Tag Archives: congestion

The Dilemma and Difficulty of Designing Our Streets for Safety and a Healthy City

By Dom Nozzi

In my work over the years in town and transportation planning, I have learned that for cities to be effective in delivering one of their most important, desirable outcomes — exchange of products, services, and ideas via agglomeration – they must be designed for low speeds and human scale. That means dimensions and distances need to be modest.

The dilemma – which is the most enormous dilemma I have struggled with for most all of my professional career — is that because cars consume an enormous amount of space, and because nearly all of us have grown up and spent our entire lives traveling by car in a car-based world, we are strongly conditioned to believe that larger dimensions are desirable. That smaller dimensions are not only extremely frustrating and congesting for all of our car-based trips, but that they are, as a result, a direct threat to our quality of life – and, surely, to the quality of the city.

Nearly all of us are conditioned by our world, in other words, to believe that easing car travel and minimizing congestion is essential. Unquestionably essential. Even in a town center.

The problem is that while this is almost certainly true in the drivable suburbs, it is certainly not true in a walkable town center.

Again, to be healthy, a town center needs small dimensions and low speeds. But when nearly all of us get around in huge metal boxes, that design seems impractical and exceptionally unacceptable. Nearly all citizens, elected officials, and too many transportation staffers live a car-based life, which means there is a near consensus that even town centers must allow easy, congestion-free travel.

Many of us in the field of town and transportation planning now know this is mistaken. We know that a town center context is vastly different from a suburban context, which means the design needs to be vastly different. We know that in a town center, we have achieved an appropriate design only when large metal boxes do NOT experience easy, congestion-free travel. Large metal boxes SHOULD experience congestion in what should be a human-scaled, low-speed town center. If not, it is a clear sign that we have over-allocated for cars. Either that, or our town center is dying from abandonment.

But if nearly all of our citizens, elected officials, and staff almost always travel by car, it is extremely difficult or impossible to agree that slowing cars or higher levels of car congestion are a desirable outcome. Even though it IS desirable if our objective is a healthier town center.

We must not start with the solution – particularly in a society such as ours, where today we are unsustainably distorted toward extreme car dependence. In today’s world, that ruinously leads people to immediately conclude, by default, that easing car travel is unquestionably the solution to nearly any transportation problem.

That is backward and presumptuous.

We must start with the problem, and have the engineer (working with a designer or informed by an urban design background, if our context is a town center) recommend the best ways to solve the problem.

Again, in our car-dependent world, it is too much of a temptation for the engineer to recommend what all “right-minded” citizens (all of whom get around by car) know are the solutions from the beginning. Every day, when we drive our huge metal box, we are frustrated by slow downs and congestion. Is it not screamingly obvious what needs to be done? Why waste our valuable time by asking to solve the problem when we can cut to the chase and deploy the common-sense solutions we are all aware of? We all know that wider lanes, turn lanes, more travel lanes, slip lanes, synchronized traffic signals, lower density zoning, larger intersection turning radii, or converting to one-way street operation will ease car travel and reduce congestion. We are, in effect, stuck in the bind of an “Overton window” (a place where there are only a very limited number of politically acceptable outcomes or solutions that are allowed to be proposed). The only question is how to find the money, Mr. or Ms. Engineer.

And in the highly unlikely event that we CAN manage to start with the problem to solve rather than starting with the solution, the temptation tends to be too irresistible to avoid recommending problem-solving tools such as road or intersection diets or more narrow lanes. Nearly always, such tools are immediately shot down because they will clearly slow down or congest our driving (they are, in other words, outside of the Overton Window). They are direct threats to our way of life. They can’t possibly be good for our city. Go back and rework your numbers! Who has the courage or thick enough skin to want to propose smaller street dimensions when the nearly inevitable result will be angry opposition by citizens, officials, and even fellow staff?

As I’ve said in the past, I see only a few ways out of this trap (what I call a point of no return): We reach a financial crisis where we can no longer find enough money to keep harming our town center and our public safety by deploying the conventional congestion reduction tools. Or we experience an extreme, highly unusual, non-financial crisis such as a severe economic collapse (or perhaps a pandemic like the one we are now experiencing in 2020?). Both of those things (running out of money or economic depression) obligate us to think outside the box. Running out of money is a severe crisis, which can create an opportunity to have citizens and officials overcome their strong lifestyle desire to ease car travel and — perhaps in desperation — opt to knowingly allow car travel to become more difficult in our town center.

