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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.

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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

Designing Streets for Safety

By Dom Nozzi

In September 2007, a citizen in Micanopy, Florida asked me about whether a large “vision triangle” was a good idea at a street intersection. A vision triangle is an imaginary triangle drawn at the corners of an intersection that is to be clear of “visual obstructions” such as buildings or fences or signs.visibilitysmall

I informed this person that in general, the need for a vision triangle arose in the 20th Century, when engineers began to design “forgiving roads” to try to safely accommodate higher speed, reckless, incompetent, inattentive driving of cars and trucks. Such a design paradigm assumes that drivers will always drive at high speeds in a reckless, incompetent, inattentive way.

I believe this concept is increasingly being seen as flawed. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that inevitably results in the growth of higher speed, reckless, incompetent and inattentive driving.

Drivers drive at the highest speed at which they feel safe. They also devote as much attentiveness as is deemed necessary, and no more. Therefore, if we design roads that “forgive” high speed and inattentive driving by moving trees/vegetation/buildings away from the street with a large vision triangle, a growing number of drivers will consequently drive at higher speeds and less carefully, because they can now do so more safely.

There is now a growing call, which I strongly support, that suggests we should reverse this safety strategy. After all, the track record of this form of conventional safety engineering has been awful over the past several decades. Crashes have not declined, and drivers drive faster and more recklessly.

The new paradigm, which I believe will result in a safer transportation system, is one that obligates motorists to drive carefully. To drive more attentively. More slowly.

In a compact, walkable town center, which needs to be low-speed in design, we need to return to the tradition of designing for the Attentive Street, not the Forgiving Street. Buildings, vegetation (particularly street trees) and fences needs to be moved close to the street. Vision triangles should be quite modest in size.

The dilemma is that at first glance, it would seem that a larger vision triangle promotes safety, since the motorist can see a larger area of potential threats such as other motor vehicles on the crossing street. But counterintuitively, the opposite is true, as I demonstrated above.

Woonerf in Binghamton

 

For safetly, motorists should find streets that require them to drive slower

and more carefully in order to feel safe. By being obligated to be slower and more careful, safety increases.

This is the opposite of what engineers have been trained to believe over the past several decades, so many continue to ferociously oppose such a design shift.

In sum, assuming we are designing a street that would appropriately have a relatively low design speed of 10-20 mph, I would urge the vision triangle to be extremely small. Larger triangles encourage less safe, higher speed, less attentive turns and cruising speeds by motorists.

Would Stop Signs Increase Safety?

In general, stop signs are not a recommended treatment for slowing cars or increasing safety (or making a larger vision triangle safer). Stop signs can create a false sense of security and are often disregarded. Better treatments would include horizontal, physical interventions such as a traffic circle, a roundabout, narrower travel lanes, bulb-outs, on-street parking, speed tables, etc. In other words, as I noted above, designs that obligate the motorist to drive more slowly and attentively. Stop signs do not do that.

To achieve this slower, more attentive and safe street design, it is important to work with an engineer who is sympathetic to the Attentive Street design paradigm. I recommend designers such as Michael Ronkin, Dan Burden, Michael Wallwork, Walter Kulash, or Ian Lockwood.

Low design speeds not only improve street safety. They also improve retail health. They create “drive-to” shopping streets rather than “drive-through” escape routes.

_____________________________________

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

 

 

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Interview with the Bloomington (Indiana) Alternative

By Dom Nozzi

The following is an October 2007 interview with the Bloomington Alternative.

Bloomington Alternative (BA): While your book & work addresses broader issues of urban planning, your focus seems to be upon making cities more walkable or pedestrian-friendly. How do you keep bicyclists from being forsaken in the tension between motorists & walkers?

Dom Nozzi (DN): I should start by pointing out that I have a bachelor’s in environmental science and a masters in planning. My masters thesis was bicycle transportation. In my over 21 years as a professional city planner, I have been a regular bicycle commuter. In fact, I have never in my life driven a car to work, and have only owned a car for a year and a half (and that was a long time ago).

