Tag Archives: growth management

Thoughts about the 2005 Florida Growth Management Legislation

by Dom Nozzi

May 18, 2005

The 2005 Florida State Legislative session was billed as the most substantial growth management legislative modifications since the Growth Management Act was adopted in 1985. This legislation has been hailed by a large number of groups—from builders, to public interest groups and environmental groups—as something that “will finally allow Florida to make growth management much more effective.”

Not by legislating a sustainable, walkable, timeless vision for how communities should be designed. Not by providing quality of life tools such as required growth boundaries, reformed land development regulations, parking reforms, acknowledging that road concurrency is fueling sprawl and harming communities (recognizing, in other words, that in urban areas, congestion is our friend), property tax reform (to stop promoting sprawl and downtown ruin), or calling for road diets.

None of these actions were urged by legislators.

No, what our legislators decided to do to “improve” growth management and the future quality of life of Floridians was precisely what should NOT have been done to achieve these objectives.

The major action by the legislature? “Starting to properly funding growth management after 20 years of insufficient funding.”

Our state “leaders” voted to proclaim that the solution to protect our future quality of life is to pour billions of public dollars into building bigger roads so that we can “prevent growth from congesting our roads.”Untitled

So there you have it. Bigger roads means happier Floridians.

Oh, sure. The legislature took some baby steps with regard to water supply and schools. A tightening of the concurrency rule that requires development to “pay its own way.” But each of these were comparatively trivial actions.

By far, the big message from our legislators in 2005 was that we have “growth management” if we widen roads to “prevent further congestion.” The be all and end all of quality of life in Florida is “free-flowing traffic.” Happy cars is our sole focus to create happy communities.

At least that is what one is led to believe, when it is recognized that about 75 percent of the funding the legislators found to “fund growth management” is being directed toward roads.

Oops.

We forgot (again) that we cannot build our way out of congestion. We forgot that widening soon makes congestion worse. We forgot that wider roads is like throwing gasoline on the fire of sprawl, auto dependence and community decline. We forgot that happy cars and happy people mix like oil and water. We forgot that widening roads is the most effective way to destroy community quality of life. We forgot that the impossible task of widening our way out of congestion will further bankrupt state and local government—thereby starving other essential public programs.

We forgot that what is good (in the short term) for our SUVs is NOT good for our communities.

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

Bean Counting is Bad for Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2015

Boulder voters are being asked this fall to vote on a seemingly wonderful measure called “Growth Shall Pay Its own Way.”

I spent 20 years, as a professional town planner, implementing such a law in Gainesville FL, a college town the same size as Boulder. In Florida, we called it “growth management concurrency.” Cities in Florida were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were many features or services that had adopted levels of service.

Who could be opposed to the fairness of development paying its own way?

At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in Florida) only cared about was the bean counting of ROAD level of service. This was the only standard where developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to stop the development in its tracks if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

The right-sizing project on Folsom Street in Boulder makes it crystal clear that like nearly every other community in the nation, many Boulder residents equate easy, higher speed motor vehicle travel with quality of life. It is therefore dangerously likely that Boulder – if it adopts a concurrency rule such as “growth paying its own way” — will follow Florida’s concurrency path of putting easy car travel, and nothing else, on a privileged pedestal. Big roads and intersections become far more important than any other quality of life measure.

It is easy to be seduced by confusing happy car travel with quality of life. After all, most all of us get caught every day in rush hour traffic going to and from work at rush hour, or can’t find an available parking spot near our restaurant.

But ruinously, putting easy car travel on a pedestal is precisely the OPPOSITE of what we should do to protect and promote quality of life in Boulder. Easy car travel delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, huge turn radius for roadreduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.

What do we consider to be measures of quality of life in Boulder? For many of us, the list includes Pearl Street Mall; proximity to the Flatirons, the Foothills, the Rocky Mountains, and great outdoor recreation; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choices; the feeling of safety and relative freedom from crime (particularly for seniors and children); our greenbelt; quality culture and good restaurants; small town ambience; a highly educated, healthy, and physically fit population of creative people; housing choices; low noise levels; and abundant, high-paying, rewarding jobs.

Having “growth pay its own way” does NOTHING to promote any of these quality of life measures, and because it is possible that the law will induce Boulder to focus heavily on easy car travel (partly because it is an easy bean-counting measure), it will do quite a bit to DEGRADE many of these measures.

Adequate Facilities laws (such as “concurrency” or “growth paying its own way”) incentivize bigger, wealthier projects and developers, because the smaller, local projects and developers are less able to afford to jump through the Adequacy hoops.

Yes, many recent buildings are ugly – largely because they are creepy and weird modernist buildings that are unlike anything from Boulder’s past. Such buildings have thrown away the timelessly lovable nature of traditional design exemplified by the Boulderado.

But the way to have more lovable buildings is in no way helped by having growth pay its own way. We can move in that direction by implementing things like a “form-based code,” which will soon regulate building design at Boulder Junction.

Having Boulder follow Florida’s “Growth Pay Its Own Way” path will likely lead to a grim future for this city because Adequate Facilities laws are a form of bean counting for happy cars. Quality of life is about qualitative measures, not drowning in bean counting minutiae for SUVs.

