Tag Archives: congestion

Boulder Shows It Still Doesn’t Get It on Proposed Widening of Arapahoe Road

By Dom Nozzi

June 27, 2017

A news article and an accompanying op-ed by the editor in chief were published in the Daily Camera in June 2017, and it made my blood boil.

Here we are in 2017, and despite over 100 years of repeated failure, too many citizens, elected officials, and staff continue to be convinced that it is necessary to spend a huge amount of what I thought were scarce public dollars (not so scarce when it comes to road/intersection widening and buying Pentagon weapons, though…) to worsen transportation, taxes, land use patterns, and quality of life by widening roads and intersections.

My friend Michael Ronkin informed me later that day, after I read these disheartening newspaper submissions, that even Geneva, Switzerland is not truly getting this.

It galls me that those proposing these road or intersection “improvements” in the face of growth projections consider themselves to be “far-sighted” in calling for this in advance of the growth. Part of the thinking, as Charles Marohn points out, is that road and intersection widenings in the past were not widened “enough,” the road or intersection was soon overwhelmed with “excess” car trips, and it was discovered that the need for a SECOND widening was far more expensive, overall, than if the road or intersection was widened “enough” in the first place. “Enough” so that the second widening would have been unnecessary. The solution? Deliberately overbuild the size of the road or intersection so that the unexpected surge in car trips in the future could be accommodated without the need for a very costly second widening. This is considered being “farsighted.”

However, by widening roads or intersections, at great public expense, such “far-sighted” people are locking their communities into a far worse future. They don’t have a clue about things like induced car travel demand (new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened) and how bigger roads/intersections inevitably lead to more sprawl and car dependence. And a loss of a sense of place or a sense of small town charm.

They don’t realize there is an alternative to the century-long ruinous widenings. “Let It Be,” as the Beatles once said, and socially desirable results will emerge (rather than be undermined by widening). If we don’t try to “solve” anticipated congestion by widening, we will realize slower speeds, less car travel, more bicycling/walking/transit, more compact development, more of a sense of place and charm, lower taxes, less car crashes, less obesity, etc.

I am convinced that once a society commits itself to a car-happy world by building happy-car infrastructure (dispersed low density development, big parking lots, big roads, big setbacks, big intersections, single-use development, etc.), it traps itself in an irreversible downward spiral, because even in “enlightened” communities such as Boulder, the car-oriented road infrastructure and the dispersed land use patterns needed to make car travel free-flowing obligates citizens to angrily insist that car-happy design (which is extremely hostile to non-car travel) continue to be provided. After all, the community now forces citizens to travel by car. There is seemingly no alternative. We must dig the hole deeper. We must lock ourselves further into car dependence.

Given this downwardly spiraling trap, America and its cities will need to run out of money before it is forced to stop the unsustainable insanity of widening roads and intersections. After all, even a century of failed widenings has apparently taught us nothing at all.

A final note: Boulder and Boulder County pride themselves in being smart, progressive, and cutting edge — particularly when it comes to transportation. But these planned road and intersection “improvements” on Arapahoe Avenue illustrates that Boulder is far behind the times and continues to be moronic when it comes to transportation.

By the way, a number of folks in Boulder like to respond to my pointing out that Boulder doesn’t get it regarding widenings by saying that Boulder no longer widens roads. While that may be true, Boulder continues to widen INTERSECTIONS (by creating double-left Arapahoe Ave Boulder COturn lanes, for example) all the time. But bigger intersections are worse than wider roads in many ways. For example, oversized intersections forever lose the ability to create a small town sense of place. It will always be a placeless, car-based location where people will never want to hang out. Such intersections will forever fail to pay for themselves because they eliminate the sales tax and property tax potential of those locations.

One of our societal problems is that news reporters often perpetuate myths when they write on topics they are not informed about. Many readers assume that if the comments are published in a newspaper, they are probably true.

This is a particularly big problem on the topic of transportation, as citizens (including reporters) tend to think it is so obvious what needs to be done to improve transportation. It is common sense! They fail to realize that many effective transportation tools are counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, I will be stepping down from the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board before I get a chance to speak out against this tragic mistake and cast a lone vote against the proposed Arapahoe Avenue “improvements.”

