Tag Archives: density

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 Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

suburbia vs walkable3

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size, the smaller amounts of land owned, and the ability of the household to survive with a smaller number of (extremely expensive) household cars. This is because more compact development patterns allow people to engage in many daily tasks without needing to travel by car.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem with the disconnect between the many benefits of compact development and the high level of citizen opposition to such development is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often and understandably makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car.

It threatens the very core of their drivable lifestyle.

Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

 

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

The Many Benefits of Higher Density Development Patterns

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 6, 2019

 

Those who work in the fields of town planning and transportation are well aware of the overwhelming evidence that there are a great many significant benefits of higher density development patterns. Tragically, nearly all Americans believe higher densities destroy neighborhoods and overall quality of life.

Why this disconnect?

Because nearly all Americans are utterly dependent on car travel, and higher densities make car travel much more costly and much more inconvenient.

Given this, it is clear that car-dependent Americans have a vested interest in fighting against efforts to improve community quality of life. This helps explain why so many community problems persist throughout the nation.

In my 40 years of academic work in town and transportation planning, I have found that research studies show repeatedly and clearly that higher-density community and neighborhood development patterns provide the following benefits:

More affordable housing. This is due to smaller house size and smaller amounts of land owned.

Less per capita car travelThis reduces per capita air emissions and the overall per capita carbon footprint.

More physically fit community. With higher per capita levels of walking, bicycling, and transit use, residents of higher-density communities tend to be much more physically fit and less obese. Higher-density places promote social capital, and higher social capital is shown by studies to promote happiness, health, and longevity.

More financially sound households. A century ago, transportation was about 1 to 2 percent of household costs. Today it is about 23 percent and rising. The average annual cost of each car owned by a household is approximately $10,000. Higher-density neighborhoods substantially reduce the need for car ownership, car use, and overall household transportation costs. In addition, higher-density communities provide households with more job opportunities.

Lower startup costs. As Jane Jacobs noted several decades ago, higher-density town centers provide significantly lower capital startup costs for a small business. For example, it is much more financially viable for an individual to sell cooked food from a cart on a dense street corner than for an an individual to buy or lease a restaurant building to sell cooked food.

More neighborhood-based (and smaller) retail. Only higher densities make smaller, neighborhood-based, locally-owned shops financially feasible. Lower-density communities tend to only be able to financially support franchise stores or large-format retail stores that draw customers from a regional consumer-shed.

More neighborly. Higher-density neighborhoods promote sociability. Lower-density neighborhoods promote isolation and suspicion.

Slower speed. Healthy cities are slower in speed, as slower speeds promote retail and residential health. And significantly reduces traffic injuries and deaths. These benefits explain why there is a global movement o create “slow cities.”

More abundant and diverse choices. Higher-density neighborhoods inevitably create much more in the way of choices for restaurants, other types of retail and specialty goods, and culture.

More innovation and creativity. Many studies show that higher-density cities are significantly more innovative and creative than lower-density cities. Higher-density cities attract more talented, skilled people.

More exchange. The main reason cities exist is to promote the exchange of goods, services, ideas, and sociability. Higher densities substantially increase the efficiency and amount of exchange.

More productive workforce. Higher-density cities not only attract more talented workers – which in itself promotes productivity – but also enhances productivity by reducing transportation costs in creating products or providing services.

More walking, bicycling, and transit use. Higher densities induce mixed-use development patterns, which substantially reduces trip distances. Relatively short travel distances to destinations is by far the most powerful way to increase walking, bicycling, and transit use.

Higher quality transit. Higher-density leads to higher transit ridership, which leads to better, more widespread, and more frequent transit service.

More housing choices. Lower-densities tend to deliver very limited housing choice. Nearly all of the housing consists of large single-family homes on large lots of land. Higher-density neighborhoods can provide townhouses, apartments, accessory units, co-ops, and live-work spaces.

More fiscal health for local government. Lower-density development, as shown by strongtowns.org, is a fiscal parasite because it fails to generate anywhere near the tax revenue needed to pay for its significant impacts (mostly road work) on the community. And minimizes per capita expenditures for infrastructure.

