Tag Archives: leadership

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

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Filed under Environment, Miscellaneous

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

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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

Policies in Our Plans Won’t Save Us

By Dom Nozzi

Nearly all of our elected officials and many of our citizens have convinced themselves that widening roads and extending utilities are technical decisions and therefore non-political. “We’re just protecting public health and safety, or providing jobs for poor people, or helping the economy.” They either don’t realize or deliberately hide the fact that such decisions are profoundly political, and are the most powerful factors driving sprawl, economic decline, harm to quality of life, and environmental destruction.

People that make the mistake of thinking that such decisions are technical rather than political perhaps comfort themselves by agreeing to adopt land use policies that discourage sprawl or environmentaladmin-ajax (2) destruction. They perhaps believe such words are effective in stopping undesirable community development actions. That road widenings or utility extensions have nothing to do with inducing such things as sprawl development.

In theory, a community long-range plan could state something like “The City shall not add road capacity” or “The City shall not extend utility service beyond the urban service line.” But in the real world, it is nearly impossible, politically, to adopt such policies. Adopting such policies takes politicians with courage and enlightenment, and we simply do not have such a thing.

So we continue to fool ourselves by thinking that a policy such as “The City shall prohibit sprawl” or “The City shall create a greenbelt” or “The City shall create large-lot zoning” will save us, not realizing that the critical land use and quality of life political decisions were already made when we decided to widen a road or extend a sewer line, and that such “technical” decisions will overwhelm any chance of non-infrastructure policies having a chance to be effective. These non-infrastructure, feel-good statements only have a chance if we strongly intervene on the marketplace by our infrastructure decisions.

An example I see a lot in my work is the relentless avalanche of re-zoning petitions planners get from people who have a single-family house along a widened, unlivable street. Naturally, the house now has much more value as an office or retail building (after all, who’d want to live along a hostile, high-speed street?), so it is to be expected that the decision to create the speedway has set into motion the never-ending political pressure to beat planners and elected officials over the head until the re-zoning is granted (and we take a step toward more strip commercial). The alternative we often see is decline or abandonment of the home.

Sure, we could have a long-range community plan policy that says we shall not allow strip commercial, and we shall protect residential along this street, but who are we kidding? Who’d want to live in such a home? It is unfair not to grant the re-zoning in such a case. So incrementally, regardless of who our elected officials are, we get sprawl and strip when we decide to make the street a speedway. That decision is, in the larger sense, not a technical decision. It is a political decision that indirectly says the community has opted to create strip commercial sprawl. When the decision to widen the road is made, it is merely ineffective lip service to have long-range community plan policies that say strip commercial sprawl won’t be allowed.

In sum, communities need to figure out a way to stop the decisions that drive bad land use — things like road widenings and utility extensions. The question, then, is what tools we have to make the right decisions and prevent the ruinous decisions – the decisions that seem technical but are actually political. The long-range community plan is not that tool unless that plan is adopted by a community that consistently elects wise, courageous leaders. Because we are a reactive society that usually only takes such action when a serious crisis emerges, it is my opinion that only major crisis or significant discontent is experienced by the community. Such things as a substantial economic downturn, an enormous increase in gasoline prices, or severe traffic congestion.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Impact of Road Widening on the Local Economy

By Dom Nozzi

For nearly a century, road widening has been touted as a powerful stimulus for the local economy.

However, by striking contrast, I have learned the opposite.

One of the most important lessons I have learned in my many years as a city planner is that quality of life is a powerful economic engine, and that the “habitat” intended to make cars happy is, conversely, one of the most powerful ways that quality of life in a community is damaged.

Road widening, as my book Road to Ruin illustrates, is the best invention humans have come up with (short of aerial carpet bombing) to destroy community quality of life. Widening a road inevitably creates a “For Cars Only” ambience. It creates a “car habitat” that screams “CARS ARE WELCOME. PEOPLE ARE NOT.”

The car habitat makes for a world that repels humans. Huge asphalt parking lots. High-speed highways. Sterile dead monstor hwyzones which form “gap tooth” tears in the fabric of a town center. Large amounts of air and noise pollution. Awful levels of visual “Anywhere USA” blight. Worsened safety — for pedestrians, bicyclists and transit users, that is.

And worst of all, because a person in a car consumes, on average, about 19 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, places designed for cars lose the comfortable, compact, enclosed, charming, human-scaled, vibrancy-inducing spacing and place-making that so many people love to experience.

