Tag Archives: lip service

Why Can’t an Enlightened City Move Away from Happy Motoring?

By Dom Nozzi

June 18, 2014

I have been on a full-press campaign for months now to nudge my home city of Boulder CO toward building its transportation system to make people happy, not cars. Many statements at my transportation advisory board (TAB) meetings, one-on-one meetings with Boulder council members, meetings with PLAN-Boulder County board members (specifically called to discuss my transportation views), holding a “transportation salon” dinner party at my house, getting an op-ed published  in the Boulder newspaper, a published essay in the on-line Boulder political activists journal (The Blue Line), Facebook posts, comments at social events and hikes I attend, Q&A comments at community transportation meetings, postings to my on-line blogs, emails to various transportation radicals I know, a speech to PLAN-Boulder County, and meetings with Boulder transportation staff.

It has been nearly unanimous. Almost all staff, speech audiences, and elected council members heartily agree with my recommendations that we should make people happy, not cars. That we should shrink roads, intersections and parking to a human-scaled size. That we should price parking and roads. That we should reform parking requirements.

Why, then, does Boulder continue to regularly seek to do such counterproductive, outdated things as spending large sums of dollars to install turn lanes all over town, synching traffic lights for car speeds, building over-sized intersections, reducing development densities and building heights to “improve” transportation, and stubbornly delaying a reform of its outdated, costly, excessive parking requirements?

Boulder and its planning documents are famous for aggressively promoting an increase in bicycling, walking and transit use, striving to reduce car trips and GHG emissions, seeking compact development, discouraging big box retail, and promoting smaller, locally-owned shops. Yet with eyes wide open, staff and elected officials — well aware of the fact that increasing road and parking capacity for cars will substantially undermine many of these aims – continue to approve of new capacity for cars. And otherwise ease car travel.

How can this be? How can Boulder continue down the ruinous car-happy path, even though council and staff agree with me?

The paradox has given me a possible insight: While elected officials and staff “get it,” efforts to make people happy instead of cars (by, for example, removing excessive car space allocation and excessive car subsidies) meet with furious, enraged opposition from citizens – many of whom are highly intelligent and can therefore summon seemingly reasonable arguments (along with their rage) to have even the admirable elected leaders and informed staff hesitate to take even timid measures in the direction of people rather than cars.

Also, wealthy Boulder has long enjoyed having such a relatively large amount of revenue to spend for government facilities and programs that it has been too easy to opt to pay for “carrots” like bike lanes and transit, rather than opt for effective “sticks” (such as equitable user fees, road and parking diets, etc.) and thereby be subjected to the wrath of hostile, car-promoting citizens.

Why is there such a strong support for happy cars in enlightened Boulder?

  • High expenses in town make it necessary to live in cheaper outlying areas, which compels even enlightened citizens to be cheerleaders for cars.Woman gesturing out of car window
  • For a century, car travel has been heavily pampered and subsidized (cheap gas, free roads and parking, over-sized car infrastructure that is paid by everyone and not just motorists). The “barrier effect,” which results when easier car travel makes non-car travel more difficult, creates a lot of car-dependent citizens – even those who are “enlightened.”
  • A century of car happiness has inevitably and effectively created such substantial dispersal of land uses in Boulder County that car dependency is locked in – even with great sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit.

All of this means that even in Boulder, there is an artificially high number of “car cheerleaders” than there would have been had we not subsidized and pampered cars, and had such a state of affairs not locked Boulder into a downwardly spiraling vicious cycle.

All of this may be a waste of time and effort, but I am enjoying how much it motivates me to think clearly and write passionately about the topics.

 

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

Local Government Development Regulations as a Recipe for Sprawl

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2005

I worked as a town planner for Gainesville, Florida for 20 years. Like most cities, Gainesville’s plans, policies, regulations, elected officials, and planning staff proclaim that the City supports compact development, more bicycling and walking and transit use, and less sprawl.

Tragically, however, Gainesville has adopted a long list of development regulations that require dispersed, drivable suburbia. Examples are nearly endless.

Gainesville’s building setbacks, like in nearly all cities, are gigantic and desperately fought for by staff.parking_sea

Gainesville’s parking requirements, like in nearly all cities, are ENORMOUS, and staff aggressively fights for as many parking spaces as it can extract from the developer. To do this is to be a “hero” for nearby neighborhoods concerned about “spillover” parking – one of the great bugaboos in American town planning.

Nearly everyone in Gainesville — including most public works staff — join the Florida Department of Transportation in fighting for HUGE intersections and wider roads (I recall that my proposal to limit use of turn lanes downtown in the Transportation Element I prepared for the City was shot down, and my 4-lane maximum road size was subsequently removed after the plan was adopted.

Gainesville has over 33 zoning districts. More single-use districts means more sprawl.

Sidewalk requirements don’t really do much to discourage sprawl when located in suburbia, because distances are too large to encourage people to walk to destinations. They just ease our guilty conscience.

Maximum “floor area ratio” (FAR) requirements (which set the maximum square footage of building that can be built on a property) are extremely low. Low FARs strongly discourage walking, and undercut the need for creating an urban fabric that possesses human-scaled charm.

Minimum lot widths are excessive. Relatively small lot widths promote vibrant, sociable, convenient walkability.

Maximum building height limits are nearly always less than 5 stories. As such, compact urbanism is extremely difficult to achieve.

The City adopted a huge and growing “transportation concurrency exception area” (TCEA). This was done when it was realized that requiring developers to show that “adequate” road capacity was available for the new car trips the development would produce was counterproductively promoting car-oriented sprawl. But instead of adopting a TCEA that covered only the relatively discreet downtown, Gainesville adopted a TCEA that applied to the entire city – including suburban locations.

Which promotes sprawl.

And even if it properly only applied to the downtown, it would still have been unhelpful because it did not effectively require any form of meaningful compact urban design. To correct this, the City should have only been granting a TCEA if the City was getting urbanism in exchange for exception. As it is, all the City got was what amounted to little more than a few shrubs for landscaping.

Overall, Gainesville – like nearly all cities in America – has adopted land development regulations that ensure a future of unlovable, car-happy sprawl.

How odd, since the plans and elected officials and staff always seem to be united in opposing sprawl…

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design