More security from crime. Higher densities promote citizen surveillance (often called “eyes on the street”). Higher densities lead to more regular use of sidewalks and observing the outside through house windows greatly contributes to our looking out for our collective security. Since criminals tend to rely on not being seen, this citizen surveillance greatly reduces crime. Many compact neighborhoods are now called “911” neighborhoods, as compactness increases the chance someone will spot an emergency and call 911.

More travel independence for those unable to drive a car. In a lower-density neighborhood, distances to destinations are far away and require the use of dangerous and high-speed roads. This makes car travel essential for nearly all trips, and those unable to drive (such as seniors, children, and the disabled) therefore lose travel independence. They must rely on others to get around.

More environmentally friendly. If we take, say, 100,000 people, that number of people will consume less environmentally sensitive land, produce far less air and water pollution, consume far less energy, and require less asphalt and concrete when living more compactly (ie, at higher densities). If we take that same 100,000 people and disperse them in lower-density patterns, the result is far higher levels of air and water pollution, far larger amounts of environmentally sensitive land consumed, far higher amounts of energy consumed, and far more asphalt and concrete needed.

Final Thoughts

A big part of the problem is that those who dislike density are thinking about the issue as a motorist and not as a human being. Since cars take up so much space, density is something that often makes the motorist furiously mad (so mad that the emotion tends to turn off a person’s brain). The idea of added density is seen as a direct threat to their ability to travel unhindered (or unfrustrated) by car. Car travel in a dense city is an effective recipe for infuriating a motorist. And again, because of the large space consumption of the car, nearly every trip the motorist takes puts them in a bad mood, as it is highly likely that driving a big metal box will be frustrating – even when densities are low.

Getting around by bicycle (or when I walk or use the bus), I pretty much never notice traffic congestion. In fact, almost every bike ride I take puts me in a better mood.

 

Some references:

http://www.lgc.org/wordpress/docs/freepub/community_design/reports/density_manual.pdf

https://theconversation.com/higher-density-living-can-make-us-healthier-but-not-on-its-own-34920

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/11/cities-denser-cores-do-better/3911/

https://www.brookings.edu/articles/demand-for-density-the-functions-of-the-city-in-the-21st-century/

https://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/towns-and-cities/summary-value-urban-design-economic-environmental-and-social-benefi-10

https://www.citylab.com/life/2012/04/why-bigger-cities-are-greener/863/

https://www.britannica.com/topic/urban-sprawl/Costs-of-urban-sprawl

 

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On Being a YIMBY

 

By Dom Nozzi

In a discussion on a neighborhood email list, a person advocated more density in the neighborhood. Someone responded with a snarky comment about how this does not live near the place where the higher density is recommended.

I responded as follows.

I’m a YIMBY (yes in my backyard). I want higher density as close to where I live as possible (preferably across the street from me and in my backyard. More density means I have additional desirable things that enhance the walkable lifestyle I seek: More neighbors and potential friends, more people walking and cycling and using transit, and a higher likelihood that new, small scale retail and grocery and restaurants will be built near me.

This quote from Chris Leinberger (author of The Option of Urbanism) strongly resonates with me: “…walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that ‘more is less;’ more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral. Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral.”

 

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What kind of housing provides true quality of life?

By Dom Nozzi

A “PINO” is a Progressive in Name Only. A person who holds deceptive political beliefs. A person who is engaged in virtue signaling, wherein the person seeks to give others the impression that they are ethical. Or part of the tribe.

Camera guest opinion writer Judith Renfroe questioned how progressives can support more housing, infill, smaller houses, expanded transportation choices, smaller and local retail, and a lower carbon footprint.

My questions to her: In what universe do progressives support preservation of low-density, low-slung, and large-lot suburban housing? Or take a stance that is detrimental to affordable and healthy travel options (transit, walking, bicycling)? Or be anti-walkable city and pro-drivable suburb? Or support such restrictive single-family zoning that house prices continue to skyrocket and middle-income families are increasingly excluded from living in a city where their job is located?