About 15 years ago, in my work as a planner, I had an astonishing, crucial epiphany: In a town center (or downtown), the pedestrian is the design imperative. Everything else is secondary, if we are to have a healthy community. In the town center, the pedestrian is the lynchpin. If we successfully design for a quality pedestrian environment, we synergistically and inevitably create a better environment for transit, for bicyclists, for seniors, for children, for businesses, for the environment, and, ultimately, even for motorists.

I am convinced, therefore, that bicyclists are not forsaken if we design well for peds. Indeed, I believe conditions for bicyclists are greatly improved. Two quick examples: Quality pedestrian design requires low-speed car travel and proximity to destinations. Both of those elements are essential for meaningful levels of high-quality bicycling to occur.

BA: As mentioned on your website, there is an emerging concept in urban design known as a “transect” that essentially is a way of classifying different kinds of neighborhoods along a continuum, from rural to Bloomington co courthouse6suburban to city neighborhood to downtown that prescribes the idea that things that belong in one zone would be out of place in another.

DN: Yes, the transect is one of the most fertile, important concepts I have learned in my career as a planner. Another way of describing it: There is a place for everything and everything has its place (although this is not precisely true, as some of us may argue that there is NO place for, say, a nuclear power plant…).

BA: Among the features that you attribute to making the “urban core” more walkable are on-street parking & the absence or removal of bike lanes, as, “Bicycle lanes tend to increase the crossing distance for pedestrians, and are often incompatible with on-street parked cars unless an excessively wide bicycle lane is created.”

What would you define as an “excessively wide bicycle lane”? Is not the call for on-street parking centered around the idea that it is more convenient for motorists to become pedestrians when they can park on the street?

DN: An excessively wide bicycle lane in this context is one which creates a street width that results in motorists occasionally using the bicycle lane as a car travel lane. Excessive bicycle lane width in this context also occurs if the width creates a “racetrack” character (which results in a motorist tendency to engage in speeding). Finally, excessive width is a width that detracts from the “sense of enclosure” that is so important in creating a high-quality, walkable town center. As Gertrude Stein so famously said about a dead or dying downtown, “there is no ‘there’ there.” What she meant was that there was no sense of place. A sense of place is most effectively achieved by creating a human-scaled ambience in a town center (and perhaps elsewhere). Human scale, in part, means that streets and intersections are relatively narrow. One important result of creating a human-scaled town center is that streets are low-speed. Cars are obligated to travel slowly and attentively. One of the most powerful, beneficial ways to create a low-speed, human-scaled, walkable town center is to install as much on-street parking as is feasible. Some important benefits of on-street parking: They create friction, which slows cars. They create a human-scaled sense of enclosure (they are place-makers). They reduce dangerous, inattentive speeding by motorists.

BA: One of the excuses used by city planners when denying requests for more bikable streets is that not very many people ride bicycles as their primary mode of transit, but is that not the result of urban planning based around autos & the bi-peds in those autos?

DN: In a sense, it is absolutely true that nearly all city planners and traffic engineers are motorists who, as motorists, think and see as motorists (rather than being public servants who have the task of improving the community quality of life for all). By single-mindedly designing for happy motoring, planners and engineers (unintentionally?) make conditions more difficult for bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians. Economists call this the “barrier effect.” Roads have too many travel lanes and are too high-speed. There is too much auto parking. Homes are too far away from jobs and shops and parks and the street.

Note, however, that most planners and engineers have the knowledge about how to create more bikable streets. They fail to make bike-friendly recommendations not just because they are utterly dependent on car travel themselves, but also because they have not been given PERMISSION to make bike-friendly recommendations by their supervisors and their elected officials.

