Tag Archives: leadership

The Boondoggle List

By Dom Nozzi

Boondoggles are actions that are unnecessary, and wasteful of time and money. I use the term more broadly to refer to things that are counterproductive, tragic, and bankrupting. They are, in this view, substantially detrimental to sustainability and quality of life.

I was thinking about how both the American wars of aggression in Afghanistan and Iraq War are horrific examples boondoggles. Actions that show we are our own worst enemy. They are exercises that significantly worsen our national objectives — largely by throwing away enormous sums of public dollars, killing or injuring a huge number of people, destroying villages and nations, and breeding or otherwise recruiting a huge number of new “terrorists” who will grow up with a lifelong vow to punish the US for what we have done.

These boondoggles are elephants in the bedroom. But are there only two?

It then occurred to me that there is a nearly endless (and growing) list of boondoggles. So I’ve prepared a list of a whole herd of elephants in the bedroom.

If someone intent on torpedoing America was to devise a set of tactics to destroy the US, it is hard to imagine that foe selecting tactics that would more effectively ruin us than this list of boondoggles we are imposing on ourselves.

They are a recipe for the collapse of the American Empire.

1. The Afghanistan War & the near consensus that militarism is desirable (otherwise known as The War on Terror).

2. The Iraqi War (otherwise also known as The War on Terror).

3. The Drug War.

4. Focusing health care on catastrophic instead of preventive medicine, and the extreme over-reliance on insurance to pay for health costs that are not extremely catastrophic or otherwise unaffordably expensive.

5. The Legal System and the Penal System, which mostly fail to arrive at justice due to the nearly single-minded focus on making a lot of money instead of finding justice.

6. An electoral system distorted by campaign contributions.

7. The death penalty, which, among other things, is financially ruinous because it costs far more to execute someone than to keep the person in prison for life.

8. Unconditional support for the Israeli government.

9. Forgiving road design.

10. Local land development regulations that almost exclusively promote sprawl and car dependency.

11. Excessive local funding for police and firefighting.

12. Property tax exemption for churches.

13. Massive government agricultural subsidies – particularly for corn.

14. Agribusiness, processed food and the overuse of corn syrup in our food.

15. The flood of guns freely available to nearly anyone in the US.

16. The massive motorist subsidy of “free” parking.

17. The massive motorist subsidy of continually widened & “free” roads.

18. An income tax system that is excessively complex, & punishes job creation & investment.

19. A property tax system that punishes infill development.admin-ajax (16)

20. Gas taxes that are too low & only dedicated to roads, not transit, walking or bicycling.

21. The massive federal subsidies for airports (and the absence of such subsidies for rail).

Can you think of any others to add to the list?

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Filed under Miscellaneous, Politics

Interview with the Bloomington (Indiana) Alternative

By Dom Nozzi

The following is an October 2007 interview with the Bloomington Alternative.

Bloomington Alternative (BA): While your book & work addresses broader issues of urban planning, your focus seems to be upon making cities more walkable or pedestrian-friendly. How do you keep bicyclists from being forsaken in the tension between motorists & walkers?

Dom Nozzi (DN): I should start by pointing out that I have a bachelor’s in environmental science and a masters in planning. My masters thesis was bicycle transportation. In my over 21 years as a professional city planner, I have been a regular bicycle commuter. In fact, I have never in my life driven a car to work, and have only owned a car for a year and a half (and that was a long time ago).

About 15 years ago, in my work as a planner, I had an astonishing, crucial epiphany: In a town center (or downtown), the pedestrian is the design imperative. Everything else is secondary, if we are to have a healthy community. In the town center, the pedestrian is the lynchpin. If we successfully design for a quality pedestrian environment, we synergistically and inevitably create a better environment for transit, for bicyclists, for seniors, for children, for businesses, for the environment, and, ultimately, even for motorists.

I am convinced, therefore, that bicyclists are not forsaken if we design well for peds. Indeed, I believe conditions for bicyclists are greatly improved. Two quick examples: Quality pedestrian design requires low-speed car travel and proximity to destinations. Both of those elements are essential for meaningful levels of high-quality bicycling to occur.

BA: As mentioned on your website, there is an emerging concept in urban design known as a “transect” that essentially is a way of classifying different kinds of neighborhoods along a continuum, from rural to Bloomington co courthouse6suburban to city neighborhood to downtown that prescribes the idea that things that belong in one zone would be out of place in another.

DN: Yes, the transect is one of the most fertile, important concepts I have learned in my career as a planner. Another way of describing it: There is a place for everything and everything has its place (although this is not precisely true, as some of us may argue that there is NO place for, say, a nuclear power plant…).

BA: Among the features that you attribute to making the “urban core” more walkable are on-street parking & the absence or removal of bike lanes, as, “Bicycle lanes tend to increase the crossing distance for pedestrians, and are often incompatible with on-street parked cars unless an excessively wide bicycle lane is created.”

What would you define as an “excessively wide bicycle lane”? Is not the call for on-street parking centered around the idea that it is more convenient for motorists to become pedestrians when they can park on the street?