As David Mohney once said, the first task of the urbanist is controlling size.

One consequence of this worsening quality of life that comes from widening a road to improve conditions for cars: The quality of the public realm worsens to the point where American society is noted for growing levels of retreating from the public realm and a flight to the cocooning private realm.

Given this, road widening and the substantial increase in auto dependency that the widening induces sends the quality of life of a community into a downward spiral. And that, in my opinion, is toxic to the economic health of a community.

Note that road widening inherently creates increased auto dependency because big, high-speed, “happy car” roads create what economists call a “barrier effect.” That is, big and high-speed roads make it more difficult to travel by bicycle, walking or transit. So wider roads recruit new motorists in a vicious, never-ending cycle of widening, more car dependence, more congestion, more calls for widening, etc.

The end result?

Houston, Jacksonville, Detroit, Newark, Buffalo, Cleveland.

As Richard Florida powerfully argues in The Rise of the Creative Class, the centerpiece of successful community economic development is recognizing that instead of following the conventional model of drawing businesses by lowering business costs and relaxing regulations, quality of life should be enhanced to attract and retain quality “creative class” employees. It is not a coincidence that Florida describes this form of quality of life as one which includes walkable, vibrant, 24/7 vibrancy (where the car is subservient to the needs of people).

It is also no coincidence that Boulder, Colorado – where I now live – is ranked, over and over again, as the city ranked first in a long list of quality of life measures. Therefore, despite the fact that Boulder assesses relatively high costs on businesses, applies relatively aggressive regulations on businesses (measures traditionally assumed to be toxic to economic health), the Boulder economy is consistently quite healthy. Even in times of national economic woes.

One awful tragedy for the State of Florida is that the 1985 Growth Management law adopted by that state enshrined Community Design for Happy Cars by requiring that future development be “concurrent” with adopted road standards. That is, new development must not be allowed to “degrade” adopted community “free-flowing traffic” standards. In other words, the state requires, under the rubric of “growth management,” that all local governments must be designed to facilitate car travel (too often doing so by widening a road). The apparent thinking is that “free-flowing traffic” is a lynchpin for community quality of life. The be-all and end-all. In my opinion, nothing can be further from the truth.

It is a law that locks communities into harming its quality of life.

Another telling piece of information about economics: About 100 years ago, households spent approximately 1-2 percent of their income on transportation. Today, about 20-22 percent of the household budget goes to transportation. Transportation costs have, in other words, been privatized, to the great detriment of the economics of households.

In sum, widening roads, drains dollars from a community as the purchase of car-based goods and services (cars, oil, gas, car parts, etc.) largely leave the community, rather than being recycled within the community. Because the “car habitat” and the “people habitat” clash, quality of life is significantly degraded when the community is designed to facilitate cars (by widening roads, most infamously). And that, as Richard Florida clearly shows, undercuts future prospects for community economic health. Finally, household expenses are severely undermined as the growing (and extremely costly) car dependency leads to a declining ability to afford other household expenses.

The key is not so much to “get rid of cars” as to avoid overly pampering them (through such things as underpriced [untolled] roads, free parking and subsidized gasoline) in the design of our community. Doing so quickly leads to the car dominating and degrading our world. Destroying our economic health and quality of life. Cars must be our slaves rather than our masters. They should feel like intruders, rather than welcomed guests. Only then will the future of a community be sustainable and high quality.

It is time to return to the tradition of designing our communities to make people happy, not cars.

___________________________________

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

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

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

Visit my other sites:

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Best-Ever Lists blog

http://dombestlist.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning 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 Bicycling, Economics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

The Tragedy of What We Are Doing to Ourselves

By Dom Nozzi

In Florida, Orlando and Daytona exemplify a terrifying, tragic nightmare that has been occurring over the past several decades in that state. Those cities squandered several decades of public wealth in an obsessive, relentless effort to make cars happy. By building so much street and highway capacity, they’ve doomed themselves to an inevitable future of financial misery and utter ruin of their quality of life. Most all cities in Florida have committed this blunder, which means we’ve created a bunch of white elephants that are hopeless, embarrassing indictments of our culture.traffic jam on huge hwy

One of the great ironies for Florida is that the state created a statewide growth management law (circa 1985) which supposedly was designed to protect quality of life in the face of rapid growth. Foolishly, the law creates a “road concurrency” rule that does not allow a new development to “degrade” the “level of service” for roads.

Florida applies this concurrency rule to several types of facilities. Predictably, however, road concurrency is the only concurrency rule that matters (in terms of being enforced). What road concurrency did, tragically, was make Florida even MORE obsessed with building more road capacity for cars (or fighting against traffic congestion – a hopeless, counterproductive task), which is the WORST thing Florida could do to its quality of life and efforts to control sprawl. After all, in a city, all of the available road capacity is in the outlying sprawlsville locations. Road capacity is NOT found at in-town locations – which is precisely and appropriately where Florida wants to encourage more urbanism.

It is the madness of a people being their own worst enemy.

And to think that Florida is often held up as a model for growth management…

For almost two decades, since about 1990, I was telling anyone who would listen that Florida needs to abandon road concurrency if the state wants to have any hope of protecting or creating communities worth living in. Of course, no one paid attention.

Some communities in Florida have recognized the road concurrency mistake, and seem to be on a path of giving developers exemptions from road concurrency. However, as far as I could see, that exemption was being offered to developers without using that strong concurrency leverage to get quality walkable urbanism in return. In my many years as a town planner working within the Florida growth management concurrency regime, I often dreamed about having regulations that would require walkable design and civic pride. But now that such leverage has started to emerge, communities in Florida are squandering it.

_________________________________________________

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/

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Sprawl, NIMBYs, and Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

NIMBYs (not-in-my-backyard activists who tend to oppose all development of a compact, walkable nature) often cloak their arguments under the moral- BI_Nimby4_aunt high-ground mantle of environmentalism. “SAVE THE TREES!” “PROTECT BAMBI!” Many ecologists and environmentalists (who should know better) also get caught up in the NIMBY hysteria of stopping all development (even development that furthers community quality of life objectives). It has only been recently that the national Sierra Club has admirably reduced their widespread NIMBY efforts and focused more attention on the real culprit — sprawl. In my work as a town planner in Florida, there were several instances where in-town development (even in-town pedestrian paths, of all things!) were hammered by intelligent environmentalists — environmentalists who were comparatively silent in the face of the incremental, relentless, larger-scale ecological destruction that was happening in outlying areas (ironically, such sprawl development was happening at an accelerated pace in part because of the actions of in-town NIMBYism). I don’t necessarily hold up all proposed in-town infill developments as models of sustainable, walkable design. I do think, however, that such infill — in the grander scheme of environmental sustainability — is a much-preferred form of development than dispersed sprawl development because, crucially, the infill development is found in ecologically preferred locations. I much prefer the loss of, say, a few trees in urban, disturbed woodlands (that many environmentalists fight tooth and nail to save), or the loss of a few raccoons and squirrels (that some environmentalists also rally to protect), to the loss of hundreds of acres of nearly pristine woodlands, and high-quality habitat that is home to, say, eagles, fox squirrels, and gopher tortoise. I honestly don’t believe there is a third choice: Loss of neither in-town squirrels or outlying quality ecosystems (the choice that naively believes we can somehow stop population growth). I believe that south Florida is a testament to the belief that there was no third choice. That infamous region — and many others throughout the nation — shows the ruinous results of fighting against in-town, infill development to “save Bambi.” I continue to have little patience for the many otherwise intelligent environmentalists and neighborhood activists who shriek about their no-compromise position of minimizing residential densities. Such activists believe low-density development is the be-all-and-end-all of environmental conservation when it comes to in-town development. There are countless environmentalists who are guilty of this. There is little that I can think of that is a more damaging strategy for quality of life in our future than to persist in the strategy of thinking that low densities will save us. Environmentalists must get on board with the idea that we need higher, livable densities (or, to use a term that is less inflammatory, “more housing”) in proper locations. If this does not happen, we will have no chance of averting a south Florida future… Another way of putting this is that more housing (more residential density) is not the problem. No, the key to a future rich in sustainability, quality of life, transportation choice, and civic pride is to insist on modest sizes. Modestly sized street dimensions. Modest distances between homes, shops and jobs (and, implicitly, modest community and neighborhood size). Modest building setbacks. All of these modest sizes, as our most loved, charming cities show, are best achieved by providing more housing (more density), not less. By stark contrast, sprawl is most accurately defined by large sizes. Big setbacks, huge street dimensions. Monstrous setbacks. All of these undesirable features are mostly likely to be realized when NIMBYs fight for less housing. In other words, “large-size sprawl” is scaled for cars, not people. A deadly form of the disease afflicting most all cities in America. It is the disease of gigantism. _________________________________________________ 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 Enemy 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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The Carbon Tax and the Poor

By Dom Nozzi

A great many intelligent people have pointed out the obvious in recent years about our climate change – a change driven by carbon emissions – and our fiscal crisis: It is screamingly obvious that an extremely effective, fair way to reduce carbon emissions (and raise desperately needed govt revenue) is to enact a carbon tax. Increasing the price of Global-Climate-Change3carbon sends a much-needed price signal to people that products, actions and services that directly or indirectly use carbon have an embedded carbon cost. That cost is the climate change and environmental/societal woes hidden by a lack of a carbon tax.

Underpriced carbon is rapidly destroying our world and the future of our species.

An important reason why a carbon tax is equitable is that people using more carbon pay more tax. Such a tax would raise much-needed government revenue by charging people for societally unsustainable behavior.

One would therefore think that political liberals and environmentalists would be 100 percent in favor of a carbon tax. Such people, one would expect, would find such a tax a no-brainer.

But as I often point out, a very large number of desperately needed societal actions are squelched because of the red flag too often raised by liberals and environmentalists: “WE CAN’T DO THAT BECAUSE IT WILL HURT POOR PEOPLE!!!!”

We can’t raise the gas tax…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t put this four-lane monster highway destroying our downtown on a road diet (taking it from four lanes to three, for example)…because poor people won’t be able to get to jobs.

We can’t ease our parking woes, make our town centers more compactly walkable, and substantially reduce the amount of off-street, gap-tooth dead zone parking lots…because charging people money for parking will hurt poor people.

We can’t raise the tax on cigarettes to reduce excessive smoking…because it will hurt poor people who smoke.

We can’t adjust electricity prices to promote energy conservation…because it will hurt poor people.

We can’t charge a tax on sugar…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a Pepsi.

We can’t charge a fee for a background check…because poor people won’t be able to afford to buy a gun.

We can’t charge an impact fee on sprawl residential development…because it will hurt poor people who buy sprawl homes.

[I’ve heard all of the above complaints more than once.]

At the Conference on World Affairs in Boulder Colorado yesterday, I attended a session on how we need to learn to live with global warming because we have passed the tipping point and there is no way we can avoid catastrophic warming in our lifetimes no matter what we do (session title: “Climate Change: Get Used To It”). A question came from someone in the audience: “If we establish a federal tax [like has been admirably done in Boulder and a few European nations] on carbon, won’t it be a very bad idea because the carbon tax would be unaffordable for poor people??”

As you can imagine, the question made my blood boil.

I wanted to leap to my feet and scream to her: “We are driving a car at a high rate of speed towards a fiscal and environmental cliff (given our huge government fiscal woes and our huge climate change woes). Do you mean to say that we should not step on the brakes?? That we instead go over the cliff because poor people cannot afford to brake?????”

_________________________________________________

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/

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Education Works When the Conditions are Right

By Dom Nozzi

I’ve always believed that because quality urban design is essential to quality of life, local elected officials tend to be strongly in need of a lot of education in urban design. As a city planner in Florida, I strove to provide officials with as much urban design education as I could when I wrote plans and staff reports for them to read, as well as when I gave presentations at meetings. I arranged to regularly have my city run a series of nine urban design videos on public access TV for citizens. In addition, I worked to have several urban design stars – such as Victor Dover, Andres Duany, and Walter Kulash – be hired on projects that required outside consultants. Each of them is spectacular as an educator on the design practices I advocate. Each has taught me essential urban design lessons. In sum, I think the need for urban design education is always important on an on-going basis for commissioners and citizens. But as my writings and speeches point out, the most effective education is based on our environment and our economy. We can “educate” till we are blue in the face, but we will accomplish little unless economic price signals (such as the increasingly intolerable cost of gas, the cost of road widening, the cost of sprawl homes, the cost of parking, etc.) are providing proper price signal education. As for the environment, in my experience, a community usually does not engage in quality urban design until inconveniences and other difficulties of day-to-day life induces the political will that DEMANDS needed change. For example, consider a community experiencing high levels of road and parking lot congestion. Study after study has confirmed that conventional “solutions” (road widening and the provision of more free parking) are counterproductive and utterly unable to solve congestion problems. What to do? It seems obvious that given the studies, road widening and more free parking should NOT be used as a solution. Yet nearly all communities stubbornly disregard these studies and end up wasting millions and billions of public dollars to “solve” congestion with road widening and more free parking. Fortunately, some communities (mostly bigger cities) eventually come to realize (after much pain, suffering, wasted time, and wasted public dollars) that the conventional tactics are failing to eliminate their congestion. And at that point, even the most pro-car, anti-transit citizens are often forced to conclude that their only hope for addressing congestion is pricing roads and parking, providing better transit, and creating alternatives (such as closer-in housing) so that people can avoid the congestion.ROADRAGE1 Given this, it was not education from books or speeches or videos that was the key to convincing the community that better urban design (or better transit) is needed. No, it was clearly the aggravation felt from the congestion that drove the needed change toward effective tactics. Education alone is not a painless shortcut to doing the right thing, unfortunately. Yes, books and speeches and videos are important education tools, but such information needs to be in the right place at the right time to have an impact. Words and data can be a call-to-arms catalyst if conditions are right. Take Leonardo da Vinci. In the 15th Century, he described the design of a helicopter. Over one hundred years ago, a number of far-sighted folks spoke eloquently about women’s rights. Yet such ideas generally fell on deaf ears because the conditions were not right. My hope is that the urban design and transportation ideas I support can be in the right place when conditions are right so that the revolution can occur more quickly and less painfully. _________________________________________________ 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, Urban Design

It’s Not About Adding Bike Lanes. It’s About Taking Away from the Car

By Dom Nozzi

For most all bicycling advocates, there is a single-minded tactic for increasing the number of bicyclists: Provide bike lanes, bike paths and bike parking. However, in my career as a transportation planner, I have come to realize that to meaningfully increase the number of bicyclists, adding new facilities for bicycling (or for pedestrians or transit users, for that matter), the community must make driving and parking cars significantly more inconvenient and costly.bike lane in suburbs How is this done? Here are some excellent tools: * Road diets (where road travel lanes are removed – going from four lanes to three is the most common diet). * Employing low-speed street design (such as on-street parking, bulb-outs, tight turning radii, and other “traffic calming” tactics). * Mixing homes with retail and jobs. * Providing more in-town housing (such as “granny flats”). * Shrinking the size of parking lots. * Increasing the gas tax. * Installing more on-street car parking. * Charging market-based prices for the use of roads and parking. * Eliminating “minimum parking requirements” in the zoning code (ie, regulations that require the installation of at least “X” amount of car parking for particular developments – parking MAXIMUMS are far preferable). * Requiring buildings to be pulled up to the street so that there is no car parking between the front of the building and the street. Without taking steps such as these, installing bike lanes, off-street bike paths, bike parking, showers at work, etc., will have very little impact on recruiting new bicyclists. Without these tools, distances are too excessive for convenient bicycle travel, costs are too low for driving a car, and there is too much of a difference in speed between cars and bicyclists. With regard to convenience, because cars consume so much more space (on average, about 17 times more space is needed for a person in a car than a person in a chair), motorists need to feel inconvenienced by street and parking dimensions if we are designing a community for the pleasure of humans rather than cars. Urban designers call this pleasant, relatively intimate spacing as “human scale” design. I should note that one of the most effective ways to recruit new bicyclists is to create the conditions that deliver large numbers of bicyclists in the community. This is because when a lot of community residents are bicycling, many non-bicyclists are inspired to try bicycling. With a lot of people bicycling, it seems much more hip, enjoyably sociable, and safe to ride a bicycle. And as has been shown in studies, bicycling safety dramatically improves due to safety in numbers. The more bicyclists are bicycling, the safer bicycling becomes. Given this, once a threshold is reached with regard to the number of bicyclists, community bicycling can reach a self-perpetuating virtuous cycle where the existence of a large number of bicyclists recruits even more bicyclists. We too often recommend the bike lanes, paths, and bike parking when asked how to induce lots of new bicyclists. When very few new bicyclists are then recruited (due to the enormous obstacles I describe above), the Sprawl Lobby will disparagingly point out how wasteful it was to install bike facilities, and insist that we “get real” by getting back to the program of car-happy road widening. I think many of us know there are more effective tactics, such as those I mention above, but when we only have a hammer, all our problems look like nails. It is time to start finding ways to introduce the effective tools to grow the number of bicyclists. _________________________________________________ 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/10905607 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, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design