By Dom Nozzi
April 19, 2002
I’m getting ready to lead a transportation and land use “revival” in a coastal Florida town this weekend. Those folks are apparently drowning from sprawl and auto dependence, their elected officials don’t “get it” (as is true everywhere), and some of their activists have invited me to speak at a big growth management forum there to see if I can to open their eyes before they continue on their road-to-ruin path.
Should be a lot of fun. Say hallelujah!!
A friend recently asked what I thought of “frontage roads.” (roads parallel and flanking a larger, typically strip commercial road designed to keep local shopping trips from slowing more regional trips on the main road).
The following is what I told her.
Walter Kulash – a traffic engineer who strongly shaped my views over much of my career – briefly addressed frontage roads in a famous speech he gave a number of years ago. He didn’t say much about them in the speech, but did indicate that he thought they were a bad idea.
I told her I didn’t have anything else in my files about frontage roads, but I did know enough o warn her that from an urban design and transportation perspective, frontage roads must be avoided at all costs.
For the uninformed, they seem like a common sense, obvious solution to avert a congested strip commercial future. But as I will say until I am blue in the face, we cannot build our way out of congestion!
In fact, trying to add more capacity to hopelessly try to avoid congestion (which is an important justification for frontage roads) will lock us into a downward spiral of accelerated suburban sprawl, extreme auto dependence, unbearably high taxes, declining in-town (and locally-owned) businesses, a miserable quality of life, bankrupted households and local governments, a loss of a unique community identity, a loss of civic pride, higher levels of congestion (which is helpful in a town center but generally a problem in suburbia), less walking/bicycling/transit, and worsened safety conditions.
From an urban design perspective, frontage roads are a disaster. To be convenient for bikes/ped/transit and to promote a quality ambience, buildings must be as close to facing buildings across the street as possible. Frontage roads spread buildings further apart, destroy any sense of human scale, and make it impossible to cross the “street” to go from one building to a building across from it. Every trip where you have frontage roads and big parking lots in front of buildings set way back from the road MUST be by car.
The inevitable result of frontage roads, like every single other urbanizing or strip commercial area where they have been tried, is worsened transportation and quality of life. It is impossible to EVER build enough capacity to handle the demand for car travel in any place besides a declining rural farm town with no growth foreseen. In fact, adding more road capacity with frontage roads will INDUCE car trips that would have never occurred had the capacity not been added.
This is a self-fulfilling prophecy: Traffic engineers urge more road capacity. When the capacity is added, the widened road induces new car trips above and beyond the number of trips before the widening. The result is that the widened road quickly gets choked with car gridlock, and the engineers say, “See! We told you! It was a good thing we widened or the traffic would be ‘worse’!!!” Actually, what would really happen without the widening is that there would be a lower demand for car trips — congestion regulates itself unless we let road widening short-circuit the process…
In sum, frontage roads are a wonderful way to spend millions of public dollars to destroy a community. What a bargain! We are essentially bankrupting ourselves to foul our own nest. Have we lost our minds?
Work to stop the frontage road idea at all costs.
Hope that helps, and hope you are well.