One could say, I suppose, that the appalling number of traffic deaths over the decades should be sufficient motivation to be innovative, but I think that is a “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” problem. The problem has been with us for so long that we have just come to accept it as an inevitable problem we must learn to live with. Our expectations for traffic safety have been lowered.

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

Is Congestion a “Disease”?

By Dom Nozzi

A friend sent me an article which made the point that lessons we learn about how infectious diseases spread in a pandemic such as the coronavirus can be applied to cities striving to reduce traffic congestion. I responded as follows.

Like most people, the creators of this analogy between infectious diseases and traffic congestion don’t understand cities or congestion. Congestion in cities is NOT a “disease” that must be “cured.” Congestion is an important SOLUTION for city health. Boulder has spent several decades, like most every other city, in failing to understand this. Reducing congestion is toxic for a city because nearly everything the city or state or federal govt does to reduce congestion (temporarily) is bad for city health. To be healthy, a city must provide ALTERNATIVES to the inevitable congestion for people who don’t want to put up with it.

What are the alternatives?

More street and population and intersection density allows more walking and bicycling and transit travel. Mixing residential with retail, office, culture, and jobs is part of that promotion of alternatives.

In a healthy city, congestion is inevitable. It is a sign of health. Only dying or dead cities do not have congestion.

We have spent over 100 years trying to reduce congestion. Until we realize congestion is our friend and work instead to provide alternatives to congestion, we will continue to fail and continue creating a grim future.

It IS possible to durably reduce congestion in a way that is not unhealthy for a city: toll roads. But doing that is nearly always politically impossible, as NYC has shown.

 

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The Colossal Blunder of 800 New Parking Spaces at Eldora Ski Resort

 

By Dom Nozzi

Eldora Ski Resort here in Boulder County, Colorado is preparing to commit a colossal yet still all-too-common blunder. After getting furious, enraged pushback last year when the Resort proposed to charge for existing parking (which, as an aside, is exactly the correct tool for managing their parking), the Resort was just given unanimous approval from the County Planning Board to install approximately 800 new “free” spaces at the Resort — which will require the clearing of about six acres of forest (assuming 325 square feet of parking lot per space).

This new parking would be in addition to the existing large parking lot, as well as at least one overflow parking lot.

This additional parking will result in more air emissions in the region (undercutting climate change reduction efforts by our community), cause a lot of forest removal (which will aggravate stormwater pollution, erosion, and flooding), increase “heat island” problems, increase the number of single-occupant vehicles driving through Nederland and to the Resort, increase congestion in Nederland and the length of the backup of cars trying to enter the Resort on popular snow days, reduce the number of carpoolers, reduce the number of transit users, and increase the need for shuttle buses at the Resort.

As an aside, I should note that for decades, whenever the Resort planned to engage in various modest expansions of recreation areas on their property (or any action that might increase the volume of cars in the nearby town of Nederland), they almost invariably got strong opposition. But in this case, the prospect of a six-acre asphalt parking lot replacing a forest is met with a consensus of happy, enthusiastic support.

I should also note that the Resort imposes an indirect tax on those who ride the bus to the Resort. In addition to the hefty charge for a bus ticket, bus riders usually have to pay for a locker to store their non-ski items while skiing — unlike motorists, who are able to use their car as a storage locker.

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Chiming In On a Neighborhood Discussion About Growth, Development, and Transportation in Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

I keep getting confused by comments in this email conversation.

More than one person has suggested we “improve planning” and “improve transportation.” I know of no one who would ever oppose those two things (therefore, why say those things?).

But vague suggestions like those leave me wondering what is meant? Does “improved planning” mean that we demand even more staggering fees from developers? Or stop population growth in some never-before-done manner? Does “improve transportation” mean road or intersection widening? Or perhaps even more staggering amounts of free parking?

Infilling with more housing in the city has a great many undeniable benefits, despite what some have said in this conversation, even if we don’t put much of a dent in the jobs/housing balance. Infill development starts shrinking trip distances, and promotes small-scale retail development. Infill creates more affordable housing.

When land is as expensive as it is in Boulder, I scratch my head in bewilderment when I hear people say that more compact housing — ie, housing on smaller plots of land — is not more affordable than large-lot, low-density houses.

And for those that do not know, there are recent studies showing that even when expensive homes are built, affordability is improved when some of the more wealthy residents shift to the new housing.