How is that permission most likely to be granted? One way is by electing a courageous leader who has the wisdom to create a better community (I know, I know. This is nearly impossible). Another way is to create a growing army of former motorists who are now (or would like to be) bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. How is such an army created? Not with bike lanes, or sidewalks or free transit passes. While those things may help a bit, the most significant way to create more bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users is, by far, to ensure that the car parking in your community is scarce and properly priced (ie, provided efficiently). That you have sufficiently higher density, mixed-use development. And that your streets are low-speed and no more than 3 lanes in size. These tactics are not easy and will not happen overnight. Which helps explain why nearly all Americans travel by car, and why we too often use relatively ineffective, path-of-least-resistance strategies such as installing bike parking or sidewalks.

BA: Why the concern about bike lanes making pedestrian crossings a few feet longer & not on-street parking making pedestrian crosswalks wider?

DN: On-street parking typically reduces the width of pavement containing moving cars. By contrast, in a town center that we hope to make more walkable, bike lanes can increase the width of pavement containing moving cars (or will create the “racetrack” which induces motorists to drive at higher, more inattentive speeds). Furthermore, as I noted above, on-street parking increases the “friction” that motorists perceive, which slows them. In a town center, a bike lane can reduce friction, which can induce speeding.

BA: On your website, you acknowledge that when a walkable, compact urban location contains major (arterial) streets that such streets generally require the installation of in-street bicycle lanes, but you state that, “When such major streets require bike lanes, it is a strong indication that the street itself is a transect violation. Also incompatible in this location are bicycle paths separate from the street. Such paths are not only unaffordable to install in this location, but significantly increase bicyclist danger.”

As stated elsewhere in your work, you attribute this hightened danger both to inattentiveness on the part of motorists & the invisibility & false sense of security of the bicyclists.

Are not these psychological dimensions of driver & rider attentiveness at the core of many traffic accidents, irrespective of road conditions?

DN: Road conditions are, by far, the primary origin of driver behavior. The attentiveness, skill and safety of motorists is largely the result of how the road is designed. It is NOT because “Americans” or [fill in the name of your community] are genetically predisposed to poor or unsafe driving. As I note in my forthcoming book, this erroneous assumption that Americans are poor and dangerous drivers has resulted in the catastrophic mistake of the traffic engineering profession adopting the “forgiving road” paradigm — which, ironically, creates less safe roads.

BA: Is not the “affordability” of infrastructural changes very subjective, given the great disparity of respective annual expenditures for bike-centered & auto-centric design?

DN: Absolutely. Only an inequitably tiny amount of public dollars are allocated to bikes/peds/transit compared to cars. But this unfortunate situation is extremely unlikely to change unless, again, we have courageous leadership or we establish the controlling, independent variables (the lynchpins) I mention above, such as scarce/priced car parking, modest roads, etc. Only those things will lead to a meaningful change in funding.

BA: Riding bikes on sidewalks is technically illegal, though rarely enforced, & bicyclists are expected to ride with traffic in the right third of the auto traffic lane & often keep to the very right of the lane since it is difficult for cyclists to tell whether the drivers see them or not, often subjecting cyclists to navigating debris, sewage grates & the opening of doors & the backing out of motorists using on-street parking.

What about these concerns, common to the average cyclist?

DN: In a town center, biking on a sidewalk is dangerous. In addition, unless the bicyclist is riding at a pedestrian speed, bikes and peds don’t mix well. In this part of the community, if it is properly designed for low-speed walkability, it is perfectly safe and comfortable for the bicyclist to “share the lane” with the motorist. In such riding, there is no need for concern about road debris, since it has been swept by cars. In higher speed suburbs, a wide curb lane (14-16 feet wide) w/o a painted bike lane line is best, since this ensures periodic motorist sweeping of the area bicyclists ride in. Less desirable is a painted bike lane, which is hardly ever swept by motorists. I am somewhat sympathetic to painted bike lanes, however, because they are more likely to encourage novice bicyclists to become bike commuters. Bike lanes also send the important message that “this is a bike-friendly community.” (they can also reduce the “racetrack” problem, BTW).

BA: You state that you also generally oppose bike lanes in suburban areas, thusly, “In general, bicycle lanes are not necessary on intermediate (collector) streets, due to low traffic volumes. Like walkable urban locations, bicycle paths separate from the street are generally incompatible in this location.” Why is the mode of bicycling always subjugated to the needs of motorists?

DN: In general, I believe that the most appropriate place for bike lanes is in suburbs (particularly higher speed arterial — major — streets). In suburban, lower-speed neighborhoods, bike lanes usually become superfluous, as it is perfectly safe for the bicyclist to share the lane with cars. And yes, in suburbs we find a relatively large number of intersections and driveways (more so than in rural/preservation areas), which makes off-street bicycle paths less appropriate. It is not clear to me how any of this pertains to the “needs of motorists”.

BA: Are not the higher vehicle speeds & “low traffic volumes” (affecting sense of security/driver attentiveness) of suburban roadways actually more dangerous for bicyclists?

DN: Yes, as speeds increase in suburban locations, bike lanes become more important and appropriate. It all depends on context and the design speed of the road.

BA: Would not bicycle lanes in semi-urban & suburban areas grant greater safety to cyclists due to their separation from commuting motorists with cell-phones & in-car DVD players?

DN: Yes. See above.

BA: Aside from downtown merchantile districts, sprawl malls & school routes, what other areas really need greater walkability?

DN: Other than in a town center, walkability should be provided whenever and wherever the residential and non-residential market call for it. This can include inner (and older) suburbs and new urbanist neighborhoods built in suburban locations. Should a suburban neighborhood desire it, suburban areas can also be retrofitted to a small degree by being more walkable.

Note that once the significant market distorting subsidies (large and “free” roads, “free” and abundant parking, etc.) whither away, the societal interest in walkability will grow substantially. Large numbers will either try to move to walkable town centers or see that their suburban areas are retrofitted to be more walkable.

BA: Have you ever considered that one dimension that intersects these “transects” or planning zones is that of people in wheel chairs, who regularly encounter curbs without ramps & obstacles to sight lines at intersections & impediments to wheeled travel along sidewalks. What can be done to make streets & sidewalks more wheelchair accessible?

DN: Engineers and planners need to do a “wheelchair audit” by trying to get around in a wheelchair so they can see how many obstacles people face when using a wheelchair. I am fully supportive of most curb intersection ramps and being sure that sidewalk/crosswalk surfaces contain smoothness.

Note that wheelchair users are significantly better off when high-quality, compact, walkable town centers are built, since nearly all destinations become proximate and therefore more accessible. And cars move more slowly.

BA: Would you favor more sidewalks, crosswalks & bridges over by-passes & around retail plazas & hotels along interstates?

DN: I am always supportive of filling sidewalk gaps in town center and suburban locations. And I am a firm supporter of creating more complete streets. Pedestrian overpasses are rarely a good idea, unless we are talking about a roadway that is too dangerous to cross at-grade, such as an Interstate. Such overpasses in other locations tend to be expensive, particularly when they go mostly unused (largely because it is easier and quicker to cross at-grade).

In addition, there is little that American communities need more than an increase in pedestrians. It therefore seems to me to be a strategic blunder to remove even more of the few pedestrians we have in our towns from our nearly empty sidewalks and putting them in overpasses. Pedestrians, as AASHTO points out, are the lifeblood of a city. People by their very nature enjoy the sociability of a sidewalk bustling with pedestrians (as do small retailers). Finally, an overpass tells us that we have given up on restoring the livability and quality of our street. We shall forever give it over to the car.

BA: How do you feel about cul-de-sacs & obstacles at intersections as traffic abatement?

DN: Cul-de-sacs are extremely undesirable and should only be permitted when it is impossible to create a connected street (due to environmental factors). Such design externalizes costs on other streets, because cul-de-sac residents must drive more (and do so on streets other than the one they live on). They reduce trips by bicycle, walking and transit, because they tend to increase travel distances. They increase driver inattentiveness. They reduce child “street skills.” They increase the cost of public service delivery.

As for “obstacles,” I am not clear what you mean. If you are referring to treatments such as roundabouts or traffic circles, I am enormously supportive of them in places (mostly suburban) where there is sufficient room. They slow cars, increase motorist attentiveness and significantly reduce major crashes.

