly a good idea for such things as parks and water supply and schools, it is counterproductive for roads.

The shocking revolution in Florida, then, is that the state is now allowing local governments to create “exception areas” for road congestion. If the community can show that it is providing adequate bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities, the state will grant the local government the ability to create road exceptions so that the road congestion avoidance strategy brought by Florida’s road concurrency rule does not significantly encourage new sprawl and discourage in-town, infill development.

Similarly, California is now acknowledging the unintended, undesirable effects of past efforts to ensure that roads are “free-flowing” for car traffic. “Free flowing” car traffic tends to be measured with “level of service” (LOS) measures. Road LOS is a measure of traffic delay. An intersection (or road) where a car must wait for, say, three cycles of a traffic signal to be able to proceed through the intersection might be given an LOS rating of “F.” An intersection where a car can proceed through an intersection without such delay is given an LOS rating of “A.”

California now realizes that too often, building wider highways or stopping new development as a way to maintain free-flowing car traffic (LOS “A”) is substantially counterproductive. The state now realizes that maintaining or requiring easy, free-flowing car traffic increases greenhouse gas emissions (shocking, since the opposite was formerly believed), increases the number of car trips, and decreases the number of walking, bicycling and transit trips. Free-flowing road “LOS” measures are therefore now being phased out in California.

The “congestion reduction” objective in Boulder’s transportation plan is, in effect, a “happy cars” objective that equates easy car travel with quality of life and sustainability. One important reason why this “happy cars” objective is counterproductive is that cars and people have dramatically different needs and desires—needs and desires that are significantly and frequently in conflict. For example, designing shopping for happy people means the creation of smaller, human-scaled settings where buildings rather than parking lots are placed next to the streetside sidewalk. Where streets are only two or three lanes wide and designed for slow-speed car travel. Where street trees hug the street.

Designing shopping for happy cars, by strong contrast, requires huge car-scaled dimensions. Giant asphalt parking lots are placed between the now giant retail store and the street, which invites easy car parking (but loss of human scale, sense of place, and ease of walking). Streets become what Chuck Marohn calls “stroads”:  5- or 7-lane monster roads intended for dangerous, inhospitable high-speeds. They are roads where streets belong, but their big size and high speeds make them more like roads. Street trees are frequently incompatible with happy cars, as engineers fear cars might crash into them.

Again, this comparison shows that by promoting “happy cars,” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is undermining its important quality of life and city-building objectives.

Indeed, Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, once stated that “a city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is in conflict with this essential truth.

Fortunately, congestion regulates itself if we let it. Congestion will persuade some to drive at non-rush hour times, or take less congested routes, or travel by walking, bicycling, or transit. Congestion therefore does not inexorably lead to gridlock if we don’t widen a road or intersection, because some car trips (the “lower-value” trips) do not occur. Many of those discouraged trips are foregone because of the “time tax” imposed by the congestion.

But widening a road (or, in Boulder’s case, adding a second left-turn lane) short-circuits this self-regulation. A widened road or a double-left turn lane intersection induces new car trips because the road/intersection is now (briefly) less congested. The lower congestion encourages formerly discouraged car trips to now use the route during rush hour. Car trips that used different routes to avoid the congestion now converge back on the less congested route. And some get back in their cars after a period of walking, bicycling or using transit.

The process is very much like the infamous Soviet bread lines. The Soviets wanted to reduce the extremely long lines of people waiting for free bread. Their counterproductive “solution” was to make more free bread. But more free bread just induced more people to line up for bread. Likewise, the conventional American solution to traffic congestion is to make more free space for cars (widening the road or adding a second turn lane). The result is the same, as the bigger roads and intersections inevitably induce more car trips on those routes. The efficient and effective solution, as any first-year economics student will point out, is to NOT make more free bread or wider, free-to-use roads or second turn lanes. The solution is to price the bread and the car routes so that they are used more efficiently (and not wastefully by low-value bread consumers or car travelers). Or, to let a moderate level of congestion discourage low-value rush hour trips.

Given all of this, widening a road or adding a second left-turn lane to solve congestion is like loosening one’s belt to solve obesity. Similarly, despite conventional wisdom, car traffic does not behave like water flowing through a pipe (i.e., flowing easier if the pipe is expanded in size). Car traffic, instead, behaves like a gas. It expands to fill the available, increased volume provided.

Boulder’s Overriding Objectives

Boulder (and PLAN-Boulder County) has outlined key community objectives.

1. One is higher quality of life and more happiness. But counterproductively, happy cars lower quality of life due to clashing values and needs.

