Tag Archives: concurrency

Fixing Florida Growth Management Law with a TCEA Exception Area

By Dom Nozzi

February 25, 2000

The Florida Growth Management law adopted in 1985 had a serious flaw regarding its “concurrency” rules that stated that new development could not lower adopted levels of service. The rule sounded wonderful, but had a serious, unintended consequence when applied to roads because it strongly promoted new development to occur in outlying areas where road capacity was plentiful. Such capacity is quite scarce in the in-town locations where new development is more desirable from the point of view of a community.

In other words, the law was strongly promoting sprawl and strongly discouraging infill development in town centers – the opposite of the intent of the law.

The major fix attempted for this flaw was for the State of Florida to adopt what it called “transportation concurrency exception areas” (TCEA) that communities could establish if they demonstrated to the State that they had factors in place to make such an exception work better (such as the provision of transit service in the exception area). To adopt TCEA as a tweak of the State growth law was essential to avoid the enormous unintended consequence of promoting sprawl and discouraging infill.

The TCEA has achieved two critical goals: Allowing communities to avoid having to enforce road concurrency where infill is desired, and removing a powerful sprawl incentive. Because road concurrency is the only level of service standard that matters,large lot subdivision because urban roads just outside the city are filling up, and because we need to reverse the fact that growth is much more rapid in such unincorporated urban areas around Florida cities than within cities (which is highly detrimental for a number of reasons), we need to be careful. Because even a paper tiger TCEA (ie, a TCEA that has weak conditions for being granted) is significantly better than no TCEA.

Having said all that, here are some tools for strengthening the TCEA rule, off the top of my head, to use TCEA to incentivize infill and discourage sprawl.

  • Be sure the TCEA is modest in size so that we can focus more on those areas where we truly want to encourage development. The TCEA area, in other words, should not extend out to suburban, drivable locations where transportation choice will not arise for several decades, if ever. Another benefit to a more modest TCEA size is that a smaller TCEA allows us to have stronger standards, since we inherently have to water TCEA down if it applies to an overly large area that captures suburbs.
  • Prevent the County from adopting their own TCEA in unincorporated urban areas around the city, since that would obviously would apply the TCEA to suburban sprawl locations where transportation choice is unlikely or impossible.
  • Within the TCEA, allow no net increase in road capacity: No new travel lanes or turn lanes.
  • Remove the parking minimum requirement within the TCEA. Requiring the provision of [free] parking as a condition for development approval is a fertility drug for cars.
  • Establish a high level of service for transit in the TCEA—say, a 10-minute transit frequency.
  • Do not allow drive-throughs.
  • If a project is over, say, 5 dwelling units or 10,000 square feet, require that the building be at least 2 stories high.
  • Allow no new cul-de-sacs.
  • Within a TCEA town or neighborhood center, require a minimum number of residential units per “X” square feet of non-residential floor area.
  • Require the commercial building front facade to be 0-20 feet from the front property line (for both streets if on a corner), and allow no car parking in front of the building.
  • Allow no block faces greater than 400-500 feet.
  • Require curb and gutter.
  • Pay RTS so that each employee or resident in the project is given a free transit pass.

Only with such meaningful requirements can a TCEA achieve growth management goals and not promote undesirable unintended consequences.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

TCEA and Not Engaging in Real Town Planning

By Dom Nozzi

12/15/99

The policies of the Transportation Concurrency Exception Area (TCEA) used by the Florida city I work for as a long-range town planner are rather mushy because nearly all of them are optional or are simply insignificant window-dressing. Will we really have transportation choice if a developer installs more bike parking or sidewalks or bus stops?

Please.

It is highly disappointing and embarrassing to realize that there are people that actually believe such facilities will reduce car trips.

I wrote the Urban Design portion of the long-range comprehensive plan for this city, but the director of the department watered it down severely. He threw out a third of it (which included my prized “toolbox” describing the benefits and mechanisms for nearly all of the critical urban design features). He also put in a large number of policies that merely state that the City shall do things that have already been agreed to (i.e., the City shall implement the previously adopted special area plan for a neighborhood in the city).

While there is some merit to doing that, since a new commission majority would find it a bit harder to throw out the plan, doing so is not really planning at all. All it says is that we will do what we’ve already agreed to do.