BA: How about so-called “gated communities” that restrict pedestrian & auto access?

DN: Gated communities share many of the problems I mention above with cul-de-sacs. They are almost never justified, and should be regulated against by the community land development code. They are an undesirable symbol of our “cocooning” or inwardly turning nature as Americans.

BA: Have you ever heard about cases of alleviating the death of wildlife by re-designing places where migrating frogs, crabs, ducks & deer can travel without crossing auto traffic, & do critters deserve walkability as well?

DN: Yes, in the county I just moved from in FL (Alachua), a wildlife underpass/crossing was installed along a state highway that crosses a major 22,000-acre preserve (Paynes Prairie). I understand that it is effective. I am not academically trained in such features, but it seems to me that it would be a challenge to design such crossings to ensure that a high percentage of your wildlife is using the crossing. I would nevertheless support such “permeability” enhancements to increase habitat connectivity.

BA: How do you feel about the proliferation of parking garages?

DN: Parking garages can be a positive sign for a community, since such structures substantially reduce the amount of land devoted to auto parking (as long as surface parking is concurrently removed so that there is no net increase in parking). It is essential, however, that garages be properly priced so that they are paid for by the motorists who use them (rather than all of us). They must also be wrapped by vibrant, active retail shops, residences, and services so that they do not deaden a town center.

Cities should be careful when they think about creating a garage. Often, a parking “shortage” is a misperception. The “shortage” is commonly just a poorly-designed, inefficient parking arrangement. Usually, the “shortage” is due to too much free or underpriced parking. There are a great many cheaper, more efficient ways to solve this “shortage” problem short of building an expensive garage. Often, a garage is built and is underused, much to the astonishment of the community. Typically, such a surprise occurs because the area actually had too much parking to begin with, but the community didn’t properly design it.

BA: What do you think about parking garages for cyclists & scooter users with showers & changing rooms or structures that combine bus-stops & covered bike shelters?

DN: Designing a garage to allow cyclist use is usually not terribly useful as such parking would typically be rarely used by bicyclists (except those looking for sheltered, long-term parking). Bicyclists almost always will opt for more convenient short-term parking outside of the garage. Certainly it is a good idea, generally, to provide for scooter parking in garages. I would expect that showers and changing rooms would be little-used in garages. I believe that covered bike parking at bus stops would be a good “inter-modal link,” because it expands the range of non-motorists that the bus can attract, and those who arrive at the bus stop by bicycle will need the long-term parking that a covered facility provides. However, one caution: Such parking may not get much use except in areas where parking is scarce/priced and where residential densities are high.

BA: Could pre-existing & improved alleyway systems be used as bicycle boulevards that utilize bridges or tunnels (over or under-passes) where they cross major streets?

DN: Yes, this is can be a very good, low-cost way to provide accessibility and connectivity for bicyclists. However, to be useful for bicycle commuters, they would need to be faster than in-street travel, and I would suspect that this would rarely be the case. In general, however, such facilities are a very good idea for the recreational or novice bicyclist.

BA: Do you have a position on controlling emissions from vehicles whose exhaust impacts the palate, health & eyes of pedestrians & cyclists alike?

DN: I have not spoken or written about this, even though I acknowledge that it is a worrisome problem. Certainly there is a need for better auto emission control, although we have made great improvements over the past few decades. The problem now is that while we have improved tailpipe emissions, the exponential growth in per capita and overall driving is swamping those gains.

I would point out, however, that studies show those who walk or bicycle are healthier than those who drive, despite having to breath fumes.

One aspect of an “externalized cost” that motorists don’t pay when they drive is the great environmental costs they impose on society when they drive. To be equitable, gas taxes should be increased substantially to compensate for the air emissions coming from cars, and that revenue should be dedicated to effective car travel reduction strategies, rather than increases in road capacity or parking.

BA: How should global warming, peak oil & climate change impact the planning of transit systems?

DN: These alarming concerns should certainly be causing all levels of government to engage in highest-level emergency measures to significantly reduce car subsidies and significantly increase transit subsidies. As Kunstler points out, America has a transit system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. As a result, this nation has a grim future. We are so trapped in utter car dependence that we have very little ability to adapt to the coming, inevitable travel changes we will face in the future. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the days of enormous car subsidies and unrealistically low gas prices comes to an end. Will we, as Kunstler fears, experience substantial political horrors such as political support for increased US militarism to secure dwindling oil supplies?

I am deeply troubled that this nation has not taken radical measures to substantially change the course we are on with regard to our transportation system. And how we design our communities.

BA: How do you feel about increasing funding for trolleys, trams, pedi-cab rickshaws & magnetic mono-rail train travel?

DN: It is absolutely essential that we significantly increase our funding of these and all other alternatives to car travel. And much of that funding must come from gas tax revenue, as it does in other parts of the world (here in the US, states have passed laws forbidding such revenue to be used for anything other than roads, which is a colossal, self-perpetuating blunder).

Note again, however, that before we increase funding for non-auto travel, we must first reduce huge car subsidies (roads, parking, gas, etc.). Without doing so, few would use such non-car travel services, even if they were high-quality and frequent. And it would be extremely unlikely that the political will would exist to make such a major shift in funding priorities.

_____________________________________

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

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

Regulating Big Box Retailers

By Dom Nozzi

My thoughts about how to make Big Box retailers such as Wal-Mart behave themselves…

First, a list of reasons why Big Box retail (such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter) is deadly for communities and should be prevented from ever being allowed in a community.

1. Big Box retailers do not create an improved retail environment for a community or result in a net increase in jobs. Instead, they tend to cannibalize existing, in-town retail sales and in-town (often locally-owned) jobs. This is true at both the local level and the regional level. No net increase in retail sales or jobs. Just a geographic shifting from existing businesses to the Big Box retailer.

2. Big Box retailers drain dollars from a community. Instead of cycling those dollars within the community, Big Box steadily impoverishes the community by forever removing wealth from the community and pouring it into the bank accounts of out-of-town executives which have no allegiance to our community — nor any care for our welfare (since they don’t live here).

3. Big Box retailers promote extreme levels of car dependency for those who live in the region — which is a deadly, downwardly spiraling trend.

Excessive car dependency destroys community quality of life, significantly harms community sustainability, increases our dependence on oil, outside corporations, and foreign nations, bankrupts households and local & state governments, wipes out our downtown, transforms us into an “anywhere USA” kind of place that eliminates civic pride and a unique community character, and ruins our natural areas.

Big Box retailers powerfully promote car dependence by being placed in locations (and have site design) which make it impossible to travel to the store without a car. As a result, an increasing proportion of community residents must make an increasing number of trips by car (thereby increasing car dependency).

In part, this increased car dependency is caused by the fact that the Big Box wipes out in-town businesses that were accessible by means other than the car.

4. Big Box retailers, by wiping out local businesses, reduces consumer choice in products, since increasingly, the only products available are those that are sold by the Big Box.300px-Wal-Mart_in_Madison_Heights

5. By being so excessively car-dependent and designed to serve a regional “consumer-shed” of motorists from up to 10 miles away, Big Box retailers enable a sprawl lifestyle. That is, life becomes more feasible, and therefore BREEDS more sprawl households because sprawl is now more attractive.

 How can Big Box retail be prevented from locating in a community?

1. Keep your roads small and human-scaled, not Big Box scaled. Do not modify nearby roads to add road capacity (for example, by adding turn lanes at intersections or adding travel lanes). If nearby intersections or roads (or interstates) are already “overweight,” put them on a diet by removing turn lanes and travel lanes. Admittedly, this is a very long-term strategy. But the terrible reality is that this nation has spent several decades spending trillions of public dollars to build HUGE interstate highways and huge local arterial roads. The predictable result of this enormous public subsidy is that it gave birth to a nation-wide epidemic of Big Box retailers. Such retailers can only exist if they are able to gain access to an enormous, regional “consumer-shed” of customers (customers from multiple counties). The big roads and interstates have created that opportunity, and Big Box executives are taking advantage of this opportunity by building Big Box throughout the nation. With small roads, Big Box retail is impossible. With large roads, Big Box is inevitable. In essence, we are now paying for the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, who chose to squander ungodly sums of public dollars to widen roads, and therefore indirectly and heavily subsidizing Big Box retailing. It is naive to think we can stop Big Box until we start reversing the blunder of building these monster roads and interstates.

2. Enact a size limit for the retail square footage allowed in your community. Many cities have created a maximum retail floor area allowed in their community. Usually, this maximum is applied in a more walkable location such as a town center. A maximum size is more legally defensible when it is applied to a location in the community where walkability is the community objective. A place, in other words, where excessive car travel is detrimental to the objectives of the community.

What strategies are NOT effective in stopping Big Box?

1. Environmental regulations. They tend to be very weak and very easy to evade — particularly by a well-heeled developer.

2. Generous landscaping and open space requirements. These are minor “window dressing” items that are trivial when it comes to the problems that Big Box brings to a community. And again, they are easy to provide for a well-heeled developer.

3. Restrictive building design requirements. Again, these are minor window dressing items that are trivial in the overall picture. The problem with Big Box is not that the Box is ugly. Granted, the typical, formulaic Big Box building is not pleasant to look at, but on a list of 100 problems that a Big Box inflicts on a community, ugliness is about #99. And well-heeled developers will often provide aesthetic improvements if push comes to shove.

4. Appeal to the harm the Big Box will bring to “poor people.” In public meetings, the Big Box will always have the moral high ground when it comes to “poor people.” After all, don’t they provide “Low, Low Prices” that “help” poor people? Arguments about how the Big Box provides “excessively low-wage jobs with no health care” or how they “promote sweat shops in Mexico” are too abstract and complex for the sound-bite conditions of a public meeting.

5. Requiring the Big Box to have huge, multi-turn lane intersections or huge, multi-lane roads to serve them and avoid “gridlock congestion.”

Several problems here: First, it is pocket change for Big Box to come up with the dollars to increase the size of nearby roads/intersections. Second, it is often the local or state government that ends up (further) subsidizing the Big Box by using public tax dollars to increase such road capacity.

Third, such big capacity roads enable Big Box. They must  have such roads to be successful. It is therefore not a “punishment” to request they provide such roads. Indeed, I suspect that the Big Box often deliberately lets the perception arise that “nearby roads need to be enlarged to avoid congestion,” when all along, the Big Box was secretly hoping that this “concession” would be “demanded” of them. The Big Box cannot exist without the Big Roads and Big Intersections. For the local government and its citizens to insist on such roads is playing right into the hands of the Big Box. Fourth, in urban areas, traffic congestion is our friend. It promotes many things a healthy community desires: infill development, less single-occupant vehicle travel, higher residential densities, more mixed use development, lower regional air pollution and fuel consumption, taller buildings, less asphalt parking, healthier transit, healthier small (and locally-owned) business, and less suburban sprawl.

If Big Box cannot be stopped, how can they be made more palatable?

1. The Big Box must be required to be “mixed use.” That is, high-density residences should be incorporated on site and adjacent to the site. The site should be developed to contain a gridded street network with narrow streets, on-street parking, multi-story buildings, street connections to adjacent properties, and compact building arrangement so that it mimics a walkable town center (open-air “lifestyle” center shopping malls are becoming quite popular throughout the US these days).

2. The Big Box must not be enabled by enlarging the road capacity near it (do not add additional turn lanes at intersections near it and do not add travel lanes on roads near it). If any road modifications are made, they should be to reduce such capacity.

3. The Big Box must not be enabled by allowing it to install an enormous asphalt parking lagoon to attract tens of thousands of car-dependent shoppers. The parking must be kept modest in size (no more than 1 space per 500 feet of floor area) and must not be allowed between the store and the roads that serve it.

