Tag Archives: landscaping

Knoxville TN Road Diet

August 2017

Compare these two photos of Cumberland Avenue – a “before” photo, shot by a News Sentinel photographer several years ago, and an “after” photo taken this morning (August 2017).

With the reconstruction of Cumberland mostly completed, visitors will notice wider sidewalks, turn lanes at intersections, and a landscaped median. About 100 trees will be planted this fall, further greening up The Strip.

The massed utility poles are gone, too. Decorative LED streetlights have replaced the standard roadway lights on wooden poles.

Plus, new development and private investment – totaling more than $190 million – are changing the look and increasing the vibrancy of The Strip.

For details, click on this link to read a City Blog post:

http://bit.ly/2wTkFeV

Join Gov. Bill Haslam, the City team and Cumberland merchants and stakeholders at 4 p.m. today, Baker Center, for the official ribbon-cutting for the new Cumberland!

Knoxville TN road diet

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

Redesigning North Broadway in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2017

My city of Boulder CO has plans to redesign a portion of a major north-south street in Boulder – Broadway Avenue. As a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board, we periodically receive notes from Boulder citizens about such things as proposed street projects. In the summer of 2017, I responded to a member of Community Cycles – a community-operated bicycle shop who had sent my Board a note. The following is my response…

Dear “Tom” (not his real name),

Thank you for sending this to my Board. As you probably know, I am very supportive of much of what is called for by Community Cycles. In particular, I often call for low-speed street geometries in appropriate (compact, walkable, urban) settings. Smaller turning radii and more narrow street lanes are substantially more effective in inducing low-speed, attentive (ie, safe) car speeds than Warning paint, Warning signs, Warning education, Warning signal lights, and Warning enforcement. These five categories of warnings are the conventional tactics that all US cities – including Boulder – have used for the past century.

And continue to use.

Obviously, this section of Broadway is appropriate for low-speed geometries – and will be even more appropriate when we see more buildings pulled up to the sidewalk on the west side of Broadway.

I agree that the street design is too strongly tilted toward delivery (and other) trucks.

With regard to that issue, I believe that when more buildings are pulled up to the sidewalk on the west side of Broadway, there will be a substantial increase inmedian-octavia pedestrians crossing (or wanting to cross) mid-block, rather than at intersections. To design for that inevitability – and to support the low-speed design we need for this section of north Broadway – the design needs to include raised medians along the street. Raised medians reduce average car speeds, increase motorist attentiveness, substantially shorten pedestrian crossing distances, and promote street beautification. I therefore believe raised medians should be included in the Community Cycles recommendation.

When I proposed that raised medians be installed on North Broadway at the last Board meeting, staff responded by noting that it would be difficult or impossible to install raised medians because this stretch of north Broadway has a lot of delivery vehicles using the continuous left turn lane to make deliveries to businesses. However, I believe it is quite feasible to accommodate both pedestrian safety needs and delivery vehicle needs with raised medians.

For example, raised medians do not need to be continuous throughout the entire stretch of north Broadway. By having, for example, turn pockets interspersed with raised medians, delivery areas are largely maintained. Yes, this will sometimes require a delivery person to have to walk 20 or 30 feet further to make a delivery, but this tradeoff is a relatively minor inconvenience compared to the dramatic pedestrian safety (and other) benefits provided by the raised medians.

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Using the Urban to Rural Transect to Make Urbanists and Environmentalists Allies

 

By Dom  Nozzi

September 12, 2004

Urbanists and environmentalists are natural allies. Instead of attacking each other, urbanists and environmentalists need to be saving energy to fight real enemies (The Making Cars Happy behemoth).

Speaking as someone schooled in both environmental science and urbanism, I must say that the new urbanist transect concept is one of the most powerful concepts I have ever come across, because its proper application informs us about how the entire spectrum of habitats — be they Charleston or the Everglades — is best designed. Neither the traditional discipline of urbanism or the traditional discipline of ecology incorporates the full spectrum of habitats and their needs. In principle, the transect achieves that.

