Tag Archives: conviviality

Fleeing from the Public Realm

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

WHAT??

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Announcing Victor Dover Presentation in Boulder CO

CITY OF BOULDER COMMUNITY EVENT

“The Art of Street Design”

 Presentation and Community Discussion

with Victor DoverVictor_Dover

When: Wednesday March 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

      • Opening reception: 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.
      • Presentation and Q&A: 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

 Where: Chautauqua, Grand Assembly Hall, 900 Baseline Rd., Boulder

Who: Victor Dover, cofounder of Dover, Kohl & Partners, Town Planning in Coral Gables, Florida, has 25 years experience restoring healthy neighborhoods and creating walkable communities. The coauthor of Street Design: The Secret of Great Cities and Towns, he has designed 150 neighborhoods, urban revitalization programs, and regional plans across five continents, including the 1994 North Broadway Plan for North Boulder.

What:   Victor Dover will describe how to fix our streets, and, in the process, shape enduring cities that people really love.

  • Information regarding City of Boulder North Boulder Plan Update, Envision East Arapahoe Plan, and Transportation Master Plan Update
  • Book signing for new book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Why: America is rediscovering its streets. A revolutionary makeover is underway to promote walking and cycling and appeal to a new generation of creative, demanding citizens.

RSVP:  No RSVP required.  Free. For more information – https://bouldercolorado.gov/calendar

About the book: Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (January 2014) by Victor Dover and John Massengale with foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales shows how to create great streets where people want to be. That begins with walkable streets where people feel comfortable, safe, and charmed by their surroundings. Through hundreds of examples of streets old, new and retrofitted, Street Design shows how good street design can unlock value, improve life and re-knit neighborhoods.

 

Leave a comment

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

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

by Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

The “Gigantism” Disease

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Shocking Revolution

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boulder’s Overriding Objectives

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oops.

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

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

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

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

How Can We Design Transportation to Achieve a Better Destiny?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

On Controlling Size

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

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

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

__________________________________

 More about the author

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

 Studies Demonstrating Induced Traffic and Car Emission Increases

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Leave a comment

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

The Impact of Road Widening on the Local Economy

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end result?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___________________________________

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

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

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

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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

Visit my other sites:

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Best-Ever Lists blog

http://dombestlist.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

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

My YouTube video library

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

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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

Leave a comment

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

Recipe for a Vibrant Street

By Dom Nozzi

Dom’s Vibrant Street Casserole (serves…everyone)

Ingredients

  •  Elect wise, courageous leaders (cooks) who are well-versed in the creation of walkable street casseroles.
  • Select a “kitchen” staff that has high-quality knowledge regarding the creation of traditional, walkable street casseroles.
  • Add 4 cups of colorful building facades that abut the streetside sidewalk, with entrances on the sidewalk.
  • Add 3 cups of relatively high residential density on or near the street.
  • Add 4 cups of homes, offices and retail. Mix well. Be sure not to add too much office, as this will lead to a tasteless, boring casserole that is utterly unappetizing at night.
  • Layer 10 cups of on-street parking along the street.
  • Evenly sprinkle 8 cans of shading street trees along your streets and use a loper to limb them up. The trees should be placed along your streets in such as way as to have them be formally aligned. The trees should be spaced and limbed up so as to avoid blocking the view of at least the first floor building facades.
  • Cut and trim your streets so that they are short in block length, have modest turn radii, have square curbs, and are no fatter than 3 lanes of 2-way street (3rd lane is landscaped median with pocket turn lanes). Any street fatter than 3 lanes will need to be put on a diet so that it is no more than 3 lanes. Your street should be designed so that motorists are obligated to drive slowly and attentively.
  • Shape your street buildings for verticality. Your buildings should be at least 2 stories high.
  • Insert 2 tablespoons of street lights and traffic signals into your casserole that are modest in height (no more than 8-12 feet in height).
  • Trim your building lot widths so that they are narrow.
  • Provide a heaping helping of windows on at least the first floor of the buildings for your street casserole. Your casserole should strive for high levels of transparency by having abundant windows eye level. Minimize blank walls on the first floor of your buildings.
  • Add generous portions of streetscaping such as street furniture, and encroachment into the sidewalk by outdoor cafes.
  • Place and shape your sidewalks to offer ample sidewalk width so that there is room for sidewalk cafes, couples comfortably walking side-by-side, and street furniture. Be careful not to provide too much width, as excessive width coupled with insufficient pedestrians will deaden the flavor of your casserole.
  • Chop and mince your signs into modest sizes, modest heights, and do not allow them to be animated.

Bake until your casserole sizzles. Serve immediately.

_________________________________________________

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

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

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

My YouTube video library

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

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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

Leave a comment

Filed under Miscellaneous, Urban Design, Walking

Transportation is Not a Win-Win Game

By Dom Nozzi

There is a common tactical mistake made by communities which seek to achieve the worthy and increasingly essential objective of increasing the amount of travel by bicycle, transit, or walking. Most all elected officials and their transportation staff will operate under the assumption that transportation is a “win-win” game. That is, that it is possible to encourage more travel by bicycle, transit or walking, and at the same time be able to improve (or at least not make more difficult) travel by car.