4. If #1 above is not achieved, the Big Box must be required to sign a legally-binding agreement that it will be financially responsible for demolishing the structures it builds on the site and restoring the site to its original condition after the inevitable day in the near future when it abandons the site (usually to build something even bigger somewhere else).

5. The Big Box must not be allowed to select a site that is environmentally significant.

Big Box retail will be unable to survive the coming big increases in the cost of energy and the cost of enlarging roads. They are therefore a short-term phenomenon. It behooves communities to prepare for this by either requiring the Big Box to be designed for its re-use as something else in the future, or to prevent the Big Box all together.

______________________________________________

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

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

On Being “Forced” to Live in a Walkable Place

By Dom Nozzi

I find it peculiar that often, in response to a recommendation I or others make to make a proposed residential development more walkable (or to design streets so that motorists “behave” themselves), we hear people make the red herring argument that we should not force people to live in a compact, walkable area of the city, or that we cannot “get rid of all cars.”

In fact, the proposals to make residential development (or travel by car) behave itself is simply a way to create more equity and provide more choices for both residential development and travel.

For about 50 years, we have built little other than low-density, single-use, large lot residential (“conventional”) subdivisions in outlying suburban areas. In addition, we have focused almost all of our efforts on making cars happy. The result, of course, is that throughout America, we have little choice in strip6terms of what kind of place to live in, or how to travel. Nearly all of us are pretty much forced to live in conventional, “drivable” residences in outlying areas. Places that are utterly unwalkable and require nearly every trip to be by car.

What about the large and growing number of us who would enjoy the pleasures of a more urbane setting, where we would have easy access to a nearby grocery store, various forms of culture, a pleasant public realm, civic events, retail, jobs, schools, parks, sidewalks that lead somewhere, sociable neighbors, and calmed traffic? What about those of us who want the choice to be able to walk, bicycle, or bus to those destinations? Do many of us have a choice to enjoy such things?

Do we really “force” people to live in more traditional core area settings, or get rid of their car, if we simply make other residential and travel choices more of an option?

As for “behaving,” it is my opinion that residential areas are “misbehaving” when they, for example, generate a large number of car trips. Such areas tend to be “single-use” (only single-family residential land use), and nearly every trip is too far to travel except by car (let’s not forget that the reasonable travel distance by car extends out to about 10 miles, roughly 3 miles for bus and bicycle, and about one-quarter mile by foot). The result is that instead of a reasonably self-contained subdivision with a reasonable amount of internalized trips (due largely to a mix of land uses in the area or development), those trips and costs are externalized on all the rest of us.

What are the “externalized” costs that we must bear when a new subdivision does not “internalize” a large number of car trips?

Well, within a 10-mile radius (see above), that new, conventional, car-only residential subdivision will deliver to our neighborhoods more traffic, more air pollution, more water pollution, more noise pollution, more strip commercial development, more decline in neighborhood value, more loss of small business in the core area, more sign pollution, more danger on our streets, and higher taxes to pay for public services like parks, schools, police, fire protection, sewer, water, environmental protection, etc.

It becomes a matter of equity.

Is it fair for a new, outlying residential area to impose those costs on us? Isn’t it reasonable to ask that new residential development “pay its own way,” by locating in appropriate areas, designing for livability, and paying for some of the costs for new or expanded public facilities and services they demand from us?

I recommend that we try to steer clear of red herrings. It tends to polarize us. I also believe we can all agree that providing residential and travel choices, and insisting on equity, are good things. To me, the debate should center around what constitutes equity, and how much our local, state, and federal government should put into creating travel choices.

As it stands today, nearly all of America provides no housing or travel choices. If you seek a walkable place to live, you will have vanishingly few options to choose from. And because such an option is so rare and the demand is high (and growing), you will be paying a large sum of money to live in a walkable place.

The current state of affairs in our car-happy world is not fair, as there is very little choice but to live in a drivable, suburban way. Rather than “forcing” people to live in walkable places (or not drive a car), America is more accurately forcing us to be suburban motorists.

An utterly unsustainable condition.

____________________________________________

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

 

 

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