2. Another objective is for a more compact, walkable, vibrant city. Unfortunately, over-emphasizing cars means more sprawl.

3. An objective that is much talked about in the area is more affordability. By inducing more car dependence via easier car travel, the congestion reduction objective undermines the affordability objective by making Boulder less affordable (more on that later).

4. Given the growing concern for global warming, Boulder is placing more emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Easing traffic congestion, however, induces new car traffic, which increases car emissions.

5. Boulder and PLAN-Boulder County seek more travel (and lifestyle) choices. But the congestion reduction objective in Boulder’s plan is again undercutting other objectives because it leads to bigger car infrastructure (bigger roads and intersections), thereby reducing travel and lifestyle choices.

As shown above, then, Boulder’s congestion reduction objective undermines each of these five essential community objectives.

Oops.

Conventional methods of reducing congestion include wider roads, bigger parking lots, one-way streets, and huge intersections. These tactics are a “win-lose” proposition. While they can reduce congestion (briefly), they also cause a loss of human scale and charm; a loss of social gathering; sprawling dispersal; more car dependence and less bicycling, walking, transit; higher taxes; economic woes (for government, shops and households); a decline in public health; and more air pollution.

By striking contrast, other less commonly used but much more beneficial transportation tactics are “win-win” propositions. Some of these tactics include road diets, designing streets for slower speeds, and designing for travel and lifestyle choices. They can result in:

  • More parking spaces
  • More civic pride (induced by human scale)
  • More social gathering
  • A more compact and vibrant community
  • Less car dependence and more bicycling, walking, and transit
  • Lower taxes
  • Economic health (for both government and households)
  • Improvement in public health
  • Less air pollution

If we can’t get rid of congestion, what CAN we do? We can create alternatives so that those who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion can find ways to avoid it. Congestion can be better avoided if we create more housing near jobs, shops, and culture. Doing this allows more people to have better, more feasible ways to travel without a car. We can also create more travel routes, so that the congested routes are not the only routes to our destinations. Some of us can be given more flexible work schedules to shift our work hours away from rush hour. And some of us can be given increased opportunities to telecommute (work from home).

How Can We Design Transportation to Achieve a Better Destiny?

An important way to start Boulder on a better destiny for the city is to revisit the “No more than 20 percent congested road miles” objective in the Boulder transportation master plan. Some possibilities: adopt a “level of service standard” not for cars, but for bicycle, walking and transit travel; “Level of service” standards for cars is becoming outdated because it is being increasingly seen as counterproductive, as described earlier. Other alternatives to the “congestion” objective is to have a target of controlling or reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) community-wide; or set a goal of minimizing trip generation by individual new developments in the city.

Another option is to keep the congestion objective, but create “exception” areas where the congestion rule does not apply. Those exception areas would be places where Boulder seeks to encourage new development.

Boulder needs to ensure that the community land development and transportation design tactics are appropriately calibrated within each “transect zone” of the community. (The “transect” principle identifies a transition from urban to rural, whereby the town center is more compact, formal, low-speed, and walkable; the suburbs are more dispersed, informal, higher-speed, and drivable; and the rural areas most remote from the town center are more intended for a farming and conservation lifestyle. Development regulations and transportation designs are calibrated so that the differing lifestyle and travel objectives of each zone are best achieved.) However, the difficulty with the transect principle in places like Boulder is that the demand for compact, walkable lifestyles and travel choices is much higher than the supply of such places in Boulder. There is, in other words, a large mismatch. By contrast, the supply of suburban, drivable areas is quite high. To correct this imbalance, Boulder should strive to create a larger supply of compact, walkable places similar to Pearl Street Mall, the Boulder town center, and even the CU campus. Opportunities now being discussed are the creation of new, compact villages and town centers at places such as street intersections outside of the Boulder town center.

As an aside, the community transect concept informs us that in the town center, “more is better.” That is, the lifestyle being sought in the community center is one where more shops, more offices, and more housing enhances the lifestyle, as this more proximate, mixed, compact layout of land uses provides the thriving, sociable, convenient, vibrant, 24-hour ambience that many seeking the walkable lifestyle want more of.

By contrast, in the more drivable suburbs, “more is less.” That is, the drivable lifestyle is enhanced in quality when there is less density, less development, more dispersal, and more isolation of houses from shops and offices. The ambience generally desired is more quiet and private.

While town center housing is increasingly expensive compared to the suburbs—particularly in cities such as Boulder—such in-town housing provides significant cost savings for transportation. Because such a housing location provides so many travel choices beyond car travel, many households find they can own two cars instead of three or one car instead of two. And each car that a household can “shed” due to the richness of travel choices provides more household income that can be directed to housing expenses such as a mortgage or rent. Today, the average car costs about $9,000 per year to own and operate. In places that are compact and walkable, that $9,000 (or $18,000) per year can be devoted to housing, thereby improving affordability.