The ideas that the anti-city and pro-car folks such as this author hold on to are absurd.

We are told that it is wrong for some Boulder progressives (the pro-city and pro-housing folks) to be in bed with “evil, greedy developers” who can’t ever be trusted to build desirable developments. That it is progressive and promoting quality of life if we instead “protect neighborhoods from development.” Or “protect our views of the Flatirons.”

Really?

Let’s see if I understand correctly. I’m living in Boulder in, say, 1890. According to the above logic, I must urge my neighbors and my elected officials to “protect our neighborhood” by not allowing an “evil, greedy developer” to build my home. Or any other home for that matter. After all, how can we trust a greedy developer? My two-story home will block my views of the Flatirons. And cause traffic gridlock.

Why, I ask, were developers heroic when you arrived in Boulder but, now that you are here, developers have become greedy and evil? Putting aside the double standard — or the idea that I’ve got mine, so we can pull up the ladder now — let us consider this proposition that your home and neighborhood were wonderful when you arrived.

In the view of a great many in the field of town planning, science, medicine, engineering and sociology, the past several decades have seen the development of single-family neighborhoods that are:

• The most unaffordably expensive in American history, in terms of housing, land consumption, and transportation.

• The most anti-social and suspicious-of-neighbors in American history (Robert Putnam’s research has shown that America is now a nation of loners).

• The most energy-intensive, air-polluting, and consumptive in American history.

• The most unhealthy in American history (studies show low-density neighborhood design triggers obesity, heart disease and diabetes).

• The most architecturally ugly buildings in American history.

• The most restrictive in travel options in American history — only motorized travel is possible.

• The most low-quality in American history — in terms of the durability of building materials used.

• The most isolating in American history — for seniors and children who cannot get around without a car.

Is this the sort of neighborhood design we should be protecting in the interests of quality of life and sustainability? In this age of crisis regarding affordability, climate change, health woes, loss of lifestyle and travel choices, and loss of beauty, shouldn’t we instead be incrementally tweaking the design of the neighborhoods built over those decades so that they instead deliver a better quality of life and more resilient sustainability?

Eighty percent of the land in Boulder is zoned single-family and has many of these features, compared to about 0.1% allocated to a walkable, sustainable lifestyle. Is it possible that the neighborhoods with the features I list above are outdated and unsustainable in a world of climate change and affordability woes? A world where the demand for walkable neighborhoods is enormous (and growing) compared to a tiny supply of such neighborhoods?

Shouldn’t we perhaps reconsider the angrily held view that your neighborhood is wonderful in design and should not be harmed by more housing or compact development? That perhaps maybe a few mistakes were made back when Boulder had a “wonderful small-town character” at the time you arrived here?

Dom Nozzi lives in Boulder.

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Energy, Environment, Peak Oil, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Dinosaur Politics in Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 9, 2019

PLAN-Boulder County, the leading advocacy group in Boulder County for what they curiously call “good planning,” has become a dinosaur that leads the charge, ironically, for increasing per capita car use and car dependency, less affordable housing, more remote suburban commuters, more elitism (“pull up the ladder in Boulder because I’ve made it here!”), less traffic safety, and larger out of town retail establishments.

As an aside, one thing that exemplifies the counterproductive nature of groups such as PLAN and Together4Boulder (another local NIMBY group fighting against green/compact cities and for pro-car elitism) is that their messages heavily rely on fear-mongering. Fear is an inherently reactionary emotion in politics — in part because it turns off the rational part of human brains.

Painting all developers and developments as evil – as PLAN, T4B, and others are prone to do — is increasingly naive, mean-spirited, and counterproductive. What such unhelpful criticism leads to is setting up even more obstacles (there is already a great many) to well-managed development – development that can effectively promote a number of important Boulder objectives. Particularly when the development is compact, walkable infill in locations that are places where people find it relatively easy to use transit, walk, or bicycle to get to important, regular destinations.

