Tag Archives: land use

California legislation aims to reduce sprawl: Watch Out for Unintended Consequences

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 2007

In the fall of 2007, a member of the new urbanist email list I was subscribing to posted the following news: “CA bill to tie transportation funding to reducing sprawl”

“Enter state Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, who has written a bill that would reward land-use planning that reduces sprawl. Specifically, it would require the California Air Resources Board to set greenhouse gas targets for metropolitan areas. Then regional agencies would have to devise growth and transportation plans to meet those targets. And future transportation funding would be tied to meeting those targets.”

My response was to state that I certainly hoped this bill was properly crafted to avoid what I fear can be a tragic unintended consequence.

Over the years, I’ve regularly heard the sprawl lobby claim that road widenings are needed on congested roads to reduce air pollution and gas consumption. To a great many people — including some environmentalists — the argument makes sense. “Widening a congested road creates more free-flowing traffic, which means less gridlock, which means less pollution and gas consumption due to a reduction in idling cars.”

Of course, some of us now recognize that widening roads usually does the reverse, because Carmageddon highwaywidening typically induces more car trips (i.e., an increase in pollution and gas consumption) and a quick return to congestion — not to mention an inducement to more sprawl.

My fear, therefore, is that the bill will actually create a new justification in CA for more road widening (and more sprawl) as a way to “reduce” greenhouse gases.

Does the bill specifically state that road widening is not an allowable greenhouse gas reduction tactic?

I hope so.

 

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Conversation with the VDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator About Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

December 10, 2008

In late 2008, I had an email conversation with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator about which comes first: transportation or land use.

VDOT Coordinator: “This particular issue raised quite a storm on the [Bicycle/Pedestrian professionals email] list and it then continued when I raised the issue here at VDOT.  But the bottom line is this (and it reflects what I mentioned in my previous posts), we at VDOT react to what localities do in terms of land use and planning.   …”

“… Another issue that was raised,” noted the Coordinator, “was that of suburban environments that urbanize over time and become areas with greater need for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle travel.  My response then … was that the shortfall is with local planning, both for having created these environments in the first place, and also for not revisiting these environments when the roadway is no longer compatible with the context of land use that has developed.  Under the new [regulations], localities have the option, and are being encouraged to develop corridor plans which will then be submitted to VDOT with exceptions to the standards.  …”

I responded by pointing out that I enjoyed, agreed with, and often learned from what he posted on the email list.

However, I said, speaking as a 20-year senior city planner, I need to point out here that “we in city planning” react to what private landowners and developers propose to us with regard to development along a roadway. Public sector planners have very little control as to densities or mixed uses or types of businesses that are proposed along a roadway. Yes, publicRichmond Cary St downtown Jun06 planners can write development regulations or corridor plans that call for walkable, mixed use, higher density design, but if the roadway is 5 lanes and designed for 45 mph (inattentive, talking-on-the-cellphone) speeds, such regulations will be a moot point, as property owners and developers tend to build to what the market seeks. And when you have a multi-lane, high-speed roadway, the market tends to seek low-density, drivable, single-use suburbia.

In other words, transportation determines (drives) land use.huge turn radius for road

Yes, such suburban areas can incrementally transform themselves to be more urban, compact, walkable, dense environments. But public planners and their regulations and plans will be almost entirely powerless to catalyze such a transformation. The effective catalyst in the case of a suburban environment fed by high-speed, high-volume roadways is for the DOT to make amends for its earlier decision to build an oversized roadway (usually justified on the grounds that the 5 lanes are needed to reduce or avoid congestion — even though we should all know by now that we cannot build our way out of congestion).

Often, the DOT will claim that the proposed large, suburban road is needed because of the land uses allowed by local government in the area. “DOT is just meeting the demand created by the land uses on the ground.”

Again, however, such suburban markets (and subsequent development) would not have occurred had larger, higher-speed roads not been built elsewhere in the community (not to mention all the underpriced parking provided).

So yes, public planners can play a role in developing regulations or plans that call for walkable, urban, mixed use environments. But the road must first be redesigned to accommodate it and create the market for it (usually by removing travel lanes and introducing other slow-speed design tactics).

I don’t pretend to believe that we can do this in the near future. It took us over 80 years to build this car-friendly mess we are in. We are therefore unlikely to find our way out of this for quite a while.

Here is a December 2008 article by Christopher Leinberger on the transportation/land use “chicken & egg” issue:

Transportation drives development

Dear President-elect Obama:

There is a “chicken and egg” question many people ask about building the built environment; which comes first, the transportation system or the buildings. This is asked about rail transit in particular. I can now definitively give you an answer to that question: transportation drives development. The transportation system a society selects dictates the form of the built environment. The current car/truck transportation system means most US metropolitan areas only have one development option, the familiar drivable sub-urbanism.

Much research has shown that there is now pent up demand for the opposite of drivable sub-urbanism; walkable urbanism, where most of daily needs can be met on floor, bike or by transit. The extra-ordinary price premiums per square foot being achieved for walkable urban development, whether in high density Manhattan, lower density Bethesda in DC or the newly developed Pike Market area in Seattle, shows that people are voting with their feet and pocketbooks for the ability to live and work in mixed-use, walkable places.

However, the bulk of the country is stuck with only a 20th century transportation system, completely car and truck dependent for all residential and commercial transportation. The majority of Americans are stuck with only the drivable sub-urban option for how to live and work.

For the US to become competitive with the market, economic and environmental demands of the 21st century knowledge-based economy, a more balanced transportation system with vastly increased options is crucial…that means more rail, bike and walking options. It also means a national high speed rail system connecting out major metropolitan areas to complement the Interstate Highway system and the national air system.

The 2009 reauthorization of the federal transportation bill is the country’s opportunity to put in the 21st century infrastructure we so desperately need. Funding a balanced system, rather than a highway-biased system, will do more than give the people what we want. It will also allow for the development of a way of living and working that is far more energy efficient and far less green house gas emitting. An upcoming Brookings study will show what is intuitively obvious; walkable urban households use about ¼ of the energy and emit ¼ the green house gases of drivable sub-urban households. Encouraging walkable urban development will also make the US far more energy secure, reduce the hundreds of billions of dollars we send to hostile countries abroad and will spark a huge boom in real estate development which will help drive the economy out of our current economic crisis.

The new Obama administration has the opportunity to fundamentally alter how we built the built environment; which accounts for over 35% of our country’s assets. The 2009 transportation bill will be the most important domestic legislation of the new century and will put the country on the road to development that is sustainable in so many ways. It is as important to the country from economic, environmental and social perspectives in the 21st Century as the highway and air systems in the 20th Century were. President Obama could preside over transportation legislation as important to the country’s future as President Eisenhower’s with the building of the Interstate Highway system.

Christopher B. Leinberger

Leinberger is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, director and professor of the graduate real estate program at the University of Michigan, partner in Arcadia Land Company and president of LOCUS, a national real estate organization.

This article is available in the December 2008 issue of New Urban News, along with images and many more articles not available online. Subscribe or order the individual issue.

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Transportation and Land Use Reforms in Alachua County Florida

By Dom Nozzi

September 16, 2008

Florida Statutes (§163.3180) requires that land use and transportation facilities be coordinated to ensure there is adequate transportation capacity to support the future land use adopted in the Comprehensive Plan. Policy 1.1.8 in the Transportation Element of the Alachua County Comprehensive Plan requires that adequate roadway capacity needed to support new development shall be required to be available “concurrent” with the impact from development.

This statute is perhaps the most disastrous ever adopted by any state in the US, which is bitterly ironic, given how the 1985 state growth management law is touted nationally as a model. It is a hideous example of the Law of Unintended Consequences. The primary objective of the framers of this language was to discourage costly sprawl and promote quality of life. Yet this language powerfully states that there is a state law requiring all communities in Florida to establish a mechanism that profoundly promotes suburban sprawl and an eradication of a quality of life. It enshrines the ruinous hypothesis that “free-flowing traffic” is the be-all and end-all of quality of life and the means of discouraging sprawl. Because cars and people have strongly clashing habitat needs (the world that makes a Ford happy is nearly opposite of the world that makes Fred happy), and because “adequate roadway capacity” tends to be in remote sprawl locations, this statute is exactly the opposite of what FL communities should strive to adopt.