But this is utterly naïve. It shows that the community is not serious about effectively promoting transportation choices.

Meaningfully increasing bicycling, transit or walking is not a matter of adding bike lanes, bike paths or bike parking. It is not a matter of adding more bus stops or increasing the frequency or quality of buses. It is not a matter of building more sidewalks or adding sidewalk benches and landscaping.

Each of these additions are certainly a pleasant enhancement for the community (primarily because it sends a visible message that these forms of travel are acknowledged and respected), but they have almost no ability to increase the levels of bicycling, walking, or transit use in the community. They are, in other words, necessary but NOT sufficient.

Because accommodations for easy, low-cost car travel is entirely incompatible with bicycling, transit, and walking (because of the danger and inconvenience that car-friendly roads and parking creates), providing bike lanes or bus shelters or sidewalk landscaping does nothing to convince a person to drive a car less often.

The car is so dominating and has been overwhelmingly catered to and subsidized for so many decades that the only effective way to increase bicycling, transit use, or walking is to TAKE AWAY FROM THE CAR.

That is, communities MUST put roads on a “diet” (typically, by converting a road from 4 lanes to 3 lanes). Communities MUST reduce the amount of free car parking that consumes the majority of most city town centers by removing parking and properly pricing what remains (by installing, for example, user fees such as parking meters). Communities MUST structure a more fair way of having users pay for their travel, rather than having the entire community subsidize car travel (by increasing the gas tax, installing electronic tolls on roads, etc.).

Nearly all American communities fail to take steps to take away from the car. And this is, by far, the primary reason why Americans drive cars more than anywhere else in the world. Why hardly anyone bicycles, uses transit, or walks, despite bike paths, bus shelters, or new sidewalks.

Even in “progressive” communities, it is fervently believed that reducing traffic congestion (or at least not worsening it) is beneficial for the community and its citizens. “We must reduce congestion to reduce air pollution and reduce gas consumption!”

They say these things in part because it seems to be irrefutably true. But it has been clearly demonstrated (by researchers such as Newman and Kenworthy) that easing traffic flow INCREASES air pollution and gas consumption on a regional basis, because people drive more often and drive greater distances when car travel is made more pleasant.

It is counterproductive for a community to strive to reduce traffic congestion.

Why do Americans so rarely use the effective tool of taking away from the car? Because most all of us drive a car for nearly all of our trips, and both elected officials and their transportation staff are scared to death to use tactics that are widely known to increase bicycling, transit use, and walking. Because doing so, it is thought, will elicit the wrath of motorists.

So we continue to install bike lanes, bus shelters, and sidewalks. And nearly all of us continue to drive a car.

Inevitably, Americans will drive cars quite a bit less, because it is inevitable that gas prices will continue rising substantially, and the national and world economy will continue to be anemic. Tragically, however, being passive and waiting for such inevitabilities to substantially revise American car travel behavior will not occur soon enough. Passively waiting will lead to much more pain and anguish, as Americans have not been able to more incrementally transition to a world where car travel is not so much an essential part of our daily lives.

Instead, the transition will be much more abrupt (and our communities much less well-designed for bicycling, transit use or walking) if we sit back and let higher gas prices reduce our car travel. And the abruptness will lead to much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I therefore believe it is imperative that we actively and aggressively opt for actions which take away from the car. We need the courage to use road diets and having motorists pay their way. Not install more bike lanes. Failing to find the courage will result in a very painful future.

_________________________________________________

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

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

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

My YouTube video library

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

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Peak Oil, Politics, Road Diet, Urban Design, Walking

Can Emerging Nations Avoid the Unsustainable, Ruinous Path the US has taken with Regard to Transportation?

By Dom Nozzi

Since the emergence and rapid spread of car ownership and use in America since the early part of the 20th Century, the United States has taken a large number of ruinous, unsustainable actions to make life happy for cars rather than people.

While it is true that car travel initially resulted in many positive improvements in our society, those improvements are now increasingly overwhelmed by negatives, as the continued provision of infrastructure, programs and finances to promote car travel is now experiencing severely diminishing returns that started later on in the 20th Century.

We are now at a point that each “improvement” for car travel – an “improvement” that is increasingly unaffordable – provides fewer and fewer benefits. And the costs of such “improvements” provide increasingly enormous decimation. A classic case, in other words, of diminishing returns.

Tragically, the US is largely trapped in this downward spiral, even as growing numbers of us see that transportation “improvements” are, on balance, increasingly ruinous.

The over-emphasis on providing for cars has destroyed the severely hampered the financial condition of households, as well as the finances of local, state and federal governments. This over-emphasis has also significantly increased the number of injuries and deaths in the US, has significantly degraded quality of life and civic pride, has substantially harmed the natural environment, has drained the lifeblood out of most American town centers (downtowns), has taken away travel independence for seniors, children and others without the ability to drive a car, has wiped out smaller and locally-owned businesses in the face of emerging Big Box retailers, has promoted unsustainable suburban sprawl, has resulted in countless wildlife deaths, and has substantially contributed to the US becoming a nation of loners – a nation where we barely even know our neighbors, and much more rarely bump into friends and family.

