Tag Archives: level of service

Excerpts from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules (2018)

 

By Dom Nozzi

In February 2018, I read an excellent book regarding walkable design. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules turned me on to this inspiring 15-min video. It shows how a city being run down by a high-speed, high-volume, massive, dangerous, car-only intersection full of angry motorists could be reborn into a much more courteous, safe, welcoming, healthy, shared place with right-sized roads (diets), removal of traffic signals and traffic regulation signs, expansion of pedestrian areas, and street design that obligates slow and attentive driving.

Please share this with friends and your local traffic engineers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0

Excerpts from the book:

“There are many things that can be measured in cities, each of which has its own impact on success. Density, diversity, walkability, property value, resource conservation, life expectancy, educational attainment, the production of patents, GDP, carbon footprint, free-flowing traffic: all of these relate to a city’s well-being, attractiveness, and future prospects. Yet only one of them, the last one, is routinely used to direct decision making around a city’s growth, and ironically, it is the one that works to the detriment of all the others. Let that sink in. The one aspect of urban life that has the most impact on city planning, traffic flow, exists in almost perfect opposition to all the other good things a city can have…The more dense, diverse, walkable, and desirable a city is, the more it is likely to be congested. The less fuel it burns and the lower the obesity rate, the worse the traffic. Ditto that on educational attainment, patents per capita, and GDP (Every 10% increase in traffic delay correlates to a 3.4% increase in per capita GDP). In the US at least, greatness brings congestion. Why, then, is design controlled by congestion, and not by greatness?”

“In every major American city, pedestrian deaths are a part of life…The news cycle is predictable: first comes the victim blaming, then the driver blaming – sober drivers are almost never punished – then perhaps a discussion about speed limits and enforcement. Through it all, the crash is called an ‘accident’ as if it was not preventable. Rarely is the design of the roadway itself considered. And never – NEVER – is there any reconsideration of the professional engineering standards that created the hazard in the first place. The Swedes, those geniuses of driving safety, know better. For some time, the leadership of the Swedish traffic safety profession has acknowledged that street design is at the heart of traffic safety, and modified its engineering standards with an eye to lowering speeds in urban areas. The results are astounding. Their traffic fatality rate as a nation is about one quarter of the US, but the biggest difference is in the cities. In 2013, Stockholm, with a similar population to Phoenix, lost six people to car crashes. Phoenix lost 167. Remarkably, Stockholm made it through 2016 without a single pedestrian or cyclist dying. Welcome to ‘Vision Zero’…In Seattle, too – where city engineer Dongho Chang tweets daily about bike lanes, curb extensions, and other safety improvements his department is installing – the impact of Vision Zero is clear…While not stated outright, both its goals and execution fly in the face of a half-century of negligent engineering practice…Advocates should rally publicly around the tragedy of road deaths to overcome hurdles to its adoption.”

“Level of service is the system that traffic planners use, often exclusively, to determine the success of a street network. Level of service (LOS) rankings run from A to F, with A representing unimpeded flow and F representing bad delays…Many engineers aim for an LOS of A or B, because…A’s and B’s are best, right? To an engineer’s mind, the less congestion the better. But this belief ignores the fact that an LOS of A or B corresponds to cars moving at higher speeds than are safe for an urban center. Moreover, experience teaches us that there hardly exists a single successful, vital, main street that would earn an A or B rating. When it comes to retail performance and street life, LOS could aptly be said to stand for Lack of Success…It is clear that the LOS system, which was created to assess highways, is the wrong measure for determining the success of a city. Or, it perhaps is useful, but only if we consistently aim for an LOS of E…Only as a LOS of D emerges into E do we see a significant drop in driving speeds. Even a high F would seem to provide a slow but steady flow of traffic, ideal for a main street…Because congestion is spuriously associated with pollution, it once seemed wise to impose upon new development a burden of maintaining a high LOS. This approach ignored the fact that the most free-flowing traffic is found in those places where people drive the most miles – that smooth traffic is indeed an inducement to driving – and thus our most congested cities make the lowest per-capita contribution to greenhouse gases. In light of this new understanding, the State of California recently eliminated LOS from its environmental review process, and replaced it with a focus on reducing VMT: Vehicle Miles Traveled. Under the old rules, ironically, environmental regulations would stop you from adding a bike lane to a street if a traffic study showed a negative impact on the flow of cars. This still happens in many places. But California has regained its sanity and is once again leading the way in limiting the environmental impacts of driving.”

 

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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation, Walking

Making Cars Happy in Gainesville Florida

By Dom Nozzi

April 20, 2005

The following is a heads up I issued to a local elected official friend and another friend, the local transit director regarding some of my observations while serving on the Advisory Board for the Gainesville Metropolitan Area Planning Organization (MTPO) Gardening Club (oops! I meant to say the MTPO Design Team).

There was an item that came before our Board regarding a resurfacing of State Road 20. SR 20 runs from the intersection of North Main Street and 8th Avenue to the intersection of NW 8th Avenue and NW 6th Street. It then runs north on 6th Street to where it intersects with NW 13th Street.