DN: An excessively wide bicycle lane in this context is one which creates a street width that results in motorists occasionally using the bicycle lane as a car travel lane. Excessive bicycle lane width in this context also occurs if the width creates a “racetrack” character (which results in a motorist tendency to engage in speeding). Finally, excessive width is a width that detracts from the “sense of enclosure” that is so important in creating a high-quality, walkable town center. As Gertrude Stein so famously said about a dead or dying downtown, “there is no ‘there’ there.” What she meant was that there was no sense of place. A sense of place is most effectively achieved by creating a human-scaled ambience in a town center (and perhaps elsewhere). Human scale, in part, means that streets and intersections are relatively narrow. One important result of creating a human-scaled town center is that streets are low-speed. Cars are obligated to travel slowly and attentively. One of the most powerful, beneficial ways to create a low-speed, human-scaled, walkable town center is to install as much on-street parking as is feasible. Some important benefits of on-street parking: They create friction, which slows cars. They create a human-scaled sense of enclosure (they are place-makers). They reduce dangerous, inattentive speeding by motorists.

BA: One of the excuses used by city planners when denying requests for more bikable streets is that not very many people ride bicycles as their primary mode of transit, but is that not the result of urban planning based around autos & the bi-peds in those autos?

DN: In a sense, it is absolutely true that nearly all city planners and traffic engineers are motorists who, as motorists, think and see as motorists (rather than being public servants who have the task of improving the community quality of life for all). By single-mindedly designing for happy motoring, planners and engineers (unintentionally?) make conditions more difficult for bicyclists, transit users and pedestrians. Economists call this the “barrier effect.” Roads have too many travel lanes and are too high-speed. There is too much auto parking. Homes are too far away from jobs and shops and parks and the street.

Note, however, that most planners and engineers have the knowledge about how to create more bikable streets. They fail to make bike-friendly recommendations not just because they are utterly dependent on car travel themselves, but also because they have not been given PERMISSION to make bike-friendly recommendations by their supervisors and their elected officials.

How is that permission most likely to be granted? One way is by electing a courageous leader who has the wisdom to create a better community (I know, I know. This is nearly impossible). Another way is to create a growing army of former motorists who are now (or would like to be) bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. How is such an army created? Not with bike lanes, or sidewalks or free transit passes. While those things may help a bit, the most significant way to create more bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users is, by far, to ensure that the car parking in your community is scarce and properly priced (ie, provided efficiently). That you have sufficiently higher density, mixed-use development. And that your streets are low-speed and no more than 3 lanes in size. These tactics are not easy and will not happen overnight. Which helps explain why nearly all Americans travel by car, and why we too often use relatively ineffective, path-of-least-resistance strategies such as installing bike parking or sidewalks.

BA: Why the concern about bike lanes making pedestrian crossings a few feet longer & not on-street parking making pedestrian crosswalks wider?

DN: On-street parking typically reduces the width of pavement containing moving cars. By contrast, in a town center that we hope to make more walkable, bike lanes can increase the width of pavement containing moving cars (or will create the “racetrack” which induces motorists to drive at higher, more inattentive speeds). Furthermore, as I noted above, on-street parking increases the “friction” that motorists perceive, which slows them. In a town center, a bike lane can reduce friction, which can induce speeding.

BA: On your website, you acknowledge that when a walkable, compact urban location contains major (arterial) streets that such streets generally require the installation of in-street bicycle lanes, but you state that, “When such major streets require bike lanes, it is a strong indication that the street itself is a transect violation. Also incompatible in this location are bicycle paths separate from the street. Such paths are not only unaffordable to install in this location, but significantly increase bicyclist danger.”

As stated elsewhere in your work, you attribute this hightened danger both to inattentiveness on the part of motorists & the invisibility & false sense of security of the bicyclists.

Are not these psychological dimensions of driver & rider attentiveness at the core of many traffic accidents, irrespective of road conditions?

DN: Road conditions are, by far, the primary origin of driver behavior. The attentiveness, skill and safety of motorists is largely the result of how the road is designed. It is NOT because “Americans” or [fill in the name of your community] are genetically predisposed to poor or unsafe driving. As I note in my forthcoming book, this erroneous assumption that Americans are poor and dangerous drivers has resulted in the catastrophic mistake of the traffic engineering profession adopting the “forgiving road” paradigm — which, ironically, creates less safe roads.

BA: Is not the “affordability” of infrastructural changes very subjective, given the great disparity of respective annual expenditures for bike-centered & auto-centric design?

DN: Absolutely. Only an inequitably tiny amount of public dollars are allocated to bikes/peds/transit compared to cars. But this unfortunate situation is extremely unlikely to change unless, again, we have courageous leadership or we establish the controlling, independent variables (the lynchpins) I mention above, such as scarce/priced car parking, modest roads, etc. Only those things will lead to a meaningful change in funding.

BA: Riding bikes on sidewalks is technically illegal, though rarely enforced, & bicyclists are expected to ride with traffic in the right third of the auto traffic lane & often keep to the very right of the lane since it is difficult for cyclists to tell whether the drivers see them or not, often subjecting cyclists to navigating debris, sewage grates & the opening of doors & the backing out of motorists using on-street parking.

What about these concerns, common to the average cyclist?