The transect concept asks this question: What elements are immersive in the habitat we are working in — be it Charleston or the Everglades? For example, the transect instructs that a sidewalk is immersive in Charleston, and a “transect violation” when within the everglades-inlets_2026_600x450Everglades (at least the inner core wetland area of the Prairie). Conversely, a 200-acre marsh is immersive in the Everglades and a transect violation in Charleston. In other words, something is immersive if it promotes the quality of the habitat being designed. It is a violation if it harms the quality of the habitat being designed.

And frankly, this is where some of the conflict and impatience comes between new urbanists and many environmentalists. A good number of environmental advocates don’t have a conception of a transect or immersiveness. To such advocates, it is always a good idea to incorporate more nature EVERYWHERE — which fails to acknowledge that a 200-acre marsh in the middle of an in-town urban neighborhood harms the quality of a walkable Charleston. Natural features are not always immersive in all locations (it took me a while to realize that, since I came from an environmental academic background).french-quarter-inn-charleston-city-view1

Let the city be a city and let nature be nature. It goes both ways. Yes, many urbanists are guilty of not taking proper care of sensitive ecosystems in their projects. But it is also true that a many environmental scientists are guilty of not taking proper care of urbanism in THEIR advocacy. Both can harm the other.

Much of our culture fails to realize that nature can, in a sense, pollute urbanism in the same way that human development can pollute nature.

 

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The Charade of Being a Member of a Transportation Design Team

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2003

What a fiasco. What a charade…

I just came out of yet ANOTHER extremely tense and emotionally stressful Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO) Design Team meeting.

At nearly all of the meetings I’ve been to since I was assigned to that committee a few years ago while I was a senior planner for a Florida city, there were hostile exchanges and questions/rebuttals between local folks on the design team and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff. These are meetings where FDOT is laying out their latest plans – plans for destroying the city where their road plans are proposed.

On July 15, the Design Team had a rather crowded agenda chock full of FDOT projects to “improve” my city and otherwise make the city more “safe.”Carmageddon highway

Of the 15 members of the Team, I was the sole “no” vote on 10 of the 11 projects on our agenda that day.

Several new turn lanes. Resurfacing huge roads with no plans to shrink the excessive number of lanes. Speeding up traffic.

It was the usual plans to incrementally move my city towards a future of extreme car dependency. A future that inevitably leads to an extreme decline in quality of life and sustainability.

On two of the projects, FDOT wanted to resurface BIG, MULTI-LANE monster roads. In the committee discussion, I confirmed with the City traffic engineer that these two road segments are WAY under capacity. Only a tiny handful of cars use them each day.

No-brainer candidates for seizing the opportunity during resurfacing to restripe these overweight five-laners to three lanes. As usual, my suggestions were met with derision, scoffs, nervous chuckles and, ultimately, deathly silence. Discussion quickly changed to other “more important” ideas such as adding a few trees or shrubs. No one made a comment about my proposed lane reductions.

One of the items was a discussion about FDOT plans to essentially buy the front yard of some unfortunate folks to add bike lanes. Land owned by a university and adjacent to the project were deemed off-limits because they were part of a “bird sanctuary” — I guess it is perfectly fine to take land away from human habitat within a city, though…

Taking land was needed to install bike lanes and straighten out the road. Which, by the way, would SPEED traffic and REDUCE safety.

As an aside, the redesign of the paired streets in question was originally intended to primarily improve safety, but again, we only care about CAR safety at HIGH speeds, not pedestrians, bicyclists or transit – no matter that the project is next to a large university campus where there are an enormous number of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

In any event, I pointed out that as a long-time bicycle commuter who has traveled that segment of the street thousands of times, it was my opinion that it is, by far, the most crucial bike lane installation need in the county — particularly because it is next to a major campus, and the lack of bike lanes would be at a very dangerous pinch point — even for experienced bicyclists such as me.

So I told the committee that while I did not at all support the FDOT “solution,” adding the lanes there was essential. I pointed out, hopelessly, that the only reasonable design solution was to go back to the design that was nearly approved a few years ago — to remove one of the three travel lanes and create two-way traffic (one lane in each direction) and turn pockets — essentially creating a very ped-friendly, bike-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, LOW-SPEED design. We’d then have plenty of room for bike lanes without the need to take two-thirds of a front yard of a home. My suggestion was met with silence and the topic quickly changed to something like…oh, I don’t know…the paint color to be used on street signs.

