Tag Archives: density

Are Master Plans Useful?

By Dom Nozzi

I was told that “a lot of the smaller towns need to go vertical now or, at the very least plan for it. As increased density is the easiest way to stave off the ‘crowding’ from lack of infrastructure development that seems to go along with suburban sprawl around here.” This person asked if I “had a chance to review the master plans for the county and local municipalities?”

I responded by pointing out that I agreed about our needing more height and density to reduce the perception of “crowding.” However, I think it is best, like much of Paris, to avoid going higher than five stories with building heights.

I have mostly not looked at any Greenville County (South Carolina) or City of Greenville master plans.

Having spent 20 years writing such plans professionally, I learned that 99 percent of master plan content is little more than lip service and vague platitudes.

Little known fact: Nearly all cities and counties adopt plans that people assume are tailored for the local community, yet nearly all of these plans end up saying nearly the same “feel good” things that every other city and county say in their plans. In communities that are utterly lacking in leadership — such as my former city of Gainesville FL — the master “plans” are not plans at all. They simply document what the city had agreed to do or was in the process of doing already. So the “plans” are perhaps more accurately called history books that used “happy” words.

If someone was to ask me to state the top two or three things that Greenville and Greenville County should do to improve quality of life, safety, economic health, public health, happiness, and pride (ie, the two or three things that a master plan must call for above and beyond anything else), those items would be to adopt the following Master Plan.

Dom’s Master Plan for Greenville SC (and nearly every other American city)

American cities – after a century of single-mindedly allocating vast sums of public dollars to promoting motor vehicle travel – have created a world designed primarily for motor vehicles rather than people. The following are the three primary ways this must be corrected.

(1)  Because motor vehicles consume so much space, a century of efforts to promote motor vehicle mobility means that American cities are dying from the disease known as “Gigantism.” It is a self-perpetuating downward spiral.

To escape, we must — in our town center — shrink the size of roads, including converting one-ways back to two-way, and removing continuous left-turn lanes. Also, we need to shrink highways, intersections, parking lots, building setbacks, and minimum lot and house sizes. We need to reduce the height of signs, lights, and skyscraper buildings. And couple this with bringing an end to the extremely dangerous practice of employing forgiving roadway design in local traffic engineering manuals, and to instead adopt manuals that promote slower, safer, more attentive driving;

(2) Adopt a form-based rather than a use-based development code, a code which would obligate much more compact development, a vast increase in walkable neighborhoods, require traditional/historical rather than modernist architecture, and adopting geographically calibrated development regulations that provide for all lifestyle choices.

We need to further promote compact development by inverting property taxes. Conventional tax rate structure used by nearly all cities taxes buildings instead of land. The higher the value of a building on a piece of downtown land, the higher the tax. Instead, tax land itself, not the building on it, so that there is a tax disincentive for keeping land vacant or underused in the town center; and

(3) Significantly increase the amount of (paid) on-street parking in the town center, coupled with a conversion of required minimum parking to a maximum allowable amount of parking for new development, as well as unbundling the price of housing from the cost of any parking provided for that housing. Adopt other motorist user fees such as electronic road tolling.

My guess is that none of the above is called for by local master plans. And whereas those master plans are surely hundreds of pages long, my master plan (above) is about one page long.

I can even write a master plan that consists of one sentence: “The City shall re-establish the timeless principle of designing to make people happy rather than cars.”

That captures nearly everything important that needs to be done in American cities.

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American Cities are NOT Overcrowded

By Dom Nozzi

Despite the conventional wisdom, American cities are not “overcrowded” with people. And yet we hear this complaint over and over again.

American cities are only perceived to be overcrowded, but that is only because nearly all of us travel IN CARS.

Speaking as a town and transportation planner (40 years of academic and professional work), there are countless and effective ways to design cities so that there is a much-needed increase in population while at the same time dramatically decreasing per capita car ownership and car dependence.

Design that achieves this (and such tactics have been well-known for decades) would enrich city affordability, sustainability, quality of life, choice in goods/services/culture available to residents, innovation, public safety, and public health.

We achieve this by realizing that well-designed higher and gentler density is the new green.

Decades of fighting against density and growth in nearly all American cities is a counterproductive, outdated relic from the 1960s and goes a long way toward explaining why American cities have extremely high and destructive ecological footprints by its citizens.

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Who Needs Enemies?

By Dom Nozzi

I have noticed something tragic about the many, many concerns I’ve heard from neighborhood residents all over the nation about proposed development – including Boulder (of course). And now in the historic neighborhood in Greenville, South Carolina where I currently live. EVERY neighbor seems to think they know EXACTLY what should be done regarding the development to “protect” the neighborhood.

And EVERY angrily demanded change leads to one or more of the following for the residents at the new development: More per capita car ownership, more per capita car travel, higher speed car travel, and housing that is more expensive.

They do this by DEMANDING more parking. Bigger setbacks. Shorter buildings. Less density. No on-street parking.

In their rush to achieve those “victories,” they forget to demand one of the most important design features: buildings that are compatible with the traditional design of the neighborhood. This is an especially sad thing to neglect when the neighborhood is historic. Oops.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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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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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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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

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