DN: In a town center, biking on a sidewalk is dangerous. In addition, unless the bicyclist is riding at a pedestrian speed, bikes and peds don’t mix well. In this part of the community, if it is properly designed for low-speed walkability, it is perfectly safe and comfortable for the bicyclist to “share the lane” with the motorist. In such riding, there is no need for concern about road debris, since it has been swept by cars. In higher speed suburbs, a wide curb lane (14-16 feet wide) w/o a painted bike lane line is best, since this ensures periodic motorist sweeping of the area bicyclists ride in. Less desirable is a painted bike lane, which is hardly ever swept by motorists. I am somewhat sympathetic to painted bike lanes, however, because they are more likely to encourage novice bicyclists to become bike commuters. Bike lanes also send the important message that “this is a bike-friendly community.” (they can also reduce the “racetrack” problem, BTW).

BA: You state that you also generally oppose bike lanes in suburban areas, thusly, “In general, bicycle lanes are not necessary on intermediate (collector) streets, due to low traffic volumes. Like walkable urban locations, bicycle paths separate from the street are generally incompatible in this location.” Why is the mode of bicycling always subjugated to the needs of motorists?

DN: In general, I believe that the most appropriate place for bike lanes is in suburbs (particularly higher speed arterial — major — streets). In suburban, lower-speed neighborhoods, bike lanes usually become superfluous, as it is perfectly safe for the bicyclist to share the lane with cars. And yes, in suburbs we find a relatively large number of intersections and driveways (more so than in rural/preservation areas), which makes off-street bicycle paths less appropriate. It is not clear to me how any of this pertains to the “needs of motorists”.

BA: Are not the higher vehicle speeds & “low traffic volumes” (affecting sense of security/driver attentiveness) of suburban roadways actually more dangerous for bicyclists?

DN: Yes, as speeds increase in suburban locations, bike lanes become more important and appropriate. It all depends on context and the design speed of the road.

BA: Would not bicycle lanes in semi-urban & suburban areas grant greater safety to cyclists due to their separation from commuting motorists with cell-phones & in-car DVD players?

DN: Yes. See above.

BA: Aside from downtown merchantile districts, sprawl malls & school routes, what other areas really need greater walkability?

DN: Other than in a town center, walkability should be provided whenever and wherever the residential and non-residential market call for it. This can include inner (and older) suburbs and new urbanist neighborhoods built in suburban locations. Should a suburban neighborhood desire it, suburban areas can also be retrofitted to a small degree by being more walkable.

Note that once the significant market distorting subsidies (large and “free” roads, “free” and abundant parking, etc.) whither away, the societal interest in walkability will grow substantially. Large numbers will either try to move to walkable town centers or see that their suburban areas are retrofitted to be more walkable.

BA: Have you ever considered that one dimension that intersects these “transects” or planning zones is that of people in wheel chairs, who regularly encounter curbs without ramps & obstacles to sight lines at intersections & impediments to wheeled travel along sidewalks. What can be done to make streets & sidewalks more wheelchair accessible?

DN: Engineers and planners need to do a “wheelchair audit” by trying to get around in a wheelchair so they can see how many obstacles people face when using a wheelchair. I am fully supportive of most curb intersection ramps and being sure that sidewalk/crosswalk surfaces contain smoothness.

Note that wheelchair users are significantly better off when high-quality, compact, walkable town centers are built, since nearly all destinations become proximate and therefore more accessible. And cars move more slowly.

BA: Would you favor more sidewalks, crosswalks & bridges over by-passes & around retail plazas & hotels along interstates?

DN: I am always supportive of filling sidewalk gaps in town center and suburban locations. And I am a firm supporter of creating more complete streets. Pedestrian overpasses are rarely a good idea, unless we are talking about a roadway that is too dangerous to cross at-grade, such as an Interstate. Such overpasses in other locations tend to be expensive, particularly when they go mostly unused (largely because it is easier and quicker to cross at-grade).

In addition, there is little that American communities need more than an increase in pedestrians. It therefore seems to me to be a strategic blunder to remove even more of the few pedestrians we have in our towns from our nearly empty sidewalks and putting them in overpasses. Pedestrians, as AASHTO points out, are the lifeblood of a city. People by their very nature enjoy the sociability of a sidewalk bustling with pedestrians (as do small retailers). Finally, an overpass tells us that we have given up on restoring the livability and quality of our street. We shall forever give it over to the car.

BA: How do you feel about cul-de-sacs & obstacles at intersections as traffic abatement?

DN: Cul-de-sacs are extremely undesirable and should only be permitted when it is impossible to create a connected street (due to environmental factors). Such design externalizes costs on other streets, because cul-de-sac residents must drive more (and do so on streets other than the one they live on). They reduce trips by bicycle, walking and transit, because they tend to increase travel distances. They increase driver inattentiveness. They reduce child “street skills.” They increase the cost of public service delivery.

As for “obstacles,” I am not clear what you mean. If you are referring to treatments such as roundabouts or traffic circles, I am enormously supportive of them in places (mostly suburban) where there is sufficient room. They slow cars, increase motorist attentiveness and significantly reduce major crashes.

BA: How about so-called “gated communities” that restrict pedestrian & auto access?

DN: Gated communities share many of the problems I mention above with cul-de-sacs. They are almost never justified, and should be regulated against by the community land development code. They are an undesirable symbol of our “cocooning” or inwardly turning nature as Americans.

BA: Have you ever heard about cases of alleviating the death of wildlife by re-designing places where migrating frogs, crabs, ducks & deer can travel without crossing auto traffic, & do critters deserve walkability as well?

DN: Yes, in the county I just moved from in FL (Alachua), a wildlife underpass/crossing was installed along a state highway that crosses a major 22,000-acre preserve (Paynes Prairie). I understand that it is effective. I am not academically trained in such features, but it seems to me that it would be a challenge to design such crossings to ensure that a high percentage of your wildlife is using the crossing. I would nevertheless support such “permeability” enhancements to increase habitat connectivity.

BA: How do you feel about the proliferation of parking garages?

DN: Parking garages can be a positive sign for a community, since such structures substantially reduce the amount of land devoted to auto parking (as long as surface parking is concurrently removed so that there is no net increase in parking). It is essential, however, that garages be properly priced so that they are paid for by the motorists who use them (rather than all of us). They must also be wrapped by vibrant, active retail shops, residences, and services so that they do not deaden a town center.

Cities should be careful when they think about creating a garage. Often, a parking “shortage” is a misperception. The “shortage” is commonly just a poorly-designed, inefficient parking arrangement. Usually, the “shortage” is due to too much free or underpriced parking. There are a great many cheaper, more efficient ways to solve this “shortage” problem short of building an expensive garage. Often, a garage is built and is underused, much to the astonishment of the community. Typically, such a surprise occurs because the area actually had too much parking to begin with, but the community didn’t properly design it.

BA: What do you think about parking garages for cyclists & scooter users with showers & changing rooms or structures that combine bus-stops & covered bike shelters?

DN: Designing a garage to allow cyclist use is usually not terribly useful as such parking would typically be rarely used by bicyclists (except those looking for sheltered, long-term parking). Bicyclists almost always will opt for more convenient short-term parking outside of the garage. Certainly it is a good idea, generally, to provide for scooter parking in garages. I would expect that showers and changing rooms would be little-used in garages. I believe that covered bike parking at bus stops would be a good “inter-modal link,” because it expands the range of non-motorists that the bus can attract, and those who arrive at the bus stop by bicycle will need the long-term parking that a covered facility provides. However, one caution: Such parking may not get much use except in areas where parking is scarce/priced and where residential densities are high.

BA: Could pre-existing & improved alleyway systems be used as bicycle boulevards that utilize bridges or tunnels (over or under-passes) where they cross major streets?

DN: Yes, this is can be a very good, low-cost way to provide accessibility and connectivity for bicyclists. However, to be useful for bicycle commuters, they would need to be faster than in-street travel, and I would suspect that this would rarely be the case. In general, however, such facilities are a very good idea for the recreational or novice bicyclist.

BA: Do you have a position on controlling emissions from vehicles whose exhaust impacts the palate, health & eyes of pedestrians & cyclists alike?

DN: I have not spoken or written about this, even though I acknowledge that it is a worrisome problem. Certainly there is a need for better auto emission control, although we have made great improvements over the past few decades. The problem now is that while we have improved tailpipe emissions, the exponential growth in per capita and overall driving is swamping those gains.

I would point out, however, that studies show those who walk or bicycle are healthier than those who drive, despite having to breath fumes.

One aspect of an “externalized cost” that motorists don’t pay when they drive is the great environmental costs they impose on society when they drive. To be equitable, gas taxes should be increased substantially to compensate for the air emissions coming from cars, and that revenue should be dedicated to effective car travel reduction strategies, rather than increases in road capacity or parking.

BA: How should global warming, peak oil & climate change impact the planning of transit systems?

DN: These alarming concerns should certainly be causing all levels of government to engage in highest-level emergency measures to significantly reduce car subsidies and significantly increase transit subsidies. As Kunstler points out, America has a transit system that the Bulgarians would be ashamed of. As a result, this nation has a grim future. We are so trapped in utter car dependence that we have very little ability to adapt to the coming, inevitable travel changes we will face in the future. There will be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when the days of enormous car subsidies and unrealistically low gas prices comes to an end. Will we, as Kunstler fears, experience substantial political horrors such as political support for increased US militarism to secure dwindling oil supplies?

I am deeply troubled that this nation has not taken radical measures to substantially change the course we are on with regard to our transportation system. And how we design our communities.

BA: How do you feel about increasing funding for trolleys, trams, pedi-cab rickshaws & magnetic mono-rail train travel?

DN: It is absolutely essential that we significantly increase our funding of these and all other alternatives to car travel. And much of that funding must come from gas tax revenue, as it does in other parts of the world (here in the US, states have passed laws forbidding such revenue to be used for anything other than roads, which is a colossal, self-perpetuating blunder).

Note again, however, that before we increase funding for non-auto travel, we must first reduce huge car subsidies (roads, parking, gas, etc.). Without doing so, few would use such non-car travel services, even if they were high-quality and frequent. And it would be extremely unlikely that the political will would exist to make such a major shift in funding priorities.

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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

Regulating Big Box Retailers

By Dom Nozzi

My thoughts about how to make Big Box retailers such as Wal-Mart behave themselves…

First, a list of reasons why Big Box retail (such as the Wal-Mart Supercenter) is deadly for communities and should be prevented from ever being allowed in a community.

1. Big Box retailers do not create an improved retail environment for a community or result in a net increase in jobs. Instead, they tend to cannibalize existing, in-town retail sales and in-town (often locally-owned) jobs. This is true at both the local level and the regional level. No net increase in retail sales or jobs. Just a geographic shifting from existing businesses to the Big Box retailer.

2. Big Box retailers drain dollars from a community. Instead of cycling those dollars within the community, Big Box steadily impoverishes the community by forever removing wealth from the community and pouring it into the bank accounts of out-of-town executives which have no allegiance to our community — nor any care for our welfare (since they don’t live here).

3. Big Box retailers promote extreme levels of car dependency for those who live in the region — which is a deadly, downwardly spiraling trend.

Excessive car dependency destroys community quality of life, significantly harms community sustainability, increases our dependence on oil, outside corporations, and foreign nations, bankrupts households and local & state governments, wipes out our downtown, transforms us into an “anywhere USA” kind of place that eliminates civic pride and a unique community character, and ruins our natural areas.

Big Box retailers powerfully promote car dependence by being placed in locations (and have site design) which make it impossible to travel to the store without a car. As a result, an increasing proportion of community residents must make an increasing number of trips by car (thereby increasing car dependency).

In part, this increased car dependency is caused by the fact that the Big Box wipes out in-town businesses that were accessible by means other than the car.

4. Big Box retailers, by wiping out local businesses, reduces consumer choice in products, since increasingly, the only products available are those that are sold by the Big Box.300px-Wal-Mart_in_Madison_Heights

5. By being so excessively car-dependent and designed to serve a regional “consumer-shed” of motorists from up to 10 miles away, Big Box retailers enable a sprawl lifestyle. That is, life becomes more feasible, and therefore BREEDS more sprawl households because sprawl is now more attractive.

 How can Big Box retail be prevented from locating in a community?

1. Keep your roads small and human-scaled, not Big Box scaled. Do not modify nearby roads to add road capacity (for example, by adding turn lanes at intersections or adding travel lanes). If nearby intersections or roads (or interstates) are already “overweight,” put them on a diet by removing turn lanes and travel lanes. Admittedly, this is a very long-term strategy. But the terrible reality is that this nation has spent several decades spending trillions of public dollars to build HUGE interstate highways and huge local arterial roads. The predictable result of this enormous public subsidy is that it gave birth to a nation-wide epidemic of Big Box retailers. Such retailers can only exist if they are able to gain access to an enormous, regional “consumer-shed” of customers (customers from multiple counties). The big roads and interstates have created that opportunity, and Big Box executives are taking advantage of this opportunity by building Big Box throughout the nation. With small roads, Big Box retail is impossible. With large roads, Big Box is inevitable. In essence, we are now paying for the sins of our forefathers and foremothers, who chose to squander ungodly sums of public dollars to widen roads, and therefore indirectly and heavily subsidizing Big Box retailing. It is naive to think we can stop Big Box until we start reversing the blunder of building these monster roads and interstates.

2. Enact a size limit for the retail square footage allowed in your community. Many cities have created a maximum retail floor area allowed in their community. Usually, this maximum is applied in a more walkable location such as a town center. A maximum size is more legally defensible when it is applied to a location in the community where walkability is the community objective. A place, in other words, where excessive car travel is detrimental to the objectives of the community.

What strategies are NOT effective in stopping Big Box?

1. Environmental regulations. They tend to be very weak and very easy to evade — particularly by a well-heeled developer.

2. Generous landscaping and open space requirements. These are minor “window dressing” items that are trivial when it comes to the problems that Big Box brings to a community. And again, they are easy to provide for a well-heeled developer.

3. Restrictive building design requirements. Again, these are minor window dressing items that are trivial in the overall picture. The problem with Big Box is not that the Box is ugly. Granted, the typical, formulaic Big Box building is not pleasant to look at, but on a list of 100 problems that a Big Box inflicts on a community, ugliness is about #99. And well-heeled developers will often provide aesthetic improvements if push comes to shove.

4. Appeal to the harm the Big Box will bring to “poor people.” In public meetings, the Big Box will always have the moral high ground when it comes to “poor people.” After all, don’t they provide “Low, Low Prices” that “help” poor people? Arguments about how the Big Box provides “excessively low-wage jobs with no health care” or how they “promote sweat shops in Mexico” are too abstract and complex for the sound-bite conditions of a public meeting.

5. Requiring the Big Box to have huge, multi-turn lane intersections or huge, multi-lane roads to serve them and avoid “gridlock congestion.”

Several problems here: First, it is pocket change for Big Box to come up with the dollars to increase the size of nearby roads/intersections. Second, it is often the local or state government that ends up (further) subsidizing the Big Box by using public tax dollars to increase such road capacity.

Third, such big capacity roads enable Big Box. They must  have such roads to be successful. It is therefore not a “punishment” to request they provide such roads. Indeed, I suspect that the Big Box often deliberately lets the perception arise that “nearby roads need to be enlarged to avoid congestion,” when all along, the Big Box was secretly hoping that this “concession” would be “demanded” of them. The Big Box cannot exist without the Big Roads and Big Intersections. For the local government and its citizens to insist on such roads is playing right into the hands of the Big Box. Fourth, in urban areas, traffic congestion is our friend. It promotes many things a healthy community desires: infill development, less single-occupant vehicle travel, higher residential densities, more mixed use development, lower regional air pollution and fuel consumption, taller buildings, less asphalt parking, healthier transit, healthier small (and locally-owned) business, and less suburban sprawl.

If Big Box cannot be stopped, how can they be made more palatable?