Objective 1.1 of the Transportation Mobility Element requires that “Level of service standards, in accordance with the latest version of the Level of Service Handbook developed by the Florida Department of Transportation Systems Planning Office, shall be adopted in order to maximize the efficient use and safety of roadway facilities in order to coordinate capital improvement planning with land use decisions to meet the requirement that adequate roadway facilities be available concurrent with the impacts of development.”

Transportation Mobility Element is a profound blunder in word choice for this Element. I lost this battle when I tried to name the long-range transportation plan I wrote for Gainesville FL the Transportation Accessibility Element. I was over-ruled by my supervisors. As Reid Ewing points out, it wrongly puts the focus on moving motor vehicles, rather than the word access, which properly puts the focus on moving people. Indeed, high mobility is an effective way of reducing access for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users (due to what Todd Litman calls “The Barrier Effect”). High mobility also destroys quality of life (even for a Ford, in the long term).

As Ian Lockwood points out, “efficient use” and “safety of roadway facilities” are biased terms that put the emphasis on high-speed motor vehicle roadway design (“free-flowing traffic” enshrinement) and promoting “safety” for driving at 80 mph, rather than safety for Suzy and Bobby. They are, in other words, counterproductive code words leveraged by traffic engineers to suboptimize happy cars instead of a better community.

This wording is also backwards. “…adequate roadway facilities be available concurrent with the impacts of development” should instead state that “roadways shall be designed in such a way as to be compatible with the community development vision.” In other words, if the community vision is a walkable, charming, low-speed, mixed-use, human-scaled main street corridor, the roadway should be built no larger than two lanes and should use low-speed street dimensions. The street should not be widened or speeded up or scaled for cars to be made “adequate for proposed development” because such an “improved” road undercuts the community vision for development along the street. Instead of walkable charm, the “improved” street will inevitably deliver unsafe, high-speed strip commercial, retail and office vacancies, and loss of civic pride.

The State’s Growth Management Act calls for implementation of the mandate know as concurrency through a combination of regulation and capital improvement programming. As applied to roadway-based level of service standards, the regulatory component consists of a review of the impact of new development to determine if there is adequate roadway capacity to serve the traffic generated by the new development. Concurrency approval is granted to the new development if there is sufficient roadway capacity available at the time of approval or if new capacity is fully funded for construction within three years of development approval (see s.163.3180 (2)(c), F.S.). Local governments are also required to adopt a financially feasible Capital Improvements Element (CIE) to provide the roadway capacity needed to maintain adopted roadway level of service standards. The State’s Growth Management Act has included a longstanding requirement that a local government include a Capital Improvement Element (CIE) in the adopted Comprehensive Plan that identifies capacity enhancing transportation projects required to serve the impact of future land uses. Local governments have been required to show in the five year Capital Improvements Program (CIP) that needed transportation capacity can be fully funded and constructed in a five-year period to meet projected demand needs. The legislature has put added emphasis on the requirement for a financially feasible Comprehensive Plan, mandating that local governments update their CIE to ensure it is financially feasible by December 2008 (emphasis added) or be subject to various sanctions (see s.163.3177(2)(b)(1), F.S.), such as prohibitions on the ability to amend the future land use map.

The Concurrency Management System in Alachua County, especially in the western urban area, has been under an increasing level of stress as a number of roadways in the western urban area are operating either near or over capacity.

This is a good thing, despite this biased wording.

The majority of roadways over capacity are operating below the adopted level of service (LOS) due to reserved trips from already approved development.

Adopted “level of service” should not be a measure of free-flowing traffic, as is done by the County. It should be based on the health of retail, offices, and residential along the street, the quality and extent of transportation choices provided along the street, and the health of property values along the street.

Proposed developments along portions of Archer Road and Newberry Road are currently unable to receive final development plan approval due to a lack of available roadway capacity.

When development in areas intended for higher densities is unable to receive plan approval due to state law, we have an excellent example of the unintended consequences of the law.

The County does not currently have a transportation plan to address roadway concurrency within the Urban Cluster.

Which is fortunate, since the “plan” would undoubtedly be to widen. Widening and speeding up roadways powerfully disperses the lifeblood of an area. Densities and intensities plummet. I suspect this is not what the County would like to see in an “Urban Cluster.” (Congestion and low-speed streets, by contrast, promote clustering, huge turn radius for roaddensification and intensification. So why does the State and County have laws requiring that roads disperse development away from Clusters by making sure the road capacity is “adequate” — i.e., widened?)

The concept of concurrency was well intended, but the application of it has led to unintended and unsustainable consequences.

Why did it take over 20 years to realize this? Why did it take so long for an enormous number of NIMBY, environmental, progressive and no-growth groups to see this?

Instead of ensuring that adequate roadway capacity is available concurrent with development, as urban areas approach build-out, new development in those areas is restricted under the regulatory component of concurrency management, creating pressure to allow more development in rural areas where capacity is available. The end result of this approach to concurrency is that denser development within urban service areas is stopped or significantly delayed due to a lack of capacity, while a favorable climate is created for sprawling development in rural and agricultural areas.

It is becoming increasingly evident that local governments and the state cannot build their way out of congestion by adding more roadway capacity.

Once local governments stops development through concurrency and begins accepting proportionate fair-share contributions to add roadway capacity; they can find themselves going down the slippery slope of continuously having to add new capacity to mitigate the impact of new development. This unsustainable pattern has proven to be an ineffective means to provide mobility.

Change “mobility” to “access.”

Please.

Arlington County rightly emphasizes accessibility over mobility. Part of their plan is a strong call for moving people, not just vehicles.

And by the way, it is telling that I was marginalized and essentially run out of town for saying these things over and over again for the last 10 years of my career in city planning in Gainesville.

It is also telling that Florida communities must engage in complex, costly, time-consuming planning in order to set up “special exception” districts such as MMTDs, TCEAs, and TCMAs as a way to avoid the unintended sprawl consequences I note above.

In Urban Clusters, urban areas and town centers, this should be the law, not the special exception requiring costly studies. Urbanized and urbanizing areas are incompatible with concerns for “adequate road capacity.” In urbanized and urbanizing areas, the default rules should be an absence of concern for adequate road capacity. In such areas, the complex and costly studies for special exceptions should be required to show why such places are not urbanized or urbanizing.

By putting the onus of burdensome calculations and justifications on urbanized or urbanizing areas, the County and State have it backwards. It should be easy to do the right thing and difficult to promote sprawl. Right? Requiring special districts and “Transportation Concurrency Exception Area” studies in urbanized or urbanizing areas does the reverse. State law, in other words, needs to have context-sensitive concurrency rules. In urban or urbanizing areas, LOS is focused on making people happy. In suburban areas, the focus is more toward conventional (car happy) LOS rules.

There was draft legislation proposed in Florida to correct some of this mischief through the creation of a mobility fee based on vehicle miles of travel that would potentially replace both proportionate share and transportation impact fees. It ultimately failed to be adopted.

This was an excellent idea already being used in other parts of the nation, I believe. With such a system, well-designed walkable neighborhood/town center development would pay dramatically lower fees. We need the transportation system to move substantially in the direction of user fees (via road fees and parking fees), instead of keeping motorists on welfare.

If the County were to actually find funding to start improving walking, bicycling, and transit trips, most all of the money would be wasted by building quality facilities that would be almost entirely unused, and the under-use would be a unforgivable waste of public dollars. These facilities, by themselves, will not deliver more bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. They must be coupled with the “Four S” ingredients: Less Space for cars, less Speed for cars, less Subsidies for cars, and Shorter distances to destinations.

Because the County saw much of its development occur in a world of huge and high-speed roads, massive amounts of free parking, and cheap gas, low-density dispersal is the only form of development available. Rapidly rising motor vehicle costs are beneficially changing the price signals, but major portions of the “Four S” ingredients will remain unused for a very long time (which makes the popularity of bike lanes, buses and sidewalks extremely unlikely). It is irresponsible, therefore, for the County to spend large sums of public dollars for these needed facilities until essential tasks are completed:

  1. Lots of road diets to reclaim street space. In general, no road in the county should exceed three lanes in size.
  2. Removal of an enormous amount of off-street parking (converting it to residential and commercial buildings) and properly pricing the parking that remains. An essential County task: require that the price of parking be unbundled from the price of the residence or commercial building. And in urban or urbanizing areas, convert parking minimums to maximums.
  3. A substantial effort to use traffic calming (speed lowering) street design.
  4. A lot more mixed-use, compact development.