In addition to providing for the full range of housing and travel choices, Boulder can better achieve its objectives through road diets, where travel lanes are removed and more space is provided for such things as bike lanes or sidewalks or transit. Road diets are increasingly used throughout the nation—particularly converting roads from four lanes to three. Up to about 25,000 vehicle trips per day on the road, a road that is “dieted” to, say, three lanes carries about as much traffic as a four-lane road. This is mostly due to the fact that the inside lanes of a four-laner frequently must act as turn lanes for cars waiting to make a left turn. Four-lane roads are less desirable than three-lane streets because they induce more car trips and reduce bicycle, walking and transit trips. Compared to three-lane streets, four-lane roads result in more speeding traffic. As a result, four-laners create a higher crash rate than three-lane streets. Finally, because the road-diet (3)three-lane street is more human-scaled, pleasant, lower-speed, and thereby place-making, a three-lane street is better than a four-lane street for shops. The three-lane street becomes a place to drive TO, rather than drive THROUGH (as is the case with a four-lane street).

If Boulder seeks to be transformative with transportation—that is, if the city seeks to significantly shift car trips to walking, bicycling and transit trips (rather than the relatively modest shifts the city has achieved in the past)—it must recognize that it is NOT about providing more bike paths, sidewalks, or transit service. It is about taking away road and parking space from cars, and taking away subsidies for car travel.

Another transportation tactic Boulder should pursue to achieve a better destiny is to unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing. People who own less (or no) cars should have the choice of opting for more affordable housing—housing that does not include the very expensive cost of provided parking. Currently, little or no housing in Boulder provides the buyer or renter the option of having lower cost housing payments by choosing not to pay for parking. Particularly in a place like Boulder, where land values are so high, even housing intended to be relatively affordable is more costly than it needs to be because the land needed for parking adds a large cost to the housing price. Indeed, by requiring the home buyer or renter to pay more for parking, bundled parking price creates a financial incentive for owning and using more cars than would have otherwise been the case.

Boulder should also strive to provide parking more efficiently by pricing more parking. Too much parking in Boulder is both abundant and free. Less parking would be needed in the city (which would make the city more affordable, by the way) if it were efficiently priced. Donald Shoup recommends, for example, that parking meters be priced to ensure that in general, 2 or 3 parking spaces will be vacant on each block.

Efficient parking methods that could be used more often in Boulder include allowing shops and offices and churches to share their parking. This opportunity is particularly available when different land uses (say churches and shops) don’t share the same hours of operation. Again, sharing more parking reduces the amount of parking needed in the city, which makes the city more compact, walkable, enjoyable and active.

Like shared parking, leased parking allows for a reduction in parking needed. If Boulder, for example, owns a parking garage, some of the spaces can be leased to nearby offices, shops, or housing so that those particular land uses do not need to create their own parking.

Finally, a relatively easy and quick way for Boulder to beneficially reform and make more efficient its parking is to revise its parking regulations so that “minimum parking” is converted to “MAXIMUM parking.” Minimum parking rules, required throughout Boulder, are the conventional and increasingly outmoded way to regulate parking. They tell the developer that at least “X” amount of parking spaces must be provided for every “Y” square feet of building. This rule almost always requires the developer to provide excessive, very expensive parking, in large part because it is based on “worst case scenario” parking “needs.” That is, sufficient parking must be provided so that there will be enough on the busiest single day of the year (often the weekend after Thanksgiving). Such a provision means that for the other 364 days of the year, a large number of parking spaces sit empty, a very costly proposition.

In contrast, maximum parking rules tell the developer that there is an upper limit to the number of spaces that can be provided. This works much better for the community and the business because the business is better able to choose how much parking it needs and can finance. Since financial institutions that provide financing for new developments typically require the developer to provide the conventional (read: excessive) amounts of parking as a condition for obtaining a development loan, the big danger for communities in nearly all cases is that TOO MUCH parking will be provided rather than too little. The result of setting “maximum” instead of “minimum” parking rules is that excessive, worst case scenario parking developments become much more rare.

The reform of parking is easy: simply convert the existing minimum parking specifications to maximum parking standards (“at least 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet” becomes “no more than 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet). An incremental approach to this conversion is to apply maximum parking rules in those places that are already rich in travel choices, such as the Boulder town center.

Again, what will Boulder’s destiny be? As the preceding discussion sought to demonstrate, much of that destiny will be shaped by transportation decisions.

