Tag Archives: motorist subsidy

A Better Transportation Future for Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

January 7, 2017

A better transportation future for Boulder, Colorado — despite the conventional wisdom — is about reducing excessive driving advantages. It is not about finding more money for bike lanes, sidewalks, or transit.

Boulder has spent decades emphasizing the provision of more bike lanes, sidewalks, and transit as a way to promote non-car travel, but as exemplified by the lack of success in july-2015-2increasing non-car travel for a great many years, this “supply-side” tactic is well known by both practitioners and researchers to be almost entirely ineffective – particularly if land use densities are low and car parking is underpriced and abundant.

What I call the “Four “S” strategy to effectively encourage cycling, walking and transit use is the key to success: Reduce car Speeds, Reduce Space allocated to cars, reduce Subsidies for motorists, and Shorten distances to destinations (via compact, mixed-use development).

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies need to place more emphasis on nudging citizens with sticks such as user fees (which still retains the choice to travel by car, it must be noted), and less emphasis on carrots such as bike parking and sidewalks.

While “supply-side” strategies and “green gizmo” technology ideas (such as self-driving cars) are seductive at first glance (largely because they are relatively easy to implement politically), they will remain ineffective.


Leave a comment

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

Improving Transportation in Boulder, Colorado

A Facebook Conversation between Dom Nozzi and a friend

December 18, 2016

In December of 2016, a Facebook friend of mine responded to an illustration I posted showing the ENORMOUS amount of space that cars consume.

Friend: Then what’s the answer for Boulder, Dom?. Can [the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) you sit on] or the City do much more to encourage bus and bike usage, especially in winter?

Dom Nozzi: The politics and values I have observed in Boulder spell very bad news for Boulder’s future. I’ve been surprised by how uninformed the Boulder population is on transportation (it is a national problem, but a surprise to me that this is also true in allegedly informed Boulder).

A large number in Boulder have opted for the strategically ruinous strategy of equating free flowing traffic with quality of life. Traffic congestion is viewed (like nearly everywhere else in the world) as a terrible problem that must be reduced. Given the huge amount of space that cars consume, this common desire inevitably means that Boulder is over-widening its streets and intersections, and has spent decades trying to prevent – or at least minimize — development densities (it is wrongly believed in Boulder that this would reduce the crowding of roads and parking lots).

The results include a lot of suburban sprawl (in the form of wanna-be-Boulder towns in areas surrounding Boulder), very unsafe roads and intersections (because they are over-sized), a city that is too dispersed to make walking practical, and a city that contains oversized car habitats (such as huge, numerous parking lots) that degrade quality of life.

This state of affairs has meant that Boulder has been unable to meaningfully increase the number of people who walk, bicycle or use transit for several years.

It will be a long process to change this reality, but Boulder needs to see new politically influential pro-city activist groups arise (such as Better Boulder) to reverse this downward spiral. A better future centers on reducing the three “S” factors: Reduce Space allocated to cars, reduce Speeds cars can travel, and reduce Subsidies that motorists enjoy. Doing so will consequently deliver more compact, mixed development, and better quality of life, a better economic situation, and a lot more safety and choice of both lifestyle and forms of travel.

Until Boulder moves away from its long-term strategy of pampering cars and thinking doing so can be a win-win strategy with bicycling, walking, and transit, city design will continue to be overly car-friendly. Roads and intersections too big, car speeds too high, and motorist subsidies too inequitable.

Can TAB do anything to encourage less car dependence? Sure, if we start adopting the above tactics by ending our counterproductive efforts to make cars happy. I have a very long list of needed transportation reforms for Boulder that seem highly unlikely to be adopted for a long time. I am very surprised by how behind-the-times Boulder is regarding transportation, despite the conventional wisdom. There are very few short-term tactics we can deploy.

Reforming parking would be a good start. I continue to strongly support road travel lane repurposing. For decades, the City has mostly taken the easy path of spending money to address transportation issues. But again, it is about taking away size, speed and subsidies from motorists. It is not about spending money on bike lanes, transit, and sidewalks. In the winter, transportation choice is highly unlikely without compact development. Boulder, in short, has its work cut out for it.

Facebook friend: Replace “motorists” with “citizens”. Do the citizens of Boulder support these initiatives? I sometimes get the sense that some on TAB believe they have the correct answers and don’t really care what the people of Boulder actually think, hence the right sizing controversy on Folsom. Public outreach and forming a collective vision for the future of our city is key to any kind of reform that impacts people’s preferred mode of transportation.

Dom Nozzi: Very few motorists (using “citizens” implies that we are all motorists and non-motorists do not matter) support these ideas in Boulder or elsewhere in the US. This is largely because of a century of huge motorist subsidies and the fact that over-providing for motoring is a self-perpetuating downward spiral. That is, the bigger we make roads arapahoe-ave-boulder-coand intersections and parking (to keep motorists happy), the more difficult and unsafe travel becomes for non-motorists (which continuously recruits more motorists, thereby adding to the downward spiral).

Support for these ideas tends to emerge only when motoring pays its own way and does not degrade the human habitat (ie, the gas tax is substantially increased, road tolls and parking charges are instituted, and roads are kept at modest widths to keep car speeds relatively low).

A great many useful transportation tactics are highly counter-intuitive (the Folsom right-sizing road diet project is a good example). In Boulder and throughout the nation, motorists predictably fight aggressively against such leveling of the playing field and protecting quality of life because they are living a life where travel by car is obligatory (due largely to car-only, oversized road design, as well as the large distance to destinations). They see little choice other than to keep spending trillions of public dollars to widen roads and intersections and provide more “free” parking.

Because doing such things is unsustainable, destructive, and detrimental to community safety, we therefore become our own worst enemy.

My comments above illustrate an enormous dilemma that spell a grim, difficult, painful future. There are very few (if any) painless, easy, quick, popular, effective, win-win tactics to improve our transportation system, given our century-long track record. “Public outreach” is almost entirely ineffective in a world that is so heavily tilted toward enabling easy, low-cost motoring. What good would it do, for example, to “public outreach” to motorists who live several miles from their destinations to suggest they should consider riding a bike or walking on a dangerous, car-only road for 7 miles? Only when the playing field is more level and community design more conducive will such outreach be useful.

TAB members are appointed by Council at least in part to provide advice on improving transportation based on our knowledge of transportation. This knowledge comes from our academic and professional background, our experiences of spending years getting around in Boulder, reading adopted community plans, and our listening to others in the community.

Sometimes the advice from TAB (or from Planning Board or Council) is not popular. But this is the nature of dealing with a transportation world I describe above. If “most popular” was the only means of deciding what to do, we would not need Council or advisory boards. We would simply have a computer measure community opinion on various measures. Instead, we have a representative democracy because such a direct democracy approach is unworkable and undesirable (particularly for complex, counter-intuitive issues). And because of the dilemmas I cite above, strong leadership in transportation is extremely important. I have always liked the following observations on leadership:

A leader is someone who cares enough to tell the people not merely what they want to hear, but what they need to know. — Reubin Askew

Margaret Thatcher once said that consensus is the absence of leadership.

To achieve excellence should be a struggle. – Charleston Mayor Joseph Riley

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. — Elbert Hubbard

One of my heroes – Enrique Penalosa (former mayor of Bogota) – was despised early on in his term — largely because he enacted policies that aggressively inconvenienced cars in his efforts to make people, rather than cars, happy. Many wanted to throw him out of office. But eventually, his policies (which nearly all his citizens strongly opposed initially) resulted in visibly obvious quality of life and civic pride improvements. He went on to become much-loved and honored by most in Bogota.

Let us not forget that back in the day, the majority opinion was to oppose granting equal rights to women, blacks, non-Christians, or gay/lesbian people. Nearly all of us believed the earth was flat. That smoking and DDT were okay.

By the way, it may comfort you to know that my views — because they are so counter to the conventional wisdom in Boulder –tend to be ignored by other TAB members, city staff and by Council. On most all “tough” votes, I am almost always on the losing end of 4-1 TAB votes (would transportation be “better” in Boulder, in your view, if those TAB votes were 5-0?).

For a century and up to the present day, Boulder citizens, elected and appointed officials, and staff have been nearly unanimous in thinking that happy motoring was and is a good idea. In my view, that has been a tragic mistake. Boulder can do much better if it discarded that discredited (yet conventional) view.


Leave a comment

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

Congestion and Transit in Toronto

By Dom Nozzi

May 2013

In 2013, a Toronto friend told me that traffic congestion is a problem in that city and its economy.

I told him that I don’t agree that congestion significantly harms the local economy (in most cases). See, for example, this from the economist Todd Litman : http://www.vtpi.org/UMR_critique.pdf Transportation “improvements” to “reduce” congestion suffer today from the law of diminishing returns.

Each transport dollar we now spend results in fewer and fewer benefits than in the past (indeed, in my view, most all dollars WORSEN our communities and their economies).