Enlightened actions – in contrast to reactionary advocacy by PLAN, T4B, and others – promote quality of life in cities such as Boulder by tending to be pro-city rather than pro-suburb. That means supporting (in the many appropriate locations found in Boulder) compact and mixed development, more housing, buildings between 2-5 stories, slower speed street design, less surface parking, more agglomeration, and human-scaled infrastructure and geometries. These are among the essential attributes that make cities more healthy and city living more enjoyable. Groups such as PLAN and Together4Boulder advocate the opposite, which amounts to an advocacy of drivable, sprawling, unaffordable, unsafe suburbanism.

That, my friends, is a recipe for a lack of sustainability. And a grim future for Boulder.

 

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Tactics for Meaningfully Increasing the Amount of Walking in a City

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 19, 2019

Boulder Colorado has created a advisory board to make recommendations to elected officials about how to increase the frequency of walking in the city. Unfortunately, the recommendations have been notably timid and ineffective up to this point.

If this board wishes to make recommendations that are effective, here are a few of the most important tactics Boulder will need to deploy if it desires to meaningfully increase the amount of walking in Boulder.

Note first that installing sidewalks (or widening existing sidewalks) does almost nothing to increase walking in a city, other than to pay politically easy lip service to walking. Nor does more paint or signs. All those things do is make people feel like they’ve advanced walking without really doing anything.

Tactics to meaningfully increase walking in Boulder:

* Proximity. Nothing is more important than this for walking. Proximity comes from mixing residences with retail, office, culture, and jobs. It also comes from compact land use patterns. As a CU professor recently pointed out, Boulder’s density is far too low to have any chance of supporting anything more than a tiny amount of walking. Boulder needs to be allowing much smaller sized residences, more ADUs, more co-ops, a much higher number of unrelated people living together, larger building floor area ratios, and increased central area/corridor height limits from 35 feet to 55 feet. It also needs to reform snobbish, low-density single-family zoning to allow much more than just large-lot single-family homes. Building setbacks and green space requirements need to be smaller. Front porches for homes (including those that encroach into front yard setbacks) must be allowed by right. Codes (such as required parking rules) need to be revised to encourage a substantial infilling of buildings to replace existing surface parking lot expanses. Like Cambridge MA, Boulder should tax parking spaces to promote space removal and replacement by buildings.

* Much more on-street parking needs to be installed. This is a quick, low-cost way to reduce crossing distances and obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively. It also promotes more healthy retail (a pedestrian amenity includes activating the street with healthy retail).

* Traffic calming to join the growing worldwide movement toward Slow Cities. Slowing down cars is critical for more walking and safer walking. Over time, this also leads to more compact land use patterns. Calming does not include simply installing speed limit signs that lower speed limits. Slowing car speeds is only effective when we revise street design to induces slower, more attentive driving, and such low-speed design must be installed on arterials and collectors. Designs include on-street parking, landscaped intersection bulb-outs, road diets, more narrow travel lanes (9 to 10 ft), woonerfs, walking streets, connected streets, mid-block street crossings, cross-access, shorter block lengths, and give-way streets. Canopy street trees can also be an effective way to slow cars and create a pleasant, picturesque sense of enclosure. Traffic calming tools should not include speed humps, which create noise pollution, vehicle damage, and emergency vehicle problems.

* Low-speed, human-scaled design. Canopy street trees need to butt up against curbs. Buildings need to butt up against streetside sidewalks (to reduce walking distances and create human scale). Street lights need to be no taller than 10-15 feet to create a low-speed ambience. Signal lights in town centers should be post-mounted at the corners of intersections rather than hanging or mounted above streets. Tall street and signal lights create a high-speed highway ambience that signals to motorists that they should drive fast. Tall lights also kill romantic charm. Advertising signs need to be kept small in size.

* A much higher percentage of parking spaces in Boulder need to be priced. In addition to more paid parking, Boulder needs to start electronic tolling of major streets (or adopt mileage-based user fees). Both of these tactics will reduce low-value car trips, congestion, and solo driving. Over time, they will lead to more compact housing patterns.

* Eliminate required minimum parking regulations. This means that Boulder — like hundreds of other cities — needs to convert minimum parking requirements into maximum parking requirements. In such a change, developers will not cut their own throat by providing insufficient parking.