Will destiny be shaped by striving for happy people and happy places for people? Or will it be shaped by opting for the conventional, downwardly-spiraling effort of seeking easy car travel (and thereby unpleasant places where only a car can be happy – such as huge highways or parking lots)?

Will Boulder, in other words, retain or otherwise promote place-less conventional shopping centers full of deadening parking, car-only travel, lack of human interaction, and isolation? Or will the city move away from car-happy objectives such as the congestion reduction policy, and instead move toward a people-friendly future rich in sociability, pride in community, travel choices, sustainability, place-making and human scale?

An example of these contrasting destinies is Pearl Street. West Pearl features the charm and human scale we built historically. West Pearl Street exemplifies a lovable, walkable, calm, safe and inviting ambience where car speeds are slower, the street is more narrow, and the shops—by being pulled up to the streetside sidewalk—help form a comfortable sense of enclosure that activates the street and feels comfortable to walk. The shops tend to be smaller—more neighborhood-scaled.

East Pearl Street near 28th Street is starkly different. There, the street is a “stroad,” because it is an overly wide road that should be a more narrow, lower-speed street. Shops are pulled back long distances from the street. The street here is fronted not by interesting shop fronts but enormous seas of asphalt parking. The layout is car-scaled. The setting is hostile, unpleasant, unsafe, stressful and uninviting. The shops tend to be “Big Box” retail, and serve a regional “consumershed.” There is “no there there.”

East Pearl Street was built more recently by professional planners and engineers who have advanced degrees that far exceed the professionalism and education of those who designed the more lovable West Pearl Street. Where has the charm gone? Why have our streets become less pleasant in more recent years (by better trained and better educated designers, I might add)? Is it perhaps related to our more expensive and sophisticated efforts to ease car traffic and reduce congestion?

There is an inverse relationship between congestion and such measures as vehicle miles traveled and gas consumption. At the community level—despite the conventional wisdom—as congestion increases, vehicle miles traveled, gas consumption, air emissions DECREASE. And as conventional efforts to reduce congestion intensify, quality of life and sustainability also decrease.

Again, is Boulder aligning itself with the Sprawl Lobby by maintaining an objective of easing traffic flow – by striving to reduce congestion?

 

On Controlling Size

David Mohney reminds us that the first task of the urban designer is to control size. This not only pertains to the essential need to keep streets, building setbacks, and community dispersal modest in size. It also pertains to the highly important need to insist on controlling the size of service and delivery trucks. Over-sized trucks in Boulder lead the city down a ruinous path, as street and intersection dimensions are typically driven by the “design vehicle.” When trucks are relatively large, excessive truck size becomes the “design vehicle” which ends up driving the dimensions of city streets. A healthy city should be designed for human scale and safety, not for the needs of huge trucks. Indeed, because motor vehicles consume so much space, a sign of a healthy, well-designed community is that drivers of vehicles should feel inconvenienced. If driving vehicles feels comfortable, it is a signal that we have over-designed streets and allocated such excessive spaces that we have lost human scale and safety.

A proposal for human-scaled streets: in Boulder’s town center, no street should be larger than three lanes in size. Outside the town center, no street should be larger than five lanes in size. Anything more exceeds the human scaling needed for a pleasant, safe, sustainable community.

It is time to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars. Boulder needs to start by revisiting its congestion reduction objective, putting a number of its roads on a “road diet,” and taking steps to make the provision of parking more efficient and conducive to a healthy city.

__________________________________

 More about the author

 Mr. Nozzi was a senior planner for Gainesville FL for 20 years, and wrote that city’s long-range transportation plan. He also administered Boulder’s growth rate control law in the mid-90s. He is currently a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board.

 Studies Demonstrating Induced Traffic and Car Emission Increases

Below is a sampling of references to studies describing how new car trips are induced by easier car travel, and how car emissions increase as a result.

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/hwyemis.asp

http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/1993/04/18/does-free-flowing-car-traffic-reduce-fuel-consumption-and-air-pollution/

TØI (2009), Does Road Improvement Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions?, Institute of Transport Economics (TØI), Norwegian Centre for Transport Research (www.toi.no); summary at www.toi.no/getfile.php/Publikasjoner/T%D8I%20rapporter/2009/1027-2009/Sum-1027-2009.pdf

Robert Noland and Mohammed A. Quddus (2006), “Flow Improvements and Vehicle Emissions: Effects of Trip Generation and Emission Control Technology,” Transportation Research D, Vol. 11 (www.elsevier.com/locate/trd), pp. 1-14; also see

www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/documents/publications/iccts00249.pdf

Clark Williams-Derry (2007), Increases In Greenhouse-Gas Emissions From Highway-Widening Projects, Sightline Institute (www.sightline.org); at

www.sightline.org/research/energy/res_pubs/analysis-ghg-roads

TRB (1995), Expanding Metropolitan Highways: Implications for Air Quality and Energy Use, Committee for Study of Impacts of Highway Capacity Improvements on Air Quality and Energy Consumption, Transportation Research Board, Special Report #345 (www.trb.org)

D. Shefer & P. Rietvald (1997), “Congestion and Safety on Highways: Towards an Analytical Model,” Urban Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 679-692.