It is little more than naive virtue-signaling to call for transit improvements such as more frequent buses or passenger rail. Such things, however, are nowhere near cost-feasible as long as Boulder’s average densities remain so low — densities that are so low that this city is locked into years of very high levels of car dependency by nearly all of us. Not only are densities far too low to support high-quality transit, but this city and region provide far too much free parking to create anything more than tiny ridership levels.

What does “slower growth” mean, exactly? Boulder’s development regulations and fees have been draconian for decades, which means that growth and development approvals happen here much slower than any growing city similar to Boulder I know of. Given how much development is slowed in Boulder (it seems fast because land is very expensive and our quality of life is very high), we have plenty of time — as planners, Council, and citizens — to carefully consider and shape proposed development. I know these things because I was the growth rate control planner for Boulder in the past.

I don’t see any meaningful reasons why we are better off if we “slow down growth” by approving a proposed development in 8 months or 3 years. Although I suspect that a hidden reason that many seek to slow down growth even more is that “time is money,” and – the thinking goes — maybe if we slow down a project even more, it will no longer be financially feasible, which might kill the project.

I have what I think is a much better idea: Rather than spending almost all of our time trying (and almost always failing) to slow or stop development, how about if we put meaningful effort into crafting development regulations that will reliably deliver higher quality development? Our regulations, I’m embarrassed to say, are embarrassingly outdated — surely at least in part due to how distracted we’ve been in spending all our time trying to find ways to slow or stop growth.

I neglected to mention a few things in my comments above.

First, another benefit to infilling (creating more housing in Boulder) is the following. When we have infill, the per capita environmental impact (for example, car emissions) goes way down. Low-density suburban Boulder has a huge per capita environmental impact. Indeed, shame on the many in Boulder who don’t know that a compact/dense development pattern is the new green. Low-density suburbia (about 80 percent of Boulder) is the new smokestack industry, in large part because such dispersed land use patterns are a fertility drug for cars.

More about the common call for better transit and establishing passenger rail for Boulder: As I said above, low-density, dispersed Boulder makes it impractical or irrational for most to use transit, which means spending a lot of money on better buses or new rail will result in unaffordable bus and rail that too few are using. Here is one of the many blogs I’ve written on the irrationality of using transit: https://domz60.wordpress.com/2011/11/01/is-rail-a-practical-option-for-a-college-town/

As an aside, one important reason we don’t have rail in Boulder (besides our low densities) is that the cost of rail has gone through the roof since we passed the tax to pay for it. There are other important reasons why ridership on better buses or new rail would be too low: Congestion in Boulder is far too low to create the political will to install better transit.

Whining about “gridlock” in Boulder is laughable to people who have moved here from bigger cities. It is no coincidence that the cities with the best transit have very high levels of congestion. Another reason for low ridership is that motorists in Boulder pay almost no motorist user fees. Nearly every time we park, we park for free. We don’t pay a congestion fee or a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) fee.

In sum, without seeing much higher levels of congestion, without seeing a lot more housing (to create more compact development), and without instituting motorist user fees (so motorists equitably begin to pay their own way), it will remain irrational or impractical for all but the most heroic Boulderites to use even much better buses or rail. Expensive buses and rail are given a big fat black eye when they are mostly empty.

By the way, I suspect that a large number of people calling for better buses or new rail have no intention of using such transit (it is, after all, irrational or impractical for most). Instead, they call for such transit so that OTHERS will use transit, which leaves the transit advocate with less crowded roads and parking lots when they continue to drive.

Another thought about the suggestions we’ve heard here that we should “improve transportation” before allowing new development: I suspect that such an “improvement” for many who say this is that we, say, widen a major road from 3 to 5 lanes. There are a great many reasons why that won’t help. We’ve known for several decades that we cannot build/widen our way out of congestion (mostly because widening induces car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened).

Widening a road or intersection is about the worst possible thing we can do in Boulder (it is anything but an “improvement”). In a few years, after spending enormous amounts of tax money to do it, we worsen congestion, induce a lot more dispersed sprawl, bankrupt ourselves financially, create more per capita car trips, worsen air pollution and climate change, harm our physical health, degrade our neighborhoods, reduce travel choices for children and seniors, increase the number of traffic fatalities, and obliterate our beloved “small town character.”

Oops.

The good news, as an aside, is that we DON’T have to widen roads or stop Boulder population growth to have a pleasant, sustainable, diverse, inclusive, affordable future. We can instead opt for such things as better urban design and better price signals.

How about if we start working on that rather than spending all our time trying (and failing) to stop growth for the past several decades?