 

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

Putting a Cap on Road Size

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2003

When it comes to issues pertaining to evacuation plans, communities need to be on guard against people who want to widen roads to promote sprawl and free-flowing, high-speed car travel. Commonly, the Happy Car lobby will use “emergency evacuation” as a scare tactic. By mentioning evacuation, the road widening lobby can achieve the “moral high ground.” Who, after all, could be opposed to evacuating the population if there is an emergency?

The hidden agenda, of course, is to widen the road to promote sprawl, real estate, and happy cars.

The community needs to use whatever tools it has available (state laws, local plans, etc.) to establish a MAXIMUM SIZE for its roads. In the case of Gainesville, Florida, where I was a town planner, the City adopted my suggested maximum that the City shall never build a road bigger than 4 lanes. Because, as I point out in many of my transportation speeches, big roads are very harmful to the quality of life (and sustainability) of a community.

The community could decide (if it is using a growth management tool) that, say, 4 lane roads are the maximum size roads allowed. The maximum is a tool chosen by the community to protect its quality of life. That becomes the “level of service standard” that the community adopts in its growth management plan.

The 4-lane maximum road then becomes, indirectly, a limiting factor for population growth in the community. The community could turn the destructive evacuation strategy I mention above on its head. The community could, for example, use a growth management laws as leverage to say to a proposed new residential developer: “I’m sorry, but our adopted plan does not allow you to build here. If you build here, there will be “X” number of new car trips that will need to be evacuated in the event of an emergency. Unfortunately for you, our evacuation plan states that we must be able to evacuate our community in “Y” minutes. If the new car trips from your proposed project were added to our 4-lane roads, we would not be able to evacuate fast enough. Since our plan clearly states that we will not exceed 4 lanes on our roads, we cannot approve your project.”

 

 

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“Concurrency” for New Development?

By Dom Nozzi

“Concurrency” is a regulatory rule that seeks to ensure that new development does not result in a diminishment of the amount of parks or schools or potable water per person. Some communities call it an “adequate facilities” rule.

I worked as a town planner for 20 years as a long-range comprehensive planner in Florida, and a great deal of my work involved helping my community implement the state concurrency rule adopted a year before I started my job.

This state growth management law goes into great detail and requires an enormous amount of study to determine, precisely, concurrency needs for facilities (primarily adequacy for roads to avoid congestion). The concurrency rule seems, on the surface, to be a good proxy for our determining if we are “managing” growth and protecting our quality of life.

In fact, it is an incredibly bad measure for sustainability and quality of life.

Despite first impressions, the rule tends to move communities in the opposite, downwardly-spiraling direction.

The rule is fairly harmless for, say, parks or schools. But for roads, maintaining per capita road capacity with a concurrency or adequate facilities rule is ruinous.

In most or all instances where concurrency is adopted by a community to manage new development, the rule says nothing meaningful about needing to maintain a level-of-service for the most important elements of a quality community: quality neighborhoods, transportation choice, housing choice, urban design quality, compact development, mixed use, or quality of life.admin-ajax (3)

Instead, nearly all applications of the rule forces the community to divert an enormous amount of time and energy into putting together a huge amount of data that is nearly meaningless for creating quality communities — data that is often counter-productive. And little more than mindless, bureaucratic bean counting.

Because of this, communities with a concurrency rule often have very little available staff time that can be devoted to putting together a vision for quality of life and sustainability. Such communities could have time, but it would require more money to hire more planners — and visionary planners at that. By setting up a concurrency rule, most communities get lowest common denominator planning.

The smaller towns with no planning staff or history of planning are helped to at least start doing something to fight the Wal-Marts and sprawl developers, but for bigger, more sophisticated cities, the rule typically means that planning staff squander a huge chunk of their time on bean counting: working up huge amounts of numbers that don’t help the community — and usually hurts the community.

Almost never does a community with a concurrency rule ask or expect any visioning or designing for quality of life. They are so busy counting beans that they kill themselves to assess concurrency numbers, and then delude themselves into thinking that such a number-crunching effort will somehow give them, magically, a pleasant, walkable town.

We need to start over again on concurrency.

Concurrency must start finding proxies for quality of life.

The road concurrency rule (which is the only concurrency rule that matters for most or all of the communities which have adopted concurrency regulations) means, instead, that all the community cares about is a quality of life for cars.

The unintended consequence of such a misguided focus on a quality car habitat rather than a quality people habitat? The community makes it inevitable that sprawl will be accelerated and the quality of life trashed. Indeed, both sprawl and quality of life end up being much worse than had the community not adopted a concurrency rule.

And what a bitter irony that would be.

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Should a City Transportation Plan Seek to Reduce Traffic Congestion?

By Dom Nozzi

I’m proud to say that I live in Boulder, Colorado – a city admired around the nation for pursuing progressive objectives.

Boulder has admirably established an aggressive, necessary objective: The community shall achieve an 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas (GHG) production. Achieving this lofty goal will require adopting effective, historically significant tactics.