Alison Cassady, Tony Dutzik and Emily Figdor (2004). More Highways, More Pollution: Road Building and Air Pollution in America’s Cities, U.S. PIRG Education Fund (www.uspirg.org).

http://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/PreliminaryEvaluationTransportationMetrics.pdf

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Environment, Miscellaneous, Peak Oil, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

On Being “Forced” to Live in a Walkable Place

By Dom Nozzi

I find it peculiar that often, in response to a recommendation I or others make to make a proposed residential development more walkable (or to design streets so that motorists “behave” themselves), we hear people make the red herring argument that we should not force people to live in a compact, walkable area of the city, or that we cannot “get rid of all cars.”

In fact, the proposals to make residential development (or travel by car) behave itself is simply a way to create more equity and provide more choices for both residential development and travel.

For about 50 years, we have built little other than low-density, single-use, large lot residential (“conventional”) subdivisions in outlying suburban areas. In addition, we have focused almost all of our efforts on making cars happy. The result, of course, is that throughout America, we have little choice in strip6terms of what kind of place to live in, or how to travel. Nearly all of us are pretty much forced to live in conventional, “drivable” residences in outlying areas. Places that are utterly unwalkable and require nearly every trip to be by car.

What about the large and growing number of us who would enjoy the pleasures of a more urbane setting, where we would have easy access to a nearby grocery store, various forms of culture, a pleasant public realm, civic events, retail, jobs, schools, parks, sidewalks that lead somewhere, sociable neighbors, and calmed traffic? What about those of us who want the choice to be able to walk, bicycle, or bus to those destinations? Do many of us have a choice to enjoy such things?

Do we really “force” people to live in more traditional core area settings, or get rid of their car, if we simply make other residential and travel choices more of an option?

As for “behaving,” it is my opinion that residential areas are “misbehaving” when they, for example, generate a large number of car trips. Such areas tend to be “single-use” (only single-family residential land use), and nearly every trip is too far to travel except by car (let’s not forget that the reasonable travel distance by car extends out to about 10 miles, roughly 3 miles for bus and bicycle, and about one-quarter mile by foot). The result is that instead of a reasonably self-contained subdivision with a reasonable amount of internalized trips (due largely to a mix of land uses in the area or development), those trips and costs are externalized on all the rest of us.

What are the “externalized” costs that we must bear when a new subdivision does not “internalize” a large number of car trips?

Well, within a 10-mile radius (see above), that new, conventional, car-only residential subdivision will deliver to our neighborhoods more traffic, more air pollution, more water pollution, more noise pollution, more strip commercial development, more decline in neighborhood value, more loss of small business in the core area, more sign pollution, more danger on our streets, and higher taxes to pay for public services like parks, schools, police, fire protection, sewer, water, environmental protection, etc.

It becomes a matter of equity.

Is it fair for a new, outlying residential area to impose those costs on us? Isn’t it reasonable to ask that new residential development “pay its own way,” by locating in appropriate areas, designing for livability, and paying for some of the costs for new or expanded public facilities and services they demand from us?

I recommend that we try to steer clear of red herrings. It tends to polarize us. I also believe we can all agree that providing residential and travel choices, and insisting on equity, are good things. To me, the debate should center around what constitutes equity, and how much our local, state, and federal government should put into creating travel choices.

As it stands today, nearly all of America provides no housing or travel choices. If you seek a walkable place to live, you will have vanishingly few options to choose from. And because such an option is so rare and the demand is high (and growing), you will be paying a large sum of money to live in a walkable place.

The current state of affairs in our car-happy world is not fair, as there is very little choice but to live in a drivable, suburban way. Rather than “forcing” people to live in walkable places (or not drive a car), America is more accurately forcing us to be suburban motorists.

An utterly unsustainable condition.

____________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Good Idea to Design Communities With Citizen Referendums?

By Dom Nozzi

In 2008, community activists in Florida fed up with what was happening to their communities due to bad land development and growing traffic congestion proposed to change the Florida constitution to allow direct democracy to play an important role in development decisions, rather than trust their elected officials to make wise decisions on their own.