The proposed FDOT resurfacing of SR 20 presents us with a golden opportunity. A nearly cost-free, no-brainer improvement to this route. It is painfully obvious that both of these few blocks of 8th Avenue and the 6th Street section should be re-striped, like the County proposes to do from NW 8th Avenue to NW 16th Avenue on Main Street, so that 8th goes from 5 lanes to 3 and 6th goes from 4 lanes to 3.road-diet (3)

Here are some reasons why it is a no-brainer to re-stripe in this manner:

  • It is essentially cost-free, since the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) needs to re-stripe after re-surfacing anyway.
  • Perhaps the most important, a highly effective way to promote bicycle commuting in Gainesville at the moment is to add in-street bike lanes to NW 6th Street (6th is currently a horrifying experience for even me to bike because of the narrow lanes and the high-speed cars). By taking 6th from 4 lanes to 3, we create sufficient space for bike lanes (and maybe even on-street parking, which I would prefer over bike lanes if we needed to choose one or the other). I’m confident that an enormous number of people would take advantage of bike lanes here.
  • As is now well-known, going from 4 lanes to 3 does not meaningfully reduce the traffic volume capacity of the street. This is because on a 4-laner, the inside lane very regularly serves as a left turn lane when a car needs to turn left, which blocks the traffic behind it. Thus, 4-lane streets are nearly identical to 3-lane streets in terms of volume capacity.
  • Recent studies show that a 3-lane is significantly safer than a 4-lane, partly because it reduces average car speeds and partly because entrance to and exit from a 3 is less complex than a 4 — not to mention improved safety for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users.
  • It gives us a great opportunity to significantly beautify this route, because it enables us to install a lot of raised, landscaped medians (which, of course, add to pedestrian safety as well).
  • It allows us to correct the bizarre situation in which we have 3 or 4 blocks of 8th Avenue from Main to 6th Street as a 5-laner. 8th Avenue west of 6th Street and east of Main is 3 lanes. Why do we have a tiny section as 5 lanes? Particularly in a downtown location that is so intensively used by pedestrians?
  • It will surely result in a number of positive land use changes along SR 20, since it will become a more hospitable place for retail and residential.

Note that when I made one of my rare motions at the Garden Club on April 19th to re-stripe this route in this way, FDOT staff indicated, it goes without saying, that they would not support it. We were told that it would take 6th from LOS “C” to “E.” Of course, I’d welcome such a LOS change (since congestion is our friend), but I strongly question whether it is even true, since my understanding is that 3 lanes and 4 lanes have almost identical capacity.

FDOT also told us that if 6th went to 3 lanes, they would not be able to keep SR 20 there and would have to re-locate it to a parallel route. When I pointed out that a number of communities in Florida have been able to put state roads on a diet without having FDOT remove the state road designation, I was told that this is “District 2” policy. I bit my tongue and resisted the temptation to move that the Garden Club recommend Gainesville “cede” from District 2. Instead, I simply said that “I guess we are stuck with District 2.”

In any event, after just barely getting a second to my motion to re-stripe, the motion was shot down 7-2.

Cars, not people, will remain happy in Gainesville.

Postscript: While serving on this MTPO Design Team, I unsuccessfully proposed that South Main Street be taken from 5 lanes to 3 lanes for very similar reasons. The reaction from FDOT was similarly hostile, and the Design Team failed to even second my motion. In 2017, I learned that Gainesville went ahead and reduced South Main Street from 5 lanes to 3. I am confident the same thing will happen for the roads I describe in the above essay.

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design

Does Transportation Drive Land Use?

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2000

Often, I notice people express the opinion that transportation is dependent on land use. Similarly, I’m often told that land use comes first, and transportation planning and development follows to accommodate the land use. That “land use drives transportation.”

But let’s keep in mind that transportation is profoundly a vicious cycle and significantly changes behavior and markets over time. For example, when/if we add capacity or widen major roads, we set into motion some enormous political and economic pressures, and behavior changes. Widening a road will inevitably reduce the number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users (because it is now more difficult, unsafe, and unpleasant to use the bigger road). This creates more car trips (“induced travel”). And the induced travel created by the widened road, is used, post facto, to justify the widened road (a classic self-fulfilling prophesy). Because the bigger road carries more high-speed traffic, it becomes unpleasant to live along the road. So, over time, housing values decline along the road, and single-family gets converted to student rental, multi-family for students, office and retail. And because it is now more pleasant and fast to drive a car, people are better able to live in remote areas and commute to their jobs in the city.

Why? Because cross-culturally and throughout history, the average daily roundtrip commute is 1.1 hours. Some people will relocate to more remote locations to create a new equilibrium when the road is widened.

Many people dream of living in a “cabin in the woods.” Therefore, wider roads create a strong demand for sprawl housing, because the wider road reduces travel time from home to daily destinations. Is sprawl possible without car travel? Could a huge number of us live in remote locations if our transportation system did not provide cheap and easy car travel?

Most people would be unwilling to live in low-density, outlying, sprawling areas — or drive a car for every trip — unless roads are designed for high speeds and high volumes, and parking is both free and abundant. All the conditions that people dislike about the city — whether real or perceived — such as noise, crime, etc., can be more easily fled if the newly widened roads allow you to get to work each day in a reasonable period of time, even if you live in an outlying area. The ultimate result is that as we add capacity to streets, we set in motion a pattern of sprawl and strip, we wipe out farms, and we accelerate the decline of in-town areas.