Is Boulder bold enough to embrace such measures?

Because of the enormous contribution that transportation emissions add to the overall ledger of community GHG emissions, one of the first places to look is the City Transportation Master Plan, which is currently being updated. Are the tactics in the updated plan audacious enough to do the job?

No. In my opinion, the current draft of the update remains too timid to have the city take the steps needed to approach the important goal of an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions.

In my view, the first step in reaching the goal is to revisit the “congestion” objective in the plan.

The Traffic Congestion Objective

Since at least the 1990s, Boulder has had an objective in its long-range transportation plan that states:

“No more than 20 percent of roadways congested (at Level of Service [LOS] F)”

This is perhaps the most important, influential objective in the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (TMP). On the surface, it seems like a wonderful idea. But when a city strives to maintain “free-flowing” car traffic, as this objective intends to do, there are a great many hidden, unintended consequences that can undermine important Boulder objectives.

Counterintuitively, substantially reducing GHG emissions will require the city to significantly revise how it approaches traffic congestion management.

Here’s why: Achieving a free-flowing traffic objective…

…induces “low-value” car trips (i.e., using the car to buy a cup of coffee).

…results in an increase in toxic air emissions (despite the conventional wisdom that claims free-flow reduces emissions) due to the induced low-value trips.

…informs the City of Boulder and its citizens that it is useful to maintain or increase road and intersection capacity, even on roads and intersections that are too big already. This problem has been common in Boulder for a number of years now. While the City tends to steer clear of road widening, it has approved the construction of double left turn lanes at many urban intersections (see note below about double left turn lanes). Engineers are particularly eager to create such oversized intersections because enlarging intersections is much more effective in reducing congestion (at least for a brief time) than adding more travel lanes to a road.

…strongly discourages road diets (removal of one or more lanes from a road). This despite the fact that road diets are a powerful way to achieve a number of Boulder objectives, such as adding bike lanes and on-street parking, creating more sidewalk and streetscape space, slowing cars, significantly reducing pedestrian crossing distances, dramatically improving safety, significantly reducing severe car crashes, improving retail and residential health, reducing air emissions and fuel consumption, reducing low-value (and regional) car trips, reducing maintenance costs, increasing civic pride, reducing speeding, and improving overall quality of life. See map below of a possible road diet vision for Boulder.

…puts far too much emphasis on what James Howard Kunstler calls “happy motoring.” Too often, free-flowing traffic is considered a key way to achieve urban quality of life. However, free-flowing traffic undermines quality of life in a number of ways. By putting free-flowing traffic on a pedestal, so to speak, or placing such travel in an exalted, privileged position, the City is strongly promoting car travel, and such a car-centric focus is rightly the antithesis of what Boulder is about.

…promotes use of conventional methods of maintaining free-flowing traffic, such as intersection widening, which are so costly that other important transportation needs for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users are starved of funding.

…promotes car dependency, which is an engine for high-speed car travel, suburban sprawl, regional car trips, and low-density land uses. By contrast, healthy town centers are slow speed. And compact, vibrant, sustainable cities avoid sprawl. Free-flowing traffic also reduces travel choice, as walking, bicycling, and transit become less pleasant and less safe when car travel is free-flowing.

The Congestion Paradox

Most every change in behavior that a citizen engages in when responding to traffic congestion – such as avoiding rush hour driving, living closer to daily destinations, driving slower, traveling on non-major streets, trip chaining (combining, say, a trip to get groceries with a trip to the doctor), foregoing low-value car trips – is good for the community. By contrast, many (most?) actions a government agency takes when responding to traffic congestion – such as widening a road or intersection, downzoning in the town center, adding more free parking, synchronizing traffic signals for car speeds, converting a two-way street to one-way – is undesirable for the community.

Because cars consume so much space (a person in a car consumes 17 to 100 times as much space as a person not in a car), only a relatively small number of motorists are needed to congest a road. That means that any reasonably attractive city has a traffic congestion “problem,” and any city without a congestion “problem” may have something wrong with it, as it may be a sign that the city is too feeble or sickly to have even a handful of citizens traveling on a road at the same time.

By far, the most effective way to manage congestion is not to try to somehow reduce it or stop it from increasing (which is an enormously costly tactic that quickly leads to worse congestion), but to develop ways to avoid it. A sustainable, smart city addresses congestion, for example, by providing travel choices (bike paths, sidewalks, transit), providing housing near destinations such as jobs, and providing a connected street system so congested streets can be avoided (and car trips more dispersed on multiple streets, rather than burdening one or a few major streets).

Boulder staff has made the point that the congestion objective has long been in the TMP and therefore provides a long, valuable, historic record of changes in congestion over time. I agree that congestion trends are valuable, and should be maintained over time. But this can be done even if Boulder revisits the congestion objective.

In sum, I am convinced that Boulder should revise its congestion objective in the TMP. To its credit, the State of California now recognizes the counterproductive nature of fighting to reduce congestion, and is looking at adopting alternatives that Boulder should also consider: controlling such things as total vehicle miles traveled (VMT), total fuel consumption, or car trip generation. California is also looking at assessing and promoting multi-modal level-of-service, and adopting the position that infill development improves overall accessibility.  As an aside, Boulder staff has recently added “neighborhood access” and “vehicle miles traveled per capita” to the list of TMP objectives, and is starting to look at a multi-model level-of-service.