Small wonder.

Over the past several decades, approval of awful developments was an epidemic. For many angry citizens, then, it seemed like a good idea if citizens were allowed to vote by referendum on proposed land use and zoning change.images

My thoughts on the matter…

This nation has suffered from several decades of artificially low energy costs and enormous subsidies of various sorts for suburban sprawl (with big (unpriced) roads and free parking leading the way). These factors have caused massive distortions to the market signals that most citizens respond to by preferring a car-based sprawl lifestyle. As a result, our cities have been abandoned as residential and commercial has decanted to sprawl locations.

Healthy cities require agglomeration economies to thrive. That is, cities become healthier when they become denser, more intensive and more concentrated in jobs, retail and housing (that is, more compact). The substantial and long-standing dispersal due to sprawl, then, has been deadly to cities, which have mostly become emaciated, scary ghost towns populated by a dwindling number of dysfunctional people who have no other housing choice but to live in the squalor of abandonment, highway overpasses, auto pollution, and the poverty of a dying city downtown.

Concurrently, there is substantial market pressure to grow houses (instead of corn or panthers) in formerly remote cornfields and natural areas (i.e., big profits due to big demand for such housing — demand that would be nearly non-existent without free-to-use big roads and parking). So much pressure that corruption of elected officials is nearly inevitable, as developers have an enormous vested interest in “contributing to” [bribing?] elected officials willing to enable a growth in sprawl markets (through bigger roads, more parking, sprawl upzoning, etc.).

What is to be done to save valuable outlying areas, reduce the pressure to sprawl, and restore the city? (which is clearly needed if our civilization is to have any future at all)

Personally, I am encouraged to know that cities across the nation are seeing substantial rejuvenation in recent years. Lots of new downtown housing, which is bringing the health-giving increases in density, intensity and 24/7 walkable vibrancy. This rejuvenation is probably due to a rise in energy costs, Boomers (who are often childless) moving into adulthood and senior years, an increasing disillusionment with the car-based sprawl lifestyle (which many have found to be rather sterile), and the growing recognition that the lifestyle of walkable urbanity is exciting, interesting, diverse, fun and convenient (and safer than the sprawl lifestyle, I should add, since your chances of being hurt or killed in a car crash in suburbia are much higher than your chances of being mugged).

This trend is certainly quite helpful in reducing the pressure, profit, and desire to sprawl into important peripheral locations. Cities, after all, are now attracting people instead of chasing them to sprawlsville (clearly the case as we see how increasingly unaffordable it has become to find central city housing).

A remaining problem, however, is the market-distorting sprawl juggernaut, which continues to chug along at break-neck speed due to on-going massive public subsidies and the inertia associated with our long history of these ruinous subsidies. Not to mention the gigantic problem of all of the white elephant, low-density development patterns and sprawl-inducing big roads/big parking we’ve built over the past 70 years — all of which will induce sprawl even after we experience a long period of high energy costs and the inevitable ratcheting down of public subsidies for sprawl. There will be, in other words, a lag period once the foundations of sprawl start subsiding.

Again, what is to be done, given the above?

It scares me that the promoters of citizen land use/zoning referendums may be correct with regard to the sprawl problem: We need to move toward more of a direct (instead of representative) democracy (i.e., Mob Rule) when it comes to proposed local government land use/zoning changes. Have a referendum vote of citizens each time land use or zoning for a property is proposed to be changed in the community, instead of just letting elected officials decide.

Given the above, it is hard to imagine that we can insulate elected officials from the corruption that inevitably results when there is a lot of money to be made in building sprawl.

I should also note here that it is not just corruption that would lead elected officials to vote for sprawl. It is also the fact that an elected official who is not a wise and courageous leader can take the easy route to getting and staying elected by being what I call a Motorist Populist. Making cars happy is nearly always a crowd pleaser — even at Sierra Club meetings.) Therefore, maybe it is true that we are left with this direct democracy idea of letting citizens decide on zoning/land use changes, because we have lost trust in our elected officials to escape corruption.

Maybe we must pay for the sins of our foremothers and forefathers who created a car-happy world in the past, in other words, by opting for direct democracy.

It is probably true, given the above, that the best way to end sprawl-inducing upzonings and land use changes in peripheral locations is to bypass corrupt elected officials and give citizens the ability to decide through referendum.

However, the idea of direct democracy is rather terrifying to me. It seems to me that there is a strong likelihood of unintended consequences when we shift community decision-making to every voting citizen in a community. Even if the citizens are relatively well-educated, the Law of Large Numbers means that such votes will inevitably lead to lowest-common-denominator mediocrity.

The reality is far worse, though. Instead of being “relatively well-educated,” most citizens will be entirely ignorant of what they are asked to vote on. That scares the hell out of me.

Are we safer with a couple of corrupt (or populist) elected officials? Or Mob Rule?

As Richard Layman points out, citizens living in car-centric, sprawl-happy America will inevitably vote parochially and counterproductively when it comes to votes for in-town development proposals, because the market-distorting subsidies have compelled most citizens to vote for sprawl, and against the community-wide interests of more density and intensity within city central areas. Citizens are often, in other words, their own worst enemies when it comes to in-town development.

I think it is clear, then, that Mob Rule is counter-productive to making cities more healthy and attractive, because they would typically vote against beneficial in-town development.

Citizen referendums on proposed zoning and land use changes would maybe be good in stopping sprawl upzonings. But it would work against a needed companion: Developments that make cities more healthy and attractive (which indirectly reduces the desire for sprawl).

Can we conclude that Mob Rule is the best way to fight sprawl and loss of important peripheral areas? If so, is it so beneficial that it more than compensates for the enormous obstacles that Mob Rule would have for creating more healthy and attractive cities? Is the citizen referendum stick so powerful that on balance, there is less sprawl with it, even if we have diminished the carrot of attracting people to healthy cities by impeding city improvement?

I guess it comes down to this: Which is more urgent? Which is more powerful? Which is more sustainable? Which is more self-perpetuating? Which is more of a lynchpin? Saving the last vestiges of (relatively) pristine wildlands via citizen referendum? Or restoring walkable urbanity in our long-decimated cities? (a restoration which is inhibited by the sprawl-happy Mob)

_________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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The Impact of Road Widening on the Local Economy

By Dom Nozzi

For nearly a century, road widening has been touted as a powerful stimulus for the local economy.

However, by striking contrast, I have learned the opposite.

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my many years as a city planner is that quality of life is a powerful economic engine, and that the “habitat” intended to make cars happy is, conversely, one of the most powerful ways that quality of life in a community is damaged.

Road widening, as my book Road to Ruin illustrates, is the best invention humans have come up with (short of aerial carpet bombing) to destroy community quality of life. Widening a road inevitably creates a “For Cars Only” ambience. It creates a “car habitat” that screams “CARS ARE WELCOME. PEOPLE ARE NOT.”

The car habitat makes for a world that repels humans. Huge asphalt parking lots. High-speed highways. Sterile dead monstor hwyzones which form “gap tooth” tears in the fabric of a town center. Large amounts of air and noise pollution. Awful levels of visual “Anywhere USA” blight. Worsened safety — for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, that is.

And worst of all, because a person in a car consumes, on average, about 19 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, places designed for cars lose the comfortable, compact, enclosed, charming, human-scaled, vibrancy-inducing spacing and place-making that so many people love to experience.

As David Mohney once said, the first task of the urbanist is controlling size.

One consequence of this worsening quality of life that comes from widening a road to improve conditions for cars: The quality of the public realm worsens to the point where American society is noted for growing levels of retreating from the public realm and a flight to the cocooning private realm.

Given this, road widening and the substantial increase in auto dependency that the widening induces sends the quality of life of a community into a downward spiral. And that, in my opinion, is toxic to the economic health of a community.

Note that road widening inherently creates increased auto dependency because big, high-speed, “happy car” roads create what economists call a “barrier effect.” That is, big and high-speed roads make it more difficult to travel by bicycle, walking or transit. So wider roads recruit new motorists in a vicious, never-ending cycle of widening, more car dependence, more congestion, more calls for widening, etc.

The end result?

Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Newark, Buffalo, Cleveland.

As Richard Florida powerfully argues in The Rise of the Creative Class, the centerpiece of successful community economic development is recognizing that instead of following the conventional model of drawing businesses by lowering business costs and relaxing regulations, quality of life should be enhanced to attract and retain quality “creative class” employees. It is not a coincidence that Florida describes this form of quality of life as one which includes walkable, vibrant, 24/7 vibrancy (where the car is subservient to the needs of people).

It is also no coincidence that Boulder, Colorado – where I now live – is ranked, over and over again, as the city ranked first in a long list of quality of life measures. Therefore, despite the fact that Boulder assesses relatively high costs on businesses, applies relatively aggressive regulations on businesses (measures traditionally assumed to be toxic to economic health), the Boulder economy is consistently quite healthy. Even in times of national economic woes.