As an aside, it should be noted that FDOT staff ALWAYS gave the citizen Team pure engineering drawings. In other words, drawings that contain a vast, complex web of hundreds of solid and dashed lines and dimensional measurements that are completely irrelevant to a lay audience trying to make a decision about the project. As in meetings past, I pointed out at the meeting that it was completely impossible for me to figure out ANYTHING about what was being proposed on most of the projects. The drawings were a cluttered, jumbled mess. If FDOT was seeking to hide what they were doing on the projects, the drawings they give us is an excellent way to do it.

One must suspect that this is not a coincidence.

For several of the items, I began the conversation by asking FDOT to tell me, in plain English, what on earth they were proposing, since I had spent days unsuccessfully trying to decipher the packet we’d be given. On a number of them, I had no idea. Even the City traffic engineer had to ask FDOT staff at the meeting what was being proposed on a few of the drawings. One certainly has to wonder if FDOT DELIBERATELY gives the committee engineering drawings KNOWING that only geeky engineers could make heads or tails of what is being proposed.

The Design Team is an embarrassing joke, and I’ve made that known to my supervisors a number of times since being appointed (asking my supervisors more than once to be taken off the Team). All they do is argue heatedly for window-dressing trivialities such as asking FDOT for a few more trees or shrubs — all to make driving a car more aesthetically pleasing to the motorist speeding by at 45 mph. No thought is ever given by this GARDEN CLUB committee to designing streets for FUNCTIONAL improvements. No thought or care is directed toward the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users — in part because there is very little knowledge of what those sorts of travelers need. But all of us sure know how to design for faster sport utility vehicle driving, though.

And FDOT staff regularly gets quite defensive about their projects, or says the trivial little landscape things asked for are “outside the scope of the project.” Sometimes, though, their proposed destruction of the city is obvious even to them, and they will ease their guilty conscience by throwing us a few more trees to put a band-aid on their latest atrocity.

It is a complete waste of my time. And humiliating, because just by being there, I am implicitly and erroneously sending a message that I think the items that are pushed by the majority of the Team is anything more than insignificant.

I’ve come to learn that it is a waste of time to make motions for functional and effective design strategies, since I’m never able to even get a second to a motion.

Gotta get back to arguing for another crape myrtle…

And to add extreme insult to all of the above, it was announced to the Team during the meeting that JEB!, our fearless governor at the time (Jeb Bush, that is), had a few hours earlier just signed legislation which allows FDOT to EXEMPT itself from local rules. “No stinkin’ local regs are going to stop us from ramming a freeway through your town, boy!”

One has to wonder what point there now is to having a Design Team, or even an MTPO. Now even our nearly meaningless local government landscape and sign rules can be ignored. FDOT ALREADY had the defacto power to trump local laws. Now it is official. I wonder if they are going to even TELL us locals about their plans to “improve” our roads in the future, before their bulldozers show up…

As Duany has pointed out, state DOTs have been more destructive of southern cities than General Sherman and the Union Army during the Civil War…

______________________________________________________________

A response to the above from a friend and colleague:

Dom, remember you are George Washington.  Your goal is to keep an army together until you win.  You cannot win a direct battle with the Redcoats (FDOT).  However, you can win surprise attacks, such as Trenton on Christmas Day.  Of course, I want to be there when you cross the Delaware in your boat through the ice.  Your vision is the future.  The highway engineer’s vision is of the past.  You will win, but you will spend many winters in Valley Forge.  I want to be there, also, at Yorktown.  You will win.  The only question is when.

 

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Essential Ingredients for a Walkable, Compact Town Center

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 20, 2013

I attended a joint citizen board meeting regarding “Sustainable Streets and Centers” in Boulder, Colorado. Here are my thoughts about necessary strategies.