Without congestion, lower speeds, proximity and proper prices for roads and parking, it will be irrational to use even high-quality buses, bike lanes and sidewalks. Indeed, elected officials and its professional staff get a well-deserved black eye if they spend millions and billions of public dollars for buses, bike lanes and sidewalks that no one uses.

When the County sets up these more walkable places, the County land development regulations must be tailored to be compact and human-scaled (rather than suburban). There should be no Floor Area Ratio max. Landscaping should not be required (except for formally-aligned street trees). Stormwater basins should not be allowed to consume land at-grade (when needed, it should be underground or on roofs, as basins powerfully reduce walkable compactness). Front facades of buildings must be required to be built up to the sidewalk (instead of set back). Off-street parking is not required, but if it is provided, the price must be unbundled and special studies must be performed to show why it is needed. It also must be behind or at the side of buildings. (fee-in-lieu of parking should be made an option, by the way). All buildings within such urban places are allowed to contain all types of residential and non-residential uses (in other words, there is no use-based zoning). However, certain uses are prohibited from the urban place, because they are inherently detrimental to compact walkability: Gas pumps, car washes, parking as a primary use, garden centers).

Any adopted transportation fee must strongly de-emphasize motorized travel. Western Alachua County has way too much road capacity, and needs a number of road diets. For a transportation fee to actually improve the community, it is absolutely essential that there is no possible way that any of this revenue can be used to widen roads, or add turn lanes, or synchronize traffic signals, or build bus bays, etc.

The County needs to openly state that it will not widen roads to try to reduce congestion.

The County and its citizens face decades of costly pain as a result of its blunderous past: big roads, abundant free parking, and low-density suburban development. Bike lanes, sidewalks and transit will do very little to change that unsustainable environment—until the changes I mention above are in place.

 

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Traditional, Sustainable, Affordable Urban Design

By Dom Nozzi

When I was a town and transportation planner in Florida, I sought to incorporate the following traditional neighborhood development principles into the long-range land use and urban design plans for my community. I was not allowed to do so, but I hope that planners elsewhere will be able to incorporate some or all of this in the plans of their communities…

Cities throughout the country face many of the same problems — increasing traffic problems, worsening air and noise pollution, the loss of outlying farms and open spaces to suburban sprawl, the growing need for costly road widenings and the provision of expensive urban services to such remote development, increasing visual blight, traffic injuries and deaths, wildlife habitat loss, the decline of downtowns, loss of independence for children and seniors who cannot drive, loss of civic pride, a growing household financial crisis, a loss of serendipity, and a loss of a sense of place and community.

City character becomes blurred until every place becomes like every other place — all adding up to no place.

Our streets become increasingly congested and our destinations further and further away. We increasingly spend our time as anonymous individuals waiting at the traffic light instead of socializing with friends at the corner store or playing with the kids at the park.

All the places where people could meet in public and experience a sense of community — the square, the corner pub, the main street — have been replaced by oceans of asphalt for the movement and storage of space-hungry cars.

There were neighborhood design principles that characterized development in the U.S. before WWII. The following principles exemplify these conventions:

* Neighborhoods are limited in size and oriented toward pedestrian activity.

In general, “limited in size” means that most every form of daily household need is within a five-minute walking radius (approximately one-quarter mile);

* Residences, shops, workplaces, and civic buildings are interwoven within the neighborhood and in close proximity, which creates a vibrant, livable neighborhood featuring transportation choice. This mixed use is primarily achieved by calling for compatibility of scale and intensity;

* Streets are interconnected and the blocks are small. This street pattern, in combination with other design features of the traditional neighborhood development, strikes a balance between the needs of the car, the bus rider, the pedestrian and the bicyclist;

* Civic buildings are given prominent, high-visibility locations that thereby act as landmarks, symbols and focal points for community identity. These buildings are therefore assigned the proper level of community priority and serve as places of assembly for the neighborhood;

* There is a distinct edge, or transition, between the developed area and outlying farmland and greenbelts;

* Public spaces create a pleasant, safe public realm and are formed and defined by the proper alignment of buildings;

* A full range of housing types is provided, which allows all age groups and income classes to be integrated.

A traditional neighborhood also features the following benefits:

* Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

* Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

* Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips. This, in addition to providing proximity by mixing land uses, allows the traditional neighborhood development to achieve a relatively high “trip capture rate,” which vastly reduces the significant transportation impacts the neighborhood displaces to the larger community.

* Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

* Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

* Minimizes strip commercial visual blight.

* Increases citizen access to culture.

* Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

* Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

* Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

For these reasons, City land development policies and land use categories should be revised to make such traditional, “timeless” development more feasible – particularly because such development is highly desirable for the reasons described above, yet there is little or no choice to live in such developments. Important ways to incentivize such traditional developments:

* Adopt a traditional neighborhood development (TND) ordinance.

* Revise land use categories to make TNDs allowed by right.

* Establish town center design guidelines that will transform centers into walkable, transit-oriented developments (TODs). See the Transportation Element for a description of TOD elements.

* Reduce fees, and the review and approval process, for TNDs and TODs.

The Ahwahnee Principles (adopted in the long-range plans of several communities around the U.S.)

Preamble

Existing patterns of urban and suburban development seriously impair our quality of life. The symptoms are: more congestion and air pollution resulting from our increased dependence on cars, the loss of precious open space, the need for costly improvements to streets and public services, the Haile Village9inequitable distribution of economic resources, and the loss of a sense of community. By drawing upon the best from the past and present, we can, first, infill existing communities and, second, plan new communities that will more successfully serve the needs of those who live and work within them. Such planning should adhere to these fundamental principles:

Community Principles

  1. All planning should be in the form of complete and integrated communities containing housing, shops, work places, schools, parks and civic facilities essential to the daily life of the residents.
  2. Community size should be designed so that housing, jobs, daily needs and other activities are within easy walking distance of each other.
  3. As many activities as possible should be located within easy walking distance of each other.
  4. A community should contain a diversity of housing types to enable citizens from a wide range of economic levels and age groups to live within its boundaries.
  5. Businesses within the community should provide a range of job types for the community’s residents.
  6. The location and character of the community should be consistent with a larger transit network.
  7. The community should have a center focus that combines commercial, civic, cultural and recreational uses.
  8. The community should contain an ample supply of specialized open space in the form of squares, greens and parks whose frequent use is encouraged through placement and design.
  9. Public spaces should be designed to encourage the attention and presence of people at all hours of the day and night.
  10. Each community or cluster of communities should have a well-defined edge, such as agricultural greenbelts or wildlife corridors, permanently protected from development.
  11. Streets, pedestrian paths and bike paths should contribute to a system of fully-connected and interesting routes to all destinations. Their design should encourage pedestrian and bicycle use by being small and spatially defined by buildings, trees and lighting; and by discouraging high speed traffic.
  12. Wherever possible, the natural terrain, drainage, and vegetation of the community should be preserved with superior examples contained within parks or greenbelts.
  13. The community design should help conserve resources and minimize waste.
  14. Communities should provide for the efficient use of water through the use of natural drainage, drought-tolerant landscaping and recycling.
  15. The street orientation, the placement of buildings and the use of shading should contribute to the energy efficiency of the community.

Regional Principles

  1. The regional land use planning structure should be integrated within a larger transportation network built around transit rather than highways.
  2. Regions should be bounded by and provide a continuous system of greenbelt/wildlife corridors to be determined by natural conditions.
  3. Regional institutions and services (government, stadiums, museums, etc.) should be located in the urban core.
  4. Materials and methods of construction should be specific to the region, exhibiting continuity of history and culture and compatibility with the climate to encourage the development of local character and community identity.

Approve proposed accessory dwelling units, such as “granny flats”, carriage houses, garage apartments, and add-ons to a detached single-family residence. When done properly, this allows the city to retrofit higher, more livable densities without harming neighborhoods. Encourage or require a mix of housing types.

Strategies:

* The City will promote a mix of land uses and activities that will maximize the potential for pedestrian mobility throughout the city.

* Buildings should be sited in ways to make their entries or intended uses clear to and convenient for pedestrians.

* The location and pattern of streets, buildings and open spaces must facilitate direct pedestrian access. Commercial buildings should provide direct access from street corners to improve access to bus stop facilities.

* Creating barriers which separate commercial developments from residential areas and transit should be avoided.

* Direct sidewalk access should be provided between cul-de-sacs and nearby transit facilities.