It is not a coincidence that the most economically healthy cities tend to be severely congested. Because cars consume so much space, only a tiny number of people in cars are needed to create congestion. Given that, there is a problem if a city is NOT congested in certain locations. The problem is not congestion. Congestion is a sign of a healthy, attractive city that people want to be a part of. The problem is when there are no alternatives to avoid the congestion.

Congestion is a powerful motivator. It can be very helpful in generating the political will to create alternatives to avoid the congestion, as Toronto is finding with its interest in more transit. Other ways to avoid the largely inevitable congestion: More housing in town center locations. More street connections (by reducing dead ends and cul-de-sacs). Tolling roads. Putting roads on a diet. Making streets more “complete” so they handle more than just cars. More jobs and shopping in residential areas. Properly priced car parking (nearly all cities provide too much underpriced or free parking). Cash-out parking. Unbundled parking. Paying for car insurance at the gas pump. And so on.

As a Michael Ronkin and I often say these days, creating more walking, bicycling and transit is much more about TAKING AWAY things from motorists (subsidies, road & parking space, etc.) than it is about providing facilities for bicycling, walking and Safeway-July-2015-smtransit. So while sidewalks, bike paths and better transit are usually important, it is typically the case that such things are secondary to doing the things I list above.

Too many cities put the cart before the horse by providing transit with the necessary prerequisites of properly managed parking, proper pricing, and proper land uses, for example. Toronto has done reasonably well on this. But I also suspect there is much more they can do to create better conditions for healthy transit.

Easy and fair way to pay for more and better transit is tolling roads and properly pricing the parking, among other things. I suspect as good as the city is compared to most other cities, Toronto has a long way to go in creating fair user fees for transport. I’m sure that like in most larger cities, transit is well-used because it is costly and inconvenient (as it should be, for fairness and quality of life) to drive a car.

“Agglomeration Economies” are very important for the (economic and social) health of a city, and things that “ease congestion” tend to create urban DISPERSAL, which directly undercuts the agglomeration economies that cities need to be healthy.

Something else to consider: the “travel time budget,” which informs us that humans are apparently hard-wired for a certain amount of time allocated to daily commuting. Cross-culturally and throughout history, that budget tends to be about 1.2 hours per day (some do more, some do less, but the average is about 1.2). Given that, we can know the consequences of certain actions regarding congestion: When faced with the “time tax” of congestion, many will (in the long run) live closer to work or travel at non-rush hour times or take different routes, or travel by bike/bus/walking as a way to stay within their travel time budget.

The conventional (and mostly failed) approach is to “ease congestion” by widening roads and intersections. The triple convergence and travel time budget let us know that by doing so, we will NOT ease congestion for very long (by widening). About all we will achieve is greater geographic dispersal of where jobs, shopping and housing are found in the city (city sprawl accelerates). That, of course, quickly worsens sprawl and increases commute times.


Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Impoverishment of the Public Realm

By Dom Nozzi

In November of 2006, when my wife and I were enjoying the magnificence of the public realm in Italy, I remarked that the stupendous buildings and streets and piazzas we observed were built by communities that were quite poor compared to most American communities, yet these Italian villages were building public facilities that even
hundreds of years later make American communities look like slums in comparison.

I suggested that an important reason for this state of affairs is that American communities have impoverished themselves by pouring enormous public dollars into their ruinous road system. Indeed, a crucial reason for the financial dire straits was that even in the early days of the car, motorists were powerful enough (even though there was only a handful of them) to successfully stop government from getting road modification dollars from user fees such as the gas tax (a gas tax was sometimes established, but it was a tiny fraction of what was needed). Instead, much of the road modification dollars come from “general” taxes such as property taxes and sales taxes, which we all pay, regardless of how much we drive (or don’t drive) on roads.

The result is that those of us who rarely, if ever, drive a car are subsidizing those who drive a car frequently. A strikingly unfair way to pay for transportation.

Here is an observation about the early years of cars in Colorado from a book I was reading at the time: “…three-quarters of the state’s outstanding debt [in the 1920s] was for highways and about a third of the state’s annual budget went to the Highway Department.”

“[In 1930], the state spent 50 percent more on highways each year than it did on education. Only one-third of this state money was raised from motorists.”

It does not require rocket science to figure out why most every US community builds boxy, low-budget, embarrassing public buildings and pathetic, tiny, uncared for public parks, instead of building a Piazza Navona or a Duomo Catania.Piazza Navona in Rome


Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design