Assumptions

  • Boulder has adopted a clear vision for one or more newly emerging walkable, compact centers in locations such as East Arapahoe Road, Colorado Street, and East Boulder, and intends to use effective tactics to induce the creation and sustainability of such centers.
  • People that desire to live in walkable, compact living arrangements seek a setting that is conducive to such a lifestyle. That setting features low-speed, narrow and human-scaled streets and intersections, very short walking distances to most destinations, buildings pulled up to the sidewalk to create enclosure, and a vibrant experience (in contrast to deadening expanses of parking and large building setbacks). The market for higher density housing will be very weak and unsustainable if such a walkable setting is not provided.
  • 15-minute neighborhoods are an important Boulder objective, which will require the creation of a relatively large number of centers.
  • The objective for centers is a drive to rather than drive through experience, a park-once setting, and a design that makes the pedestrian the design imperative.

General comments

First, strive to use words that resonate and are understandable to non-professional Boulder citizens. Terms such as “multi-way” or “activity center” or “alternate modes” or “corridor” are confusing, uninspiring, and negative. Second, when visioning or seeking comments from citizens, it is important that citizen comments be guided and informed by skilled design professionals (such as Dover-Kohl) who are skilled in presenting information in an understandable, inspiring way (particularly through use of quality graphics). Third, existing housing, employment, or land use patterns should not necessarily dictate visions if such patterns conflict with Boulder objectives. Fourth, the needs or convenience of regional commuters should not trump the low-speed, vibrancy, pedestrian scaled needs of Boulder’s centers.

Toolbox of Strategies that are Essential in Creating a Walkable, Compact Center

(somewhat different toolboxes are needed for other lifestyle zones – “transect zones” – in Boulder)

Land Development Regulations:

  • Motor vehicle parking is behind buildings.
  • Shorter blocks via cross-access pedestrian ways between buildings.
  • Mixed-use zoning to reduce walking/biking distance, and increase 24-hour vibrancy and safety.
  • Relatively high residential densities and commercial intensities.IMG_3045
  • Remove any regulatory barriers to infilling existing parking with buildings.
  • Do not allow gas stations at intersections.
  • Convert parking minimums to parking maximums. Require that the price of parking be unbundled. Increase allowable shared use and leased parking opportunities.
  • Relatively modest building setbacks. At intersections, a sense of place is achieved by requiring buildings to abut the back of sidewalks.
  • Exemption from landscaping requirements.
  • Relatively small minimum lot sizes.
  • Relatively small signs required by the sign ordinance (to help signal a low-speed, pedestrian scaled setting).
  • Proactively overlay a street grid with small block sizes before development is proposed.
  • Do not allow fences to cut off non-street access to adjacent parcels. Fences used should not exceed three or four feet in height along a sidewalk.
  • Emphasize multi-family housing rather than single-family housing in centers and along major streets.
  • Consider requiring at buildings at least two-stories in height for more of a sense of place, a sense of enclosure, mixed use opportunities, and better adaptability to change over time.

Infrastructure

  • Shorter street blocks (200 to 500 feet max).
  • When streets passing through the proposed center are 4 lanes or more in size, they need to be necked down (road dieted) to no more than 3 lanes.
  • Intersections must be kept relatively small in size so that they are pedestrian-scaled. No more than one turn lane in a given direction, relatively narrow travel lanes, and small turning radii.
  • Continuous left turn lanes are to be discouraged. Raised medians with turn pockets are to be encouraged.
  • Raised crosswalks when feasible and appropriate.
  • Street (including lane width) and turning radii dimensions are small and slow-speed.
  • Street lights should be pedestrian-scaled so that light bulbs are no more than 14 feet in height. Taller lights create a highway ambiance and induce higher car speeds.
  • Bus bays are inappropriate in a compact, walkable center due to loss of pedestrian scale and increased pedestrian crossing distance.
  • Sidewalks have straight, rectilinear trajectories rather than curvilinear, suburban trajectories. Curvilinear trajectories, by adding unnecessary distances to walking, are annoying and patronizing to pedestrians. They are mainly benefiting motorists, who obtain a more pleasing view as they drive along a street with curving sidewalks. They also increase the likelihood of dirt cowpaths being formed by pedestrians seeking the shortest route.
  • On-street parking is allowed and priced.
  • Consider visually prominent gateway features at the entrances to centers to clearly signal to motorists that they are entering a low-speed, walkable setting that requires attentiveness.

 

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