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Ruin of Frontage Roads

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 19, 2002

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

Should be a lot of fun. Say hallelujah!!

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

The following is what I told her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Work to stop the frontage road idea at all costs.

Hope that helps, and hope you are well.

 

 

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Road Diets

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 19, 2002

Road diets occur when travel lanes are removed from a road. Cities and Automobile Dependence, by Peter Newman and Jeff Kenworthy, was the book that first brought my attention to the benefits of road diets.road diet before and after

In the book, by using comparative data from a number of cities throughout the world, the authors make the persuasive case that more compact, congested areas can lead to a REDUCTION in fuel consumption and air pollution on a regional basis (among other beneficial things). The conventional wisdom, of course, says the opposite.

The primary rationale used by the authors is that modest roads and congestion reduce the number of “low value” car trips (the car trips to drive across town on a major arterial at rush hour in order to, say, rent a video). Big roads encourage, attract, or otherwise induce low-value trips. Road diets reverse that process. On more modest roads, or congested roads, some folks decide to drive at non-rush hour times, or choose a different route, or travel by bus/bike/foot.

More information about “low-value” car trips can be found on Todd Litman’s On-Line TDM Encyclopedia at the Victoria Transport Institute.

Newman and Kenworthy make the point that in more compact, congested areas, trips tend to be shorter, and more travel options are available, so more trips tend to be non-car trips.

Over the long term, congestion or modest roads encourage infill and densification as people start relocating to locations that are closer to their daily destinations. By doing so, it would seem that there would be a regional reduction in car volumes. This sort of long-term effect is due, at least in part, to what is called the “travel time budget.” That is, a number of researchers have pointed out that cross-culturally and throughout history, people will, on average, commute for 1.1 hours per day. Increasing the speed of urban roads (or fattening them) will, over the long run, disperse development and increase the amount of auto dependency in the region.

This happens because people are moving back to the 1.1-hour equilibrium (you can live further away from your daily travels and still maintain the 1.1-hour commute time).

Conversely, slowing speeds and putting (or keeping) roads on a diet does the reverse. The 1.1-equilibrium is returned to by retaining (or returning to) a more compact community size that corresponds to a more modest, 1.1-hour commute-shed (again, over the long term).

 

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Boulder CO Struggles with Too Many Jobs

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 9, 2003

A friend asked me what I thought about Boulder, Colorado trying to get a handle on the “problem” of too many jobs.

Here is what I told her…

In looking at Boulder efforts, I think it would be wise if Boulder went ahead with its proposal to expand the use of mixing housing, jobs, and retail. This step is very important for quality of life, but because nearly every community is its own worst enemy, such a policy would undoubtedly draw a FIRESTORM of opposition in Boulder, as it has done in the past in that city.

Boulder also needs to grow its residential densities in appropriate, job-rich areas.

Working toward a jobs-housing balance is a good idea, as the City proposes.

The big mistake that nearly all communities continue to keep making is to look upon in-town traffic congestion as THE evil that must be fought at all costs — apparently the primary evil being targeted in this Boulder jobs-housing study. Unless Boulder can find the wisdom and leadership to accept congestion as an ALLY and not a foe, it will increasingly degrade itself. I say this because the conventional tools to fight congestion are tools that Boulder seems eager to want to use. While more mixed use and jobs-housing balance is a good idea, conventional (and, in the end, destructive) tools include:

  1. Fighting to minimize residential growth and density within the city.
  2. Widening roads with more travel lanes or turn lanes.
  3. Increasingly providing more surface parking.
  4. Fighting the “intrusion” of non-residential into residential areas.