Double left turn lanes

Traffic engineers commonly claim that such intersection “improvements” as adding a second left-turn lane will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion, and believe a double left turn does not conflict with the transportation plan objective of promoting pedestrian and bicycle trips. In contrast, I believe that double-left turn lanes will increase emissions and willreduce pedestrian and bicycle trips. Double left turn lanes have been shown to be much less effective than commonly thought even if we are just looking at car capacity at an intersection. This is because adding a second left turn lane suffers significantly from diminishing returns. A double left turn does not double the left turn capacity – largely because by significantly increasing the crosswalk distance, the walk cycle must be so long that intersection capacity/efficiency (for cars) is dramatically reduced.

One of the absurdities of this state of affairs is that many cities today regularly cite severe funding shortfalls for transportation, yet these same cities seem eager to build expensive and counterproductive double left turn lanes. This is probably because transportation capital improvement dollars are in a separate silo than maintenance dollars, and that the former dollars are mostly paid by federal/state grants (which cities naturally consider to be “free” money).  Michael Ronkin, former bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the State of Oregon, states that double left turn lanes are “an abomination.” He adds that “they are a sign of failure: failure to provide enough street connectivity. With low connectivity, according to Ronkin, “when drivers do come to an intersection, the intersection needs to be gigantic, so it can accommodate all the left turns that had not been allowed prior to that point. Ronkin points out that “many trips on extra wide arterials are very short, and involve three left turns: one left turn onto the arterial and one left turn off the arterial: there trips could and should be made on connected local streets.”

Double-left turn lanes…

…destroy human scale and a sense of place.

…increase per capita car travel & and reduce bike/ped/transit trips.

…increase GHG emissions & fuel consumption.

…induce new car trips that were formerly discouraged.

…promote sprawling, dispersed development.

…discourage residential & smaller, locally-owned retail.

Boulder needs to draw a line in the sand: Impose a moratorium on intersection double-left turn lanes and eventually remove such configurations – particularly in the more urbanized portions of the region. Double-lefts are too big for the human habitat. They create a car-only atmosphere.

Proposal for a Road Diet Vision for Boulder

Healthy town centers need to be slow speed, compact, walkable, and human-scaled. In part, that means that roadways in the town center should not exceed three lanes. In Seattle WA, road diets resulted in such obviously beneficial outcomes for businesses and residences along the dieted streets that those on two other arterial streets asked for the road diet treatment on their street. Overall, Seattle has completed over 30 road diets, according to Peter Lagerwey. The following street sections in the Boulder town center exceed that size and would benefit from a road diet.admin-ajax (6)

Celebrating Community Gatherings

We all know that an attractive city – particularly its town center – will attract people. In healthier, more pleasant cities, the number of people drawn to a city – particularly its town center – will lead to an ambiance that is more festive, convivial, and enjoyable. Humans tend to be sociable by nature, which means that many seek out places that entice a gathering of people. A place to “see and be seen.” A place where we can expect to serendipitously bump into friends as we walk on a sidewalk or square. A place where we can share the news of the day and linger with our fellow citizens. Or share a laugh or an idea. A place that at times creates a “collective effervescence” of people enjoying experiences with others. A place, in other words, that is likely to be rewarding.

Indeed, the prime reason for the creation of cities throughout history is to promote such exchange. Exchanging goods, services, synergistic ideas, and neighborliness is the lifeblood of a thriving city.brugge walkable st

For these reasons, an important sign of a healthy city is that it is a celebrated, beloved place that regularly draws and gathers many citizens of the community. Unhealthy cities, by contrast, are featured, in part, by citizens who are more isolated and more alone. Sociologists such as Robert Putnam would say that these loner cities have “low social capital.”

While larger amounts of people in a gathering can — for some — feel “crowded,” when large numbers arrive in space-hogging cars, conditions are particularly likely to seem undesirably “congested” – even with a relatively small number of people gathering.

Given all of this, a “crowded” or “congested” town center is likely and normal. It is a clear sign that a city is attractive and in good health.

As Yogi Berra once said, “the place became so crowded that no one wanted to go there anymore.” Precisely.

Striving to reduce congestion in the Boulder Town Center, as the Boulder TMP does, is therefore to work at cross purposes to what we seek and should expect and exalt as part of a strong, vigorous city. Widening roads and intersections to “smooth traffic flow” and reduce congestion is akin to the many engineers in the past who fervently believed that it was necessary to convert streams into concrete channels in order to smooth water flow and reduce flooding. Today, we recognize that doing so destroyed the stream ecosystem and made flooding worse downstream. It is time for us to realize that at least in town centers, widening roads and intersections will destroy the human ecosystem and make congestion worse.

