By Dom Nozzi
Cars consume a huge amount of space. Since nearly all of us for the past century have driven such large metal boxes for nearly all of our trips, we lose sight of the fact that our form of transportation takes up so much space.
A person in a car, on average, takes up as much space as 17 people in chairs. When a car is moving, it takes up 100 times as much space.
Because our cars take up so much real estate and are driven so often, it is inevitable that multiple times each day, we get extremely frustrated by being stopped or slowed down in traffic. In a huge metal box that needs more space than a city can provide without destroying itself, we quickly conclude the following: “THAT MORON IS DRIVING TOO SLOW!!” “GROWTH IS OUT OF CONTROL!!” “DENSITY IS CAUSING TOO MUCH CROWDING!!” “BUILDINGS ARE TOO TALL!!”
Our blood pressure rises and our stress and rage go through the roof.
Therefore, for 100 years, there has been enormous political pressure to widen roads and intersections. And to vastly expand the sea of asphalt parking lots we have. Anything to reduce the enraging frustration!
We also have developed a bi-partisan political consensus that we must stop population growth in our town. If we cannot do that, we must slow it as much as possible. Or minimize densities and building heights. Our quest, again, is to keep our roads and parking lots from being crowded by even MORE cars.
We understandably (yet ruinously) end up confusing happy car travel (“free flowing traffic”) and easy parking with quality of life. Ruinous because the quest for happy cars gives us an asphalt mess. Ugly highways. Danger for children and seniors. Unaffordability. Suburban sprawl. Noise pollution. Loss of ecosystems. Road rage.
Since it is embarrassing for the political left to point out that we want to stop growth to make it easier to drive a car, we here in Boulder instead point to more admirable reasons: “We are saving the environment” (it is an article of faith amongst environmentalists that overpopulation is our biggest global threat). “We are protecting views of the flatirons.” “We are making it more possible and affordable for low-income people who cannot afford to live in Boulder to commute to Boulder jobs.”
The right wing also benefits. Not only do they seek to protect Lexus car travel. They also are able to keep out “undesirable” people by successfully pushing for such tactics as “snob zoning.” Such zoning requires very large residential lot sizes, large home sizes, very low densities, very low occupancy limits for unrelated adults, and low building heights. Indeed, in my view, no-growth efforts in Boulder are fundamentally and ironically a right-wing effort.
The above helps explain why Boulder has had bi-partisan support for a no-growth agenda since the 1960s.
The political left and right are enraged by the frustration of constantly being slowed down in their huge metal boxes (even environmental lefties are almost all motorists).
And the political left is able to claim they are saving Bambi or helping poor people or saving views of the flatirons, rather than their real agenda of easy driving and easy parking.
The Frustration Syndrome allows us to understand why even in progressive, pro-bike, pro-environment Boulder, there was FURIOUS opposition to narrowing Folsom Street. “You are going to deliberately slow down my car travel?? Are you kidding me??” Never mind that narrowing Folsom is a powerful and affordable way to dramatically reduce car crashes, improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety, reduce noise pollution, improve affordability, reduce regional car trips, and reduce car emissions.
This also helps explain two referendums Boulder voted on in 2015: Growth Shall Pay Its Own Way, and Neighborhood Right to Vote. Both allege to “protect our quality of life.” It turns out that neither did anything to protect our quality of life.
Instead, they are no growth efforts. A way to reduce the frustration of car travel by minimizing the number of cars in Boulder.
Which, too many of us wrongly believe, is a way to improve our quality of life.
Boulder does not have too many people. Boulder has too many people in cars.