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

Excerpts from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules (2018)

 

By Dom Nozzi

In February 2018, I read an excellent book regarding walkable design. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules turned me on to this inspiring 15-min video. It shows how a city being run down by a high-speed, high-volume, massive, dangerous, car-only intersection full of angry motorists could be reborn into a much more courteous, safe, welcoming, healthy, shared place with right-sized roads (diets), removal of traffic signals and traffic regulation signs, expansion of pedestrian areas, and street design that obligates slow and attentive driving.

Please share this with friends and your local traffic engineers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0

Excerpts from the book:

“There are many things that can be measured in cities, each of which has its own impact on success. Density, diversity, walkability, property value, resource conservation, life expectancy, educational attainment, the production of patents, GDP, carbon footprint, free-flowing traffic: all of these relate to a city’s well-being, attractiveness, and future prospects. Yet only one of them, the last one, is routinely used to direct decision making around a city’s growth, and ironically, it is the one that works to the detriment of all the others. Let that sink in. The one aspect of urban life that has the most impact on city planning, traffic flow, exists in almost perfect opposition to all the other good things a city can have…The more dense, diverse, walkable, and desirable a city is, the more it is likely to be congested. The less fuel it burns and the lower the obesity rate, the worse the traffic. Ditto that on educational attainment, patents per capita, and GDP (Every 10% increase in traffic delay correlates to a 3.4% increase in per capita GDP). In the US at least, greatness brings congestion. Why, then, is design controlled by congestion, and not by greatness?”

“In every major American city, pedestrian deaths are a part of life…The news cycle is predictable: first comes the victim blaming, then the driver blaming – sober drivers are almost never punished – then perhaps a discussion about speed limits and enforcement. Through it all, the crash is called an ‘accident’ as if it was not preventable. Rarely is the design of the roadway itself considered. And never – NEVER – is there any reconsideration of the professional engineering standards that created the hazard in the first place. The Swedes, those geniuses of driving safety, know better. For some time, the leadership of the Swedish traffic safety profession has acknowledged that street design is at the heart of traffic safety, and modified its engineering standards with an eye to lowering speeds in urban areas. The results are astounding. Their traffic fatality rate as a nation is about one quarter of the US, but the biggest difference is in the cities. In 2013, Stockholm, with a similar population to Phoenix, lost six people to car crashes. Phoenix lost 167. Remarkably, Stockholm made it through 2016 without a single pedestrian or cyclist dying. Welcome to ‘Vision Zero’…In Seattle, too – where city engineer Dongho Chang tweets daily about bike lanes, curb extensions, and other safety improvements his department is installing – the impact of Vision Zero is clear…While not stated outright, both its goals and execution fly in the face of a half-century of negligent engineering practice…Advocates should rally publicly around the tragedy of road deaths to overcome hurdles to its adoption.”

“Level of service is the system that traffic planners use, often exclusively, to determine the success of a street network. Level of service (LOS) rankings run from A to F, with A representing unimpeded flow and F representing bad delays…Many engineers aim for an LOS of A or B, because…A’s and B’s are best, right? To an engineer’s mind, the less congestion the better. But this belief ignores the fact that an LOS of A or B corresponds to cars moving at higher speeds than are safe for an urban center. Moreover, experience teaches us that there hardly exists a single successful, vital, main street that would earn an A or B rating. When it comes to retail performance and street life, LOS could aptly be said to stand for Lack of Success…It is clear that the LOS system, which was created to assess highways, is the wrong measure for determining the success of a city. Or, it perhaps is useful, but only if we consistently aim for an LOS of E…Only as a LOS of D emerges into E do we see a significant drop in driving speeds. Even a high F would seem to provide a slow but steady flow of traffic, ideal for a main street…Because congestion is spuriously associated with pollution, it once seemed wise to impose upon new development a burden of maintaining a high LOS. This approach ignored the fact that the most free-flowing traffic is found in those places where people drive the most miles – that smooth traffic is indeed an inducement to driving – and thus our most congested cities make the lowest per-capita contribution to greenhouse gases. In light of this new understanding, the State of California recently eliminated LOS from its environmental review process, and replaced it with a focus on reducing VMT: Vehicle Miles Traveled. Under the old rules, ironically, environmental regulations would stop you from adding a bike lane to a street if a traffic study showed a negative impact on the flow of cars. This still happens in many places. But California has regained its sanity and is once again leading the way in limiting the environmental impacts of driving.”