Providing Lifestyle and Transportation Choices

Many urbanists, in recent years, have adopted the equitable tactic of using a “rural-to-urban transect” for urban design. Using this method, the full range of lifestyle and travel choices is provided for. A community should provide for those who seek a walkable, compact lifestyle. It should also provide for the more dispersed, drivable lifestyle.

If Boulder opts to better use this method (it already does to a limited extent), it may be beneficial to take a “middle ground” approach to managing traffic congestion. Rather than applying citywide my proposal of ending efforts to reduce congestion, Boulder can consider an approach used in my years as a senior town planner in Florida.

In 1985, Florida adopted a growth management “concurrency” (or “adequate facilities”) law that prohibited development if the proposed development reduced “level of service” standards adopted by the community for such things as parks, potable water, schools, and road capacity. The law seemed highly beneficial when enacted, for obvious reasons. It was also an important tenant of the law that to fight sprawl and promote community objectives, in-town development should be encouraged and remote, sprawling development should be discouraged. But many soon realized that there was a significant unintended consequence with the growth management law. The “concurrency” law, when applied to roads, was strongly discouraging in-town development and strongly encouraging sprawl development.

Why? Because available road capacity tends to be extremely scarce in town centers, and much more available in sprawling, peripheral locations. Concurrency therefore made sprawl development much less costly and infill development much more costly. The opposite of what the growth management law was seeking.

The solution was to allow communities to adopt what are called “exception” areas in the city. That is, cities were authorized to designate various in-town locations (where the city sought to encourage new development) as “transportation exception areas” that would not need to abide by concurrency rules for road (or intersection) capacity when a new, in-town development was proposed.

To provide for a fuller range of lifestyle and travel choices, then, Boulder could consider an intermediate approach to a citywide congestion reduction objective. Using this approach, the congestion objective could perhaps be revised as follows:

“No more than 20 percent of roadways congested (at Level of Service [LOS] F), with the exception of the Boulder Town Center [defined as _____].”

One of the reasons this “exception” approach makes sense is that reducing traffic congestion supports both the needs of those seeking the more dispersed, suburban, drivable lifestyle, as well as the needs of those seeking a more compact, walkable lifestyle. Without the “exception,” the traffic congestion objective obligates providing more space for car travel and car parking in the more compact, walkable town center (to reduce congestion). Doing so has a deadening influence, and therefore undermines an essential ingredient of the walkable lifestyle: the collective gaiety and convenient walking distances that such a lifestyle thrives on and exemplifies.

Dave Mohney once said that the most important task of the urbanist is to control size. This point is crucial. Healthy town centers must retain a compact, human scale. Which is exactly why trying to reduce congestion in a town center is one of the most toxic things that can be done to a town center, as the main objective of congestion reduction is to substantially increase spaces from a human scale to a car scale with huge roads, huge intersections, and huge parking lots. The enormity of these huge, deadening car spaces sucks the lifeblood out of a town center. As was said in Vietnam, excessive road sizes, intersections and parking lots kill a town center in the name of “saving” it.

Obligating Enhanced Design

When the State of Florida decided to allow “transportation exception areas,” it specified that such exception areas would only be allowed if certain design, facility and service conditions were in place. To adopt transportation exception areas, the community had to show that it was also providing a full range of travel choices – choices that were available for those who wished to find alternatives to driving in more congested conditions.

Boulder could consider adopting a similar approach. For example, the congestion exception I’m suggesting above for the Boulder Town Center could be coupled with a rule that requires that the exception is only granted to proposed development if the development provides design enhancements beyond those already required by Boulder. Such enhancements might include one or more of the following requirements: That the new development provide more bicycle parking. Or provide eco-passes for employees or residents. Or place the front building façade up against the streetside sidewalk. Or provide a mix of uses. Or provide cross-access routes to ease pedestrian travel — among a great many other possible design enhancements.

Variation in the Value of Trips

Last but not least, I want to point out the essential need for us to recognize that some trips are relatively high-value, and some trips are relatively low-value. A motorist driving a car on a major street at rush hour to buy a sandwich is making a trip that is much lower value than a motorist who is racing to the hospital for a medical emergency. When roads are free to use (i.e., there is no toll that drivers must pay to use it), roads tend to be flooded with relatively low-value trips. The mistake made too often is that when a community opts to widen a road or intersection if it becomes congested, all of the trips on the road are assumed to be equally high-value.

This is simply not true.

A large number of trips on free-to-use roads are trips for relatively minor tasks such as buying a cup of coffee. Or trips that could have occurred on different routes. Or at different times of day. Or by bicycle, walking or transit, rather than by car.

By assuming, as is almost always the case, that all trips are essential, the community is opting to spend enormous amounts of public dollars to widen a road or intersection to enable or otherwise accommodate such low-value car trips. This sort of worst-case-scenario design  is utterly unaffordable and unsustainable from a financial point of view. And helps explain why there is a huge, nearly universal shortfall of transportation revenue throughout the nation (and including Boulder).

Given this, sustainability and financial health requires that Boulder avoid assuming that all trips are equally high in value when it comes to managing congestion. There are much cheaper and more fair ways to managing congestion than by spending many millions of public dollars to widen a road or intersection as a way to accommodate car trips to the coffee shop at rush hour.