Another outcome is that our in-town streets become little more than “escape routes.”

Quite often, our transportation planning advisory boards are dominated by home building interests. Clearly, this industry realizes the fundamental importance of widening roads to create sprawl residential markets for them.

As for retail land use impacts caused by transportation, when there are so many cars being carried by a bigger road, business people cannot resist putting enormous pressure on staff and officials to rezone the businessperson’s property to retail in order to takearapahoe-ave-boulder-co advantage of all those potential customers driving by each day. This is precisely why we see so many big box retailers clamoring for sites at major intersections. In fact, in the planning department I work in, we get calls all the time from people who want to rezone from residential to office or retail along our major arterial streets.

High-volume big box retailers, except in large, high-density cities, are not viable unless the public sector provides large subsidies in the form of high-speed, high-capacity, multi-lane streets (big roads enable the big box to draw cars from a regional “consumer-shed”). Not only that. These retailers also depend on the public sector to allow them to build enormous and free surface parking lots, and enormous building footprints.

As expected, we so often have strip commercial – intense land use development pressure — on major roads near interstates. Could such streets have been anything else other than strip commercial, given the street design and the access to the Interstate? Are single-family homes viable along such a street? If you owned land along such a stretch, would it be rational for you not to do everything in your power to get the local government to grant you the right to sell to those 70,000 potential daily customers, as the “big box” retailer so often wants to do?

I’ve seen land use plans and maps prepared in the past, and I know that it is not a “plan” at all. Almost entirely, when we talk about a mostly built-out city, it is simply recording what is there already. Almost none of it is a proactive vision of what the planners want. If we engaged in wholesale land use changes in the land use map/plan to enact our sustainable, livable vision, all of the planners would be in fear of losing their jobs and all of the commissioners would be thrown out of office. Elected commissioners and staff are forced, by political realities, to be reactive in our land use “plan.” Transportation, on the other hand, is something we can make changes to, because it is often feasible, politically, to make the change.

It matters not a whit whether planners designate a site for retail or single-family residential. Over time, what will happen to the property is determined by the road design and traffic. If the land use designation does not correspond to what is happening on the road, the land use will get changed, or the land will be abandoned. If our street network is designed for modest car speeds, modest car volumes, connectivity, and access (in other words, transportation choice), we will get viable transit, bicycling, walking and neighborhood retail and mixed use, not to mention higher densities, more traffic congestion (which is, in cities, a good thing), compact development, and a control on sprawl. High-speed, high capacity roads will give us the reverse, regardless of what our land use “plan/map” says.

Is it not much easier to predict what will happen to the land uses along a street based on the way the street is designed than to predict what will happen to the street based on the land uses along it? Similarly, is it not more feasible to predict whether there will be a sprawled, dispersed, low-density community if we know, in advance, what the street system and form of travel will be, compared to whether there will be future sprawled community based on what the current land uses (or land use plans) are designated for various properties? For example, West Palm Beach FL is currently experiencing a dramatic, beneficial land use change throughout their city soon after they re-designed their streets by removing travel lanes, calming traffic, and doing substantial streetscaping. Land use improvements there are clearly driven by transportation changes.

Transportation engineers love to try to deny responsibility when their studies (which are flawed because they don’t accurately account for human behavior) show that a road must be widened. The engineer usually claims that land use drives transportation, and that their high-speed, high-volume roads are merely “meeting the demand created by the land uses.” “It’s not our fault that we must spend millions to widen roads, tear out houses, and ruin the environment. We are forced to because of the land use.” But this ignores the fact that high-speed, high-volume roads create a vicious cycle and substantially modify behavior, as noted above. The important danger of this highly misleading claim from many engineers is that it leads us to incorrectly believe that we have no choice. We must widen the road because of the land uses on the ground. Too often, we are mislead into believing that land use choices we made in the past are now forcing us to widen the road.

Engineers must not be allowed to wiggle out of culpability with such an excuse. The traffic engineer who explains it is the land use that “forces” the road widening seems sensible until you look closer and find out how the market brings enormous and unrelenting pressure to change the designations when we change the roads, and how human reactions to road conditions draws or repels residences. If we are incredibly courageous and true to our principles, we might be able to delay the re-zoning for a few years on a widened road that is now hostile for residences. But that just means that because the road carries so much high speed, high volume traffic, it is no longer feasible to keep the property residential because the quality of life is so miserable (as a result, the residential building eventually is abandoned, or is downgraded from owner-occupied to rental), or it is no longer rational to keep it as a farm because you can make millions by selling it for a shopping center or subdivision.

Here is what Newman & Kenworthy (Cities and Automobile Dependence, 1989) have to say:

“In general, [transportation] modeling has assumed that land use is “handed down” by land use planners and that transport planners are merely shaping the appropriate transport system to meet the needs of the land use forecast. This is not the case. One of the major reasons why freeways around the world have failed to cope with demand is that transport infrastructure has a profound feedback effect on land use, encouraging and promoting new development wherever the best facilities are provided (or are planned).” (pg 106)

Why is Europe so walkable and compact, and the U.S. is not? Is it that they are just more educated and appreciative of the merits of walkable communities? Or is it that they mostly developed before the auto age, whereas we developed after the emergence of the auto age? And why is it that Europe is now, after entering the auto age, starting to see the sprawl we are experiencing?

The Florida growth management law requires that “level-of-service” standards be created, and that new developments only be allowed if they are built “concurrently” with the infrastructure and services they would need. But the only concurrency measure from the Florida law that matters is the road level-of-service. Every other concurrency measure – recreation, utilities, solid waste, etc. – is, for all intents and purposes, ignored in comparison.

We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone singe-family land that they own and cannot use as single-family due to a wide road (granting that there are a few who could live in a single-family home and put up with the noise and reduced property value – sometimes, this is called “affordable housing”). Forty years from now, if we do not fix our major streets to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family buildings and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners, citizens, and officials burned out on fighting those never-ending battles. In the long term, as Walter Kulash points out, no force, not even five “no growth” commissioners, can stop that incremental change after we have designed a street for high-speed, high-volume traffic.

Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping property zoned single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

Once the transport system is in place, the market/political pressure to take advantage of that system is overpoweringly strong, and will overwhelm any countervailing efforts. It hardly matters how courageous, visionary, or progressive a planner or elected official is. If the roads are designed to encourage sprawl, we will get sprawl. No zoning or land use designations (such as “large-lot” zoning) can stop it, and there is no community in the US that has succeeded by trying to control sprawl with designations. When we create and construct our transportation plans, we have, essentially and indirectly (and often unintentionally), established our future land use plans, not vice versa. It is as simple as that, and it is time for us to realize it.

All that said, I’m willing to concede that we should have our road and land use plans work concurrently. So yes, we should designate outlying areas for conservation and farms. But unless we concurrently get the transportation right, we are wasting our time.

In sum, keeping a road at a modest width with a modest number of travel lanes in the face of projected car traffic growth will, over the long term, result in less per capita car trips on that road, less new sprawl into outlying areas, less big box retail, more viable neighborhoods, a higher quality of life, and more residential density near walkable, livable, neighborhood-scaled town centers. Widening the road by adding travel lanes, over the long term, would give us the reverse. The excessive capacities that we typically build for our cities gives us too much sprawl, densities that are too low, and auto dependence. I believe that we should put a moratorium on adding street capacity to streets in our cities, before we wake up one day and wonder how we let ourselves become another auto-dependent south Florida, instead of a sustainable, sociable community featuring transportation choice, safety and independence for our children and seniors, and a unique community we can take pride in.

In the long run, the street shapes the land uses that will form along it much more profoundly than how the land uses would shape the street that forms through them. Let’s not let the traffic engineer fool us. Let’s not put in big roads and then valiantly try (and fail) to stop the sprawl and strip, and then flog ourselves when we are unable to stop the land use degradation. Transportation comes before – and determines — land use. A high quality of life, and sustainable future, depends on our realizing that.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Traffic Congestion and Parking

 By Dom Nozzi

June 30, 2014

An essential ingredient for a healthy city is to be compact (not sprawled), and able to leverage “agglomeration economies.”

Because a healthy city ALSO provides for the full range of lifestyle choices (rather than forcing everyone to live the same way), we must provide for the full range of land use patterns. The town center should be relatively compact (agglomerated), and outlying areas should retain a more dispersed pattern.

Given that, it is not at all appropriate or feasible to have a “one-size-fits-all” measure for the level of motor vehicle travel delay a community adopts. If we adopt a measure that strives for too little delay citywide, the town center loses its competitive strength: compactness and agglomeration. In a healthy, thriving city, it is essential that traffic congestion measures such as “travel delay” be calibrated geographically.

Can we say up front what we believe to be the MAXIMUM size for parking? For roads? For intersections? I believe we MUST (and can) do that. We must draw a line in the sand. We can say, for example, that our quality of life means it would NEVER be okay to have a six-lane highway in the town center. In fact, when I wrote Gainesville FL’s transportation plan, I succeeded in having that plan contain a policy that did this very thing: “No road in city limits shall exceed 4 through lanes.” Much as I hate to make this concession, we might also want to say that “no intersection shall exceed 2 turn lanes in the outlying areas, or one turn lane in the town center” here in Boulder.

Boulder, like nearly every other American city, has a very large oversupply of parking lot space — mostly because cars consume so much space, and most all of it is free. Because imagesnearly all parking is free, there tends to be an endless effort to try to provide “enough.” This process is endless because a free product or service in great demand induces a nearly infinite demand for such a product or service. The enormous and infamous Soviet bread lines is an excellent analogy.

“Free” parking is paid for in higher costs for groceries and haircuts by those retail and service shops providing all that parking, and the inducement of too many unnecessary car trips.

The biggest problem with parking is not too little space. It is too much space. Too much asphalt space means, among many other things, flooding problems, stormwater quality problems, lack of walkability, lack of community aesthetics or civic pride, creation of spaces that feel unsafe or uncomfortable (particularly for women and seniors), high/unaffordable costs for households, governments and consumers of goods and services.

Calibrating the price of parking so that supply of parking and demand for parking is “in balance” is successfully being used in a great many cities right now, and is one of the most important principles pushed by the national parking guru (and hero of mine) – Donald Shoup. Shoup has successfully gotten a great many cities to use the “Goldilocks” principle in parking pricing. Prices vary throughout the day and week based on demand (quite easy with today’s electronic technology) so that approximately 80 percent of the parking spaces are being used at any one time. If more than 80 percent are used, prices automatically increase. If less than 80 percent are used, prices automatically decrease. The “Goldilocks” price (“just right”) is the price that results in about 80 percent use.

Minimum parking requirements for new development has been used by nearly every American city has been used for 100 years now. The required number of parking spaces is almost never based on studies estimating expected parking demand for the development in question. Instead, it tends to be quite arbitrary and not based on local conditions, as the required number is based on a survey of national parking requirements.

The required minimum number of spaces is almost always excessive, largely because the parking is available for use by the motorist at no charge. Such “free” parking inevitably induces excessive demand for parking because even relatively trivial motor vehicle trips – such as buying a cup of coffee at rush hour on a major street – are encouraged by the lack of a fee for parking.

If we convert minimum parking requirements to MAXIMUM parking requirements, the business owner — rather than government mandate using arbitrary numbers — is able to decide how much to provide: Zero to the maximum. The minimum parking requirement says the owner MUST provide AT LEAST “X” spaces, and that number, again, tends to usually be too many spaces. Since a property owner is much better able to assess how much parking he or she needs to provide (to be profitable or to make financiers happy) than government, a maximum gives the owner a lot more flexibility than a minimum.

Priced parking is a superb way to assess how much parking is appropriate. The developer or the city decides how much parking is “enough,” and if the use is more than 80 percent of available spaces, the price of parking is increased. If less than 80 parking, the price is reduced.

No need to increase the amount of asphalt parking.

It is important for cities that use a maximum traffic congestion level of service (LOS) standard to sunset the auto LOS measure in the town center, since such a standard undermines a great many objectives for a healthy town center (low speeds, agglomeration economies, safety, reduction in car trips and fuel emissions, etc.). Instead of measuring and capping traffic congestion, we need to find a measure that creates disincentives for adding more road, intersection or parking capacity, and creates incentives for shrinking the space we allocate to car travel and car parking.

In my view, the over-allocation of space to cars is a HUGE problem in American cities. And most LOS measures incentivize providing larger roads, bigger parking lots, and more massive road intersections.

Some favor a “people” LOS or a “multi-modal” LOS, which I believe are big improvements over our auto LOS. But it seems that both might create incentives for wider roads, or bigger intersections.

 

 

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Our Street Ratings are Delivering Ruin

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 15, 2016

A friend of mine sent me two urban streets to illustrate the wrong-headed street quality ratings we have used for the past century (see below). This is a starkly clear example of why our transportation system is such a colossal failure. Why we have wasted trillions of public dollars to ruin our transportation system, our household finances, and the quality of life (and economics) in our cities.com

The first image is a street that for several centuries our conventional local, state and national traffic engineers have rated an “F” (failure). The image below it has been rated an “A” (passing with honors) by our conventional engineers.

This image set also shows why there is a screaming need for traffic engineers to be schooled in urban design (things that make cities wonderful and its inhabitants happy) and not just how to move as many cars as quickly as possible down a road/highway. Street design has a profound spill-over influence on what happens in the surrounding region.

For engineers (and elected officials) to not realize that is ruinous.

 

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Bean Counting is Bad for Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 15, 2015

Boulder voters are being asked this fall to vote on a seemingly wonderful measure called “Growth Shall Pay Its own Way.”

I spent 20 years, as a professional town planner, implementing such a law in Gainesville FL, a college town the same size as Boulder. In Florida, we called it “growth management concurrency.” Cities in Florida were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were many features or services that had adopted levels of service.

Who could be opposed to the fairness of development paying its own way?

At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in Florida) only cared about was the bean counting of ROAD level of service. This was the only standard where developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to stop the development in its tracks if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

The right-sizing project on Folsom Street in Boulder makes it crystal clear that like nearly every other community in the nation, many Boulder residents equate easy, higher speed motor vehicle travel with quality of life. It is therefore dangerously likely that Boulder – if it adopts a concurrency rule such as “growth paying its own way” — will follow Florida’s concurrency path of putting easy car travel, and nothing else, on a privileged pedestal. Big roads and intersections become far more important than any other quality of life measure.

It is easy to be seduced by confusing happy car travel with quality of life. After all, most all of us get caught every day in rush hour traffic going to and from work at rush hour, or can’t find an available parking spot near our restaurant.

But ruinously, putting easy car travel on a pedestal is precisely the OPPOSITE of what we should do to protect and promote quality of life in Boulder. Easy car travel delivers more sprawl, higher taxes, more strip commercial “sellscapes,” more injuries and deaths, huge turn radius for roadreduced travel by walking or bicycling or transit, less affordability, more air pollution due to more of us driving, more huge parking lots and huge intersections and huge roads, and more noise pollution.

What do we consider to be measures of quality of life in Boulder? For many of us, the list includes Pearl Street Mall; proximity to the Flatirons, the Foothills, the Rocky Mountains, and great outdoor recreation; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choices; the feeling of safety and relative freedom from crime (particularly for seniors and children); our greenbelt; quality culture and good restaurants; small town ambience; a highly educated, healthy, and physically fit population of creative people; housing choices; low noise levels; and abundant, high-paying, rewarding jobs.

Having “growth pay its own way” does NOTHING to promote any of these quality of life measures, and because it is possible that the law will induce Boulder to focus heavily on easy car travel (partly because it is an easy bean-counting measure), it will do quite a bit to DEGRADE many of these measures.

Adequate Facilities laws (such as “concurrency” or “growth paying its own way”) incentivize bigger, wealthier projects and developers, because the smaller, local projects and developers are less able to afford to jump through the Adequacy hoops.

Yes, many recent buildings are ugly – largely because they are creepy and weird modernist buildings that are unlike anything from Boulder’s past. Such buildings have thrown away the timelessly lovable nature of traditional design exemplified by the Boulderado.

But the way to have more lovable buildings is in no way helped by having growth pay its own way. We can move in that direction by implementing things like a “form-based code,” which will soon regulate building design at Boulder Junction.

Having Boulder follow Florida’s “Growth Pay Its Own Way” path will likely lead to a grim future for this city because Adequate Facilities laws are a form of bean counting for happy cars. Quality of life is about qualitative measures, not drowning in bean counting minutiae for SUVs.

 

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

Parks and Recreation Planning for a City

By Dom Nozzi

September 9, 2003

A friend of mine asked if I could help a person with an interesting question: Are there any standards, codes, recommendations for number, location, density of parks? Specifically as it helps with creating more active community environments?

The following is what I told my friend…

Having authored a long-range recreation and parks plan for a college town in Florida about 14 years ago, I can add a few comments about this issue:

  1. A huge percentage of communities can only find the political will to allocate a tiny, token pittance to public parks and recreation — while pouring millions into parking, roads, police, and fire protection. A number of these cities prepare a parks plan that is overly ambitious, thinking that an aggressive parks plan will magically create the money and political will to pay for a decent park program without any political pain such as cutting other services or raising taxes. Such plans are better than nothing, since, on VERY rare occasions, a community might be shocked to learn that a pot of money has come from somewhere – such as a benefactor, a state or federal grant, or a drug forfeiture, etc. A plan in place — even if financially infeasible at the time — would allow such an extremely fortunate community to spend that new money wisely. Mostly though, such plans just collect dust on the shelf because no miraculous Sugar Daddy ever arrives.
  1. Another approach is to define “parks” creatively. I am a big supporter of having a park within walking distance of most homes in neighborhoods. But since communities have spent several decades forgetting about parks (and the public realm generally), there are hardly any neighborhoods that have parks within them. It is unbelievably expensive to retrofit parks into existing neighborhoods. The “creative” approach is to call schools, cemeteries, private fitness clubs, YMCAs, churches and similar facilities “parks.” After all, such places can often be used by the public for recreation. Public schools are particularly appropriate for being called public parks, for a number of reasons. The biggest problem is that public schools tend to be extremely hesitant to have school grounds be considered public parks, since that raises liability and maintenance cost issues.
  1. Perhaps the best hope are these options:

(a) Elect people who sincerely prioritize recreation (i.e., are willing to cut police and fire department budgets, raise taxes, or both.

(b) Establish level of service standards that at least require NEW subdivisions or neighborhoods to incorporate the proper amounts of parks and recreation that is then dedicated to the local government.

National standards from the National Parks and Recreation Association are not very helpful with regard to having parks and recreation facilities within walking distance of parks-161homes. They simply state the nationally-recognized standards for amount per 1,000 people (only quantity is addressed, not location). I do not believe that there are any national recreation standards for walking distance. I suspect that there are only standards at the neighborhood level that have been prepared by some new urbanist design firms, since the new urbanist design is so admirably focused on walkability.

In the end, I’ve concluded that the only real way to have a community properly prioritize recreation in a reactive democracy like ours is to somehow “create the proper crisis.” That is, attempt to convince the community that crime rates are exploding due to lack of parks. Or start calling parks something like the Detroit Police Department Park to leverage dollars from a municipal budget that is bloated already.

 

 

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What Direction Should the State of Florida Take With Regard to Local Government Planning?

By Dom Nozzi

September 25, 2003

The State of Florida contains an agency called the Department of Community Affairs, which provides directives and guidance to city and county governments in Florida regarding town planning, transportation and land development. That agency therefore plays a crucial role in how development and transportation should occur in Florida.

What should this guidance consist of?

As a 20-year long-range town planner in Florida, here are my thoughts on the matter.

First, planning directives from the state planning agency need to be more directive than to just call for communities to establish a “vision.” But instead of taking a heavy-handed approach in which the state dictates how communities should be developed, there should be a strong statement that calls for communities to:

(a) Create plans and regulations that promote lifestyle choices. All communities must provide ample opportunities for living an urban, suburban, or rural lifestyle. Currently, nearly all communities only allow for the suburban choice. We must be clear that one size does not fit all. We need a tiered regulatory system that applies appropriate regulations for each lifestyle choice, instead of providing only suburban design regulations. We need to make urban and rural lifestyles legal again (in appropriate locations).urban-to-rural-transect-Duany-Plater-Zyberk-sm

(b) Create a transportation system that is rich in transportation choices. Again, this needs to be a tiered approach where one size does not fit all locations. In core (urban, compact) areas, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Streets are modest in size, calm in design speed and no more than three lanes in width. Roads get progressively larger and higher in design speed as you move outside of core. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), in particular, needs to radically change their approach to design so that state roads are context-sensitive when going through communities. FDOT must become a helpful partner with local communities, instead of an adversary only looking out for the needs of the state.

In many communities, being serious about controlling sprawl and protecting or restoring quality of life will require a long-term healing process. Damage wrought in the past by building monster high-speed roads will often need to be incrementally reversed by putting many of these roads on a diet (ie, removing unnecessary, toxic, dangerous travel lanes).

In the interim, as communities struggle to correct the design of their streets and roads, an urban growth boundary will probably be required. Without a strong boundary, no plans, regulations or strong elected officials can stop the sprawl tidal wave induced largely by big roads in a community.

(c) Many important efforts are necessary to reverse our long-standing pattern of being our own worst enemies. The Florida Growth Management Act (which dictates rules for plans that local governments in Florida must adopt) needs to be revised so that road “level of service” (the level of congestion found on a road) is not applied in urban areas. The State concurrency rule that obligates level of service for urban roads is a powerful sprawl engine (because “adequate” road capacity tends to only be found in outlying areas rather than within towns).

In addition, public schools must end the practice of inducing sprawl by curtailing the widespread construction of new schools in outlying areas. An important element is this is to revise school standards that make walkable, in-town, neighborhood-based schools difficult or impossible (such as large ballfield requirements).

Large emergency service vehicles must not dictate excessive road design standards by being the standard that engineers use to design roads (the “design” vehicle). Doing so promotes high and dangerous car speeds.

Similarly, modest, human-scaled streets and building design must be made legal again in the urban portions of a community.

In sum, a strong stand must be taken by planners that we stand for CHOICE, and that one size does not fit all.

 

 

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Vested Interests in Drivable Suburbia or Compact Development

By Dom Nozzi

July 10, 2015

Because walking, bicycling and transit need short distances to be practical, enjoyable, and safe ways to travel, those who walk, bicycle or use transit have a strong vested interest in compact development. Such travelers, in other words, have a vested interest in mixed use, taller buildings and higher densities (above 5 dwelling units per acre) because of the substantially reduce travel distances these development patterns deliver.

Research shows that below four or five dwelling units per acre, walking, bicycling and transit are largely impractical due to excessive distances to destinations and the small number of people in such settings. At such low densities, it is only practical, for most all, to travel by car. Much (nearly all?) opposition to higher density, compact development in Boulder, Colorado (as well as opposition to taller buildings) is driven by the fact that most Boulder residents live in these very low-density residential neighborhoods where it is nearly impossible to travel without a car. For such residents, there is therefore a very strong vested interest in maintaining low densities and short buildings. Traveling by car is enormously difficult and costly when densities are above 5 dwelling units per acre, as well as when there are mixed use patterns and taller buildings. This is because cars consume an enormous amount of space (17 to 100 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, depending on whether the car is stationary or moving).

Christopher Leinberger, in The Option of Urbanism, points out that given the above, for those living in compact neighborhoods, “more is better,” because more houses, retail, and jobs compactly added to the neighborhood enhance the quality of their walking, bicycling, or transit lifestyle. By contrast, for those living in more dispersed, drivable suburbs with relatively low densities, “more is less,” because more houses, retail, and jobs added to the neighborhood degrades the quality of their drivable lifestyle. Why? Because it is more difficult and costly to drive a car when new development is added to the neighborhood.

“More is Better”? Or “More is Worse”? The question tends to be answered, therefore, based on where you live in the community.

The above explains why many in Boulder oppose higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings. Because nearly all residents in Boulder live in places where car travel is the only practical way to travel, higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings are vigorously opposed, because prohibiting such development is an essential way to retain the ability to travel relatively easily by car.

Travel lane removal proposed for a street in Boulder in 2015 led to an avalanche of letters to the editor opposing the idea, despite Boulder’s reputation as being “green” and pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-transit. Why? Partly it is due to the extremely high level of entitlement felt in Boulder (“I’m entitled to live in a place without parking or traffic road diet before and aftercongestion!). But mostly because most residents in Boulder live in neighborhoods that are very low in density and consist of “single-use” land use patterns. Only housing is found in the neighborhoods. Jobs, services, shopping, culture, and recreation tend to be several miles away, and often reachable only on high-speed, dangerous roads. This state of affairs means that for nearly all Boulder residents, it is impractical to travel by any means other than car. Given that, most all Boulder residents see travel lane removal as severely restricting their ability to travel.

I spent 20 years implementing the “adequate facilities” law (called “growth management concurrency” in Florida) in Gainesville FL. Cities were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people or 5,000 cubic feet of landfill space per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were15-20 features or services that had adopted levels of service. At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in FL) only cared about ROAD level of service. This was the only standard were developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to prohibit the development if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

Why is road level of service the only standard that “matters”? Because in nearly all communities – including Boulder – quality of life is ruinously equated with maintaining free-flowing traffic and retaining abundant free parking. Lip service is paid to other quality of life measures (as I list below), but the issue that significantly bothers most all Americans every day is traffic congestion and parking woes. It is a daily reminder on our drive to work or to run errands that (1) the roads are not wide enough; (2) there is not enough parking; and (3) growth is too rapid (“out of control”) because local government is too lax in stopping growth and too willing to allow high density development. It seems like common sense to even a child that if we widened roads and intersections, added more free parking, and kept residential densities very low that we would not have these daily traffic and parking headaches. Right?

If Boulder adopts an adequate facilities law, I am nearly certain that it will substantially increase the likelihood that roads and intersections will be widened, free parking will be expanded, and new development will face elevated obstacles to developing anything other than tiny rural-like housing densities. All of this increased asphalt and increased car speed will substantially degrade Boulder’s quality of life and “small town ambience,” and fuel an increase in the rate of residential growth in outlying towns (because the ability to live in a less expensive home outside of Boulder will now be more practical due to the increased road and parking capacity in Boulder).

Adequate Facilities (concurrency) laws, to be objective and quantifiable (necessary to be legally enforceable in a court of law) end up being little more than a bean counting exercise. Planners in Florida spend enormous amounts of time listing and counting and manipulating numbers for roads and water and park acreage. But in the end, bean counting has almost nothing to do with maintaining or improving community quality of life or quality urban design. All of the numbers can be “adequate” or “concurrent,” and the community can still be utterly awful in quality.

What are the categories and attributes of quality of life and civic pride in Boulder? Pearl Street Mall and the Boulderado Hotel; low crime rate; proximity to the scenic Flatirons, the Foothills, Skiing, Hiking, and Rocky Mountain National Park; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choice and reduced car use; seniors and children feel relatively safe and independent; the Boulder greenbelt open space; culture and quality restaurants; small town ambience; highly-educated creative class population; quality jobs; quality schools; housing choices; and low levels of noise pollution. An adequate facilities law has either no impact on these quality of life features, or has a negative impact on such features.

Road, intersection and parking expansions for motorists are a zero-sum game, as such changes inevitably reduce travel by walking, bicycling, and transit, and degrade both safety, finances, and overall community quality of life. Such expansions are also a lose-lose proposition because motorists also experience harm. For example, by increasing travel by car, such changes mean less road space and parking space for existing motorists, and motorists also suffer from increased car crashes, more stress, more noise pollution, higher taxes, and an overall decline in quality of life. Improvements and expansions for walking, bicycling and transit, by contrast, are win-win tactics because not only do pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users benefit, but motorists also enjoy more parking, less congested roads, and the many quality of life benefits.

Adequate facilities laws will enshrine and elevate the importance of car travel in Boulder, and increase the counterproductive yet widespread belief that free-flowing traffic and easy, free parking is the key to quality of life.

Adequate facilities laws (concurrency) promote larger, more wealthy businesses who can afford the studies and the mitigation. It reduces the viability of smaller, less wealthy businesses.

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Using a Car Level of Service Standard is Counterproductive

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 3, 2010

The conventional car level of service standard nearly all communities have used for several decades is almost entirely designed to measure the ease of car travel.

But when we take actions to ease car travel, there is no win-win. Providing for cars is a zero-sum game. That is, each time we make car travel easier, we make travel more difficult for bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users. Providing for cars is also a recipe for downwardly spiraling quality of life for the community.

Using a car level of service (LOS) standard as our measure of transportation “success” implicitly assumes that congestion is an accurate assessment of quality of life (and quality transportation).

However, using a conventional car LOS standard, which nearly all communities have done for decades, perpetuates a ruinous assumption that free-flowing traffic and quality of life are one in the same.

In fact, when one observes which cities have the worst congestion, it would seem that the reverse is the case. That higher congestion levels commonly means a more impressive, attractive community.

co-boulder-pearlst-01We need to ask other, more appropriate questions to measure quality of life (and transportation): How healthy is the retail? The downtown? Are large numbers of tourists interested in visiting? Are there lots of bicyclists? Transit users? Pedestrians? How expensive is downtown housing compared to similarly-sized cities? Are residents proud and protective of their city?

In my view, asking about LOS is nearly irrelevant to the question of healthy transportation and quality of life. Indeed, a good argument can be made that there is a negative correlation between using LOS as a measure and the quality of the transportation and community.monstor hwy

An unintended consequence of using LOS is, as I mention above, perpetuating the asking of the wrong question. Asking about LOS distracts us from asking better questions along the lines of those questions I suggest above.

Asking the right question is often the crucial first step in taking beneficial actions (or, in science, solving puzzles in the field of research). Long ago, for example, we didn’t reduce the cholera epidemic by measuring how many prayers were said.

We asked how we could reduce contamination by bacteria.

 

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