 

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

Compact Development Avoids Congestion. It Does Not Reduce It

By Dom Nozzi

January 3, 2019

Compact, walkable, transit-oriented development patterns do not stop the emergence of traffic congestion – or reduce it once it occurs. Because cars consume so much space (see my photo set below), any attractive, well-designed city worth its salt will have traffic congestion (all the great cities we love have parking and traffic problems — again, because cars consume an enormous amount of space).40 people (2)

No, what compact, walkable cities do that dispersed, low-density, single-use, disconnected cities cannot do is to offer residents the ability to AVOID the inevitable congestion (or at least many of the negative effects of congestion). Residents of compact cities, for example, have much more of a choice to bike or walk or use transit (each of which are congestion-avoidance tactics). Such cities also provide more choices to live closer to their destinations (another avoidance tactic).

The “addiction” to cars (as is often noted by friends of mine) is largely due to the fact that we have, over the past century, built a car-oriented world that makes non-car travel very difficult or impractical.

We have much work to do to reform our communities so that this is not the case. Sustainability requires that we provide transportation and housing choices.

Drivable suburbia provides only one choice: live in an isolated, sterile, anti-neighborly home that requires that nearly every trip is by car. Such a lifestyle is incapable of adapting to the inevitable future changes we will face, which makes for a grim, expensive, painful, and thereby unsustainable future.

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Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Case Against the Colorado Transportation Sales Tax on the November 2018 Ballot

By Dom Nozzi

I have almost 40 years of academic and professional (and lifestyle) experience in the field of transportation, which is why I am without hesitation voting AGAINST the Proposition 110 sales tax increase for Colorado transportation funding, and urge all Colorado voters to also vote against this measure.

Some bicycling, walking, and transit advocates are joining with motorist and sprawl advocates in voting for this measure because a token amount of the revenue is slated to be directed towards those forms of non-car travel.

However, I think doing so is a terrible mistake. Why? Because ON BALANCE, we take a giant step backwards in promoting bicycling and walking and transit (not to mention a host of other social and municipal objectives) if we pass 110.

The positives of 110 are that a token amount of dollars will be allocated to improvements for cyclists, walkers, and transit. What will be the outcome of doing that? We will see a very modest increase in bicycling, walking and transit use. Worldwide studies show over and over that to be effective in seeing a meaningful shift from car travel to walking or bicycling or transit, we must take things away from motorists (speed, subsidies and space). It is not about providing more sidewalks or bike paths or buses.

By contrast, the negatives of 110 are enormous, because hundreds of millions of new tax dollars will now be made available to widen highways, roads and intersections. If anything, we need to be narrowing a huge percentage of our bloated, oversized roads,Carmageddon highway highways, and intersections. I will only list a few of the significant negatives of 110: a large increase in unaffordable and ruinous suburban sprawl, a large increase in per capita car trips and car travel distances, a large increase in air emissions (which destroys our ability to address climate change in the future), much larger levels of traffic congestion (because it artificially induces new car trips and more remote development that would not have occurred had we not widened), a large increase in traffic fatalities and serious injuries, an increase in the massive financial woes of state and local governments (who cannot afford to maintain our existing infrastructure, let alone the new infrastructure 110 will fund), a substantial worsening of public health, a much more ugly environment in Colorado, a loss of enormous ecologically sensitive areas that would now be replaced by new development, and a big decline in bicycling, walking and transit use.

When we compare the positives and negatives, the net result for bicycling, walking and transit — not to mention the very many social and municipal objectives — shows 110 to be far and away more of a bad deal than a good deal (unless you are with the auto or sprawl lobbies).

I don’t want one penny of my sales tax dollars to go toward ruining the Colorado I love. We’ve poured huge public dollars into making cars happy for the past century, and the outcome has been terrible. I will do everything in my power to fight against this measure. Enough is enough.

Some have responded to my opposition by stating that we should not let “perfection be the enemy of the good.” But in what sense is this measure “good,” on balance? By giving pocket change to building a few sidewalks? It is the equivalent of saying we should support giving the Pentagon another $50 billion to kill thousands more civilians with thousands of new and more powerful bombs because, after all, it is “good” in the sense that we are at the same time giving $10,000 to the UN Peacekeeping office.

Please.

In both the transportation tax and the Pentagon spending, the net result is a vastly worse world, even if we give a few pennies to bike lanes and diplomacy.

This is, quite simply, a Faustian bargain.