“Social Engineering”?

A common critique offered in this conversation about transportation is that suggesting road diets, road tolls, or pricing parking in order to modify behavior or change travel behavior is “totalitarian.” Or represents “social engineering.” Nonsense. It is the free parking, free roads, and oversized roads and parking lots that are unnatural. Or being forced on us. Indeed, many have accurately pointed out that the American tradition of providing free roads and free parking is the biggest form of social engineering in world history. After all, look at how much suburban behavior this form of car pampering created among humans that lived for ages in compact places. By pricing roads and parking, and restoring human-scaled roadways, we are returning to normal, natural conditions. We are restoring fairness and removing what economists call “market distortions.”

Restoring the Timeless Tradition

The most admirable, beneficial principle in the update of Boulder’s Transportation Master Plan is that the pedestrian comes first in community design – before cars, before transit, and even before bicycling. By making the pedestrian the design imperative, Boulder properly asserts that the pedestrian is the key to quality of life. If our community – particularly our town center – gets it right for those on foot, a great many community objectives inevitably fall into place.

America lost its way when the car emerged a century ago. The timeless tradition of designing for human comfort and pleasure gave way to a new and ruinous paradigm: designing to make cars happy. Tragically for American communities, which celebrated the car more vigorously than anywhere else in the world, designing for the car sets in motion a catastrophic, nearly irreversible vicious cycle where more and more public money and political will is funneled into “happy motoring.”

The vicious cycle is largely fueled by the inevitability of what economists call the “barrier effect.” The barrier effect occurs because designing to ease car travel ensures that it will be more unpleasant, inconvenient and unsafe to travel by walking, by bicycling and by transit.

Because car-happy design increases the difficulty of travel by walking, bicycling and transit, residents of a community are increasingly forced to travel only by car, which compels a growing number of residents to demand that the community be designed to ease car travel and car parking. After all, what choice do we have? It is increasingly impractical to travel by bicycle, by foot or by transit.

The congestion objective in the Master Plan elevates the comfort and convenience of the car to be the top concern in the community, and doing so — again — works at cross-purposes to a great many critical community objectives. The community devolves into a downwardly spiraling road to ruin.

While Boulder, in recent decades, has avoided the terrible mistake of widening roads, the city continues to suffer from the car-happy “gigantism” disease by, for example, building massive, double-left turn lane intersections. Again, the congestion objective in its transportation plan perpetuates such quality-of-life destroying efforts to make cars happy, undermining Boulder’s future.

It is time to return to the tradition of the ages: Building our community to make people happy, not cars.

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

The Unintended Consequence of the Florida Growth Management Law

By Dom Nozzi

Florida adopted growth management laws in the mid-1980s to address, among other things, the perceived harm being caused by rapid, substantial residential and commercial development in Florida. Having been a senior planner employed by Gainesville, Florida for 20 years to help that city comply with those laws, certain things became clear to me:

1. The Florida growth management law paid quite a bit of lip service to environmental conservation, reducing traffic congestion, promoting smart/infill growth, etc.

2. The “concurrency” rules in the law (new development is not allowed unless facilities and services are in place to serve the new development) were seemingly a matter of common sense, but in practice the only concurrency that mattered was that roads needed to be wide enough to serve new car trips served by the new development. Because available road capacity tends to be in sprawl locations and in-town locations had no available capacity, the unintended consequence of implementing the growth management law was to strongly promote sprawl and discourage infill development. One result is that road concurrency was used as leverage by NIMBY no-growthers to stop in-town infill development (and thereby indirectly encouraging more sprawl via NIMBYism). Road concurrency even discouraged walkable, compact, mixed use new urbanism in sprawl locations, since conventional administrators, elected officials, planners and engineers could not be convinced that such design would reduce per capita car trips.

3. Planners in Florida had no time or encouragement to engage in any form of planning or visioning. Planners were mostly bean counters, and the “Future Land Use Maps” planners were asked to create were nearly identical to the existing land uses already found in the city. The urban design element I wrote for Gainesville’s long-range plan was optional, not required.

4. In 20 years, I was aware of no city or county in north central Florida which laid out a “smart growth” or new urbanist plan as part of their update of their long-range plan for the growth management law. This was largely because while the law paid lip service to “smart growth,” there were no incentives or requirements in the law to create transect-based (or form-based) land development regulations (regulations that would properly place emphasis on design for walkable sustainability rather than the conventional, exclusive concern for what happens within the building).

Again, all that mattered was that available road capacity exist for the new development.

In sum, while the law paid lip service to smart growth, the law and its implementation was the antithesis of smart growth or new urbanism. The law powerfully and effectively PROMOTED sprawl, car dependency and enormously wide roads.

In my opinion, Florida was, in many (but not all) ways, made worse – ironically — after 20 years of implementing a growth management law intended to protect its transportation, its quality of life, its economics and its natural environment. Again, this was mostly because all that mattered was road concurrency, and because the law provided no guidance or incentives or requirements for smart, compact, sustainable growth. The law was mostly responsible for ramping up the amount of vision-less bean counting in Florida.

My hope is that out of the ashes of the now-repealed Florida growth management law, we will see the emergence of new land development laws that effectively promote or require smart growth – growth that promotes the full range of lifestyle and travel choices (rather than promoting only one choice – the suburban, driveable choice).

A Better Path for Florida

The state should have “smart growth concurrency” rather than “road concurrency” – no new development unless a form-based code is in place. Laws, in other words, that promote transportation choice and lifestyle choice. Laws designed to make people — not cars — happy.

It is not clear to me, however, whether the state of Florida will show the wisdom and leadership to reform its land development laws in such a way. Hopefully, emerging energy, political and fiscal crises will compel the state to be smarter than it has been in the past.

_________________________________________________

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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Is It Bad or Good that Florida’s Growth Management Law is Being Dismantled?

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

I served as a long-range comprehensive planner for the City of Gainesville, Florida for 20 years – just after the nationally famous state growth management laws were adopted. I was hired in 1986, and the law was adopted in 1985.

I was hired to help Gainesville comply with this 1985 Growth Management Law that the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) administered. The 1985 Growth Management law was adopted largely as a way to protect quality of life in FL and prevent costly sprawl.

Despite the widespread praise that the Florida growth management law has won throughout the nation since 1985 (including the mimicking of much of the Florida law by other states), I would find it difficult to shed tears if DCA (or the Growth Management law) were dismantled.

The Florida law, despite all of its admirable intentions, has almost entirely failed to reduce sprawl or promote the quality of life in Florida. Indeed, a good argument could be made that the law actually accelerates sprawl and the downward spiral of quality of life in Florida.

The primary reason for the failure is that the “teeth” of the Growth Management law is something called “road concurrency.” That is, new development cannot be approved unless it is demonstrated that adequate road capacity is available to serve the new development. This road concurrency standard, therefore, had as its implicit assumption that ensuring adequate road capacity and “free-flowing” traffic is the key to promoting quality of life and discouraging sprawl.

Many other “concurrency” measures are required by the state law (such as adequate recreation, schools, water, and housing), but road concurrency has evolved into the only concurrency rule that really matters. All of the others are routinely ignored.

The unintended consequence of the law as it is applied, then, is that roads are widened, in some cases, to maintain “adequate” road capacity, as a condition for development approval. When that is not possible, the developer is either not given permission to build, or the density of the proposed development is substantially reduced as a condition for development approval.

Sprawl is therefore powerfully and unintentionally promoted because widened roads are the most powerful engine I know of for sprawl inducement and the destruction of both quality of life and the economic health of town centers. And the Growth Management law is largely compelling developers and communities to widen roads, ironically and counterproductively.

Another enormous irony is that the road concurrency standard is anti-urban and anti-infill (which promotes sprawl). Why? Because town centers and other infill areas tend to have the LEAST available road capacity (the least amount of unused road space), and remote sprawl locations have the MOST available road capacity. So the unspoken message from the Growth Management law is to build in sprawl locations — not in town center locations — to get road concurrency approval.

In addition, if road capacity is not available for the proposed new development, it is quite common for the developer and the community to have insufficient funds to widen the road for more capacity. The common in-town solution is to therefore reduce the proposed development density (to reduce the number of car trips loaded onto the roads serving the development).

In other words, the effect of the Growth Management law in this case is to make the development more suburban in density—including new development in town centers, where more compact, higher-density development is desirable from the point of view of achieving community economic, transportation and quality of life objectives.

Given this “we are our own worst enemies” law, my hope is that this current challenge—in 2011–to the existence of the Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Growth Management law will result in much-needed reform.

What sort of reform?

Reform that can actually serve to promote quality of life, urbanism and sprawl reduction objectives. Florida needs a substantially revised Growth Management law. One that does not emphasize “adequate road capacity” as the key condition for development approval.

Instead, it needs one that requires something more in the direction of transect-driven, form-based coding as the key condition for approval (ie, one that is focused on providing for the full range of lifestyle and travel choices, not just the suburban choice).

See http://www.formbasedcodes.org/ and http://www.transect.org/rural_img.html for more information about form-based regulations and the rural-to-urban transect.

The Florida growth management reform, then, needs to be one that as its centerpiece is designed to reward walkable, town center development – not punish it. One that is designed to promote a quality habitat for people, not cars.

All of this is not to say that the current Florida governor (Rick Scott) is in any way sympathetic to new urbanism and the principles I describe above. I don’t at all know where Scott stands on urban design, for example.

But I do believe that like with major hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana in recent times, this “dismantling” of the Department of Community Affairs and the Florida Growth Management law may be a critical opportunity for new urbanists and others seeking to reform and improve community design to be involved in the much-needed reform of state planning laws and the state planning agency (DCA) so that the law delivers what it is intended to deliver: compact urbanism, not car-based sprawl.

_________________________________________________

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 Economics, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Why Dumping Florida’s Growth Management Law Is Not Such a Bad Idea

By Dom Nozzi

For 20 years, I was a long-range comprehensive planner for Gainesville, Florida. I was hired by to be a planner in 1986 to help that city comply with the 1985 Growth Management Law that the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) administered.