One awful tragedy for the State of Florida is that the 1985 Growth Management law adopted by that state enshrined Community Design for Happy Cars by requiring that future development be “concurrent” with adopted road standards. That is, new development must not be allowed to “degrade” adopted community “free-flowing traffic” standards. In other words, the state requires, under the rubric of “growth management,” that all local governments must be designed to facilitate car travel (too often doing so by widening a road). The apparent thinking is that “free-flowing traffic” is a lynchpin for community quality of life. The be-all and end-all. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth.

It is a law that locks communities into harming its quality of life.

Another telling piece of information about economics: About 100 years ago, households spent approximately 1-2 percent of their income on transportation. Today, about 20-22 percent of the household budget goes to transportation. Transportation costs have, in other words, been privatized, to the great detriment of the economics of households.

In sum, widening roads, drains dollars from a community as the purchase of car-based goods and services (cars, oil, gas, car parts, etc.) largely leave the community, rather than being recycled within the community. Because the “car habitat” and the “people habitat” clash, quality of life is significantly degraded when the community is designed to facilitate cars (by widening roads, most infamously). And that, as Richard Florida clearly shows, undercuts future prospects for community economic health. Finally, household expenses are severely undermined as the growing (and extremely costly) car dependency leads to a declining ability to afford other household expenses.

The key is not so much to “get rid of cars” as to avoid overly pampering them (through such things as underpriced [untolled] roads, free parking and subsidized gasoline) in the design of our community. Doing so quickly leads to the car dominating and degrading our world. Destroying our economic health and quality of life. Cars must be our slaves rather than our masters. They should feel like intruders, rather than welcomed guests. Only then will the future of a community be sustainable and high quality.

It is time to return to the tradition of designing our communities to make people happy, not cars.

___________________________________

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: Car is the Enemy book coverhttp://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover = http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

Visit my other sites:

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Should the Entire Community be Designed for Walkability?

By Dom Nozzi

I prepared land development regulations for Gainesville, Florida’s town center in the late 1990s and early 2000s. I dubbed the regulations the “Traditional City” overlay regulations that were intended to promote walkable, vibrant, rewarding pedestrian design in Gainesville’s town center.5198849601_19c0be6735

A friend suggested that such regulations should be applied citywide. I responded that doing so would be unwise.

First, it would be very difficult, politically, to apply the Traditional City development regulations to areas that were built exclusively for cars — places where, as the area was first developed, pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users were only considered as afterthoughts. Places that Christopher Leinberger calls the “drivable suburbs.”

Another part of the problem with applying walkable design features to drivable locations is that doing so would be restricting lifestyle choices in the community. In essence, requiring walkable design in drivable locations would be forcing walkability down the throats of people that prefer suburbs and car dependency. By contrast, my overall approach to community design is that we want to protect and promote choices in neighborhood design. Walkable traditionalism or suburbs, not one or the other.

It is hard enough to require the walkable design in more compact, town center locations, let alone applying walkability tactics to places in the community that are so utterly unwalkable today that they would need to start from scratch by being mostly bulldozed before made walkable.

In addition, there is something to be said for creating a striking, obvious contrast between a walkable town center location and the outlying drivable suburbs. A more striking contrast, for example, could accelerate the process of growing the proportion of citizens who seek a more sustainably walkable lifestyle.

This is not to say we should necessarily give up on the outlying areas. But if we must prioritize due to a lack of resources — and in this age of fiscal and economic woes, it seems clear that we must prioritize — I think we should start with saving and improving our town centers, where most people already seek walkable design.

Town center areas will, I’m convinced, increasingly outcompete the drivable suburbs due to the inevitable future of rising resource and fuel costs we face in our future, and the unsustainability of regional, sprawling, car-based design. Such inescapable trends will convince a growing number of people that it is rational and desirable to live and travel more walkably. The walkable lifestyle, for several decades, has been less popular — even though more sustainable – mostly because of the distorted, unsustainable price signals of exceptionally low fuel costs and heavy car subsidies, among many other reasons. Distorted signals that make it seem rational to live in outlying areas and to be auto dependent.

We’ve got plenty of work to do in our town centers to enhance the walkable lifestyle such locations best provide. Let’s not delay the long-needed repair of such places by diverting scarce public resources to areas that will be much more costly to retrofit into walkability. Places that may never be able to provide high-quality walkability regardless of the money we sink into that effort.

If we apply a triage concept to community design, it may be that we realize we can save some of our town centers with some restoration efforts, but also realize that the drivable suburbs may have been built initially with such unsustainable design that money and effort might be mostly unable to save much of it. And might divert resources from town centers that could have been saved had we not diverted money and effort to unsalvageable suburbs.

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking