Tag Archives: low-speed

Low Speed Street Design: Don’t Let It Fall Through the Cracks

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 8, 2002

In general, communities need to provide for the full range of lifestyle choices. Who am I to say that EVERYONE must live in walkable urbanism I personally prefer? If some want to live in what I consider to be sterile, auto-oriented suburbia, they should have that choice. As long as I don’t have to pay more in taxes or worsened quality of life — i.e., their costs admin-ajax (10)are internalized. And as long as they don’t insist that their suburban designs be incorporated in walkable town centers.

Low-speed design is quite appropriate for a town center, but increasingly inappropriate as one moves further and further from the center. Way too much distance between origins and destinations to make such speeds tolerable or appropriate.

One size does not fit all, in other words.

In a presentation I saw about 18 months ago, a design expert pointed out the concept of “low-speed street design” — a very interesting concept that I did not know about beforehand. One must wonder if conventional traffic engineers prefer that low-speed street design be somewhat of a secret in order to maintain the century-long obsession with the design imperative of free-flowing, higher speed car traffic.

In other words, perpetuate the illusion that low-speed design is not an option on the table. Ever.

The crucial point of the street design expert was that one of the traffic engineering bibles (probably AASHTO Green Book) contains design specs for “low-speed urban streets,” or a term like that. Such specs are for the creation of streets designed for 15-20 mph street speeds, which therefore specify tight turn radii, tiny clear zones, tiny vision triangles, etc.

I was stunned to learn this.

In other words, the standards I had always been dreaming about EXIST in the national manual. I (and others) just didn’t know that they were there to ask for (so the engineers never use them). Ever since then, I always make it a point to ask if it is possible to use those “low-speed urban street” specs when a street is being designed. Unfortunately, I am not enough of a traffic engineer to be able to know the details about these specs, or how to find them in the manual.

Keep the term “low-speed street design” in mind the next time you are involved in designing streets in a town center. Be sure that the engineers intend to use such design, rather than “forgetting” and opting instead for inappropriate, one-size-fits-all suburban design.

 

 

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On-Street Parking, Town Centers, Pedestrians and Bicyclists

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 30, 2008

If we are talking about the creation (or restoration and revival) of a town center, the litmus test for which strategies to use must consider whether the strategy will create a low-speed “park once” environment. For a healthy town center, the pedestrian must be the design imperative.

A common and effective way to create such an environment is with on-street parking. On-street parking, by itself, is not necessarily sufficient in creating a better environment for retail, bicyclists or pedestrians. But on-street parking is one of the most beneficial tactics that can be leveraged in an existing or up-and-comashevilleing low-speed town center. On-street parking should therefore be included whenever
possible.

Too commonly, a place that a community seeks to transform into a walkable town center is fronted by a six-lane corridor. But such a “stroad” design (as Charles Marohn calls a street that is designed poorly for both urbanism and suburbanism) is anything but low-speed or park once, typically. Such a “drive-through” design, to be transformed into a healthy town center, must do what it can to ratchet down speeds and the width of the street. On-street parking and travel lane removal tend to be the most effective ways to do that.

Note that when town centers are designed well, bike lanes can be incompatible with a low-speed walkable town center design. Even though bike lanes ARE usually a good idea in other settings.

In other words, street design must be context-sensitive. We need to be careful not to suboptimize certain forms of travel (such as bicycling) in inappropriate locations.

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The Downward Spiral of Worsening Safety on American Streets

By Dom Nozzi

March 21, 2009

When I think of “good” streets (even streets with awful American drivers), I think of chaotic, busy, unpredictable, slow-speed, pedestrian-filled streets that force drivers IMG_3045to be attentive. It is an incredible tragedy that, several decades ago, we opted for a paradigm that considers “good” streets to be the opposite. Streets that actually worsen driver skill, and encourage high-speed, reckless, inattentive driving in America with their “forgiving” street design.

What a bitter irony.

The second tragedy (which is also a form of insanity): As American driving skills Monster road intersectiondecline over time (and road safety shows no meaningful improvement over its shameful history), engineers endlessly continue to administer even MORE “forgiving street medicine.”

Thinking, irrationally, that more of their failed medicine will eventually improve safety.

When it again worsens safety (or fails to improve safety), we end up in the vicious cycle of engineers who don’t realize their cure is actually a poison.

Safety problems>More medicine>More safety problems due to the medicine being counterproductive>More medicine>More safety problems…

Isn’t it time to try a new remedy?

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The Gigantism Disease

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 17, 2008

The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney

American cities, like most others in the world, are dying. Despite an emerging downtown renaissance being led by a notable growth in downtown residential development, changing demographics, and escalating gasoline prices.

Cities are dying due to an affliction I call “Gigantism.”

Like overeating, inactivity and obesity, gigantism is not being imposed on us by an evil outside force. It is largely self-inflicted.

We have become our own worst enemy because we have spent over 80 years building a world in which it is nearly impossible to navigate without a car. The Barrier Effect, as described by Todd Litman, when applied to transportation planning, refers to the “barriers” that over-design for car travel creates for other forms of travel. To put it simply, designing an “incomplete” street (a street that is designed exclusively or predominately for cars) makes travel by walking, bicycling and transit extremely difficult, if not impossible. In effect, an incomplete street creates a self-perpetuating vicious cycle because the travel barriers created by incomplete streets tend to continuously recruit new motorists who were formerly non-motorists—non-motorists who now find that on the incomplete street, travel by walking, bicycling or transit is unacceptably unsafe, inconvenient or otherwise unattractive.

Over time, the incomplete street increases the proportion of community members who are now traveling by car. Tragically, this on-going recruitment of new motorists compels many communities to spend large sums of public dollars to widen and speed up roads to (unsuccessfully) strive to accommodate the growing number of motorists. And these newly widened, higher speed roads create an even larger barrier effect. Which recruits even more motorists (“induced demand”), which then builds pressure for even wider roads, resulting in roads that drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users find unpleasant and unsatisfactory, fueling the demand for further “improvement,” usually widening.

We are therefore compelled to insist, at every opportunity, that new development promote car travel. Yet cars and people have vastly different needs. Due to their large size, motor vehicles require vastly over-sized parking lots, large building setbacks and wide, multi-lane roads reasonably free of other motor vehicles (despite the conventional wisdom, most cities actually have too much open space — but this open space is for cars, not people). To achieve that, widely dispersed, low-density, single-use patterns of development are necessary. Street lighting must be tall and bright, and retail signage must be enormous to promote visibility and readability in high-speed motor vehicles.

Because motor vehicles enable us to travel greater distances more conveniently, growing regional “consumer-sheds” are created, which has enabled the rise of gigantic “big box” retail development which takes advantage of such retail regionalism.

We are left with an overwhelming and disheartening amount of auto-centric architecture. Architecture that no one can be proud of.

This brutalization of our everyday world, amplified by the over-sizing of roads and parking lots, leaves a public realm that Americans have understandably fled. Instead, we are compelled to increasingly turn inward into the private realm of our accessorized, huge turn radius for roadluxurious homes and cars. Without a public realm worth caring about and participating in, we seek alternative outlets for a meaningful life. And this is exemplified by the substantial growth in the average size of the now gigantic American house, which has enlarged from 1,385 square feet to 2,140 square feet (a 54-percent increase) from 1970 to 2000.

Our over-sized world stands in stark contrast to what many people tend to prefer, which is smaller building setbacks, human-scaled and low-speed streets, modest lighting, signage and parking. People feel exposed and uncomfortable in gargantuan spaces—spaces over-designed for motor vehicles.

On average, a person in a car consumes 17 times more space than a person in a chair, which means that cars devour an enormous amount of space. The average car is 14 feet long by 6.2 feet wide = 55 square feet. The average person in a chair is 2.25 feet by 2.25 feet = 5 square feet.  Thus, a car consumes 17 times more space than a person sitting in a chair (even more if person is standing). By multiplying the number of cars in Florida in 2005 by 17 square feet, we can estimate that cars consume 1,581,100 square feet or 35,677 acres or about 27,444 football fields.

Planner Victor Gruen, in 1973, estimated that every American car is provided with four parking spaces.

In The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup estimates about 1 billion parking spaces for cars in the U.S.  If this were all surface parking, parking lots would consume approximately 12,375 square miles (roughly the size of Maryland). As a rule of thumb, a parking lot typically requires an additional 10 to 20 percent of its land area as stormwater basin area, although this can vary rather significantly based on such factors as soil type. Therefore, we can assume that a 300 square-foot parking space (the amount of space a typical car needs for parking, as well as maneuver space in the parking lot) would require 300 x 0.15 = 45 square feet of stormwater basin. In other words, if we include both space taken up by the typical parked car, maneuver space, and stormwater basin space, each car requires 345 square feet of land area just for parking.

The above means that to promote ease of motor vehicle travel, there is no alternative but to build sprawling, dispersed, low-density cities.

Of course, the growing size of American vehicles—particularly the SUV phenomenon—has fueled a need to build bloated roads and parking areas to accommodate these over-sized vehicles. Making matters much worse, however, is the decades-long trend of the growing size of trucks—particularly fire trucks.

Unfortunately, some fire chiefs are choosing to purchase larger and often less maneuverable fire apparatus. An unintended consequence is that such choices will dictate future community decisions about street dimensions. Larger truck decisions can prevent a community from designing safer, more human-scaled streets.  Fortunately, wise fire chiefs who are aware of a need for a more charming, safe, human-scaled community are able to make fire apparatus choices that are in line with such objectives (buy purchasing smaller fire vehicles, for example, or at least buying “articulated” vehicles that allow maneuvering in tight streets). If some parts of a community must have larger, less maneuverable fire apparatus for safety reasons, it would be wise to consider having both larger and smaller vehicles. One size, after all, does not fit all when one considers both the larger dimensions found in suburbia and the more modest dimensions found in urban settings.

For engineers, therefore, the design vehicle obligates the design of colossal lane widths and turning radii, which moves cities further from a livable human scale.

Where has the charm gone?

When we look for charming locations in our communities, we find that this charm is invariably found in our historic districts—places built, in general, over 100 years ago. We Catania Italy walkablelove to visit places like Paris and Geneva, with their ancient, intimate architecture, their layout of streets and neighborhoods, and their romantic ambience. And newer places are most valued when they mimic that style. We find that the more contemporary development—the more contemporary streets and roads—are invariably not charming. We have apparently lost the ability to build lovable places.

Why?

Is it because of the need to promote public safety? Is cost an issue?

Hardly.

It is because charm is impossible when we must design for the colossal spaces required to accommodate the car. Buildings must be set back enormous distances from the street to accommodate vast fields of parking (even the turning movements of the motor vehicle require that a building be pulled back from the street intersection to create the “vision triangle” and turning radius necessitated by a large, high-speed vehicle).

One unintended consequence of this dispersal and pulling back of buildings is that buildings lose the ability to “hold” an intersection. Or frame an “outdoor room” ambience on a street. Place-making is not possible when these human-scaled spaces are lost. There is no “there there” anymore.

Nothing to induce civic pride.

The gigantism disease is also aggravated by our decades-long road design efforts to maximize vehicle speeds, and to implement the related “forgiving streets” design paradigm. High-speed road geometries create enormous dimensions for intersection turning radii, lane width, shoulder recover zones, and size of roadside signage.

Forgiving street design delivers tree-less streets, over-sized vision triangles, and a removal of on-street parking, among other things. The motorist is “forgiven” for not paying attention while driving. Forgiven for driving at excessive speeds. Forgiven for careening off the road.

An unintended consequence of such design is that a large and ever-growing number of motorists are found to be driving too fast, too inattentively and too recklessly. Ironically, the intended safety improvements from the forgiving street actually result in less road safety.

High-speed design and forgiving streets, then, result in a loss of human-scaled streets, and the promotion of speeding, inattentive, road-raged motorists completely incompatible with quality urban areas.

Buildings must also be dispersed from each other to accommodate car travel, as the placement and agglomeration of buildings in a walkable, human-scaled pattern quickly creates intolerable vehicle congestion that gridlocks an area.

Induced demand, where a road widening breeds new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened, locks us into a never-ending cycle of congestion, widening, more congestion, and more widening. Endlessly.

Or until we run out of public dollars.

This vicious cycle brings us 4-lane roads. Then 5. Then 6. Then 8. Ultimately, we are left with dangerous, high-speed, overly wide, increasingly unaffordable roads that we dread and are repelled from. Roads that, again, are car-scaled and not human-scaled. Ironically, the roads we hate most are those we’ve spent the most of our tax dollars to build. What does that say about what we are doing to ourselves?

Agglomeration Economies

Cities, to be healthy, must leverage “agglomeration economies.” That is, thriving, vigorous cities are characterized by densification, concentration, compactness and clustering of people, buildings, and activities. As Steve Belmont points out in Cities in Full (2002), an intensification of property is a sign of city fitness and dynamism. As city property is converted to a less intense activity such as parking, widened roads or over-sized building setbacks, the energy of the city is dissipated, and is a sign of a city in decline. Therefore, the gigantism borne from the gap-tooth dead zones created when property is cleared for vehicular parking or roads is toxic to a city.

The vehicle “habitat” in cities (parking and highways) drains the lifeblood from the metropolis.

It is not only the directly deadening effect of replacing buildings and activities with roads and parking that kills a city. Highways and parking also indirectly eviscerate a city by powerfully fueling the residential and commercial dispersal of communities through sprawl.

Finding Our Way Back to the Future

It is said that both the dinosaurs and the Roman Empire collapsed due to gigantism. For our society to avoid that fate—to restore safety and quality of life to our cities in the future—will require us to return to the timeless tradition we have abandoned for several decades. For cities to become sustainable, safe, enjoyable places to live, we must return to the tradition of designing for people first, not cars. In cities, that means that we return to low-speed street geometries and compact building placements.

We already have models. The historic districts of our cities. The charming, lovable places that tourists flock to the world over. As James Howard Kunstler noted in 1996, “[From]  1950 to 1990…we put up almost nothing but the cheapest possible buildings, particularly civic buildings. Look at any richly embellished 1904 firehouse or post office and look at its dreary concrete box counterpart today.” “The everyday environments of our time, the places where we live and work, are composed of dead patterns…They violate human scale. They are devoid of charm. Our streets used to be charming and beautiful…[in] Saratoga Springs, New York, there once existed a magnificent building called the Grand Union Hotel…”

One element of this return is that the “forgiving street” design paradigm be replaced by the “attentive street” paradigm in cities. That is, streets must be designed not to “forgive” reckless driving, but to instead obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively, which, as European demonstration projects have found, improves traffic safety. Doing so will also restore human scale.

Ideally, given the enormous space consumed by motor vehicles and the much smaller spaces that most people (as pedestrians) prefer, the motor vehicle must feel squeezed and inconvenienced when it finds itself within the city.

Only then will quality of life for people, not cars, flourish.

References

Belmont, Steve. (2002). Cities In Full. APA Planners Press.

Downs, A. (1992). Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak Hour Traffic Congestion.  Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Kunstler, J. (1996). Home from Nowhere. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 88, 90.

Litman, Todd. (2002). “Evaluating Nonmotorized Transport.” TDM Encyclopedia. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm63.htm

McNichol, Tom (2004). “Roads Gone Wild.” Wired Magazine. December.

 

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A Pedestrian Call to Arms: A Manifesto

By Dom Nozzi

Each year, America experiences an outrageous carnage due to car crashes. In 2011, 4,432 pedestrians were killed and 69,000 were injured in traffic crashes.

Such bloodshed is incompatible with a civilized society. Are we too barbaric to do what is necessary to end this slaughter? Will we continue to blame the victim?

For several decades, there have been organized advocacy groups for bicycling. For transit. For environmental conservation. For local businesses.

But there is no group lobbying for the needs of pedestrians.

This is very bad news for the health of cities, because particularly in a town center, the pedestrian is the design imperative.

Below is a manifesto I have written that I hope is a step toward rectifying this ruinous disregard for the pedestrian.