It is crucial that Boulder realize that not only is congestion an ally–it promotes more compact, walkable urban development, reduces regional air pollution and fuel consumption, slows cars, etc. Congestion is also SELF-REGULATING. People have a tolerance level for how much congestion they are willing to put up with, and will decide to do things to adjust if it gets too intolerable: They’ll live closer to the places they need to go to (work, school, shopping…). Or they’ll drive on different routes. Or drive at non-rush hour times. Or start walking, bicycling, or using the bus. People that cannot do any of those things (probably a lot of people cannot do those things Boulder) will, in the long run, simply move somewhere else in the country. Probably something not considered catastrophic for folks in Boulder…

Fighting against development density, or fighting for BIG ROADS, short-circuits that self-30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftsregulation. By doing so, it accelerates the downward spiral of a community’s quality of life. Because it means that the city is increasingly making life pleasant for cars instead of people. It will end up as a big roads, big parking lots, strip commercial land of misery.

An important problem in places like Boulder is that the quality of life is so high, that people are willing to put up with higher levels of congestion, long commute distances, and other travel nuisances because it is compensated by a high quality of life. As a result, congestion and long commutes will be worse in places like Boulder than in places like, say, Toledo.

Not sure what to do about that. Maybe nothing needs to be done. It is a problem that may sort itself out on its own.

For me, personally, I have a very low tolerance level for congestion or long commutes. Even a high quality of life is not sufficient compensation for me (for many in Boulder, the quality apparently DOES compensate). If I were to live there and accept the relatively high congestion and commuting patterns there, the only way I could do it would be to figure out a way to live in or near downtown. If I could not figure out a way to do that, I’d leave the Boulder region.

In other words, congestion controls not only the location of growth, but the rate of growth…

 

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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.

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

Horrified by Explosive City Growth in Egypt

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2008

My cousin, Tony Fanucci, told me that he was shocked by the explosive growth of Cairo, Egypt.

I responded by pointing out that it is likely that Cairo will follow the tragic path that the US pioneered and is now ruinously being followed by many newly developed parts of the world — most conspicuously, China and India.

These cities are foolishly using the US as a model for development, which means they have an awful future they are creating for themselves. They are building grotesquely wide, Beijing-smog-624850high-speed highways and overpasses and endless expanses of asphalt parking lots in a hopeless effort to avoid traffic and parking congestion.

Their future will be that of the US: they will bankrupt themselves trying to make motorists happy (because monster highways and widenings and interchanges and parking lots are hideously expensive).

In the end, such unaffordably expensive efforts will lead to choking traffic, high levels of car dependence and sprawl (where it is impossible to travel except by car), sky-high taxes, awful air pollution, affordability problems (because it is WAY more expensive for a family to have to own 3 cars than to use transit or ride bikes), and an unsustainable future (due to such things as a loss of farmland and the fact that extreme car dependence has no future).

The lesson of the ruinous, car-happy path that the US embarked on will not have been learned until it has destroyed many of the cities throughout the world.

 

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California legislation aims to reduce sprawl: Watch Out for Unintended Consequences

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 2007

In the fall of 2007, a member of the new urbanist email list I was subscribing to posted the following news: “CA bill to tie transportation funding to reducing sprawl”

“Enter state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has written a bill that would reward land-use planning that reduces sprawl. Specifically, it would require the California Air Resources Board to set greenhouse gas targets for metropolitan areas. Then regional agencies would have to devise growth and transportation plans to meet those targets. And future transportation funding would be tied to meeting those targets.”

My response was to state that I certainly hoped this bill was properly crafted to avoid what I fear can be a tragic unintended consequence.

Over the years, I’ve regularly heard the sprawl lobby claim that road widenings are needed on congested roads to reduce air pollution and gas consumption. To a great many people — including some environmentalists — the argument makes sense. “Widening a congested road creates more free-flowing traffic, which means less gridlock, which means less pollution and gas consumption due to a reduction in idling cars.”

Of course, some of us now recognize that widening roads usually does the reverse, because Carmageddon highwaywidening typically induces more car trips (i.e., an increase in pollution and gas consumption) and a quick return to congestion — not to mention an inducement to more sprawl.

My fear, therefore, is that the bill will actually create a new justification in CA for more road widening (and more sprawl) as a way to “reduce” greenhouse gases.

Does the bill specifically state that road widening is not an allowable greenhouse gas reduction tactic?

I hope so.

 

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Filed under Environment, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation