Tag Archives: happy cars

Why Can’t an Enlightened City Move Away from Happy Motoring?

By Dom Nozzi

June 18, 2014

I have been on a full-press campaign for months now to nudge my home city of Boulder CO toward building its transportation system to make people happy, not cars. Many statements at my transportation advisory board (TAB) meetings, one-on-one meetings with Boulder council members, meetings with PLAN-Boulder County board members (specifically called to discuss my transportation views), holding a “transportation salon” dinner party at my house, getting an op-ed published  in the Boulder newspaper, a published essay in the on-line Boulder political activists journal (The Blue Line), Facebook posts, comments at social events and hikes I attend, Q&A comments at community transportation meetings, postings to my on-line blogs, emails to various transportation radicals I know, a speech to PLAN-Boulder County, and meetings with Boulder transportation staff.

It has been nearly unanimous. Almost all staff, speech audiences, and elected council members heartily agree with my recommendations that we should make people happy, not cars. That we should shrink roads, intersections and parking to a human-scaled size. That we should price parking and roads. That we should reform parking requirements.

Why, then, does Boulder continue to regularly seek to do such counterproductive, outdated things as spending large sums of dollars to install turn lanes all over town, synching traffic lights for car speeds, building over-sized intersections, reducing development densities and building heights to “improve” transportation, and stubbornly delaying a reform of its outdated, costly, excessive parking requirements?

Boulder and its planning documents are famous for aggressively promoting an increase in bicycling, walking and transit use, striving to reduce car trips and GHG emissions, seeking compact development, discouraging big box retail, and promoting smaller, locally-owned shops. Yet with eyes wide open, staff and elected officials — well aware of the fact that increasing road and parking capacity for cars will substantially undermine many of these aims – continue to approve of new capacity for cars. And otherwise ease car travel.

How can this be? How can Boulder continue down the ruinous car-happy path, even though council and staff agree with me?

The paradox has given me a possible insight: While elected officials and staff “get it,” efforts to make people happy instead of cars (by, for example, removing excessive car space allocation and excessive car subsidies) meet with furious, enraged opposition from citizens – many of whom are highly intelligent and can therefore summon seemingly reasonable arguments (along with their rage) to have even the admirable elected leaders and informed staff hesitate to take even timid measures in the direction of people rather than cars.

Also, wealthy Boulder has long enjoyed having such a relatively large amount of revenue to spend for government facilities and programs that it has been too easy to opt to pay for “carrots” like bike lanes and transit, rather than opt for effective “sticks” (such as equitable user fees, road and parking diets, etc.) and thereby be subjected to the wrath of hostile, car-promoting citizens.

Why is there such a strong support for happy cars in enlightened Boulder?

  • High expenses in town make it necessary to live in cheaper outlying areas, which compels even enlightened citizens to be cheerleaders for cars.Woman gesturing out of car window
  • For a century, car travel has been heavily pampered and subsidized (cheap gas, free roads and parking, over-sized car infrastructure that is paid by everyone and not just motorists). The “barrier effect,” which results when easier car travel makes non-car travel more difficult, creates a lot of car-dependent citizens – even those who are “enlightened.”
  • A century of car happiness has inevitably and effectively created such substantial dispersal of land uses in Boulder County that car dependency is locked in – even with great sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit.

All of this means that even in Boulder, there is an artificially high number of “car cheerleaders” than there would have been had we not subsidized and pampered cars, and had such a state of affairs not locked Boulder into a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle.

All of this may be a waste of time and effort, but I am enjoying how much it motivates me to think clearly and write passionately about the topics.

 

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

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

American Citizens Tend to be Their Own Worst Enemy

By Dom Nozzi

September 6, 2017

In my experience, the general public very often seeks things that are detrimental to themselves and their community. The “who needs enemies when we have ourselves” syndrome is exceptionally common in our society, which makes it very disappointing and frustrating for professional designers who “get it.” Particularly for me, as I’ve never had any skill at all in working with such beliefs.

It should not be surprising to us that so many citizens seek counterproductive measures. In the field of town and transportation planning, this is a particularly common problem because we have designed our communities and our roads so that it is nearly impossible for any of us to travel anywhere without a car. Because we are therefore almost entirely trapped in car dependence, most of us are unsurprisingly compelled to argue for car-enabling design.

Man Expressing Road Rage

An irritated young man driving a vehicle is expressing his road rage.

Tragically, cars consume a huge amount of space and are too often driven at high speeds. Excessive space consumption and high speeds are exceptionally toxic to a quality city. Those two things powerfully degrade the human habitat, and explain why so many car-happy US cities are such unpleasant places with no charm, human scale, safety, or civic pride.

The over-provision for the car is truly The Enemy of the City.

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The Problem of Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2017

Gigantism, in my opinion, is a HUUUUUGE problem in America.

Enormous roads, enormous setbacks, enormous (and improperly located) parking lots, enormous (and improperly located) stormwater basins, enormous distances between destinations, enormous road intersections, enormous subdivisions, enormously tall street lights, enormous signs, enormous retail areas.Monster road intersection

The enormity of the American land use pattern is obvious when one walks the historic center of so many European cities and towns. My recent visit to Tuscany with my significant other was, once again, so saddening and maddening because the streets we walked were so stunningly lovable, charming, and romantic. Americans have thrown all of that charm away in our car-happy world.

Not only is it impossible to love most all of urban America. It is also, as Charles Marohn points out so well, impossible to afford to maintain. A double whammy of unsustainability. And extreme frustration in my career as a town planner who toiling for decades to try to nudge our society toward slowing down our ruinous love affair with making the world wonderful for car travel. And finding that even most smart people in America strongly oppose going back to the timeless way of building for people instead of cars.

It is said that dinosaurs went extinct due in large part to gigantism. I believe the same fate is likely for America, unless our society wakes up and realizes we are way better off in so many ways if we get back to building our world at the (walkable) human scale.

A friend asked me recently what I would do if I were in charge, had a blank slate, and could design a community any way I desired.

If I had such an opportunity, my community would be much more compact and human-scaled. One can walk historic town centers in Europe for models of what I speak of here.

WAY less “open space” for cars is essential.

I would ratchet down our extreme (and artificial) auto-centric value system by making roads and parking and gasoline purchases and car buying directly paid for much more based on USER FEES rather than having all of society pay for happy cars via such things as sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes.

In other words, making our world much more fair and equitable.

We have over-used and over-provided for car travel and car housing in large part because the cost to do so is mostly externalized to society rather than directly paid for via user fees. Eventually — maybe not in our lifetimes? — car travel will be mostly paid for via user fees and externalized costs will be more internalized. Car travel will therefore become much more expensive, signaling us to cut down on our over-reliance on it.

When that happens, we will inevitably see the re-emergence of the lovable, human-scaled world we once had. Fortunately, we are starting to see car travel becoming much more expensive and unaffordable — even though it continues to fail to be user-fee based.

And we are seeing the Millennial generation showing much more interest in compact town center living and much less interest in being car happy.

It is way past time for our society to a people-happy rather than car-happy world.

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One Explanation for “Scrap Offs” and Pop Ups”

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 19, 2002

Neighborhoods in American communities sometimes see a smaller, more modest, older home removed from a property and replaced by a larger, more extravagant home. This is sometimes referred to as “scrap offs” and pop ups.”20150206__20150208_k1_bz08scrapesp2

In a city such as Boulder, Colorado, where property values are so high, much of this can be explained by the fact that it is often nonsensical, for a number of reasons, to retain a small, modest house on an extremely expensive piece of property. Why have, say, a thousand square foot home worth $50,000 sitting on a property that is worth $500,000?

But there are other reasons why such home replacements occur in America.

My impression is that around the nation, there is a noticeable growth in scrape offs and pop-ups. I would attribute it largely to a point I make in my published book, The Road to Ruin. That unlike in places like western Europe, the American “public realm” (streets, sidewalks, parks) are the most desolate and miserable in the developed world because Americans have spent over 50 years single-mindedly trying to make cars, not people, happy. And because this is a “zero-sum” game (all “gains” by cars are losses for people not in cars), we have spent over 50 years destroying the quality of life in our public realm. We now have the most miserable public realm in the developed world.

Americans have responded to this by fleeing the public realm. We set buildings back from the now hostile, high-speed street as far as we can. We spend as little time as possible outside (unless we are cocooned in a car). We thereby become increasingly fearful and suspicious of what might lurk in those desolate streets and sidewalks and parks.

Part of our flight from the desolation of the public realm is that we increasingly strive to achieve a PRIVATIZED, inwardly-turning quality of life. Inside the private confines of our homes, we often find pure, unmatched luxury. Plush, expensive furniture. Expensive electronic equipment. Opulent kitchens and bathrooms. Sumptuous car interiors. A growth in the size of our homes.

