Tag Archives: free-flowing traffic

Traffic Congestion: Stop Fighting to Reduce It!

By Dom Nozzi

The most important task (for residents, their planners, their engineers, and their elected officials) when it comes to city and neighborhood design is to keep the size of streets human-scaled (that is, small in size).

The most effective (ie, ruinous) way to have streets get too big is to strive for “free-flowing traffic.”

The fact that nearly all cities, their residents, and their elected officials put “free-flowing traffic” and “reducing congestion” above any other objective explains why all American cities have loud, unsafe, unloved, unwalkable town centers riddled with oversized streets.

The first task, then, for all cities wishing to improve themselves is to road diet (narrow) their streets (and parking lots and intersections) and to recognize that all great cities have “traffic problem.” That enlarging streets or parking or intersections worsens traffic, quality of life, and safety.

That as these images show, a sign of a healthy city is one that knows it cannot widen its way out of congestion (because it only takes a few cars to congest a street, and widening artificially induces new car trips).

A healthy city knows that the only way to stay healthy is keeping its streets small, and provide alternatives for those who wish to avoid the inevitable congestion.

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Making Cars Happy Is America’s Most Serious Mistake

By Dom Nozzi

October 14, 1999

One of America’s most serious societal mistakes is that since WWII, we’ve designed our communities to make cars instead of people happy. The better we “move automobile traffic,” the more we inevitably get:

  1. Costly, environmentally destructive, low-density, dispersed sprawl;
  2. Characterless, “Anywhere USA” strip commercial development featuring”auto architecture;”download
  1. A loss of a sense of place and sense of community;
  2. Unpleasant, unsafe neighborhoods;
  3. A loss of independence for those who cannot drive — especially seniors and children, who become captive to those that can give them a car ride; and
  1. A lack of transportation choice, because every trip is forced to be made by car, and because the relentless efforts to make cars happy is a zero-sum game: Every time we make car travel more pleasant, we discourage all other forms of travel (a classic viscous cycle).

To save ourselves, we must wean ourselves from our utter dependence on the car. A guy by the name of Pit Klasen recently said that “It’s true that Germans have always had a special love affair with the car, but there’s no reason you have to remain trapped in a bad and unhealthy relationship.”

 

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Phoenix or Siena? Do We Reduce Environmental Impact by Stopping Growth? Or Ensuring Growth is Better?

By Dom Nozzi

February 13, 2018

Someone posted a rebuttal to the excellent guest opinion in the Boulder, Colorado newspaper by Zane Selvan’s about the environmental impacts of low density development in Boulder:

“There it is again: ‘per capita carbon footprint’. I’m concerned with Boulder’s ‘net’ carbon footprint. Density and infill proponents want to increase the population and increase the net carbon footprint in order to achieve a decrease in per capita carbon footprint. It’s the only way they can do it. It’s oxymoronic. Boulder will become a bigger, dirtier more crowded city overall in order to become slightly cleaner per individual. It’s a self defeating policy.”

My response: If Boulder’s 108,000 people were spread out over a lower density, more dispersed and car dependent pattern, the impact on the environment would be much more brutal and unsustainable. As it stands now, Boulder’s low-density pattern already fuels a huge amount of car travel and carbon emissions — way more than if that 108,000 people were in a more compact, human-scaled pattern.

For those, like me, who prefer a “small town character,” Boulder would feel much more like a small town if the city was much more compact, rather than dispersed. If our parking lots were smaller and more rare. If our roads and intersections were less massive. For me and many others, “small town ambiance” is much better achieved when we have a compact, human-scaled dimensioning of our neighborhoods and town centers and road infrastructure.

Small town character, for me, has far less to do with the number of people who live in Boulder.

There are hundreds of cities and towns in Europe that demonstrate this.

When I am at a monster huge Boulder intersection with a double-left turn lane and six or so through lanes, I feel like I am in Houston or Phoenix. I feel uncomfortable, exposed, unsafe, anxious to leave, and disappointed about what has been done. There is no sense of place whatsoever, and it feels “big city” even though I would often be about the only human at that intersection. By contrast, I can be in, say, Pearl Street Mall with hundreds of people, but the human-scaled dimensions create a small town sense of place and comfort and pride.

It is sometimes claimed that the only reason certain cities are compact and walkable is that they have convenient public transportation (and “my city does not have convenient transit”). But having convenient transit service is not simply a matter of citizens asking for it or elected officials providing it. Places like Phoenix and Houston and many neighborhoods in Boulder don’t have convenient transit because citizens have spent decades demanding…

  • Low density
  • Short suburban buildings
  • A huge amount of free parking
  • Wide, free-flowing, and free-to-use roads

Each of those elements make it extremely difficult if not impossible to provide convenient transit in a city. The fact that Siena and NYC and much of Boston and DC have convenient transit is that they opted to build densely and did not go hog wild in making cars happy. Why is transit not convenient in much of Boulder? Why is it so convenient in bigger US cities? Is it because they are smart and Boulder is stupid? I think not.