Frankly, I would find it difficult to shed tears if, as was proposed a few years ago, DCA (or the Growth Management Law) were dismantled.

The 1985 Growth Management Law was adopted largely as a way to protect quality of life in Florida, and prevent costly sprawl in Florida cities and counties.

But it almost entirely failed to do either.

The reason for its failure was that the “teeth” of the Law was “road concurrency.” That is, new development could not be approved unless it was demonstrated that adequate road capacity was available to serve the new development. This road concurrency standard, therefore, had as its implicit assumption that ensuring adequate road capacity and “free-flowing” traffic was the key to promoting quality of life and discouraging sprawl.

The consequence of the law, of course, was that roads were widened, in some cases, to maintain “adequate” road capacity, as a condition for development approval. When that was not possible, themonstor hwy development was either not given permission to build, or its density was substantially reduced as a condition for development approval.

Sprawl was therefore powerfully and unintentionally promoted because widened roads are the most powerful engine I know of for sprawl inducement. As noted above, the Growth Management Law was largely compelling developers and communities to widen roads, ironically.

Another enormous irony is that the road concurrency standard is anti-city and anti-infill (which promotes sprawl). Why? Because town centers and other infill areas tend to have the LEAST available/unused road capacity, and remote sprawl locations have the MOST available road capacity.

So the unspoken message from the Growth Management Law is if you wish to get road concurrency approval to obtain permission to construct a development project, you should build in sprawl locations rather than in town center locations to get road concurrency approval. After all, that is where the road capacity can be found!

In addition, if road capacity is not available for the proposed new development, it is quite common for the developer and the community to have insufficient funds to widen the road for more capacity. The common solution, as I noted above, is to therefore reduce the proposed development density (to load less car trips on the roads serving the development). To make it more suburban in density. Low suburban densities are ruinous to cities, and promote extremely high levels of unsustainable car dependency (by making walking, bicycling and transit extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Given this, my hope is that a challenge to the existence of DCA, the Growth Management Law, or both, in Florida will result in much-needed reform. Reform that can actually serve to promote quality of life, urbanism and sprawl reduction objectives.

Florida needs a substantially revised Growth Management Law. One that does not emphasize “adequate road capacity” as the key condition for development approval. Instead, it needs a law that requires something more in the direction of transect-driven, form-based coding (see http://transect.org/transect.html) as the key condition for approval. One that is designed to reward walkable, town center development – not punish it. One that is designed to promote a quality habitat for people, not cars.

All of this is not to say that Florida has a governor and legislature that is in any way sympathetic to quality urbanism. But I do believe that like with major hurricanes in Florida and Louisiana in recent times, this “dismantling” of DCA or the Florida Growth Management Law may be a critical opportunity for proponents of form-based land development codes to be involved in the much-needed reform of state planning laws and the state planning agency (DCA), so that the law delivers compact urbanism, not car-based sprawl.

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

What the Top Florida Planners Think Florida Needs to Do to Fix It’s Growth Laws

By Dom Nozzi

I went to a forum held in early 2005 at a hospital auditorium in Gainesville, Florida. It was an assembly of each of the state Department of Community Affairs secretaries (directors of the state planning office) since the state growth management act was adopted in 1985. Each discussed at great length what they thought was working and not working with the state act in trying to “manage” growth.

I was astonished by the almost complete lack of awareness of what this state needs to do in order for there to be a decent, livable future here.

And this was a collection of the head honcho Florida planners over the past 20 years.

John DeGrove, the “godfather” of the 1985 law, thinks the crucial need is funding. I guess his sole focus is on the “dire” need to be sure that we widen roads concurrent with new population growth. Most of the others agreed that funding is critical so that the act can work.congestion

In other words, we’ll have good growth management and retain our quality of life as long as we can keep widening roads for free-flowing traffic (the major – yet unspoken — reason for the Act). We also need, they say, to build larger wastewater treatment plants, and building bigger insecticide factories (Oops! I mean public schools.)

Apparently, we have a desperate need to do this so that we can perpetuate the sprawl machine in Florida – which, by the way, is strongly incentivized by the Florida Growth Management Act (via its road concurrency rules).

Whoops!

No one acknowledged the crucially important point that I wanted to jump out of my seat and scream: For cities, congestion is our friend because it inevitably delivers us an enormous set of beneficial community objectives. Since the biggest “crisis” that most Floridians see with growth is congested roads, transportation concurrency is the only level-of-service standard that anyone gives a damn about in the state Act. The imperative is to not allow new growth if it will further congest our roads. Which often means that the development is approved only if there is an agreement to widen the road. Because most/all available road capacity is in our sprawl locations, transport concurrency is a powerful sprawl engine — totally counter to the growth management objectives.

Not only that. Because the needs of cars strongly clash with the needs of people, a quality car habitat (through the free-flowing traffic delivered to us by a “properly” functioning transportation concurrency law) effectively and substantially degrades the people habitat.

In sum, the state growth management law so many of us are proud of is a superb recipe for ruining the State of Florida for people. But an excellent recipe for creating a paradise for SUVs.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation