Tag Archives: driving

Civility Needs to Go Viral

By Dom Nozzi

Civility needs to “go viral.”


Because in my experience, there has been a steep decline in civility in American society for several decades.

The first and most powerful step in restoring a reasonable level of societal civility is to put our big city “stroads” on a road diet. A “stroad” is a delightful term coined by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and refers to those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) gets combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places). They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. And they are the futon of transportation” because, just as a futon is neither a particularly good bed nor a particularly good couch, a stroad is neither a particularly good road or a particularly good street.

Greenville makes this step obvious. Motorists are obligated to drive 15-25 mph smoothly on appropriately road dieted Main Street. This is contrasted with the 45-55 mph speeds motorists are allowed and enabled to drive on Greenville’s many stroads. Of course, on a stroad a motorist is not driving at those higher speeds smoothly. Instead, the stroad inevitably forces motorists to engage in “jack rabbit stop and go” travel, where motorists engage in short bursts of excessive speeds followed by frequently repeated stops and slow downs.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone expects a slow speed road to be frustrating and unpleasant to drive on (“WE ARE VERY BUSY AND NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FASTER!”), driving on Main Street in Greenville versus driving on the Greenville stroads leads to far better and more enjoyable motorist experiences.

On slow speed Main Street, nearly all drivers are more courteous, more calm, more relaxed, more happy and smiling, more polite, more well-mannered, more patient, and filled with civic pride.

The drive, even though slow in speed, FEELS like it goes by relatively quickly. This is because the drive is more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. Some drivers don’t want the driving experience to end.

On higher speed stroads, by striking contrast, drivers are more hostile, angry, stressed, impatient, hot-tempered, enraged at any fellow citizen who DARES to get in the way by driving or turning too slowly, and ashamed to live in a city with such an oversized, strip-commercial roadway blight (this is exemplified by the fact that no one takes their out-of-town guests to show off the higher speed stroad, whereas many show off Main Street to their guests).

The drive, even though higher in speed, FEELS like it takes a relatively long time. This is because the drive is ugly, frustrating, and stressful. Drivers can’t wait to get off the stroad.

The unpleasant, stressful, angering, impatient, hostile, uncivil, short-tempered emotions induced by stroads spills over into the stroad-driving motorist’s life beyond the unpleasant stroad experience and into the realm of family life, work life, social life, and interactions with fellow neighbors and other citizens.

Stroads in Greenville include – but are not limited to – the following:

Augusta Avenue

Peter Hollis Boulevard

McDaniel Avenue

Academy Street

Stone Avenue

Buncombe Street

Rutherford Street

Richardson Street

Poinsett Highway

Pleasantburg Drive

Laurens Road

Mills Avenue

Church Street

In sum, converting stroads to streets is an effective way to substantially promote civility (and happiness!) in American society.

We start doing that by removing excessive numbers of lanes on stroads.

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Good and Bad Social Engineering

By Dom Nozzi

In American society, there is a near consensus that citizen behavior (or citizen purchases or citizen consumption) should not be manipulated (what some disparagingly call “social engineering”). It is utterly un-American to design communities or roads to nudge behavior in a more sustainable direction. Or establish regulations (or set prices) to reduce consumption of energy, cars, sprawl areas, etc.

There is, on the other hand, an enormous double-standard.

It is required and morally upstanding that we do everything we can to manipulate citizen behavior to be less sustainable (by, for example, obligating citizens to drive a car everywhere). It is necessary and ethical to induce Americans to purchase and consume more. It is appropriate and laudable to encourage people to consume more energy, buy more cars, live in a more dispersed and sprawling location, and so on.

Manipulation is good if used to have us consume more. It is bad if used to have us consume less.

And this is what we should expect in a market economy that depends on ever-growing consumption.

But is it sustainable?

When I lived in Florida and worked as a long-range town planner for Gainesville, people were often surprised when I tell them that the Gainesville area is on the road to ruin. This quote from the May 2005 Gainesville Sun says it all.

“[Ed] Braddy, who took pride in being called one of the most vocal members of the [city] commission, pledged at the [swearing in] ceremony to continue advocating the stances he has taken thus far, whichspaghetti highways include wider roads, a more streamlined development review process [i.e., ensuring that Gainesville continues to be a doormat] and more road construction.”

This from a man who was re-elected for a second term of office by a city that some people continue to insist is “progressive.” This from a man who vigorously opposes “social engineering.”

Except when it is to modify human behavior in a direction he favors.


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