As an aside, some 110 supporters argue that the sales tax revenue obtained by Boulder will only be allocated for “progressive” transportation projects – or at least more progressive than how it will be used elsewhere in the state. But this “Boulder Bubble” way of thinking turns a blind eye to the great harm this money will  bring to the “less enlightened” parts of Colorado – harm that will negatively impact Boulder. It is also inaccurate to assume Boulder will not use the money in detrimental ways, as I’ve come to learn during my five years serving on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board that Boulder is shockingly stuck in the Dark Ages with regard to transportation. To take one example, while it is true that Boulder no longer seems interested in road widenings, this community remains more than happy to widen intersections, which is a highly detrimental transportation (and land use) tactic.

Another aside is that it is far more fair and progressive to obtain new transportation funding with user fees such as road tolls or a VMT tax.  Sales taxes, by contrast, are not only regressive to lower income folks, they also have each of us pay the same amount of tax regardless if we drive an SUV 10,000 miles from a sprawl home each year or ride a bicycle from a town center condo. This is the definition of unfairness.

But even if we opted for the more equitable user fees rather than sales tax, I would still oppose even that reform, as it still means there will be a big increase in dollars available for vastly detrimental road, highway and intersection widenings. Only when our society is forced to learn that we should never again widen, and instead set about shrinking our roads and intersections to a safer, more sustainable human scale should we be finding new transportation dollars.

As of today, however, we continue to fail to learn this existential lesson even though road and intersection widening has done nothing but ruin us for the past century. We remain very far from learning such a fundamental lesson.

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Environment, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

Motorists Should Feel Inconvenienced

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2018

A common complaint that one hears – particularly in American cities – is that “parking spaces are too small” or “the roads are too congested” or “this driveway is too narrow.” General complaints about how inconvenient it is to drive a car. Is it not obvious that something must be done to make it more convenient for me to drive my car??

But in a well-designed town center, the space-consumptive motorist SHOULD feel inconvenienced. Why? Because motor vehicles consume an enormous amount of space, and herculean efforts to provide such space inevitably destroys the essential need for human scale.

For about a century, conventional traffic engineers have been too focused on the opposite: conveniencing car travel. The loss of human-scaled, slow speed, vibrant spaces is the result in nearly all American cities. Engineers tend to be single-mindedly striving to attain the objective of car movement and fail to know of the ingredients of a healthy city.

Because they have such a profound influence over the design and health of a city, I believe traffic engineers should be required to have studied walkable urban design. Or that urban designers should simply replace traffic engineers in city transportation design.

Not doing so will lead to the continuation of a century-long ruination of healthy, lovable, safe communities. The loss of communities designed for people, not cars.

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

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.

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

Free Flowing Traffic: Desirable or Ruinous?

By Dom Nozzi

August 25, 2017

Highway expansion ruinously continues in Boulder CO — largely through the on-going efforts to add new turn lanes at intersections in Boulder.

That exceptionally counterproductive action will only become less common when Boulder residents are able to decouple “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking from quality of life.

There has been a decades-long assumption that one of the primary keys to quality of life in Boulder is to strive for free-flowing traffic. The main tactics have been to minimize development, minimize density and building height, resist removal of road/intersection/parking capacity, and add turn lanes.

The pursuit of free-flowing traffic inexorably leads to the “asphalt-ization” of a community because the pursuit results in oversized roads and intersections and oversized parking lots. It leads, in other words, to gigantism, where in addition to massive roads, intersections and parking lots, building setbacks are huge, the sprawling Arapahoe Ave Boulder COgeographic spread of a city becomes seemingly endless, street signs become enormous, street lights almost reach the clouds, and shops become massive. Free-flowing traffic means a very large per capita production of toxic air emissions and gasoline consumption. It means impossible-to-avoid stormwater problems. Freely-flowing traffic substantially reduces per capita bicycling, walking and transit use. It results in bankrupting cost increases for households and local governments. Free-flowing traffic creates social isolation, obesity, stress, road rage, traffic crashes that lead to massive numbers of injuries and deaths, and vast abandonment of older town centers.

I cannot think of anything that is more detrimental to quality of life than striving to maintain “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking. Doing so is toxic for a city.

Tragically, a great many intelligent, “green” Boulder residents fight for free-flowing traffic and abundant car parking. There is a bi-partisan consensus that roads and intersections and parking lots must be wider. That driving and parking should be “free.” That motoring should always be pleasant.

It is a recipe for ruin masquerading as a quest for a better quality of life.

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