 A Pedestrian Manifesto

Our community strives to protect and promote a walkable lifestyle as its design imperative. We believe that future development in areas of our community intended to be walkable should make walkability the primary emphasis of design. It is the lynchpin for the quality of life in the walkable areas of our community, for a quality transit system, for safety, for travel choice, for affordability, for human scale, for civic pride, for sustainability, for public health, for environmental conservation, and for the protection and enhancement of property values.admin-ajax (9)

Given these overwhelmingly beneficial outcomes for a walkable community, we have adopted the following manifesto which, to the extent possible, should be followed in all actions taken by the public and private sector for projects in the areas that out community intends to preserve and promote as walkable.

Most imperatively, improving walkability (and civic pride, comfort, convenience and sociability) means scaling down spaces in places we intend to be walkable. This “human-scaled” need acknowledges that in American cities, our walkability problem is that we have TOO MUCH space. Too much distance. Not that we have too much in the way of parks or squares or plazas or other “open spaces,” but that we have buildings that are set back too far from sidewalks. Too many “sea of asphalt” parking lots. Roads that contain too many travel and turn lanes. Too much distance between the home both neighbors and the corner store.

Our first and most important task for creating the walkability that people the world over love in places like Rome, Siena, Paris, and Venice, is to create human-scaled city spaces – particularly in our town centers. A large number of roads need to be put on a “road diet” by removing travel lanes and calming down (slowing) the speed of cars so that streets are welcoming, safe and sociable. Buildings need to be pulled up to the streetside sidewalk. Parking lots need to be shrunk in size—preferably by replacing some of them with active buildings, and moving more of them to on-street parking spaces. Streets need to be gracefully enveloped by street trees. Houses need to be mixed with shops and offices.

Most of these design practices were followed for most of human history (in America, up until approximately World War II). It is time to start returning to that tradition.

Neighborhood Streets

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. Streets should be two-way. Existing one-way streets should be restored to two-way operation.

B. Streets should be modest in width. Turning radii should be modest in size.

C. On-street parking should be encouraged to the extent possible over off-street parking.

D. Design speeds should be relatively modest.

E. Emergency service and public service vehicle needs should be secondary to the quality of life and life safety needs.admin-ajax (10)

F. Particularly in areas affected by spillover parking, parking should be priced (metered) or allowed only by permit. Pricing should be calibrated for 85% occupancy, and the revenue returned to neighborhoods for neighborhood improvements.

Larger Regional and Main Streets

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. Streets should be a maximum of 3 lanes in size, and those which are larger should be reduced to 3 lanes.

B. To promote permeability and walkability, mid-block crossings should be designed at regular intervals in locations near walkable neighborhoods and in town centers.

C. Traffic signals are preferably post-mounted and should be relatively modest in height.

D. Design speeds should be relatively modest.

E. Turning radii for these streets should be relatively modest.

F. On-street parking is the preferred form of parking, and parking meters used to achieve an 85% occupancy rate. Revenues from these meters should be used for the neighborhood where the meters are placed.admin-ajax (11)

G. To the extent possible, these streets should contain raised, low-maintenance medians.

Street Lights

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. Street lights should be relatively modest in height and historic in character.

B. Street lights should be full cut-off.

C. Street lights should maximize full color spectrum, such as Halogen.

D. Because they are the most invisible color in the landscape, street light structures (and other public equipment) should typically be black in color.admin-ajax (12)

Sidewalks

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. As soon possible, the community should fill remaining sidewalk gaps in neighborhoods.

B. Sidewalk gap filling should be a significantly higher priority than sidewalk repair.

C. In town centers, the trajectory of sidewalks should be rectilinear rather than curvilinear.

Building Disposition in Town Centers

In general, the following principles shall be used:admin-ajax (13)

A. Buildings should butt up to the sidewalk, face the sidewalk with a main entrance, contain sufficient windows along the sidewalk, and have a first floor that is at least 10 feet in height.

B. Buildings should be parallel to the street, rather than rotated.admin-ajax (14)

C. Buildings should be encouraged to be at least two stories in height and mixed in use (retail, office and residential).