1. The Big Box must be required to be “mixed use.” That is, high-density residences should be incorporated on site and adjacent to the site. The site should be developed to contain a gridded street network with narrow streets, on-street parking, multi-story buildings, street connections to adjacent properties, and compact building arrangement so that it mimics a walkable town center (open-air “lifestyle” center shopping malls are becoming quite popular throughout the US these days).

2. The Big Box must not be enabled by enlarging the road capacity near it (do not add additional turn lanes at intersections near it and do not add travel lanes on roads near it). If any road modifications are made, they should be to reduce such capacity.

3. The Big Box must not be enabled by allowing it to install an enormous asphalt parking lagoon to attract tens of thousands of car-dependent shoppers. The parking must be kept modest in size (no more than 1 space per 500 feet of floor area) and must not be allowed between the store and the roads that serve it.

4. If #1 above is not achieved, the Big Box must be required to sign a legally-binding agreement that it will be financially responsible for demolishing the structures it builds on the site and restoring the site to its original condition after the inevitable day in the near future when it abandons the site (usually to build something even bigger somewhere else).

5. The Big Box must not be allowed to select a site that is environmentally significant.

Big Box retail will be unable to survive the coming big increases in the cost of energy and the cost of enlarging roads. They are therefore a short-term phenomenon. It behooves communities to prepare for this by either requiring the Big Box to be designed for its re-use as something else in the future, or to prevent the Big Box all together.

______________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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

The Need to Control Noise Pollution

By Dom Nozzi

As a senior planner for Gainesville, Florida in the 1990s, one of my accomplishments was that I substantially re-wrote the noise ordinance for Gainesville. In combination with my environmental science degree, I came to learn a number of things in revising the City noise regulations.noise

1. Noise pollution is the most neglected form of pollution in America, and it is growing steadily worse for a number of reasons.

2. Motor vehicles tend to be the primary source of noise in cities.

3. Emergency vehicle sirens are an enormous and growing problem — particularly in town center locations, and especially when elected officials don’t have the awareness or courage to rein in their use by their emergency service staff.

4. Even the best noise ordinances do little to control noise unless there is effective enforcement of the noise regulations. It is very common to assign enforcement to the police, but since the police department understandably gives noise enforcement a low priority (compared to, say, murders), police don’t tend to do well in regularly enforcing noise violations. The best strategy I learned about at the time was in Boulder, Colorado. Back in the 1990s, that city hired full-time staff who were charged with noise enforcement full time.

5. Effective noise control is near the top of my list of quality of life strategies — particularly when a community seeks to promote more in-town (vs sprawl) housing. I’m certain that a number of people who refuse to live in a town center are avoiding that location because of noise problems.

Therefore, noise control is essential to discourage sprawl and promote more town center residential.

6. An important reason why noise pollution has become a growing problem is that there is a growth in the amount of uncivil behavior engaged in by citizens. In a “Me Generation,” we find that many people often act as if there is no need to be concerned about others. I was horrified recently to hear a comment a young college student gave a code enforcement officer when the officer asked why the student was maintaining an unkempt, litter-strewn front yard. The student responded by indignantly claiming that his right to litter was due to his living in a “free” country.

It scares me that a large number of Americans may actually believe that uncivil behavior is a form of political liberty. “The US Constitution gives me the right to blast my stereo at 120 decibels at 2 am.”

Is this belief a widespread cause of many of our societal problems today?

___________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Environment, Miscellaneous

The OVER-Funding of Law Enforcement

By Dom Nozzi

A few decades ago, an elected local government friend of mine posted information on a local politics email discussion list that showed the significant budget increases allocated to the County Sheriff for several years. I told him I was deeply gratified by his courage in bringing to light such overlooked information.

Indeed, the conventional wisdom tells us that law enforcement is vastly UNDER-funded.

In my evaluations of local government funding, city and county governments throughout the nation nearly always allocate TOO MUCH local government revenue to law enforcement, largely because local law enforcement has been an out-of-control sacred cow in America. It is our dirty little secret, that no one dares mention due to excessive citizen fear and crime hysteria. I therefore applauded his uncommon courage in pointing out the excessive law enforcement funding by the local government he was elected to govern.

In a report I prepared at the time showing the astronomically high levels of funding provided to local governments across America, I pointed out that local law enforcement is treated very much like the Pentagon at the national level. The Pentagon and our local law enforcement people always ask for huge annual budget increments, and nearly always get it.admin-ajax (1)

After all, who is going to be “soft” on Communism? Drugs? Babies in burning buildings? Too often, opposing outrageous budget increases is akin to supporting murder and mayhem.

The increase in law enforcement budgets that local governments tend to dole out each year greatly exceeds population growth and inflation.

The law enforcement budget in the city I lived in, for example, greatly exceeded inflation in the 20 years I lived there. The Police Department budget increased by over 400 percent in that time period, despite a population increase of only 20 percent.

Appallingly, a number of local “progressives” supported massive police budget increases, blinded by both the media and their emotions into forgetting that money going to police is money diverted away from public programs that can effectively reduce crime (or improve our quality of life with things like open space acquisition or restoration of environmentally degraded areas).

In fact, I’d argue that there is an inverse correlation between the money we throw at the police, and our crime and quality of life problems. The more money we put into law enforcement, the HIGHER the crime rate and the lower our quality of life becomes. And the self-perpetuating aspect of this is that as we spend excessive amounts of law enforcement, an indirect consequence is often that crime and fear worsen. The “solution”? Throw MORE money at our law enforcement agencies!

It is a ruinous outrage what a large percentage of the total city and county budgets go to law enforcement in America.

It will be a great day when local law enforcement departments have to hold a bake sale for their revenue needs, while quality of life programs get all the money they need from the local government.

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Filed under Politics

Good Idea to Design Communities With Citizen Referendums?

By Dom Nozzi

In 2008, community activists in Florida fed up with what was happening to their communities due to bad land development and growing traffic congestion proposed to change the Florida constitution to allow direct democracy to play an important role in development decisions, rather than trust their elected officials to make wise decisions on their own.

Small wonder.

Over the past several decades, approval of awful developments was an epidemic. For many angry citizens, then, it seemed like a good idea if citizens were allowed to vote by referendum on proposed land use and zoning change.images

My thoughts on the matter…

This nation has suffered from several decades of artificially low energy costs and enormous subsidies of various sorts for suburban sprawl (with big (unpriced) roads and free parking leading the way). These factors have caused massive distortions to the market signals that most citizens respond to by preferring a car-based sprawl lifestyle. As a result, our cities have been abandoned as residential and commercial has decanted to sprawl locations.

Healthy cities require agglomeration economies to thrive. That is, cities become healthier when they become denser, more intensive and more concentrated in jobs, retail and housing (that is, more compact). The substantial and long-standing dispersal due to sprawl, then, has been deadly to cities, which have mostly become emaciated, scary ghost towns populated by a dwindling number of dysfunctional people who have no other housing choice but to live in the squalor of abandonment, highway overpasses, auto pollution, and the poverty of a dying city downtown.

Concurrently, there is substantial market pressure to grow houses (instead of corn or panthers) in formerly remote cornfields and natural areas (i.e., big profits due to big demand for such housing — demand that would be nearly non-existent without free-to-use big roads and parking). So much pressure that corruption of elected officials is nearly inevitable, as developers have an enormous vested interest in “contributing to” [bribing?] elected officials willing to enable a growth in sprawl markets (through bigger roads, more parking, sprawl upzoning, etc.).

What is to be done to save valuable outlying areas, reduce the pressure to sprawl, and restore the city? (which is clearly needed if our civilization is to have any future at all)

Personally, I am encouraged to know that cities across the nation are seeing substantial rejuvenation in recent years. Lots of new downtown housing, which is bringing the health-giving increases in density, intensity and 24/7 walkable vibrancy. This rejuvenation is probably due to a rise in energy costs, Boomers (who are often childless) moving into adulthood and senior years, an increasing disillusionment with the car-based sprawl lifestyle (which many have found to be rather sterile), and the growing recognition that the lifestyle of walkable urbanity is exciting, interesting, diverse, fun and convenient (and safer than the sprawl lifestyle, I should add, since your chances of being hurt or killed in a car crash in suburbia are much higher than your chances of being mugged).

This trend is certainly quite helpful in reducing the pressure, profit, and desire to sprawl into important peripheral locations. Cities, after all, are now attracting people instead of chasing them to sprawlsville (clearly the case as we see how increasingly unaffordable it has become to find central city housing).

A remaining problem, however, is the market-distorting sprawl juggernaut, which continues to chug along at break-neck speed due to on-going massive public subsidies and the inertia associated with our long history of these ruinous subsidies. Not to mention the gigantic problem of all of the white elephant, low-density development patterns and sprawl-inducing big roads/big parking we’ve built over the past 70 years — all of which will induce sprawl even after we experience a long period of high energy costs and the inevitable ratcheting down of public subsidies for sprawl. There will be, in other words, a lag period once the foundations of sprawl start subsiding.

Again, what is to be done, given the above?

It scares me that the promoters of citizen land use/zoning referendums may be correct with regard to the sprawl problem: We need to move toward more of a direct (instead of representative) democracy (i.e., Mob Rule) when it comes to proposed local government land use/zoning changes. Have a referendum vote of citizens each time land use or zoning for a property is proposed to be changed in the community, instead of just letting elected officials decide.

Given the above, it is hard to imagine that we can insulate elected officials from the corruption that inevitably results when there is a lot of money to be made in building sprawl.

I should also note here that it is not just corruption that would lead elected officials to vote for sprawl. It is also the fact that an elected official who is not a wise and courageous leader can take the easy route to getting and staying elected by being what I call a Motorist Populist. Making cars happy is nearly always a crowd pleaser — even at Sierra Club meetings.) Therefore, maybe it is true that we are left with this direct democracy idea of letting citizens decide on zoning/land use changes, because we have lost trust in our elected officials to escape corruption.

Maybe we must pay for the sins of our foremothers and forefathers who created a car-happy world in the past, in other words, by opting for direct democracy.

It is probably true, given the above, that the best way to end sprawl-inducing upzonings and land use changes in peripheral locations is to bypass corrupt elected officials and give citizens the ability to decide through referendum.

However, the idea of direct democracy is rather terrifying to me. It seems to me that there is a strong likelihood of unintended consequences when we shift community decision-making to every voting citizen in a community. Even if the citizens are relatively well-educated, the Law of Large Numbers means that such votes will inevitably lead to lowest-common-denominator mediocrity.

The reality is far worse, though. Instead of being “relatively well-educated,” most citizens will be entirely ignorant of what they are asked to vote on. That scares the hell out of me.

Are we safer with a couple of corrupt (or populist) elected officials? Or Mob Rule?

As Richard Layman points out, citizens living in car-centric, sprawl-happy America will inevitably vote parochially and counterproductively when it comes to votes for in-town development proposals, because the market-distorting subsidies have compelled most citizens to vote for sprawl, and against the community-wide interests of more density and intensity within city central areas. Citizens are often, in other words, their own worst enemies when it comes to in-town development.

I think it is clear, then, that Mob Rule is counter-productive to making cities more healthy and attractive, because they would typically vote against beneficial in-town development.

Citizen referendums on proposed zoning and land use changes would maybe be good in stopping sprawl upzonings. But it would work against a needed companion: Developments that make cities more healthy and attractive (which indirectly reduces the desire for sprawl).

Can we conclude that Mob Rule is the best way to fight sprawl and loss of important peripheral areas? If so, is it so beneficial that it more than compensates for the enormous obstacles that Mob Rule would have for creating more healthy and attractive cities? Is the citizen referendum stick so powerful that on balance, there is less sprawl with it, even if we have diminished the carrot of attracting people to healthy cities by impeding city improvement?

I guess it comes down to this: Which is more urgent? Which is more powerful? Which is more sustainable? Which is more self-perpetuating? Which is more of a lynchpin? Saving the last vestiges of (relatively) pristine wildlands via citizen referendum? Or restoring walkable urbanity in our long-decimated cities? (a restoration which is inhibited by the sprawl-happy Mob)

_________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Effective Ways to Encourage More Bicycling

By Dom Nozzi

I have over 20 years of experience as a senior city planner, am a lifelong bicycle commuter, prepared a master’s thesis on bicycle travel, and am a published author describing car traffic and sprawl.

I know of no simple, quick, easy ways to induce large numbers of contemporary Americans to engage in more bicycling on pathbicycling. I do, however, know of tactics that can be effective, yet require a number of years, political leadership and wisdom, and enlightened staff and citizens. For these reasons, the tactics are rarely used in America, which helps explain the embarrassingly low levels of bicycling in the US.

In no particular order, effective tactics include (and to some extent overlap):

Affordable housing and transportation choice require that we reduce distances. If we provide more housing and sensitive intermingling of offices, schools and shops with that housing, we will provide more affordable housing because families will reduce their car ownership (owning, say, two cars rather than three) and devote more income to housing. We need to combine this housing strategy with higher commercial intensities, which is primarily achieved by substantially reducing the massive oversupply of parking that nearly all retail locations provide.

The absence of market-distorting subsidies for car travel. By far, the biggest subsidy in America is free parking. One of the most important reasons why most all Americans drive a car for nearly all trips, rather than bicycle, walk or use transit, is that over 98 percent of all trips are to locations w/ free and abundant parking. As Shoup points out, free and abundant parking is a fertility drug for cars.

Similarly, we need to start correcting other funding inequities, because motorists pay nowhere near their fair share of transportation costs. It is commonly believed and utterly false that gas taxes pay the costs that motorists impose on society (such taxes only pay a tiny fraction of those costs). In addition to starting to price a much larger percentage of parking, we need to convert many of our roads to become toll roads. Other tactics include a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, much higher gas taxes, and “pay at the gas pump” car insurance. These pricing tools would provide much-needed fairness and adequate funding in an age where funding unfairness is enormous and transportation funding is entirely inadequate. The tools also effectively nudge travelers toward greener travel. Such fees could replace or reduce existing taxes or fees (a concept known as being “revenue neutral”).

To be safer and more compatible with housing, shops and non-car travel, streets must be designed to obligate slower, more attentive driving. The large speed differential we see on nearly all roads today between cars and bicyclists is an important reason why so few feel safe riding a bicycle. A small speed differential between cars and bicycles can be created by using traffic calming measures such as modest street dimensions and on-street parking.

Many roads, streets, and intersections are too large. They degrade quality of life, reduce safety and force too many of us to drive a car too often. Shrinking roads (by, for example, reducing them from five lanes to three) is an essential way to promote transportation choice. Roads in a city that are five or more lanes in size are incompatible with a quality human habitat, and make it too dangerous for bicycling, walking or transit use. “Road diets” are increasingly used nationally.

When effective tactics are properly deployed for a reasonable period of time, a powerful, self-perpetuating virtuous cycle begins to evolve. When non-bicycling members of the community observe a large number of others bicycling, many are likely to be induced to begin bicycling because of the “safety in numbers” perception, the fact that bicycling seems more hip, “normal” and practical (“If he/she can do it, so can I!”), and the growing awareness on the part of motorists that bicyclists are likely to be encountered (which also increases motorist skill in driving on a street being used by bicyclists).

Note that the above should not be taken to mean that I believe we should “get rid of all cars”, or that American cities should build auto-free pedestrian/bicycle zones. I support well-behaved, unsubsidized car use that is more optional than obligatory. Car use and design that is subservient to the needs of a quality habitat for humans, rather than the situation we find in most all American communities, where cars dominate (and in many ways degrade) our world. A dysfunctional place where cars are so dominating that transportation choice is lost. Where it is not practical, safe or convenient to travel, except by car.

Instead, we need to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Road Diet