The following is a list of actions a nation should consider if it seeks to avoid this catastrophic path taken by the United States with regard to transportation – a path, tragically, that many emerging nations have eagerly sought to follow over the past several decades.

This list is not ordered by priority.

Road size. In urban areas, roads should be no larger than three lanes in size. Those that are larger should be “road dieted” down to three lanes.

Parking for Cars. Excessive asphalt surface parking significantly promotes excessive car travel and car ownership, reduces walking, bicycling and transit use, reduces quality of life, increases crime, hurts town center economics, and reduces housing choice, housing affordability, and housing availability. Parking supply must be scarce, mostly on-street, and properly priced to achieve a parking use of about 85 percent of spaces at any given time of day. Residential and commercial development must provide owners and renters with the option of paying less for their building space in exchange for not having parking provided (parking cash-out).

Provide for the full range of lifestyle and travel choices. Land development regulations and transportation funding by government must be tailored and calibrated to ensure that regulations vary based on geographic location (compactness is the objective in town center regulations and drivable lower densities is the objective for more dispersed locations, for example). Government funding should be balanced so that excessive amounts of public money is not devoted to car travel.

Proximity. Town centers must be relatively dense and mixed in use. Building setbacks should be relatively small, and important community-serving facilities should remain in the town center.

Street network design. Streets must be well-connected. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be rare or non-existent. Street block length should be no longer than 200 feet in distance.

Low Speed Design. Streets in town centers must be designed to obligate motorists to drive slowly and attentively. There are many effective traffic calming tactics to do this.

One-Way Streets. Avoid creating one-way streets. Such streets are detrimental to transportation choice, retail and residential quality of life, and overall quality of life – particularly in town centers.

Gas Tax. Needs to be high enough to compensate for motorist costs, and discourage excessive car use. A properly high gas tax is a key way to achieve energy sustainability, quality of life, transportation choice, and financial health (the US gas tax has been so low that it fails to achieve these aims, and ends of transferring enormous national wealth to oil-producing nations).

Full-Time Staff. Hire and maintain full-time staff who are highly skilled in providing transportation choices. Too often, government transportation departments have staff who are only skilled in designing for easy car travel.

Strive for “24-Hour City” design. This is mostly achieved by providing for higher density mixed-use development in town centers. Such design promotes safety, quality of life, and economic health. It is also important in promoting travel and lifestyle choices.

Safety in Numbers. Strive for a community design that results in large numbers of pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, in part to promote much higher levels of safety for the community.

Happiness and Celebration. Consider occasional and permanent street closures to promote sociability, quality of life, and transportation choice. Design city infrastructure, programs, and festivals that celebrate and promote happy people rather than happy cars. Economic success should be measured not be a rising Gross National Product but by a rising Gross National Happiness.

Conclusion

When a developing nation starts enjoying a relatively large household income, it becomes very difficult to avoid the ruinous steps (or achieve the useful steps) associated with the above actions. Travel by car is extremely seductive, and the zero-sum, self-perpetuating nature of providing for car travel is almost certain to occur once household wealth reaches its tipping point and car ownership is in reach.

Over-providing for car travel is zero-sum in the sense that providing for car travel inevitably makes travel by transit, walking or bicycling more difficult. Over-providing for car travel is self-perpetuating in the sense that, as just noted, non-car travel becomes increasingly impractical when we provide for car travel. Providing for car travel is also self-perpetuating because it inevitably creates a growing army of motorists who demand their elected officials single-mindedly provide for the enormous road and parking design changes, and provide for the sprawling, low-density land development patterns that car dependence requires.

The inevitable result of the zero-sum game and the self-perpetuating trap is the over-emphasis on providing for car travel.

Short of major resource (particularly oil) disruption, then, there is no turning back on a world of car over-emphasis, once growing wealth brings car ownership to a society.

At first, the enormous costs that inevitably follow the nearly impossible-to-avoid scenario of over-emphasizing car travel tend to be invisible due to the seemingly wondrous glare of the joys that car travel seems – at least initially — to promise. Avoiding the false glory of a car-based society requires immense wisdom and leadership on the part of the elected officials of a society.

The near impossibility of a nation successfully avoiding the transportation trap the US has fallen into suggests to me that the best hope for emerging nations in our era is the rapid onset of Peak Oil and other car-based resource constraints — constraints that make following the car-happy path of the US a path that is financially and politically impossible to follow. Unless such constraints emerge quickly and aggressively, the seductive lure of a car-based world may be too difficult to avoid.

If a nation is not able to learn from history, it is doomed to repeat it. And the seductiveness of car travel may blind emerging nations from the lessons of US transportation. Perhaps all nations, then, will be doomed to follow the US transportation path and be forced to learn for themselves.

_________________________________________________

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

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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

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

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

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

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

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

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

My YouTube video library

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

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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

4 Comments

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