* Return all one-way streets back to their original two-way design. One-ways kill retail and residential health, speed up cars, create dangerous wrong-way travel for motorists and cyclists, are confusing and annoying for out-of-towners, and make people who are walking feel unsafe. They also induce frustration, impatience and anger on the part of motorists.

* Brick crosswalks and brick or cobblestone streets. These features slow cars and boost ambience.

* Remove turn lanes. In town centers, remove slip lanes, double-left turn lanes and continuous left-turn lanes. Keep intersection turning radii very small. Overall intersection size in town centers must be very small. While roundabouts can be very useful as a replacement for signal lights, they tend to over-size intersections in town centers.

As can be seen above, there is much work that needs to be done in car-centric cities such as Boulder if it expects to see any success at all in meaningfully increasing the amount of walking that occurs in Boulder. It should surprise no one that the amount of walking in Boulder today is tiny compared to where it should be for a city that expects to be healthy.

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Boulder is at the Point of No Return on Car Travel

By Dom Nozzi

The drivable suburban experiment we have engaged in for the past century is one of the most wasteful, unsustainable paths ever taken by humanity. It is also one of the biggest traps.

Low-density suburbia (80 percent of Boulder) comes far short of paying its own way. The meager tax revenues it produces come nowhere near paying for its enormous impacts. Suburbia is a Ponzi Scheme. And a self-perpetuating downward spiral. It is financially unsustainable because it requires enormous subsidies. Yet because a driving lifestyle is highly inconvenient and costly when housing densities are higher, lower densities have been demanded for over a century, because nearly all of us insist our elected officials only allow that type of car-enabling development.

When car travel emerged a century ago, we began building our communities to facilitate such travel. We eventually overbuilt for cars and reached a tipping point. A point where driving was the only realistic way for the vast majority of us to travel. That threshold created a world where there is no turning back. We here in Boulder have reached a point of no return. Even Amsterdam is seeing a steady rise in car ownership.

Even if we realize that the costs of over-reliance on driving are unbearable – too many traffic deaths, too much climate change from car emissions, too much financial burden, too many health problems from our sedentary lifestyles — it is too late for us to reverse course and back away from excessive car dependence. Why? Because when nearly all of us can only travel by car, it is nearly impossible, politically, to enact measures that make non-car travel feasible. The vast majority of us – as motorists – are obligated to fight vigorously to retain our only means of travel. We are compelled to attack any and all effective methods to make walking, bicycling, and transit feasible. We angrily oppose efforts to allow affordable granny flats. To modestly narrow roads and intersections. To allow more compact development. To adopt equitable motorist user fees so motorists pay their own way. We scream against safety-promoting traffic calming plans. We yell about proposals to mix offices or retail within our residential neighborhoods. We demand that massive parking be provided for proposed development. We insist that the highway be widened.

A century ago, many of us were seduced by the “miraculous” nature of the car. “Look what cars can do! Easy to carry passengers and all the stuff we buy at the store! Protection from weather! High-speed travel! We can live in a Cabin in the Woods and escape the crime and noise and congestion and pollution of the city!”

The reality is that providing for high-speed, dangerous, space-hogging cars is a zero-sum game. Every time we make car travel easier – and nearly all of us demand our leaders do that — we make travel by walking, bicycling or transit more difficult.

That dynamic means nearly all of us are trapped. Car travel is now about the only way to get around.

Because our only way of travel takes up so much space, we must fight to ensure that there are severe limitations on how many others can move to our city. Because if more than a handful move to Boulder, our roads and parking lots are quickly congested.

Nearly all, therefore, want to “pull up the ladder” so no one else can move to our city because those people will ALSO be motorists congesting our roads and parking lots! Like anti-social hermits, we must conclude that new residents are not new neighbors and friends. They instead are threats to our car-based quality of life. Never mind that the car-based lifestyle is unsustainable and ruins the quality of the city. Oops.