This turning away from our degraded and neglected suburban, car-happy public realm means that we have chosen to seek out a privatized, isolated, individualized quality of life. Joy in life is to be achieved as individuals or amongst our family inside our McMansions, and not, as has been traditionally the case, out in the community with our neighbors and fellow citizens.

But it is an empty, plastic, financially bankrupting, fleeting pleasure if it is only inside our private world.

The loss of civic pride — the loss of caring about our community — is ultimately catastrophic to our future.

By contrast, a quality public realm is an equal opportunity quality of life, because it is available to all ages, skill levels, income levels, and races. A quality public realm is a COMMUNITY-BUILDING attribute. And it doesn’t require us to go into endless household debt, as does our “need” to buy the latest car, computer, TV, stereo system, or bathroom.

There is growing evidence that Americans are moving in this downwardly-spiraling direction. Purchase of household and auto goods is enormous in scale.

Governments at all levels continue to bankrupt themselves by hopelessly trying to achieve the unachievable: free-flowing happy cars in cities. Making cars happy is an engine for the privatizing, inwardly-turning trend we are in.

I’ve heard this week that there is an observable increase in the size of American homes. Given the above, this is completely predictable. If our quality of life is to be achieved in our homes and cars, it is clear that we’ll be induced to create larger and larger homes (and cars) to expand the size of that private quality.

Which brings me back to scrape offs and pop-ups.

The growing desire to demolish smaller homes and replace them with HUGE McMansions is an obvious symptom of our desire to privatize our quality of life.

 

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Gigantism is the Key to Our Downfall

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 11, 2010

I believe that gigantism — exemplified by excessive distances, building setbacks, parking, and excessive speeds – is the primary agent destroying community Safeway-July-2015-smsustainability and quality of life.

And the primary cause of the sickness of gigantism is our over-reliance on motorized travel. While it is not necessary to eliminate car travel completely, it is essential that we end the century-long practice of making too many of our trips by car – trips that can often be made in other ways – and overdesigning for convenient car travel, to the extreme detriment of the needs of human beings.

We must return to the timeless tradition of making people happy, not cars, by designing for modest sizes and speeds.

This is the core message in my writings and speeches.

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Stopping Development or Ensuring Quality Development is Fair to All?

By Dom Nozzi

Stopping growth and development, despite the conventional wisdom, is mostly what planners and elected officials try to do in high-growth areas.

They try to find as many fees and regulations as possible to punish developers and stop them. But we do the opposite of what we should be doing, because the typical “punishment” is that we force them to build huge parking lots, huge landscape setbacks, and a strict separation of residential and non-residential land uses, while the government spends billions to widen roads. All this does is ensure that everyone is forced to drive a car for everything and guarantees that the development will be loved by cars and despised by people.

No wonder we have a nationwide NIMBY epidemic where neighborhoods fear all new developments. No wonder we have intolerable traffic congestion that gets worse and worse every year. No wonder our governments are bankrupt. No wonder our public planners have no credibility and our developers are the most hated people on earth.

What we need are developers, planners, and government officials who return to the timeless, traditional ways of building communities that are designed to make people, instead of cars, happy.

Sure, things are more difficult when your rate of growth is higher, but a high rate of growth can be wonderful for our quality of life if our design is for people instead of cars. I am strongly pro-growth if it is designed to make people happy by using timeless principles. So no, I do not believe that my position is that we just “stop sprawl,” although that certainly needs to be part of it, since sprawl is part of the make-cars-happy paradigm.

We have workable solutions.

They mostly focus on having growth pay its own way, that it be sustainable, and that it contribute to the overall quality of life. Currently, car-happy dispersed suburban development promotes lifestyles that externalize and export their costly, negatively-impacting behaviors on all of the rest of us with their cocooned “McMansions” on isolated cul-de-sacs (which belch a relatively high number of car trips on the rest of us, and make it more costly to serve).

I am not saying that certain lifestyles should be prohibited. I just want to see that those that enjoy those lifestyles are paying the full cost for them, instead of having me pay some of the cost through higher taxes or a lower quality of life. We also need more choices in housing and transportation, since increasingly, our only choice is the isolating, community- and environment-destroying auto-dependent suburbs, where everyone enjoys subsidies not in the public interest, and everyone is forced to drive a car for every trip.

Let’s return to the days of striving for choices and quality of life for people.

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