I prefer convenient transit and “small town ambiance,” which is why I regularly advocate compact, 2-5 story neighborhoods and town centers with scarce, priced parking and human-scaled streets. The fact that so many in Boulder fight to the death for low density, one-story subdivisions with abundant parking and wide roads largely explains why Boulder is losing its “small town ambiance.”Big city vs small town ambiance

How ironic.

Notice in the photo set that in the “small town ambiance” places in Siena and Boulder, we are looking at places that have a relatively compact collection of people living, working, shopping, and playing. In other words, “small town ambiance” is often found when we have a relatively large population size. Also notice the taller buildings in the two “small town ambiance” images compared to the two “big city ambiance” images. In other words, “tall” buildings do not necessarily create a “big city ambiance.” Indeed, the opposite is often true.

Some people say that a larger number of people have a larger carbon footprint than a smaller number of people. Well yes, that is obviously true. But is there a practical way for us to halt population growth? After working academically and professionally in environmental science and town planning for 40 years, I know of no humane or constitutional way for us to stop population growth.

What some would like us to do is to nudge the growth toward other communities, but that does not reduce the carbon footprint. It just shifts it to less politically powerful or more affordable places. Such an effort also disperses human settlement rather than having human settlement be more compact, and that ramps up the overall carbon footprint.

The effective way to reduce overall carbon footprint, then, is to not waste our time trying to do the impossible (stopping human population increases) or being NIMBYs (by shunting the growth to politically weaker places).

The key is to work to have development occur in a more compact, sustainable way that promotes a healthy, happy city. When we do that, people are less likely to want to live in low-density, car-dependent places (because town center living is more enjoyable and enticing).

Boulder’s dispersed, low-density development pattern means we have plenty of infill development opportunities so that we can become more compact, safe, sociable, and walkable.

With compact, relatively gentle, context-sensitive infill (small condos, compact apartments, mixed use, small houses, row houses, small lot sizes, small or no setbacks, 2-5 story buildings, accessory dwelling units, co-ops, replacement of surface parking and suburban setbacks and sprawling industrial/warehouse areas with urban buildings) — not to mention the elimination of required parking — we substantially increase affordable housing opportunities. That would mean we’d have less people being forced — for financial reasons — to move to outlying, car-dependent places. Again, the overall carbon footprint would go down.

Despite the conventional wisdom we still hear too often in Boulder, it turns out that being pro-city is to be pro-environment. To be anti-city is to be anti-environment. Compactness is the new green.

Phoenix or Siena? I prefer the compactness of a Siena over the low-density Phoenix (or Orlando)…

 

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Should We Stop Growth or Promote Quality Development in Boulder?

By Dom Nozzi

September 10, 2017

In Boulder, Colorado, it is quite common to hear the suggestion that we must stop growth in our community to protect our quality of life.

In response, I point out that there are no realistic, humane, ethical, or constitutional ways to “stop growth.”

Given that, the key to our avoiding wasting time and energy is to ensure that the growth that does come to our community is quality growth. Growth that is sustainable and promotes human happiness.

As an aside, it needs to be pointed out that in very expensive cities such as Boulder, Colorado, there has long been an effective way to slow population growth. Slow growth in expensive cities occurs because of the extreme expense of living in the expensive city. Many cannot move to the expensive city because they cannot afford to.

The problem is the form of growth we allow, not the growth itself.

The car-oriented growth so many American cities have mandated in our land use plans, zoning regulations, and transportation spending for the past century cannot sustain growth and strongly undermines a quality human habitat.

Boulder, were I live, can accommodate more development, but Boulder’s plans and regulations are not crafted to ensure that future growth be done in a way that is sustainable or in a way that promotes quality community design (in part because there has been too much focus on trying to stop the growth rather than ensure that it is done well).

And in part because too much of what Boulder’s plans and regulations strive to achieve is happy motoring, rather than happy people. Big city vs small town ambiance

 

In most instances, the perception that places such as Boulder have “too much growth” is based on a motorist perception that the roads or parking lots are too crowded. The ruinous solution for too many has been to almost single-mindedly fight to stop growth, and to fight for “sufficient” road and parking capacity. In other words, free-flowing car traffic and easy parking have tragically been equated with much of our quality of life.

In my opinion and that of many of my colleagues, happy car design is a recipe for destroying quality of life and sustainability. This is in large part due to the fact that happy car design leads to a problem experienced by all US cities over the past century: the problem of gigantism: roads and intersections and parking lots and commercial buildings too big, and communities and neighborhoods and destinations too dispersed.

We must instead return to the timeless tradition of designing for walkable, human scaled dimensions. Boulder (and other American communities) must end its decades-long fight to promote happy car design in its roads, intersections and parking if it expects to stop being its own worst enemy, and instead have a quality, sustainable future.

A future of happy people rather than happy cars.

 

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Free Flowing Traffic: Desirable or Ruinous?

By Dom Nozzi

August 25, 2017

Highway expansion ruinously continues in Boulder CO — largely through the on-going efforts to add new turn lanes at intersections in Boulder.

That exceptionally counterproductive action will only become less common when Boulder residents are able to decouple “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking from quality of life.

There has been a decades-long assumption that one of the primary keys to quality of life in Boulder is to strive for free-flowing traffic. The main tactics have been to minimize development, minimize density and building height, resist removal of road/intersection/parking capacity, and add turn lanes.

The pursuit of free-flowing traffic inexorably leads to the “asphalt-ization” of a community because the pursuit results in oversized roads and intersections and oversized parking lots. It leads, in other words, to gigantism, where in addition to massive roads, intersections and parking lots, building setbacks are huge, the sprawling Arapahoe Ave Boulder COgeographic spread of a city becomes seemingly endless, street signs become enormous, street lights almost reach the clouds, and shops become massive. Free-flowing traffic means a very large per capita production of toxic air emissions and gasoline consumption. It means impossible-to-avoid stormwater problems. Freely-flowing traffic substantially reduces per capita bicycling, walking and transit use. It results in bankrupting cost increases for households and local governments. Free-flowing traffic creates social isolation, obesity, stress, road rage, traffic crashes that lead to massive numbers of injuries and deaths, and vast abandonment of older town centers.

I cannot think of anything that is more detrimental to quality of life than striving to maintain “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking. Doing so is toxic for a city.

Tragically, a great many intelligent, “green” Boulder residents fight for free-flowing traffic and abundant car parking. There is a bi-partisan consensus that roads and intersections and parking lots must be wider. That driving and parking should be “free.” That motoring should always be pleasant.

It is a recipe for ruin masquerading as a quest for a better quality of life.

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A Quality Future for Boulder CO Means Something Vastly Different from What No-Growthers Seek

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 8, 2017

The great irony of those in Boulder, Colorado who seek to protect the low-density character of neighborhoods (and to allegedly protect the “small town charm” of Boulder) is that by following the tactics recommended by too many “no-growthers,” Boulder will continue to take the Anywhere USA path that so many other American cities have taken (and continue to take).

Fighting against compact development is a recipe for keeping this city from becoming more walkable, charming, and human scaled. Such a fight will make it more likely that our future will be more car-dependent, more isolated, less walkable, more filled with surface parking lots, and less affordable (due to a growing lack of travel choices). Much of Boulder was built in an era of failed community design ideas that are unsustainable. Many of those who seek to “protect” neighborhoods are those who like the privatopia of suburbs and don’t like cities, and therefore don’t understand or appreciate those elements that make for healthy cities: slow speeds, human scale, compact development, agglomeration economies, diversity, conviviality, and choices.

Such advocates, instead, ruinously seem to believe that free-flowing and high speed traffic and easy car parking are the keys to quality of life. Actually, such objectives are toxic to a 51df393d218c6-imagehealthy city because they undermine the elements I list above.

The lifestyle of those who live in low-density Boulder neighborhoods compels them to fight for a halt to population growth, fight to minimize density and building heights, fight to oppose traffic calming and modest street and parking allocations, and fight to oppose mixed use.

Why?

Because fighting for those things helps protect their ability to travel easily by car. Because their neighborhood design obligates them to make most or all trips by car, they must fight for these things to protect their suburban lifestyle. Car travel becomes highly inconvenient when a community is more compact and slow speed. Densities over 2 or 3 units per acre make car travel much more inconvenient.

Conversely, densities below 3 or 4 units per acre make walking, bicycling, and transit nearly impossible.

It is therefore easy to understand why so many in suburban Boulder have concluded that easy driving and parking are equivalent to quality of life. Tragically, easy driving and parking are enemies of a quality city.

It is important to note, despite the unfair, inflammatory falsehoods we often have thrown at us urbanists, that this is NOT a call to make all neighborhoods in Boulder more compact. It IS a plea to recognize that for too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban.

And that it is NEVER acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact walkable development.

Anywhere.

The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial).

Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Not doing so will lead to a grim, more costly future for Boulder.

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Bicycling in Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 11, 2016

Speaking as an experienced, life-long bicycle commuter who wrote a masters thesis focused on bicycle transportation, and someone who has cycled in cities across the nation, Boulder does relatively well in providing an off-street system for cyclists (albeit, a system which only reaches a tiny fraction of important community destinations).

On-street cycling in Boulder is also pretty good in some neighborhoods.

However, in my opinion, Boulder’s major streets (called “collectors” and “arterials” by transportation professionals) are some of the most hostile, dangerous streets I’ve ever ridden.

I believe this is true because Boulder has spent decades trying to achieve free-flowing traffic as a prime (yet in my view, ruinous) method of protecting quality of life. Because cars consume so much space, and because Boulder has such a large number of in-commuters who cannot afford to live here, and because too much or our street design uses “forgiving” street design, and because transportation is a zero-sum game (when cars win, other forms of travel lose), Boulder has oversized most all of its major streets.

Oversized streets are inevitably dangerous for everyone.

Boulder has also made the mistake of thinking an off-street bicycle network is sufficient for cycling.

I disagree.

Because such a system will never reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations, cyclists (and pedestrians) will regularly be forced to at least occasionally use very dangerous streets that Boulder has apparently given up on (i.e., we have opted to make them car-only streets).

Examples: Broadway south of Iris, 28th Street, Arapahoe, Canyon.

Nearly all bicycle commuters want to travel on those corridors, but even someone as experienced and confident as me cannot tolerate cycling on those stroads. The wonderful 30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftsterm “stroad” – pioneered by Chuck Marohn – refers to a street that transportation planners have tried (and failed) to deliver the benefits of both a street and a road. A stroad is an awful example of a street and an awful example of a road. Each has their place, but no transportation corridor should be designed to be both.

If someone like me feels many on-street situations are dangerous for me on a bike in Boulder, we can be confident that the vast majority of Boulder residents feel the same way.

 

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Boulder NIMBYs Make Boulder Quality of Life Worse

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 22, 2015

When it comes to development, Boulder is most well-known for its well-deserved reputation for an extreme, hostile, antagonistic attitude that a large number of Boulder citizens express toward development. This hyper NIMBYism is almost entirely driven by ruinous demands that new development not congest roads or parking. Boulder NIMBYs are convinced that keeping roads and parking uncongested is simply a matter of stopping development (population growth) in its tracks. If that is not possible, to minimize the building height and density. It seems commonsensical: Minimizing people minimizes cars crowding our roads and parking!

This leads to both neglect and incoherence regarding reform of conventional land development regulations here in Boulder.

The fundamental, tragic mistake is that many in Boulder conflate happy, free-flowing, easy parking cars with quality of life. This blunder is highly counterproductive. Happy cars are toxic to quality of life. When cars are inconvenienced and seemingly free to drive or park, quality of life for a city is powerfully undermined, as communities with such an agenda end up with over-sized parking and roads and intersections, excessive and inattentive car speeds, unlovable building design (because there are no coherent, contextual design regulations), sprawl, light and noise pollution, high air emissions per capita, and unwalkably low density development.

Designing roads and parking for happy cars also induces excessive car dependence (yes, even in Boulder), because oversized, high-speed road and parking lot dimensions make 40-peopletravel by walking, bicycling or transit less safe, desirable, or feasible. Coupled with the excessively low densities that NIMBYs demand, and the enormous amount of space cars consume (17 times more than a person in a chair), Boulder’s roads and parking lots quickly and ironically become rapidly congested. This congestion, caused at least partly by NIMBYism, motivates NIMBYs to scream for even MORE opposition to development and compact design.

Which, of course, causes more road and parking congestion…

Allowing planning board and council to apply random, discretionary, subjective demands on proposed development (rather than a predictable, objective form-based code) plays well with those opposing development, as it means further torture and cost increases for developers, yet does nothing to make buildings more lovable or contextual. Ironically, NIMBY attitudes therefore make a visionary form-based development code (which calls for lovable, contextual building design) less possible, even though adopting a good one would, over time, reduce NIMBY hostility.

Example in this photo: the Boulderado hotel in town center Boulder. The most loved building in all of Boulder has been made either illegal or highly unlikely. Maximum Hotel_Boulderado1-T1building height even in the most urbanized areas of Boulder is now a crazy low 35 feet in the town center (Boulderado is 55 ft). In addition, the building design regulations say almost nothing about creating similar buildings going forward.

By naively concluding that free-flowing car traffic is the path to protecting quality of life, and deciding that the only way to preserve such a nirvana is to stop population growth, Boulder NIMBYs force the City to devote too much time and effort towards development opposition, and too little time and effort toward adopting visionary form-based coding that would deliver a more lovable future.

Instead, Boulder NIMBYs increase the likelihood that development which DOES occur (and it WILL occur, since there are no feasible ways to stop population growth) will be regrettable and unworthy of our affection.

The NIMBYism is therefore self-perpetuating, as it ensures an on-going growth in citizens who oppose development of buildings that are at least partly unlovable due to NIMBY distraction from the important task of creating visionary form-based development codes.

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Why American Drivers Seem To Be So Hostile to Bicyclists

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 23, 2010

Why do so many American bicyclists seem to be so paranoid about motor vehicles?

I’d speculate that it has to do with the fact that more so than any other nation, Americans have placed motor vehicles (and their “rights”) on a pedestal. The inevitable outcome has been twofold:

  • American motorists are EXTREME in their expectation of happy, free-flowing, high speed, free driving. There is a high level of entitlement. Since the enormousRoad-Rage_1689375c
    size of cars makes such a thing nearly impossible, road rage/driver hostility is high.
  • American bicyclists experience this motorist rage both as bicyclists (American motorists are less courteous and more reckless), and on the occasions that bicyclists become motorists (when they then feel those American Happy Motoring expectations).

The working assumption for bicyclists, then, is that nearly all American motorists are high speed, hostile, homicidal, enraged maniacs. Only a tiny number of us (the very rare individuals that never drive a car) are able to escape such irrational, counterproductive conclusions.

 

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Promoting Free Flowing Traffic is a Bad Idea for Boulder Colorado

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 16, 2013

Despite its reputation, Boulder CO is a long way away from where it needs to be on an over-arching position on transportation and land use. In particular, I remain deeply concerned that City policy is that it is essential to promote free-flowing car travel (by adding turn lanes, generally opposing road diets, establishing continuous left-turn lanes, synchronizing traffic signals for cars, etc.) in order to reduce emissions and fuel use.

By striking contrast, I am of the opposite view.

I am firmly convinced of two things on this issue:

Car travel is a zero-sum game. Nearly always, when car travel is made more convenient or free-flowing (usually by giving cars more space), bicycling, walking and transit decline (due to “barrier effect” problems). Promoting free-flowing traffic shifts many trips from non-car travel to car travel as a result.

Low-value car trips. When roads and nearly all car parking is free, we are begging people to drive a car with those big subsidies. After all, there are so many rational reasons to drive a car: cargo carrying, convenience, security, speed, status, flexibility, protection from weather, etc.). Since motoring appears to be “free” when roads and parking are free, there are little if any disincentives to driving. First-year economists know quite well what the inevitable result will be: Over-use of roads and parking due to the INDUCEMENT of new car trips (particularly “low-value” trips such as driving a car to rent a video at rush hour) that were formerly discouraged from happening at rush hour or on certain roads. In other words, if a road in Boulder is carrying, say, 20,000 vehicles per day, and the City or State opts to make the road more free-flowing, that road will NOT continue to carry 20,000 ADT. It will now carry, say, 25,000. The 5,000 new (latent, induced) trips were formerly discouraged by the less free-flowing conditions in the past.

An example of latent demand: I hear friends say over and over again that they are not going to drive at such and such a time or on such and such a road because those times or roads are too crowded with cars. It does not take rocket science to know what will happen if we make those times or roads more free-flowing…

The combination of the above two factors therefore means that free-flowing cars produce MORE car emissions and gasoline consumption, not less (as the advocates of free-flowing traffic would have us believe). Yes, in free-flow conditions, an INDIVIDUAL CAR produces less emissions and uses less fuel, but on a community-wide basis, the induced new trips result in more emissions and fuel use overall. In 30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftseffect, engineers in this case fail to understand simple economics and changes in human behavior (economics and psychology, again) when they strive for free-flowing conditions. They fail, in other words, to realize that free-flow induces new car trips that would not have occurred had the free-flow conditions not been promoted. This inducement, again, is inevitable when we have free-to-use roads and (mostly) free parking. Largely because there is a great deal of latent demand for more car travel if conditions are made more convenient or pleasant for car travel.

By the way, the concept of induced car travel has been quite well-established for a number of decades. A great many traffic engineers know it exists. But almost no conventional traffic engineer will act on their awareness of induced demand – probably because they have not been given permission to do so.

The above also illustrates why, even in theory, it is impossible to build (widen) our way out of congestion. Induced demand for car trips is the bugaboo elephant in the bedroom that Boulder seems to be ignoring.

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