When even timid efforts to create street design for bicycling are attempted, “enlightened” Boulder citizens unleash a torrent of rage – a growing national phenomenon known as “bikelash.” Hostile, impatient, aggressive motorists honk and throw trash at people on two wheels, and brush past cyclists at high speeds. Columnists and radio commentators rail against the “anti-car bicycling lobby,” and politicians remove bike infrastructure — thinking (wrongly) that car travel is otherwise impossible.

The self-reinforcing nature of the transportation trap explains why trapped cities such as Boulder (ironically) have made the auto and oil industries so obscenely profitable.

Our only way to escape the trap of car dependency is for our society to no longer be able to afford it. But that will not occur in our lifetimes.

We have ourselves an existential threat.

 

 

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Happy Cars are Ironically a Recipe for Ruining Quality of Life

 

By Dom Nozzi

Recently, someone on Facebook responded to an article that pointed out the hypocrisy of many political liberals. Such liberals support social justice, yet aggressively protect their snobbish low-density single-family neighborhoods from efforts to make such neighborhoods more inclusive by allowing more compact living arrangements.

In his response to this news article, he noted that he strongly dislikes the idea of “living in a real city with cars and people on top of me, noise, threats, vile smells, and just a general feeling of being under siege. Too much stimulation of a certain kind.” He concluded by saying that he “honestly can’t imagine how other people in these living situations find it appealing.”

A Facebook friend responded by pointing out that while this is true to some extent with some larger US cities, many cities have comfortable densities offering a pleasant quality of life.

I responded by pointing out that these more pleasant conditions are also found in a great many cities in Europe.

But this conversation brings to light one of the most tragic ironies of human history. The fact that today, we find ourselves in an auto-dependent world that compels us to equate easy, low-cost car travel with a high quality of life. The irony is that this is precisely backward.

Conveniencing car travel is a powerful recipe for destroying our quality of life.

By far, the biggest problem with the design and quality of life in American cities is that nearly all of them were and are built for the convenience of car travel. That inevitably means a loss of human scale, noise pollution, air pollution, water pollution, excessive lighting, excessive speeds, dangerous conditions, too many dead zone parking areas, loss of the agglomeration economies that allow cities to thrive, enormous inconvenience and danger for pedestrians and cyclists, excessive financial burdens for households and businesses and governments, a ruination of public health due to physical inactivity, an inability to maintain or repair the massive amounts of infrastructure that cars require, and ugly streetscapes due to the inevitable need for retailers to scream at high-speed motorists with glaring lights and signs. There are a great many other things I could list here.

Again, this is a great tragedy. Nearly all of us are car-dependent, which understandably makes most of us angrily demand that we continue to convenience cars. Which makes us our own worst enemies, as doing so, as I noted above, substantially worsens our quality of life.

In sum, promoting car travel inevitably creates cities that are in many ways unpleasant. This is a bitter, ruinous irony, since car dependency deludes many of us into thinking that making it easier to drive a car is IMPROVING our quality of life.

Making cars happy means that our generation is leaving an awful legacy for future generations. In the future, much of what we have built will need to be demolished and replaced.

A future time when we have finally regained our senses.

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

What To Do About Community Development Issues? A conversation with a friend

By Dom Nozzi

January 16, 2019

My Friend: I don’t know what to do about the fact that our city makes it so difficult for me to create an accessory dwelling unit (ADU)  or a duplex in my single-family zoned house.

Dom Responds: Things you can do: work to elect Council members who are urbanists, rather than NIMBY candidates. Talk up the many, many merits of urbanism and compact/traditional/human-scaled development with your friends (if you are not able to do that, at least send them videos of speakers who do that – I can send you such videos). You can also urge your friends to stop making Boulder’s quality of life worse. Your friends do that every time they DEMAND more parking. Every time they DEMAND more open space. Every time they DEMAND larger setbacks. Every time they DEMAND that no small retail or ADUs or duplexes or coops be allowed in their sacred single-family neighborhoods. You can also speak with your friends and Council members about the merits of traditional, lovable building design. And the unlovable, jarring horrors of modernist building design. Don’t forget to put in a plug for converting free surface parking into paid parking or conversion of parking to homes and retail. Also, the need to convert free roads into toll roads. And the joys of road diets!