D. High levels of building ornamentation should be encouraged.

E. Auto parking should never be in front of a building.

 Homeless Population

In general, because the homeless/panhandling population is an important impediment to walking, the following practices should be employed:

A. Minimize or reduce the number of free meals provided in town centers.

B. Enforce the “no sleeping in public parks” law.

C. Use park facilities that discourage sleeping.

D. Consider adopting a “no smoking” law for parks and other public spaces.

Street Trees

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. The community should install and maintain a dense, formally aligned, large, canopy trees along streets.

B. Trees of the same species or at least the same size and shape should be used along individual streets. Tree diversity should only be established, if necessary, from street to street.

C. Tree pruning along power lines should be consistent with practices described in “Trees in Urban admin-ajax (15)Design,” by Henry Arnold (1985).

Parking

In general, the following principles shall be used:

A. To the extent possible, and as soon as possible, existing surface parking lots in and near town center neighborhoods should be converted to buildings.

B. Multi-family housing developments in and near walkable neighborhoods should “unbundle” the price of parking from the cost of the housing so that those who choose not to own a car are not forced to pay for expensive, unneeded, ugly, unwalkable parking.

C. Parking requirements should be relaxed in and near walkable neighborhoods. “Minimum” parking regulations for new development should be converted to “maximum” parking requirements, for example.

Summary

By adhering to these design guidelines, our community will be dramatically safer, more pleasant, more instilled with civic pride, more physically fit, more sustainable, more equitable, more affordable and more prosperous. These guidelines are essential if we ever hope to be able to dramatically reduce the utterly barbaric, unacceptable number of pedestrian injuries and deaths we experience each year.

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Designing Streets for Safety

By Dom Nozzi

In September 2007, a citizen in Micanopy, Florida asked me about whether a large “vision triangle” was a good idea at a street intersection. A vision triangle is an imaginary triangle drawn at the corners of an intersection that is to be clear of “visual obstructions” such as buildings or fences or signs.visibilitysmall

I informed this person that in general, the need for a vision triangle arose in the 20th Century, when engineers began to design “forgiving roads” to try to safely accommodate higher speed, reckless, incompetent, inattentive driving of cars and trucks. Such a design paradigm assumes that drivers will always drive at high speeds in a reckless, incompetent, inattentive way.

I believe this concept is increasingly being seen as flawed. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that inevitably results in the growth of higher speed, reckless, incompetent and inattentive driving.

Drivers drive at the highest speed at which they feel safe. They also devote as much attentiveness as is deemed necessary, and no more. Therefore, if we design roads that “forgive” high speed and inattentive driving by moving trees/vegetation/buildings away from the street with a large vision triangle, a growing number of drivers will consequently drive at higher speeds and less carefully, because they can now do so more safely.

There is now a growing call, which I strongly support, that suggests we should reverse this safety strategy. After all, the track record of this form of conventional safety engineering has been awful over the past several decades. Crashes have not declined, and drivers drive faster and more recklessly.

The new paradigm, which I believe will result in a safer transportation system, is one that obligates motorists to drive carefully. To drive more attentively. More slowly.

In a compact, walkable town center, which needs to be low-speed in design, we need to return to the tradition of designing for the Attentive Street, not the Forgiving Street. Buildings, vegetation (particularly street trees) and fences needs to be moved close to the street. Vision triangles should be quite modest in size.

The dilemma is that at first glance, it would seem that a larger vision triangle promotes safety, since the motorist can see a larger area of potential threats such as other motor vehicles on the crossing street. But counterintuitively, the opposite is true, as I demonstrated above.

Woonerf in Binghamton

 

For safetly, motorists should find streets that require them to drive slower

and more carefully in order to feel safe. By being obligated to be slower and more careful, safety increases.

This is the opposite of what engineers have been trained to believe over the past several decades, so many continue to ferociously oppose such a design shift.

In sum, assuming we are designing a street that would appropriately have a relatively low design speed of 10-20 mph, I would urge the vision triangle to be extremely small. Larger triangles encourage less safe, higher speed, less attentive turns and cruising speeds by motorists.

Would Stop Signs Increase Safety?

In general, stop signs are not a recommended treatment for slowing cars or increasing safety (or making a larger vision triangle safer). Stop signs can create a false sense of security and are often disregarded. Better treatments would include horizontal, physical interventions such as a traffic circle, a roundabout, narrower travel lanes, bulb-outs, on-street parking, speed tables, etc. In other words, as I noted above, designs that obligate the motorist to drive more slowly and attentively. Stop signs do not do that.

To achieve this slower, more attentive and safe street design, it is important to work with an engineer who is sympathetic to the Attentive Street design paradigm. I recommend designers such as Michael Ronkin, Dan Burden, Michael Wallwork, Walter Kulash, or Ian Lockwood.

Low design speeds not only improve street safety. They also improve retail health. They create “drive-to” shopping streets rather than “drive-through” escape routes.

_____________________________________

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

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

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

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On-Street Parking and Suboptimizing Bicycling

By Dom Nozzi

January 2009

I admire the desire of “active transportation” advocates to advocate for all forms of travel. This is particularly important in (what should be) a low-speed town center environment.

For a town center to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, low-speed car travel is essential, and a “park once” environment must be created. In a town center, that means that the pedestrian, not the bicyclist (or car or transit), must be the design imperative. If we “get it right” for the pedestrian, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled and everyone else.

However, if we suboptimize bicycling, transit or cars to the detriment of other community objectives, the unintended consequence is that most everyone loses.

I believe that bike lanes and the removal of on-street parking in a town center serve to suboptimize bicycling — and I speak as a bicycle commuter.

How do we make the pedestrian the design imperative in a town center? Some of the more important tactics include reducing dimensions, increasing commercial intensities and residential densities, and obligating slow, attentive speeds by motorists.

Probably the most powerful, affordable way to achieve the above-mentioned tactics is on-street parking. Such parking effectively slows cars and obligates attentiveness by adding friction to the street. Such parking is also essential for healthy town center retail. And such parking sometimes dramatically improves pedestrian safety by reducing the street crossing distance.co-boulder-pearlst-01

In a town center, bike lanes tend to undercut each of those design objectives.

Shoup’s “High Cost” book is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read in the field of planning/transportation (a must-read for all planners, designers and elected folks). In that book, Shoup certainly identifies excessive parking as an enormous problem in nearly all American communities.

However, he points out that it is subsidized, underpriced OFF-STREET parking, required in excess by nearly all local governments, that is one of the most important problems in American cities. Shoup is a strong advocate of on-street parking (especially when it is properly priced and therefore efficiently used). I believe he would agree with me that for nearly all cities (even those with too much parking), an extremely important objective is to substantially INCREASE the amount of on-street parking and substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking. And that as much town center street frontage as possible be lined with on-street parking.

In a properly designed town center, car speeds are low enough that it is not only safe and pleasant for pedestrians and retailers and residences. Car speeds are also low enough to permit safe and pleasant sharing of the travel lane by bicyclists. And in a town center, for those bicyclists who are uncomfortable sharing even a slow-speed travel lane with cars, there tends to be nearby parallel lanes off the main street for the bicyclist.

Important downsides for removing town center on-street parking:

*Smaller retailers tend to suffer so much that empty storefronts result and retailers flee to more remote locations that are inconvenient/unsafe to walk or bicycle or bus to. In other words, bicyclists should be strong supporters of a healthy town center retail/residential environment, in part because it promotes a compact community with short travel distances.

*Unless travel lane width is dramatically reduced, bike lanes tend to add asphalt width to the main street. That can mean longer, more dangerous crossing distances for pedestrians, and higher speed and less attentive (and therefore more dangerous) car travel.

Again, town center designers must be careful not to suboptimize bicycle, transit or car travel in a town center, since doing so tends to be detrimental to the pedestrian, which is the town center design imperative. The irony for bicyclists calling for the removal of on-street parking in a town center is not only that it is detrimental to bicycling. On-street parking removal in a town center was (and still is) most loudly called for by the motorist lobby (which fought to increase town center street widths and car speeds beginning about 85 years ago).

And for the record, I am a strong advocate of in-street bicycle lanes on most all major streets in a city. I believe, however, that they tend to be incompatible with a low-speed, human-scaled, pedestrian-friendly town center.

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