* Traffic calming should be further developed on city streets to enhance the safety of street crossings. Curb radii should be minimized to reduce the speed of right-turning vehicles and reduce the distance for the pedestrian to cross the street. Calming should be used to discourage speeding and cut-through traffic. Street widths should be as narrow as possible.

* The City will encourage the provision of pedestrian scale improvements that fit the context of the area. The color, materials, and form of pedestrian facilities and features should be appropriate to their surroundings, as well as the functional unity of the pedestrian network.

* The City will encourage housing development near major employment centers to foster travel to work by all forms of transportation.

* The City will encourage a variety of housing types and densities, including mixed use developments, that are well-served by public transportation and close to employment centers, services and amenities. In particular, the City will promote the siting of higher density housing near public transportation, shopping, and in designated neighborhoods and districts.

* The City will recognize accessory housing units as a viable form of additional — and possibly affordable — housing, and will develop special permit procedures, criteria, and restrictions governing their existence that are designed to facilitate their development while protecting existing residential neighborhood character.

* Neighborhood streets and sidewalks will form an interconnected network, including auto, bicycle, pedestrian, and transit routes within a neighborhood and between neighborhoods — knitting neighborhoods together and not forming barriers between them. Dead ends and cul-de-sacs should be avoided or minimized. Multiple streets and sidewalks will connect into and out of a neighborhood.

* To keep all parts of the community accessible by all citizens, gated street entryways into residential developments will not be allowed.

* On long neighborhood blocks, intermediate connections in the pedestrian network should be provided, with a maximum distance of about 500 to 700 feet between walking connections. In particular, direct walkway and bikeway routes to schools should be provided.

* All multiple-family buildings should be designed to reflect, to the extent possible, the characteristics and amenities typically associated with single-family detached houses. These characteristics and amenities include orientation of the front door to a neighborhood sidewalk and street, individual identity, private outdoor space, privacy and security.

* Home occupations should be allowed in all residential areas provided they do not generate excessive traffic and parking, or have signage that is inconsistent with the residential character of the neighborhood.

* To foster visual interest along a neighborhood street, the street frontage devoted to protruding garage doors and driveway curb crossings will be limited. Generally, garages should be recessed, or if feasible, tucked into side or rear yards, using variety and creativity to avoid a streetscape dominated by the repetition of garage doors.

* If possible, the view down a street should be designed to terminate in a visually interesting feature.

Converting Conventional Shopping Centers into Walkable Urban Villages

Conventional shopping centers containing only retail, office and service uses, tend to be designed only for the car. Asphalt parking lots tend to be enormous, and push buildings a tremendous distance from the street. This form of “auto architecture” significantly reduces transportation choice, makes access difficult for those without a car, create urban “heat islands” and stormwater problems, and eliminate the possibility of buildings defining a pleasant, human-scaled public realm. The atmosphere tends to be unpleasant. There is no sense of place, sense of community, unique character or sense of civic pride.

Increasingly, however, such shopping centers are being rebuilt to form a pleasant, walkable urban village. Shops, offices, and residences face each other in a compact atmosphere reminiscent of traditional main streets.

Because they promote transportation choice, they equitably allow access and enhance environmental conditions. And they provide a superior quality of life and ambiance that allows them to profitably compete with more conventional centers.

Clustering higher density housing near the walkable urban villages can substantially increase transit use.

Features of a Walkable Urban Village:

* A gridded street network lined with street-facing buildings, and interspersed with squares and plazas.

* A comprehensive sidewalk and street tree network.

* Compact, vertically and horizontally mixed land uses including residences, retail, office, service, and civic activities.

* A “Park Once” environment.

* A strong connection to transit service.

* Bounded by relatively high residential densities.

* A vibrant public realm created by healthy pedestrian volumes, street vendors and performers, a broad mix of uses, and 24-hour activity.

The City should adopt land development regulations that lead to the transformation of conventional shopping centers to walkable urban villages.

Causes of sprawl:

* Widening major roads with travel lanes and turn lanes;

* Free and abundant parking for cars;

* Lack of quality public facilities in core areas, such as schools, parks, and trails;

* Poor codes enforcement in core areas, which leads to excessive noise pollution, car parking problems, unsightly signage, and unkempt homes;

* Poor public schools in the city center, and construction of public schools and community-serving facilities in areas remote from the city center;

* Land development codes which excessively promote the convenience of the car instead of transportation choice;

* Water and sewer extension policies;

* Low-cost gasoline;

* Poor quality transit service;

* Low overall quality of life in the city;

* Flight from crime, poverty, and “auto architecture”;

* For non-residential uses, more convenient access for cars throughout the region due to abundant space for parking, lower costs for building construction, lower land values, and easier access to Interstate highways;

Negative effects of sprawl:

* Increased city costs for infrastructure and services;

* Increased per capita trips by car;

* Increased travel times;

* Increased household expenditures for transportation;

* Reduced transit cost-effectiveness and frequency;

* Increased social costs (increased air, water, noise pollution);

* Loss of farmland;

* Reduced farmland productivity and viability;

* Loss of sensitive natural areas and wildlife habitat, or fragmentation of  such areas;

* Loss of regional, community-separating greenbelts and open spaces;

* Increased urban ugliness due to “auto architecture”;

* Weakened sense of community, sense of place, and sense of civic pride;

* Increased stress;

* Increased energy consumption;

* Reduced historic preservation;

* Segregation by income, age group, and race;

* Separates low-skill, high unemployment areas from new jobs;

* Increased fiscal stress for the city;

* Increased rate of inner city decline;

Returning to these design principles is a recipe for a more sustainable, affordable future rich in lifestyle and transportation choice, equity and quality of life.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

The Many Transportation Reforms Needed in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

 If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places. – Fred Kent

Boulder, Colorado is rightly considered throughout America to be a model for instituting facilities and programs that create sustainable transportation choices that promote equity and quality of life. However, it is important to recognize that Boulder is far from being able to “rest on its laurels,” as too many in Boulder seem ready to do. Even in Boulder, there are a large number of transportation reforms that are essential if Boulder is to have a chance to achieve important transportation and quality of life objectives.aerial-view-of-boulder-b

To start this paper, here is a list of objectives that Boulder (like most other communities) seeks to achieve:

Objectives

  • Reduce carbon/greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Reduce SOV and other gasoline-powered transportation.
  • Increase the proportion of bicycle, pedestrian and transit trips.
  • Increase the amount of affordable housing.
  • Promote compact, walkable urban design in town centers.
  • Increase the proportion of transportation revenue that is user fee based.
  • Promote slower and attentive car traffic.
  • Promote quality of life via more healthy residential and commercial areas.

This paper offers my suggestions for needed reforms to effectively achieve these objectives. In general, to be transformative (and to avoid needing to increase needed transportation funding), recognize that it is not about providing new transit, bicycle and pedestrian facilities. It is about taking away space and subsidies and speed for the car, by shrinking size of roads and parking, and increasing the cost of driving.

Note that car transportation is a zero-sum game. Increasing the ease of car travel, or reducing the cost of car travel, inevitably makes bicycling, walking and transit use more dangerous, less pleasant, and less practical. This becomes a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle, as easing car travel ends up inducing a growing number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users to drive cars more often. And that growing number of motorists then increase political pressure to ease car travel EVEN MORE. And so on…

It is essential to recognize the negative feedback loop of the travel time budget, the triple convergence, and induced trips. For example, designing streets to speed car travel results in increased community dispersal because travelers have an internal “travel time budget” that compels them to allocate travel time to their daily routine. If car speeds increase due to enabling street design, commuters respond by living further away from their destinations, because higher speed streets enable them to remain within their travel time budget.

The “triple convergence” informs us that whenever we widen a road, we inevitably induce three motorist behavior changes that result in a quick return to congested road conditions: Motorists drive more often at rush hour, they drive more often by car, and they drive more often on the newly-widened street. The widening of a road (or intersection) thereby “induces” new car trips that would have never occurred had Boulder not spent large sums of public dollars to widen a road or intersection.

Why Driving a Car is Rational

Even in Boulder, the vast majority of citizens find that car travel is the most rational way to drive. As an aside, this is why adding new bike lanes, more frequent bus service, or adding new sidewalks are generally not effective in significantly reducing car use.

In Boulder, the following factors make car travel quite rational.

  • Protection/security from “bad guys.”
  • Comfort (temperature control, protection from weather, music, comfy seat, etc.).
  • Low physical exertion.
  • Status/ego.
  • Cargo carrying capacity.
  • Ability to carry lots of passengers.
  • Ability to travel long distances — particularly at times of your choosing, rather than based on a bus schedule.
  • Free parking for nearly all of your trips.
  • Untolled roads.

Boulder needs to strive to make bicycling, walking, and transit use more advantageous than car travel, and addressing the above factors (so that car travel is less advantageous in these categories) is an important way to start doing that.

Boulder’s transportation staff is well-educated about the following recommended reforms. Their infrequent instances of suggesting such reforms is therefore not due to their being unaware of such tactics. Staff would make such recommendations regularly if or when their supervisors and elected officials gave them PERMISSION to make such recommendations.

Needed Boulder Transportation Reforms

Parking

  • Eliminate any code barriers to infilling on off-street parking lots. Off-street parking is an extremely inefficient way to use the extremely costly land in Boulder – particularly in the town center, where no off-street parking should be allowed at all.
  • Eliminate minimum parking requirements and consider converting them to maximum parking requirements (particularly in the town center). In addition to converting minimum parking to maximum parking, allow increased shared parking, require the unbundling of the price of housing from the price of the associated parking, and offer employees a parking cash-out option. Regulations currently require too much off-street parking.
  • Only allow Inverted-U bike parking (or minor variations), and specify required spacing as well as required height. Regulations currently allow highly undesirable bike parking designs. The inverted-U design is about the only acceptable bike parking design. We don’t allow several car parking designs. Why do we allow it for bike parking?
  • Conduct an on-going trend analysis of the quantity of free parking – particularly in the town center. This measure is an excellent proxy for quality of life changes over time. Quality of life is inversely related to the quantity of free parking. Parking quantity changes correlate with several city objectives in a way that “green” cars/fuel does not:
    • Less noise pollution
    • Less sprawl
    • Less heat island effect
    • Less flooding and stormwater runoff
    • More affordable housing
    • More affordable transportation budget
    • More healthy population
    • More healthy retail & residential
    • Less injuries and deaths due to crashes
  • Hire a Shoup-based parking consultant to conduct a parking study for Boulder.
  • Boulder should conduct an on-going inventory of how many regional commuters park in a free parking space. This can inform the City about how aggressively to push for parking cash-out, and whether the region will be able to shift regional commuters to transit (too much free parking for such commuters makes such a shift highly unlikely).
  • Off-street parking should not be allowed to front streets – particularly in the town center. Exceptions should be only allowed on wide, high-speed streets, where conditions are too inhospitable to abut the street with a building entrance.
  • Parking in Boulder should be more comprehensively priced (market-based pricing).
  • The price of free parking should be unbundled from the price of housing so that those with fewer or no need for car parking can have more affordable housing (and reduce the incentive for owning cars). Reports providing details about unbundling the price of parking can be found here, here, and here.
  • Each year, the total percentage of total free, off-street parking converted to priced parking shall be increased.
  • Incentivize infill construction on off-street parking lots by, for example, exempting the property from FAR or density limits, and reforming property taxation.
  • Conduct an inventory of on-street and off-street parking in the Boulder town center on an annual basis. Each year, the amount of town center off-street parking shall be reduced to a quantity lower than the prior year. Essays I wrote about town center parking can be found here, here, and here.
  • Parking shall be more efficiently provided by generously allowing the sharing of parking, fee-in-lieu parking, leased parking (public ownership of parking). An essay I wrote about providing more efficient parking can be found here.
  • Work with CU to reduce Single-Occupant Vehicle travel by faculty, staff, students, in part by increasing the cost of campus parking, and reducing the number of on-campus parking spaces.

Roads and Streets

  • Convert one-way streets back to two-way in Boulder town center. Several cities throughout the nation are converting one-way streets in their town center back to their original two-way operation. Why? One way streets…
    • Increase speeding
    • Increase inattentive driving
    • Increase motorist impatience
    • Make street less conducive to residential & retail, as well as bicycling and walking
    • Newcomers more likely to get lost
    • Studies show they increase motorist travel distances, which increases GHG emissions & fuel consumption
    • Make dangerous wrong-way travel more likely.

An essay I wrote about the impacts of one-way streets can be found here.

  • Install more roundabouts and traffic circles to slow down traffic, make motorists more attentive, improve residential quality of life, and reduce intersection crashes.
  • Install raised, landscaped medians where continuous left-turn lanes are found in the Boulder town center, such as Pearl Street, Broadway (Meadow to US 36), and Arapahoe Ave (turn pockets/raised medians). Doing this will dramatically improve pedestrian safety and comfort, reduce excessive car speeds, reduce inattentive driving, create a more human scale on Boulder streets that are excessively wide, and substantially improve the visual quality of streets.
  • Humanize Canyon (20K ADT) and Broadway in the Boulder town center by putting them both on a diet. The rule-of-thumb threshold for relatively easy road diets are for streets that carry up to 25,000 average daily trips (ADT). An essay I wrote about the unintended consequences of Boulder seeking to reduce congestion, and recommendations about humanizing such streets as Canyon and Broadway, can be found here.
  • Within city limits, five lanes shall be the maximum size of streets, and no more than one turn lane shall be installed at an intersection. In the town center, the maximum shall be 3 lanes.
  • Do not create double-left turn lanes, and remove double-left turns now in existence. An essay I wrote about the folly of double-left turn lanes can be found here.
  • While synchronizing traffic signals is discouraged, when such a measure is unavoidable in the Boulder Town Center, signals shall be timed for the speed of buses and bicyclists. Signals on Spruce and 13th in the Town Center are timed for cars and are very difficult to reach at cyclist speeds. An essay I wrote about problems associated with traffic light synchronization can be found here.
  • Each year, there shall be a reduction in the amount of road space allocated to motor vehicles. Seek road diet opportunities (partly to save money in creating bike/pedestrian/transit facilities). Moratorium: No expansion of road space for car travel (via the addition of travel lanes, turn lanes, etc.) shall occur in the Boulder town center.
  • Continuous left-turn lanes within the Boulder town center shall be retrofitted to install raised medians.
  • The Transportation Master Plan contains an objective that states that “No more than 20 percent of roads shall congested.” This is counterproductive. It induces low-value car trips, more car travel, more air emissions, and more sprawl. More people bicycling, walking and using transit will NOT reduce congestion (due to gigantism, unpriced roads/parking and latent/induced demand). Contray to conventional wisdom, the “free-flowing” traffic sought after by this objective does NOT reduce air emissions and fuel consumption. On the contrary, because conventional tactics such as free roads/parking, synchronized signal lights, an excessive number of travel lanes (roads that are too wide) induce “low-value” car trips (trips on major roads to, say, buy a cup of coffee at rush hour), air emissions and fuel consumption INCREASE on a community-wide basis. An essay I wrote about the counterproductive aspects of seeking to reduce traffic congestion can be found here and here.
  • Revise the definition of Complete Streets. The definition Boulder currently uses allows the City to make the bizarre claim that Broadway is a “model” Complete Street. The definition states that if there are bicycle facilities within a quarter mile parallel to the street, the street can be considered “Complete.” This definition gives a false impression that Broadway is “complete” and therefore needs no modification (such as a road diet) to be Complete.
  • The creation of Complete Streets does not necessarily require the expenditure of money to build facilities or buy right-of-way. Often, a street can be made more Complete by simply allocating the ROW space differently, so that less space is allocated to cars and more space to bikes, pedestrians, or transit.
  • Boulder should require that service vehicles be kept relatively small in size so that large vehicles don’t drive the creation of excessively large street dimensions.
  • Boulder must emphasize accessibility when streets (and parking) are designed, NOT mobility. Mobility privileges car travel and discourages bicycling, walking and transit. Accessibility promotes transportation choices. A report I prepared which compares mobility to accessibility can be found here.
  • Boulder needs to implement traffic calming on a large number of streets, as a huge percentage of streets are overly wide and induce excessive, inattentive, dangerous speeds. An essay I wrote about the merits of traffic calming can be found here. An essay I wrote dispelling the myth that calming increases air pollution can be found here.
  • The Transportation Master Plan should list street segments needing Complete Streets or Road Diet treatments. The City should prepare a citywide road diet plan (examples of low-hanging fruit includes the conversion of continuous left-turn lanes to turn pockets). See “Humanize Canyon (20K ADT) and Broadway” above.

Promoting Pricing Equity

Currently in Boulder, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users pay unfairly high prices to travel, and motorists pay much less than their fair share of the costs of their travel. The following reforms would promote much more cost fairness for traveling in Boulder.

  • To increase transportation funding equity and diversify funding, establish one or more of the following: a VMT fee, priced roads (an essay I wrote about tolling Rt 36 in the Boulder/Denver region can be found here), pay-at-the-pump car insurance, and other user fees. If possible, make such new taxes/fees revenue neutral by reducing or eliminating other fees/taxes when the new user fee is instituted. A detailed analysis of these sorts of user fees can be found here and here.
  • Free parking for retail or services shops in Boulder is not “free.” Those “free” spaces, which are provided only for the benefit of motorists, are not truly free because they are indirectly paid by shoppers who buy products and services within the shops at an artificially elevated price that allows the business or property owners to pay for the purchase and maintenance of the parking. This hidden cost is passed on to ALL shoppers, even those who arrive by walking, bicycling or transit. This is clearly unfair, since such non-motorist shoppers are not using the car parking. Motorists are therefore unfairly subsidized, and non-motorists are unfairly punished financially. The City needs to enact policies that eliminate this pricing unfairness. Tactics include such things as unbundling parking, parking cash-out for employees, eliminating minimum parking requirements for the shop, reforming property taxes that financially penalize shop/property owners who replace parking with buildings, and requiring that parking for the shop be priced.
  • Town center properties should have lower transportation fees assessed by the City, since their location and compact, mixed-use design reduces car trips. Doing that thereby reduces the transportation cost impacts of these properties compared to “drivable,” outlying properties. It is therefore unfair to assess town center properties the same fees as areas with higher levels of costly motor vehicle travel.
  • Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies need to place more emphasis on sticks such as user fees and less emphasis on carrots such as bike lanes/parking.
  • Examples of user fees which would dramatically improve transportation funding fairness:
  • Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) fees
  • Pay-at-the-pump car insurance
  • Parking fees
  • Congestion fees for roads
  • Weight-distance fees
  • Mileage-based registration fees
  • Mileage-based emission fees
  • Gas taxes.

Increasing the Number of Bicyclists

Many of the above recommendations promote more bicycle transportation. The following are additional suggestions.

  • A huge number of citizens are “interested but concerned” about bicycling. They are interested in bicycling, but too concerned about safety to want to bicycle regularly.
  • The city needs to remove (grind to smooth) raised “lips” at driveway ramps throughout the city – particularly in the town center. Such lips can be extremely dangerous for less-skilled or inattentive bicyclists. An inventory I conducted of locations where this corrective measure is needed can be found here.
  • Traffic calming (designing streets to obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively) is rarely employed in Boulder, and a enormous number of streets can benefit from such a treatment. Doing so would dramatically induce citizens to bicycle more often, as high/inattentive car travel is an important reason why “interested but concerned” citizens opt not to be bicycle commuters (see links above).
  • Road diets are a powerful way to promote bicycling, as they add more space for cycling, and reduce speeding and inattentive driving by motorists.
  • Reduce the excessive promotion or requirement that bike helmets be worn at all times. While helmets tend to be important when riding on higher speed suburban and rural roads, as well as on unpaved mountain bike trails, they tend to be unnecessary and counterproductive on low-speed streets. An essay I wrote about the unintended consequences of the tendency to obsessively call for (or require) helmet use can be found here.
  • The City should oppose any efforts at the state level to make bicycle helmets mandatory. Studies from around the world regularly show that mandatory helmet laws reduce per capita bicycling and do little if anything to improve bicycle safety – particularly in neighborhoods or town centers.
  • Repeal the Boulder law that prohibits bicycling on sidewalks of commercial streets. Canyon and Broadway are WAY too hostile to allow bicycling on street. See link to the BoulderBlueLine below.
  • As is done statewide in Idaho, allow bicyclists to treat stop signs to yield signs and red lights as stop signs. The vast majority of bicyclists already do this, and do it quite safely. An article describing, in detail, the merits of this approach can be found here.
  • “Protected bike lanes” have important drawbacks, despite their popularity with many people who strongly promote them. (1) Such lanes induce higher speed car travel (when a “painted buffer” is used to separate bicyclists from cars); (2) Such lanes lower the ability to see the cyclist (when the protected lane is created by parked cars on the left of the lane); (3) Such lanes increase the inconvenience of bicycling, because bicyclists often have a more difficult time making left turns (this directly violates the need to make bicycling more advantageous); (4) Such lanes increase the difficulty to maintain a bicycling surface that is clear of glass and other debris; and (5) It is only affordable to create such lanes on a tiny fraction of Boulder street mileage, which makes the treatment nearly useless for bicycle commuters.
  • Boulder’s town center is a surprisingly and inappropriately difficult place to ride a bicycle. There are a number of ways to correct this problem. An essay I wrote about how to do this  in Boulder can be found here.

Increasing the number of pedestrians and transit users

Many of the above recommendations promote more walking and transit ridership. The following are additional suggestions.

  • Boulder needs much more compact, mixed and dense development patterns to make transit and walking a substantially more desirable form of travel. These patterns need to be clearly, prominently called for by the Transportation Master Plan.
  • Parking cash-out should be made available for a higher percentage of employees working within city limits.
  • The quantity of “free” parking within city limits must be substantially reduced by pricing a much larger percentage of parking.
  • Add real-time information at bus stops that indicate the time before the next bus arrives.
  • Boulder should continue to require “cross-access” at mid-block locations so that pedestrians have shorter walking distances.

Some of my thoughts about increasing bus ridership can be found here.

Reforming the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board

  • Each TAB member should submit their list of top 10 or 20 transportation issues. Doing this would alert staff and elected officials about the priorities of this citizen board (and possibly inform staff and officials of issues they are unaware of), and better enable board members to collaborate with other boards (there is an admirable effort by the City to have board members collaborate with members of other boards, so that boards are more aware of what various other boards seek). By not knowing the priorities of other TAB members, TAB members are less able to convey to other boards anything about the priorities of TAB.
  • Amend TAB by-laws to allow TAB members to discuss urban design and land use. Not allowing TAB to discuss urban design or land use for particular development proposals is extremely unwise, as urban design and land use are integral to achieving transportation objectives. Without conducive land use and urban design, such transportation objectives are extremely unlikely.
  • Clarify whether TAB is reactionary or proactive. Is the role of TAB to simply react to development projects or issues brought to them by staff? Or are there benefits to having TAB members raise issues not brought before them? (issues that staff or officials may be unaware of).
  • TAB members should maintain a standing legislative agenda (issues that TAB believes should be promoted at the state level by Boulder. This is important in part because there may be state-level issues that TAB is aware of that staff or elected officials are not aware of.

Land Use

  • Designate “walkable/compact” and “drivable” zones in city so we can apply “walkable” policies fairly and appropriately. For example, features such as the ECO bus pass, reduced setbacks, and mixed use land use patterns tend to be primarily appropriate only in the zones designated by the City as “walkable.” Such tactics tend to be less appropriate in the more “drivable” outlying zones of the city. More details about such “transect” zones can be found here. Some of my own thoughts about such zoning can be found here.
  • Increase the amount of affordable housing by creating land use patterns which reduce the number of cars a household must own. Such tactics, which are mostly prohibited in Boulder, include allowing Accessory Dwelling Units, and mixing residences with relatively small, low-impact retail, services and jobs. Some of my more detailed recommendations for creating affordable housing can be found here.
  • Create more housing and mixed use in Boulder town centers. Currently, Boulder provides far too little compact, walkable housing options in comparison to a demand which is far larger and growing (particularly because the “Millennial” generation seeks walkable housing at much higher levels than older generations).

 Miscellaneous

  • Hire Donald Shoup and Todd Litman to speak/consult in Boulder.
  • VMT and ADT are an excellent proxies for quality of life changes over time. Quality of life is inversely related to VMT and ADT. VMT and ADT changes correlate with several city objectives in a way that “green” cars/fuel does not:
    • Less noise pollution
    • Less sprawl
    • Less heat island effect
    • Less flooding and stormwater runoff
    • More affordable housing
    • More affordable transportation budget
    • More healthy population
    • More healthy retail & residential
    • Less injuries and deaths due to crashes
  • Adopt an unbiased and plain English Stylebook. Use “Plain English” for plans, regulations, and presentations. Remove bias in transportation terminology. My detailed recommendations for doing this can be found here.
  • Work with Colorado University to reduce SOV travel by faculty, staff, students. Tactics: disallow ownership of cars by freshmen, and increase the amount of on-campus housing.

Expert Transportation Speakers

To kick off these reforms and increase citizen awareness of (and support for) helpful transportation tactics, I believe it is important, early on, to hold a transportation speaker series.

Speakers I would suggest (links show each of these speakers making a sample presentation):

Summary

Boulder has failed to learn Fred Kent’s essential lesson. That “[i]f you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” Instead, the City counterproductively continues to strive to make cars happy by, for example, synchronizing traffic signals, keeping densities in central areas and major corridors too low, building and retaining overly wide roadways and intersections, and requiring excessive amounts of underpriced parking. Boulder has made the ruinous mistake of thinking that happy cars promote quality of life and reduces air emissions.

But happy cars are the enemy of a quality city, and actually INCREASE air emissions.

It is no coincidence, for example, that the places in Boulder where cars are happiest — the huge asphalt parking lots and the overly wide monster highways — are the places where people feel most exposed, most uncomfortable, most in danger, and least willing to linger or hang out. They are car places, not people places. They have obliterated what makes Boulder Boulder.

This misguided path means that Boulder is, ironically, losing its ability to improve and protect its quality of life — its “small town” ambience, This road to ruin also means that achieving a community design which makes walking, riding a bicycle, or using transit practical for the vast majority of citizens is not at all possible. In Boulder, despite many achievements, it remains extremely DIS-advantageous to walk, bicycle or use transit.

A great many of the recommendations above, if employed, are essential ways to reverse this.

Mr. Nozzi has a BA in environmental science from SUNY Plattsburgh and an MS in town and transportation planning from Florida State University. For 20 years, he served as a senior planner for Gainesville FL and was briefly the growth rate control planner for Boulder CO. Today, he maintains a consulting practice in which he writes and speaks about street design, urban design, and quality of life. His primary skills are in urban design (particularly walkable streets and form-based codes), bicycle planning, transportation choice, “plain English” land development codes promoting quality of life, and comprehensive planning. He serves as a Complete Streets instructor for communities throughout the nation. He has been a member of the Congress for the New Urbanism. He wrote several environmental, transportation and urban design plans & regulations for Gainesville. He is in Who’s Who for the South & Southwest. His most recent book is The Car is the Enemy of the City. His second book, Road to Ruin: An Introduction to Sprawl and How to Cure It, was published in 2003. He has been an adjunct professor for the University of Colorado at Boulder, and currently serves on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board and the PLAN-Boulder County Board of Directors. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of other organizations or boards.

 

 

References

 

Travel Time Budget

Forbes, Gerald (1998). Vital Signs: Circulation in the Heart of the City—An Overview of Downtown Traffic. ITE Journal, August 1998.

Goddard, S.B. (1994). Getting There. The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pg. 68.

Levinson, D., and Kumar, A. (1995). Activity, travel, and the allocation of time. APA Journal. 61 (4): 458-470. American Planning Association, Chicago. Autumn, pp. 458–70.

Manning, I. (1978). The Journey to Work. Sydney: Allen and Unwin.

Neff, J. W. (1996). Substitution Rates Between Transit and Automobile Travel. Presented at the Association of American Geographers Annual Meeting, Charlotte, N.C., April 1996.

Newman, P., and Kenworthy, J. (1989). Cities and Automobile Dependence: An international sourcebook. Gower, Aldershot, England, p. 106.

Stokes, G. (1994). Travel Time Budgets and Their Relevance for Forecasting the Future Amount of Travel.  In Transport Planning Methods: PTRC European Transport Forum Proceedings. University of Warwick, pp. 25-36.

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http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/1994/08/18/the-triple-convergence/

Induced Car Trips and Air Emissions

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http://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/PreliminaryEvaluationTransportationMetrics.pdf

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Hymel, K. M., Kenneth A. Small and Kurt Van Dender (2010). Induced Demand And Rebound Effects In Road Transport, Transportation Research B (www.elsevier.com/locate/trb).

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Litman, T. (2001). Generated Traffic; Implications for Transport Planning, ITE Journal, Vol. 71, No. 4, Institute of Transportation Engineers (www.ite.org), April, 2001, pp. 38-47. Available at: www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf.

Litman, T. (2010). Changing Vehicle Travel Price Sensitivities: The Rebounding Rebound Effect, VTPI (www.vtpi.org); atwww.vtpi.org/VMT_Elasticities.pdf.

Noland, R. B. and Lewison L. Lem (2002). A Review of the Evidence for Induced Travel and Changes in Transportation and Environmental Policy in the US and the UK, Transportation Research D, Vol. 7, No. 1 (www.elsevier.com/locate/trd), January, pp. 1-26.

Noland, Robert and Mohammed A. Quddus (2006). Flow Improvements and Vehicle Emissions: Effects of Trip Generation and Emission Control Technology, Transportation Research D, Vol. 11 (www.elsevier.com/locate/trd), pp. 1-14; also see www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/documents/publications/iccts00249.pdf. And https://dspace.lboro.ac.uk/dspace-jspui/handle/2134/5289)

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Committee for Study of Impacts of Highway Capacity Improvements on Air Quality and Energy

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UKERC (2007). ‘Rebound Effects’ Threaten Success of UK Climate Policy, UK Energy Research Centre (www.ukerc.ac.uk); at www.ukerc.ac.uk/MediaCentre/UKERCPressReleases/Releases2007/0710ReboundEffects.aspx.

UKERC (2009). What Policies Are Effective At Reducing Carbon Emissions From Surface Passenger Transport? UK Energy Research Centre; at www.ukerc.ac.uk/ResearchProgrammes/TechnologyandPolicyAssessment/0904TransportReport.aspx.

Williams-Derry, Clark (2007). Increases In Greenhouse-Gas Emissions From Highway-Widening

Projects, Sightline Institute (www.sightline.org); at

www.sightline.org/research/energy/res_pubs/analysis-ghg-roads

One-Way Streets

Baco, M.E. (2009). One-way to Two-way Street Conversions as a Preservation and Downtown Revitalization Tool: The Case Study of Upper King Street, Charleston, South Carolina. http://www.ci.hillsboro.or.us/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=3828

Brovitz, Ted (2000). Converting Downtown Streets from One-Way to Two-Way Yields Positive Results. The Urban Transportation Monitor.

Chiu, Yi-Chang, Xuesong Zhou, and Jessica Hernandez (2007). Evaluating Urban Downtown One-Way to Two-Way Street Conversion using Multiple Resolution Simulation and Assignment Approach. Journal of Urban Planning and Development 133, no. 4 (2007): 222.

Ecologically Sustainable Design Pty Ltd (2005). Summary Report on the Conversion of One-Way Streets to Two-Way Streets in North American Town Centres. Victoria, Australia: Prepared for the Midland Redevelopment Authority. Available by request through Ecologically Sustainable Design Pty Ltd.

Edwards, J. D (2002). Converting One-Way Streets to Two-Way: Managing Traffic on Main Street. Washington, D.C.: The National Trust’s Main Street Center. http://www.preservationnation.org/main-street/main-street-news/2002/06/converting-one-way-to-two-way.html

Walker, G. Wade, Walter M. Kulash, and Brian T. McHugh (1999). Downtown Streets: Are we Strangling Ourselves on One-Way Networks?

Motorist Subsidies

Delucchi, M. (Inst. of Transportation Studies, UC Davis, CA 95616) (1996). A Total Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use. Access, Spring 1996.

Ketcham, B. & C. Komanoff (1992). Win-Win Transportation: A No-Losers Approach To Financing Transport in New York City and the Region. KEA, 270 Lafayette #400, New York 10012; July 1992.

Litman, T. (1998). Transportation Cost Analysis; Techniques, Estimates and Implications. Victoria Transport Policy Institute, 1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, Canada.

Litman, T. & E. Doherty (2009). Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis Techniques, Estimates and Implications. VTPI.

Litman, T. (2013). Whose Roads? Evaluating Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use Public Roadways

11 December 2013. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/whoserd.pdf

MacKenzie, J., R. Dower & D. Chen (1992). The Going Rate: What It Really Costs To Drive. World Resources Institute, 1709 New York Ave NW, Washington DC 20006; June 1992.

Miller, P. & J. Moffet (1993). The Price of Mobility. Natural Resources Defense Council, 71 Stevenson l #1825, San Francisco CA 94105, 415-777-0220; Oct 1993.

Office of Technology Assessment (1994). Saving Energy in U.S. Transportation. U.S. Congress, OTA-ETI-589.

Sierra Club. America’s Autos On Welfare in 2010: A Summary of Subsidies. http://vault.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/subsidies.pdf [accessed July 15, 2014]

Minimum Parking Requirements, Free Parking and Efficient Parking

Shoup, Donald (2005). The High Cost of Free Parking. Planners Press/American Planning Association.

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Hometown Democracy: Should We Give Citizens the Right to Vote on Proposed Development Projects?

By Dom Nozzi

I worked as a long-range town planner for 20 years.

In 2007, a constitutional amendment was advanced in the state of Florida that would give citizens the right to vote on whether they approve of or disapprove of a proposed development in the community, or a proposal to change the zoning or land use designation of a property. On the surface of it, such a form of direct democracy sounds like a great idea.

But is it?

Over the past several decades in America, even town center residents (who live in a relatively dense, compact, mixed use location) have regularly been angry opponents of infill development in very appropriate locations.

This is predictable.

Predictable for two reasons. First, because nearly all development that has occurred over the past century has been awful, car-based schlock. And second, because when one lives in a world of massive subsidies for car travel and suburban sprawl, the citizen concern that overwhelms all others is the single-minded focus on MINIMIZING DEVELOPMENT EVERYWHERE.admin-ajax (7)

The citizen must plead for this because nearly all Americans live in dispersed, low-density, single-use locations that require car travel for nearly every trip. This means that the number one priority for most Americans is minimizing density (or opposing any form of new development) everywhere (including in the relatively dense town center, where compact development is most appropriate and desirable).

Why?

Because cars consume space so voraciously, car travel becomes dysfunctional and nearly intolerable with even a relatively small population. The level of frustration goes up exponentially when the neighborhood population increases, because there will now be even more people consuming enormous amounts of road and parking space!

Therefore, if one is compelled by community design and government subsidies to drive everywhere, the only possible community design agenda is to angrily oppose density increases (or any new development) every time it is proposed – and no matter where it is proposed. I am (but shouldn’t be) astonished by how many times I’ve seen even town center neighborhood residents fight like the dickens to oppose new development (and the fear that “spillover” parking by the new development will take away “our” neighborhood parking) in or nearby the neighborhood. Again, this is predictable in a society where car pampering — and the extreme car dependence that results from such artificial promotion of the car — means that nearly all of us have a vested interest in fighting to stop new development.

The same sort of negative citizen response regularly occurs if there is a proposal to change the zoning or land use of a property within the community. After all, one would think that the adopted land use and zoning plan for a community is designed to promote quality of life. It therefore seems wise to “follow what the community long-range plan specifies for land use and zoning designations,” instead of letting some “greedy developer” harm the community plan by selfishly changing such designations.

However, city and county land use and zoning maps don’t tend to be a “plan” at all. For nearly all communities, the adopted land use and zoning maps are not designations chosen by planners, citizens and elected officials to achieve a better quality of life. Rather, such maps tend to merely adopt what is on the ground already. If an area has low-density residential development, the map will specify “single-family” for that area. If another area has offices, the map will specify “office” for that area.

That ain’t plannin.’

It is a spineless, leadership-less way of memorializing what already exists. No thought whatsoever went into an evaluation of whether certain parts of the community should evolve into a different land use pattern to achieve community quality of life objectives. Maybe once or twice in my 20 years as a town planner did my city meaningfully propose a land use that differed from what was on the ground already.

In the early years of our nation, Thomas Jefferson pointed out that a healthy democracy depends on an educated electorate. I don’t believe he wanted the direct democracy envisioned by giving citizens the right to vote on proposed developments or proposed changes to land use or zoning designations. I don’t think that direct democracy is at all workable – logistically – nor do I think it improves decision-making. Indeed, particularly when there is little citizen education, having large numbers vote inevitably dumbs down decisions when lots of uninformed people are able to vote about complex societal decisions.

Are we comfortable with the idea of dumbing down community design decisions? What sort of future can a community expect if citizens are given the such “direct democracy” power, and use it in a short-sighted way? A way that is now unduly, artificially distorted by car pampering, which leads most citizens to desire low-density sprawl and happy car travel? Won’t that lead to decisions that leave a community without a “Plan B” when faced with extreme climate change or peak oil problems? A community, in other words, without the resilience to adapt to a changing future? A community that suffers significantly because it did not plan for land use and transportation patterns that would reduce costs and provide options when the price of low-density land uses and car travel become unaffordable?

An important concern with the direct democracy of citizens voting on proposed development or proposed land use changes is the risk of driving development further out into the countryside, away from existing town centers.

As I look around the nation over the past several decades, this sort of sprawling is already happening – even without the added boost of citizens voting for more sprawl.

When I see remote subdivisions sprouting up like weeds, all I can think about is how we are paying for the ugly sins committed by our forefathers and mothers who were part of a pro-car generation. We are still embedded in that pro-car world. A world where the price of car travel is substantially hidden from us, so we drive more than we would have without such a clouding of our awareness. A world where we feel it is necessary for us to vote for nest-fouling, pro-car, pro-sprawl decisions because we are trapped in car dependency. In the end, we have become trapped in being our own worst enemies.

I am firmly convinced that representative democracy works better than direct democracy – particularly in larger, more complex societies such as ours. Most citizens do not have the time, interest, or wisdom to be sufficiently knowledgeable about community planning or transportation issues that must be decided upon.

Despite all of the above, I must admit that I have some sympathy for direct democracy applied to planning and transportation decisions to the extent that the amendment is an expression of unhappiness about the long parade of awful car-centric road projects and strip commercial sprawl developments that have occurred in American communities so frequently since the 1940s. I would have loved the opportunity to have been able to vote against the monster highway widening projects and massive shopping center developments that have been built in my community (and using public tax revenue to boot).

So in a sense, I am sympathetic to the idea of applying direct democracy to town planning. But overall, I believe the idea does more harm than good. It is a sledgehammer that wipes out the good with the (admittedly) bad.

Examples of good? Increasingly, developers and property owners are proposing high-quality, sustainable projects because there is growing evidence that compact, mixed-use development that promotes a higher quality of life, an affordable lifestyle, and transportation choice is the most profitable way to go. In part, this is due to the emerging Millennial Generation, which seeks more of a lifestyle that is based more on town center living and reduced use of car travel than previous generations. And in part, it is due to price signals and growing concerns about a sustainable future in a world where unstable energy and climate change are making a car-based lifestyle seem increasingly inadvisable.

By killing good and bad, we are left with the status quo, which is awful in so many instances (every American community is infected by unlovable, unsustainable, strip-commercial sprawl). We NEED developers and property owners to propose projects that will heal such car-happy insults to our quality of life.

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Announcing Victor Dover Presentation in Boulder CO

CITY OF BOULDER COMMUNITY EVENT

“The Art of Street Design”

 Presentation and Community Discussion

with Victor DoverVictor_Dover

When: Wednesday March 26, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

      • Opening reception: 5:30 – 6:00 p.m.
      • Presentation and Q&A: 6:00 – 7:30 p.m.

 Where: Chautauqua, Grand Assembly Hall, 900 Baseline Rd., Boulder

Who: Victor Dover, cofounder of Dover, Kohl & Partners, Town Planning in Coral Gables, Florida, has 25 years experience restoring healthy neighborhoods and creating walkable communities. The coauthor of Street Design: The Secret of Great Cities and Towns, he has designed 150 neighborhoods, urban revitalization programs, and regional plans across five continents, including the 1994 North Broadway Plan for North Boulder.

What:   Victor Dover will describe how to fix our streets, and, in the process, shape enduring cities that people really love.

  • Information regarding City of Boulder North Boulder Plan Update, Envision East Arapahoe Plan, and Transportation Master Plan Update
  • Book signing for new book Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns

Why: America is rediscovering its streets. A revolutionary makeover is underway to promote walking and cycling and appeal to a new generation of creative, demanding citizens.

RSVP:  No RSVP required.  Free. For more information – https://bouldercolorado.gov/calendar

About the book: Street Design: The Secret to Great Cities and Towns (January 2014) by Victor Dover and John Massengale with foreword by HRH The Prince of Wales shows how to create great streets where people want to be. That begins with walkable streets where people feel comfortable, safe, and charmed by their surroundings. Through hundreds of examples of streets old, new and retrofitted, Street Design shows how good street design can unlock value, improve life and re-knit neighborhoods.

 

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