BTW, what exactly do you mean by “runaway growth”? Growth that cannot be stopped? If so, we cannot stop growth and slowing it provides no benefit I am aware of. Boulder is ALREADY growing slowly, largely due to the fact that so few can afford to live here. Too many in Boulder believe growth is rapid and out of control in Boulder in recent times. That Council is caving in to developers due to corruption. I don’t see that at all. In my opinion, “runaway growth” is inflammatory and inaccurate.

My Friend: I agree with you on how “density” has gotten to be a dirty word, but it has come by that reputation quite honestly. Denver’s rapid development is very concerning as an example of everything that is bad, and is spilling over into Boulder.

Dom Responds: Why is “rapid development” bad? Would it be better if it happened over 10 years instead of 5? To me, the RATE of growth is irrelevant. I would LOVE to see the rapid construction of walkable, traditional, human scaled town centers rather than drivable suburbs. But I would settle for SLOW development of such charming places, too. To me, it is much better to be fearful of CAR HAPPY development, rather than RAPID development.

My Friend: I get the feeling that cities salivate over the expected new taxes they will collect from the new development and are willing to take short-cuts to maximize the intake.

Dom Responds: I do not believe there are shortcuts being taken by Boulder. I don’t believe Council members in Boulder are corrupt. Both opinions are highly cynical and wrong, in my opinion. Growth in this region is largely induced by the very high quality of life, and the resulting very high cost of land. Boulder elected officials therefore know they need to do nothing shady or corrupt to have a fair amount of revenue-generating development arrive here. To stop or slow growth, your only option is to destroy the quality of life here.

My Friend: Over 70,000 people moved to the Denver-Boulder area last year alone (5,000 per month) and that number or more are expected this year as well as the Denver/Boulder area being the #1 most popular place in the U.S. to move to because of our awesome outdoor environment and #1 availability for jobs.

Dom Responds: Again, lots of population growth in the region is NOT bad, per se. It is only bad if it is accommodated with car-happy development. The community conversation needs to focus on regulations obligating good design. Not obsessing on stopping or slowing or reducing density for new development.

My Friend: At this rate, we will experience grid-lock on I-25 at all hours and not only during rush hours in the near future!

Dom Responds: The good news, as my speeches and books point out, is that congestion tends to be self-regulating. When roads get more crowded, people start having to pay a “time tax.” That results in many motorists opting to change their travel: Some choose different routes. Some avoid rush hour. Some move closer to their destinations. Some use transit. Also, we already know how to avoid congestion if all else fails: tolls.

My Friend: Citizens are perplexed over what to do to stop the grid-lock.

Dom Responds: It is not rocket science: introduce tolls.

My Friend: Can you cite any recent developments within the past 20-30 years that are good high density developments anywhere in the world?

Dom Responds: Here is a worldwide list. Not all of them are great examples, but many or most are very good. They all have a much brighter future – even if some are limping today – than conventional suburban crap: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_examples_of_New_Urbanism

My Friend: Your examples of wonderful, beautiful, high density cities were all created in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. Yes, Italy is wonderful and loveable for its character and old-world charms, but rebuilding old-world Europe in the U.S. does not seem possible.

Dom Responds: Untrue. See above link.

My Friend: Are you proposing that 5-story buildings are the max and everything will be ok if we followed that paradigm?

Dom Responds: No. That building height (which is in the Boulder Charter) is only one of many, many essential design elements we must adopt. Toss modernism in the waste can. Adopt slow speed design. Use human scale. Use traditional building design. Create tree-lined streets of a modest width. Mix housing with retail, civic and jobs. Develop compactly rather than low density. I can go on, but will stop there.

My Friend: They are saying that when we get autonomous driving cars, there will be many, many more cars on the roads. What will stop planners from creating tons more asphalt to accommodate them? Where will they park?

Dom Responds: Lack of parking is a VERY GOOD THING. As is congestion. Both induce people to do things that are beneficial for themselves and their community. The only thing that will stop our century-long road widening madness is for us to RUN OUT OF MONEY (and that day is rapidly approaching).

 

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

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