A secretary could have written such policies. Why does the City need professional planners if we’re not doing any planning? Also note that policies in this long-range plan mostly do not get translated into land development code requirements, especially if they are mushy policies, as ours are.sprawl-development

I was forced to chop out numbers in the policies of the plan, since I was told that numbers need to be left for the code-writing stage.

In other words, don’t expect much meaningful revision to our land development code.

Through this watering down, it is fairly easy to claim to the Florida Department of Community Affairs that we’ve implemented policies, even though we have not meaningfully done so.

The comprehensive plan and code changes will give us almost nothing, and it bothers me, since we’re giving away the store and getting nothing in return when we exempt proposed development from concurrency requirements. This is the one big chance the City has to finally stop acting like a doormat. We should say, “yes, we’ll exempt you from our concurrency requirements, but only if you give us some meaningful concessions.”

For example, the City should (but doesn’t) require such design in the town center in exchange for concurrency exemption:

  1. Buildings must be pulled up to the streetside sidewalk.
  2. No parking is allowed in front of your building.
  3. On-street parking is required.
  4. At least 80 percent of your units must be within 1/4 mile of a bus stop if you are residential, and transit passes and parking fees are required for your employees if you are non-residential.
  5. Your building must be a minimum of 2 stories for non-residential buildings.
  6. Walkable town center design is required (above rules, plus mixed use, gridded street pattern, connections to surrounding residential neighborhoods, etc.).
  7. No more than 4 fueling positions are allowed for a proposed gas station.
  8. You must contribute to greenway trail construction, or cash-in-lieu if your project is not near a trail system.

Only with such conditional requirements does a City avoid giving away the store when exempting a proposed development from state concurrency requirements.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Florida Growth Management Has Put Gigantism on Steroids

By Dom Nozzi

September 17, 2017

Florida Growth Management and its “concurrency” is a high falutin’ term which has, almost single-mindedly, been directed toward ensuring that new growth happens concurrently with widened roads and more parking. All other concurrency concerns arestreet without on street parking trivial by comparison (such as parks, water, schools, etc.). “Sufficient” roads and parking is equated with maintaining quality of life.

Tragically and ironically, these obsessive efforts to ensure happy motoring is about the most effective way to undermine quality of life, not protect it.

For Florida Growth Management regulations to truly protect and advance quality of life, those regulations should be focused on promoting the people habitat, not the car habitat. State and local growth management regulations must insist on quality urban design, which is largely achieved by requiring new development to be compact and human-scaled.

Since Florida started state-directed growth management back in the early 80s, the state has gotten the opposite.

Communities have instead been degraded by dispersed, car-scaled design. Why? Because to be happy, cars need dispersed, low-density, single-use development. A car-based society induces gigantism, and the gigantism disease has been administered growth hormones via “growth management” and “concurrency.”

Maybe someday Florida will wise up and adopt planning laws that promote quality of life. It has done the opposite for 35 years.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Thoughts about the 2005 Florida Growth Management Legislation

by Dom Nozzi

May 18, 2005

The 2005 Florida State Legislative session was billed as the most substantial growth management legislative modifications since the Growth Management Act was adopted in 1985. This legislation has been hailed by a large number of groups—from builders, to public interest groups and environmental groups—as something that “will finally allow Florida to make growth management much more effective.”

Not by legislating a sustainable, walkable, timeless vision for how communities should be designed. Not by providing quality of life tools such as required growth boundaries, reformed land development regulations, parking reforms, acknowledging that road concurrency is fueling sprawl and harming communities (recognizing, in other words, that in urban areas, congestion is our friend), property tax reform (to stop promoting sprawl and downtown ruin), or calling for road diets.

None of these actions were urged by legislators.

No, what our legislators decided to do to “improve” growth management and the future quality of life of Floridians was precisely what should NOT have been done to achieve these objectives.

The major action by the legislature? “Starting to properly funding growth management after 20 years of insufficient funding.”

Our state “leaders” voted to proclaim that the solution to protect our future quality of life is to pour billions of public dollars into building bigger roads so that we can “prevent growth from congesting our roads.”Untitled

So there you have it. Bigger roads means happier Floridians.

Oh, sure. The legislature took some baby steps with regard to water supply and schools. A tightening of the concurrency rule that requires development to “pay its own way.” But each of these were comparatively trivial actions.

By far, the big message from our legislators in 2005 was that we have “growth management” if we widen roads to “prevent further congestion.” The be all and end all of quality of life in Florida is “free-flowing traffic.” Happy cars is our sole focus to create happy communities.

At least that is what one is led to believe, when it is recognized that about 75 percent of the funding the legislators found to “fund growth management” is being directed toward roads.

Oops.

We forgot (again) that we cannot build our way out of congestion. We forgot that widening soon makes congestion worse. We forgot that wider roads is like throwing gasoline on the fire of sprawl, auto dependence and community decline. We forgot that happy cars and happy people mix like oil and water. We forgot that widening roads is the most effective way to destroy community quality of life. We forgot that the impossible task of widening our way out of congestion will further bankrupt state and local government—thereby starving other essential public programs.

We forgot that what is good (in the short term) for our SUVs is NOT good for our communities.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Does Transportation Drive Land Use?

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2000

Often, I notice people express the opinion that transportation is dependent on land use. Similarly, I’m often told that land use comes first, and transportation planning and development follows to accommodate the land use. That “land use drives transportation.”

But let’s keep in mind that transportation is profoundly a vicious cycle and significantly changes behavior and markets over time. For example, when/if we add capacity or widen major roads, we set into motion some enormous political and economic pressures, and behavior changes. Widening a road will inevitably reduce the number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users (because it is now more difficult, unsafe, and unpleasant to use the bigger road). This creates more car trips (“induced travel”). And the induced travel created by the widened road, is used, post facto, to justify the widened road (a classic self-fulfilling prophesy). Because the bigger road carries more high-speed traffic, it becomes unpleasant to live along the road. So, over time, housing values decline along the road, and single-family gets converted to student rental, multi-family for students, office and retail. And because it is now more pleasant and fast to drive a car, people are better able to live in remote areas and commute to their jobs in the city.

Why? Because cross-culturally and throughout history, the average daily roundtrip commute is 1.1 hours. Some people will relocate to more remote locations to create a new equilibrium when the road is widened.

Many people dream of living in a “cabin in the woods.” Therefore, wider roads create a strong demand for sprawl housing, because the wider road reduces travel time from home to daily destinations. Is sprawl possible without car travel? Could a huge number of us live in remote locations if our transportation system did not provide cheap and easy car travel?

Most people would be unwilling to live in low-density, outlying, sprawling areas — or drive a car for every trip — unless roads are designed for high speeds and high volumes, and parking is both free and abundant. All the conditions that people dislike about the city — whether real or perceived — such as noise, crime, etc., can be more easily fled if the newly widened roads allow you to get to work each day in a reasonable period of time, even if you live in an outlying area. The ultimate result is that as we add capacity to streets, we set in motion a pattern of sprawl and strip, we wipe out farms, and we accelerate the decline of in-town areas.

Another outcome is that our in-town streets become little more than “escape routes.”

Quite often, our transportation planning advisory boards are dominated by home building interests. Clearly, this industry realizes the fundamental importance of widening roads to create sprawl residential markets for them.

As for retail land use impacts caused by transportation, when there are so many cars being carried by a bigger road, business people cannot resist putting enormous pressure on staff and officials to rezone the businessperson’s property to retail in order to takearapahoe-ave-boulder-co advantage of all those potential customers driving by each day. This is precisely why we see so many big box retailers clamoring for sites at major intersections. In fact, in the planning department I work in, we get calls all the time from people who want to rezone from residential to office or retail along our major arterial streets.

High-volume big box retailers, except in large, high-density cities, are not viable unless the public sector provides large subsidies in the form of high-speed, high-capacity, multi-lane streets (big roads enable the big box to draw cars from a regional “consumer-shed”). Not only that. These retailers also depend on the public sector to allow them to build enormous and free surface parking lots, and enormous building footprints.

As expected, we so often have strip commercial – intense land use development pressure — on major roads near interstates. Could such streets have been anything else other than strip commercial, given the street design and the access to the Interstate? Are single-family homes viable along such a street? If you owned land along such a stretch, would it be rational for you not to do everything in your power to get the local government to grant you the right to sell to those 70,000 potential daily customers, as the “big box” retailer so often wants to do?

I’ve seen land use plans and maps prepared in the past, and I know that it is not a “plan” at all. Almost entirely, when we talk about a mostly built-out city, it is simply recording what is there already. Almost none of it is a proactive vision of what the planners want. If we engaged in wholesale land use changes in the land use map/plan to enact our sustainable, livable vision, all of the planners would be in fear of losing their jobs and all of the commissioners would be thrown out of office. Elected commissioners and staff are forced, by political realities, to be reactive in our land use “plan.” Transportation, on the other hand, is something we can make changes to, because it is often feasible, politically, to make the change.

It matters not a whit whether planners designate a site for retail or single-family residential. Over time, what will happen to the property is determined by the road design and traffic. If the land use designation does not correspond to what is happening on the road, the land use will get changed, or the land will be abandoned. If our street network is designed for modest car speeds, modest car volumes, connectivity, and access (in other words, transportation choice), we will get viable transit, bicycling, walking and neighborhood retail and mixed use, not to mention higher densities, more traffic congestion (which is, in cities, a good thing), compact development, and a control on sprawl. High-speed, high capacity roads will give us the reverse, regardless of what our land use “plan/map” says.

Is it not much easier to predict what will happen to the land uses along a street based on the way the street is designed than to predict what will happen to the street based on the land uses along it? Similarly, is it not more feasible to predict whether there will be a sprawled, dispersed, low-density community if we know, in advance, what the street system and form of travel will be, compared to whether there will be future sprawled community based on what the current land uses (or land use plans) are designated for various properties? For example, West Palm Beach FL is currently experiencing a dramatic, beneficial land use change throughout their city soon after they re-designed their streets by removing travel lanes, calming traffic, and doing substantial streetscaping. Land use improvements there are clearly driven by transportation changes.

Transportation engineers love to try to deny responsibility when their studies (which are flawed because they don’t accurately account for human behavior) show that a road must be widened. The engineer usually claims that land use drives transportation, and that their high-speed, high-volume roads are merely “meeting the demand created by the land uses.” “It’s not our fault that we must spend millions to widen roads, tear out houses, and ruin the environment. We are forced to because of the land use.” But this ignores the fact that high-speed, high-volume roads create a vicious cycle and substantially modify behavior, as noted above. The important danger of this highly misleading claim from many engineers is that it leads us to incorrectly believe that we have no choice. We must widen the road because of the land uses on the ground. Too often, we are mislead into believing that land use choices we made in the past are now forcing us to widen the road.

Engineers must not be allowed to wiggle out of culpability with such an excuse. The traffic engineer who explains it is the land use that “forces” the road widening seems sensible until you look closer and find out how the market brings enormous and unrelenting pressure to change the designations when we change the roads, and how human reactions to road conditions draws or repels residences. If we are incredibly courageous and true to our principles, we might be able to delay the re-zoning for a few years on a widened road that is now hostile for residences. But that just means that because the road carries so much high speed, high volume traffic, it is no longer feasible to keep the property residential because the quality of life is so miserable (as a result, the residential building eventually is abandoned, or is downgraded from owner-occupied to rental), or it is no longer rational to keep it as a farm because you can make millions by selling it for a shopping center or subdivision.

Here is what Newman & Kenworthy (Cities and Automobile Dependence, 1989) have to say:

“In general, [transportation] modeling has assumed that land use is “handed down” by land use planners and that transport planners are merely shaping the appropriate transport system to meet the needs of the land use forecast. This is not the case. One of the major reasons why freeways around the world have failed to cope with demand is that transport infrastructure has a profound feedback effect on land use, encouraging and promoting new development wherever the best facilities are provided (or are planned).” (pg 106)

Why is Europe so walkable and compact, and the U.S. is not? Is it that they are just more educated and appreciative of the merits of walkable communities? Or is it that they mostly developed before the auto age, whereas we developed after the emergence of the auto age? And why is it that Europe is now, after entering the auto age, starting to see the sprawl we are experiencing?

The Florida growth management law requires that “level-of-service” standards be created, and that new developments only be allowed if they are built “concurrently” with the infrastructure and services they would need. But the only concurrency measure from the Florida law that matters is the road level-of-service. Every other concurrency measure – recreation, utilities, solid waste, etc. – is, for all intents and purposes, ignored in comparison.

We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone singe-family land that they own and cannot use as single-family due to a wide road (granting that there are a few who could live in a single-family home and put up with the noise and reduced property value – sometimes, this is called “affordable housing”). Forty years from now, if we do not fix our major streets to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family buildings and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners, citizens, and officials burned out on fighting those never-ending battles. In the long term, as Walter Kulash points out, no force, not even five “no growth” commissioners, can stop that incremental change after we have designed a street for high-speed, high-volume traffic.

Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping property zoned single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

Once the transport system is in place, the market/political pressure to take advantage of that system is overpoweringly strong, and will overwhelm any countervailing efforts. It hardly matters how courageous, visionary, or progressive a planner or elected official is. If the roads are designed to encourage sprawl, we will get sprawl. No zoning or land use designations (such as “large-lot” zoning) can stop it, and there is no community in the US that has succeeded by trying to control sprawl with designations. When we create and construct our transportation plans, we have, essentially and indirectly (and often unintentionally), established our future land use plans, not vice versa. It is as simple as that, and it is time for us to realize it.

All that said, I’m willing to concede that we should have our road and land use plans work concurrently. So yes, we should designate outlying areas for conservation and farms. But unless we concurrently get the transportation right, we are wasting our time.

In sum, keeping a road at a modest width with a modest number of travel lanes in the face of projected car traffic growth will, over the long term, result in less per capita car trips on that road, less new sprawl into outlying areas, less big box retail, more viable neighborhoods, a higher quality of life, and more residential density near walkable, livable, neighborhood-scaled town centers. Widening the road by adding travel lanes, over the long term, would give us the reverse. The excessive capacities that we typically build for our cities gives us too much sprawl, densities that are too low, and auto dependence. I believe that we should put a moratorium on adding street capacity to streets in our cities, before we wake up one day and wonder how we let ourselves become another auto-dependent south Florida, instead of a sustainable, sociable community featuring transportation choice, safety and independence for our children and seniors, and a unique community we can take pride in.

In the long run, the street shapes the land uses that will form along it much more profoundly than how the land uses would shape the street that forms through them. Let’s not let the traffic engineer fool us. Let’s not put in big roads and then valiantly try (and fail) to stop the sprawl and strip, and then flog ourselves when we are unable to stop the land use degradation. Transportation comes before – and determines — land use. A high quality of life, and sustainable future, depends on our realizing that.

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Bean Counting is Bad for Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2015

Boulder voters are being asked this fall to vote on a seemingly wonderful measure called “Growth Shall Pay Its own Way.”

I spent 20 years, as a professional town planner, implementing such a law in Gainesville FL, a college town the same size as Boulder. In Florida, we called it “growth management concurrency.” Cities in Florida were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were many features or services that had adopted levels of service.

Who could be opposed to the fairness of development paying its own way?

At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in Florida) only cared about was the bean counting of ROAD level of service. This was the only standard where developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to stop the development in its tracks if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

The right-sizing project on Folsom Street in Boulder makes it crystal clear that like nearly every other community in the nation, many Boulder residents equate easy, higher speed motor vehicle travel with quality of life. It is therefore dangerously likely that Boulder – if it adopts a concurrency rule such as “growth paying its own way” — will follow Florida’s concurrency path of putting easy car travel, and nothing else, on a privileged pedestal. Big roads and intersections become far more important than any other quality of life measure.

It is easy to be seduced by confusing happy car travel with quality of life. After all, most all of us get caught every day in rush hour traffic going to and from work at rush hour, or can’t find an available parking spot near our restaurant.

But ruinously, putting easy car travel on a pedestal is precisely the OPPOSITE of what we should do to protect and promote quality of life in Boulder. Easy car travel delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, huge turn radius for roadreduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.

What do we consider to be measures of quality of life in Boulder? For many of us, the list includes Pearl Street Mall; proximity to the Flatirons, the Foothills, the Rocky Mountains, and great outdoor recreation; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choices; the feeling of safety and relative freedom from crime (particularly for seniors and children); our greenbelt; quality culture and good restaurants; small town ambience; a highly educated, healthy, and physically fit population of creative people; housing choices; low noise levels; and abundant, high-paying, rewarding jobs.

Having “growth pay its own way” does NOTHING to promote any of these quality of life measures, and because it is possible that the law will induce Boulder to focus heavily on easy car travel (partly because it is an easy bean-counting measure), it will do quite a bit to DEGRADE many of these measures.

Adequate Facilities laws (such as “concurrency” or “growth paying its own way”) incentivize bigger, wealthier projects and developers, because the smaller, local projects and developers are less able to afford to jump through the Adequacy hoops.

Yes, many recent buildings are ugly – largely because they are creepy and weird modernist buildings that are unlike anything from Boulder’s past. Such buildings have thrown away the timelessly lovable nature of traditional design exemplified by the Boulderado.

But the way to have more lovable buildings is in no way helped by having growth pay its own way. We can move in that direction by implementing things like a “form-based code,” which will soon regulate building design at Boulder Junction.

Having Boulder follow Florida’s “Growth Pay Its Own Way” path will likely lead to a grim future for this city because Adequate Facilities laws are a form of bean counting for happy cars. Quality of life is about qualitative measures, not drowning in bean counting minutiae for SUVs.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Putting a Cap on Road Size

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2003

When it comes to issues pertaining to evacuation plans, communities need to be on guard against people who want to widen roads to promote sprawl and free-flowing, high-speed car travel. Commonly, the Happy Car lobby will use “emergency evacuation” as a scare tactic. By mentioning evacuation, the road widening lobby can achieve the “moral high ground.” Who, after all, could be opposed to evacuating the population if there is an emergency?

The hidden agenda, of course, is to widen the road to promote sprawl, real estate, and happy cars.

The community needs to use whatever tools it has available (state laws, local plans, etc.) to establish a MAXIMUM SIZE for its roads. In the case of Gainesville, Florida, where I was a town planner, the City adopted my suggested maximum that the City shall never build a road bigger than 4 lanes. Because, as I point out in many of my transportation speeches, big roads are very harmful to the quality of life (and sustainability) of a community.

The community could decide (if it is using a growth management tool) that, say, 4 lane roads are the maximum size roads allowed. The maximum is a tool chosen by the community to protect its quality of life. That becomes the “level of service standard” that the community adopts in its growth management plan.

The 4-lane maximum road then becomes, indirectly, a limiting factor for population growth in the community. The community could turn the destructive evacuation strategy I mention above on its head. The community could, for example, use a growth management laws as leverage to say to a proposed new residential developer: “I’m sorry, but our adopted plan does not allow you to build here. If you build here, there will be “X” number of new car trips that will need to be evacuated in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately for you, our evacuation plan states that we must be able to evacuate our community in “Y” minutes. If the new car trips from your proposed project were added to our 4-lane roads, we would not be able to evacuate fast enough. Since our plan clearly states that we will not exceed 4 lanes on our roads, we cannot approve your project.”

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Squandering Leverage in Town Planning

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 18, 2003

Florida has a community growth management law containing a “concurrency” rule: The rule requires that new development demonstrate that existing facilities are adequate to absorb new impacts from the development, or that such facilities be provided by the developer if such facilities are not in place.

As Walter Kulash has pointed out, such a rule might be fine for parks or sewers, but applying it to roads is counterproductive in the state efforts to discourage sprawl (and to promote livability).

Because available road capacity tends to be found in outlying areas, and Florida strives to minimize sprawl, Florida began granting cities the option of establishing “Transportation Concurrency Exception Areas” (TCEAs) in urban areas as a way to counter the fact that the state concurrency laws, in part, promote sprawl.

TCEA approval by the State obligates cities to establish transportation mitigation rules. In most Florida cities, such rules include a menu of mitigation options such as bus stops, sidewalks, etc. A developer must select from the options to achieve a point score that exceeds the minimum required by the city.

I believe that cities in Florida reacted to this TCEA option by “giving away the store” on their TCEA rules. It is very rare for a community in Florida to have any leverage over a development (in which we can say that we would want various conditions placed on a project in order for it to be approved). Florida communities have been a doormat for so long — low taxes, weak regs, no impact fees, etc.

But suddenly, TCEA gave Florida communities their first real opportunity to have some leverage: “We’ll only approve your proposed development project IF you provide X, Y, and Z with your project.” Because road concurrency is the only real concurrency rule that developers and cities care about (park concurrency, for example, is largely ignored — happy cars are the only real concern in Florida…), providing exceptions to road concurrency is, potentially, an EXTREMELY attractive, powerful leverage tool.

For the first time ever, Florida communities would have the leverage to demand quality urban design.

Unfortunately, nearly all Florida communities squander the TCEA opportunity. Nearly all of the TCEA mitigation menu options adopted in Florida are either trivial, do-nothing, band-aid features (more landscaping, sidewalks that no one will use, etc.), or are actually counterproductive (adding turn lanes or bus bays, for example).

Had I been in charge, the approach would have been quite different. “We’ll grant you a road exception. In exchange, you will grant us compact, walkable urbanism.”

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Vested Interests in Drivable Suburbia or Compact Development

By Dom Nozzi

July 10, 2015

Because walking, bicycling and transit need short distances to be practical, enjoyable, and safe ways to travel, those who walk, bicycle or use transit have a strong vested interest in compact development. Such travelers, in other words, have a vested interest in mixed use, taller buildings and higher densities (above 5 dwelling units per acre) because of the substantially reduce travel distances these development patterns deliver.

Research shows that below four or five dwelling units per acre, walking, bicycling and transit are largely impractical due to excessive distances to destinations and the small number of people in such settings. At such low densities, it is only practical, for most all, to travel by car. Much (nearly all?) opposition to higher density, compact development in Boulder, Colorado (as well as opposition to taller buildings) is driven by the fact that most Boulder residents live in these very low-density residential neighborhoods where it is nearly impossible to travel without a car. For such residents, there is therefore a very strong vested interest in maintaining low densities and short buildings. Traveling by car is enormously difficult and costly when densities are above 5 dwelling units per acre, as well as when there are mixed use patterns and taller buildings. This is because cars consume an enormous amount of space (17 to 100 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, depending on whether the car is stationary or moving).

Christopher Leinberger, in The Option of Urbanism, points out that given the above, for those living in compact neighborhoods, “more is better,” because more houses, retail, and jobs compactly added to the neighborhood enhance the quality of their walking, bicycling, or transit lifestyle. By contrast, for those living in more dispersed, drivable suburbs with relatively low densities, “more is less,” because more houses, retail, and jobs added to the neighborhood degrades the quality of their drivable lifestyle. Why? Because it is more difficult and costly to drive a car when new development is added to the neighborhood.

“More is Better”? Or “More is Worse”? The question tends to be answered, therefore, based on where you live in the community.

The above explains why many in Boulder oppose higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings. Because nearly all residents in Boulder live in places where car travel is the only practical way to travel, higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings are vigorously opposed, because prohibiting such development is an essential way to retain the ability to travel relatively easily by car.

Travel lane removal proposed for a street in Boulder in 2015 led to an avalanche of letters to the editor opposing the idea, despite Boulder’s reputation as being “green” and pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-transit. Why? Partly it is due to the extremely high level of entitlement felt in Boulder (“I’m entitled to live in a place without parking or traffic road diet before and aftercongestion!). But mostly because most residents in Boulder live in neighborhoods that are very low in density and consist of “single-use” land use patterns. Only housing is found in the neighborhoods. Jobs, services, shopping, culture, and recreation tend to be several miles away, and often reachable only on high-speed, dangerous roads. This state of affairs means that for nearly all Boulder residents, it is impractical to travel by any means other than car. Given that, most all Boulder residents see travel lane removal as severely restricting their ability to travel.

I spent 20 years implementing the “adequate facilities” law (called “growth management concurrency” in Florida) in Gainesville FL. Cities were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people or 5,000 cubic feet of landfill space per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were15-20 features or services that had adopted levels of service. At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in FL) only cared about ROAD level of service. This was the only standard were developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to prohibit the development if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

Why is road level of service the only standard that “matters”? Because in nearly all communities – including Boulder – quality of life is ruinously equated with maintaining free-flowing traffic and retaining abundant free parking. Lip service is paid to other quality of life measures (as I list below), but the issue that significantly bothers most all Americans every day is traffic congestion and parking woes. It is a daily reminder on our drive to work or to run errands that (1) the roads are not wide enough; (2) there is not enough parking; and (3) growth is too rapid (“out of control”) because local government is too lax in stopping growth and too willing to allow high density development. It seems like common sense to even a child that if we widened roads and intersections, added more free parking, and kept residential densities very low that we would not have these daily traffic and parking headaches. Right?

If Boulder adopts an adequate facilities law, I am nearly certain that it will substantially increase the likelihood that roads and intersections will be widened, free parking will be expanded, and new development will face elevated obstacles to developing anything other than tiny rural-like housing densities. All of this increased asphalt and increased car speed will substantially degrade Boulder’s quality of life and “small town ambience,” and fuel an increase in the rate of residential growth in outlying towns (because the ability to live in a less expensive home outside of Boulder will now be more practical due to the increased road and parking capacity in Boulder).

Adequate Facilities (concurrency) laws, to be objective and quantifiable (necessary to be legally enforceable in a court of law) end up being little more than a bean counting exercise. Planners in Florida spend enormous amounts of time listing and counting and manipulating numbers for roads and water and park acreage. But in the end, bean counting has almost nothing to do with maintaining or improving community quality of life or quality urban design. All of the numbers can be “adequate” or “concurrent,” and the community can still be utterly awful in quality.

What are the categories and attributes of quality of life and civic pride in Boulder? Pearl Street Mall and the Boulderado Hotel; low crime rate; proximity to the scenic Flatirons, the Foothills, Skiing, Hiking, and Rocky Mountain National Park; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choice and reduced car use; seniors and children feel relatively safe and independent; the Boulder greenbelt open space; culture and quality restaurants; small town ambience; highly-educated creative class population; quality jobs; quality schools; housing choices; and low levels of noise pollution. An adequate facilities law has either no impact on these quality of life features, or has a negative impact on such features.

Road, intersection and parking expansions for motorists are a zero-sum game, as such changes inevitably reduce travel by walking, bicycling, and transit, and degrade both safety, finances, and overall community quality of life. Such expansions are also a lose-lose proposition because motorists also experience harm. For example, by increasing travel by car, such changes mean less road space and parking space for existing motorists, and motorists also suffer from increased car crashes, more stress, more noise pollution, higher taxes, and an overall decline in quality of life. Improvements and expansions for walking, bicycling and transit, by contrast, are win-win tactics because not only do pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users benefit, but motorists also enjoy more parking, less congested roads, and the many quality of life benefits.

Adequate facilities laws will enshrine and elevate the importance of car travel in Boulder, and increase the counterproductive yet widespread belief that free-flowing traffic and easy, free parking is the key to quality of life.

Adequate facilities laws (concurrency) promote larger, more wealthy businesses who can afford the studies and the mitigation. It reduces the viability of smaller, less wealthy businesses.

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Is There No School Capacity Problem Because We Can Bus Students Long Distances?

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 16, 2004

I attended an astonishing Alachua County FL school concurrency committee meeting today. It was a session designed to elicit “consensus” on what the committee has concluded.

A City Commissioner, early on, made a statement at the meeting that he has now heard a lot of data reports from the school board staff at committee meetings that clearly shows that the County has no school capacity problem on a county-wide basis. What we have is a DISTRIBUTION problem. True, there are a few schools that are over capacity, but the school board has stated clearly that they can fairly easily use “reassignment” as a tool to transfer students as a way to ease over-crowding at the over-crowded schools. The Commissioner concluded by saying “Where’s the Beef”? What is the problem? We don’t have a school capacity problem, so why are we meeting as a committee? After all, he noted, projections indicate that school enrollment totals will be DECLINING over the next 5 years in many of the grade cohorts.

The committee floundered about with a number of tangential issues. I couldn’t resist, so I chimed in and tried to bring some clarity to the discussion.

To answer the Commissioner’s rhetorical question, I made the point that it seems to me school-bus.jpgthat there are generally two camps when it comes to school capacity. One camp says we have no capacity problem because we don’t object to the idea of reassigning/transferring students in new developments to remote schools on the other side of the county.

The other camp says we DO have a capacity problem. We don’t believe it is acceptable to assign students in new developments to remote schools. That if schools near the new development are over capacity, we have a school capacity problem. Many in this camp believe, as I do, in the merits of neighborhood-based schools — I didn’t say that to the committee, however.

Earlier, another City Commissioner made it clear to the committee that on more than one occasion, a County Commissioner has pressed the school board to change their policy from one that states that “the school board MAY assign new students to remote schools if nearby schools are full” to one that states that “the school board MUST assign new students to remote schools if nearby schools are full.”

Remarkably, when this second City Commissioner requested that the committee take a position on this question, there was general agreement that the committee does not have a problem with transferring new students to remote schools (i.e., that the county does not have a school capacity problem because it can easily be rectified by transferring students to remote schools). The County Commissioner and the other City Commissioner made it clear that we should leave this question of how to correct school capacity problems to the elected school board members (instead of the county commission), and the board can easily solve the problem by transferring students to remote schools.

Disappointing, to say the least.

Frankly, I’m not very surprised. After all, this is a car-happy community where distance/geography has become irrelevant.

Funny, I could have sworn that the School Board just recently adopted a neighborhood-based schools policy. And is it NOT true that many (most?) parents desire/expect their kids to go to school in or near their neighborhood?

How many developers will provide full disclosure to their prospective future homebuyers to let them know that the parents in their new homes will need to be having their kids bused to schools on the other side of the county?

 

school-bus.jpg

Leave a comment

Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation