Tag Archives: mpo

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

The Appropriateness of a Neighborhood Association President Expressing an Opinion

By Dom Nozzi

February 21, 2005

In early 2005, while serving as the president of my neighborhood association, I sent the following letter to a resident of the neighborhood who had expressed concerns about my comments in a recent Association newsletter:

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and concerns about the views I have expressed recently (and over the years) in the “President’s Corner” of the Neighborhood Association (NA) newsletter. I firmly believe that it is healthy for a community and its neighborhood residents to openly express differences of opinion. I am also pleased to know that you have contributed to the NA in the past. Support for the Association is important and appreciated.

Note that I saw your kind email comments to another neighborhood resident about the work I do for the NA, and I appreciate those comments.

To respond to your comments…

First, you note concern about the NA president expressing views as if they were the views of the entire neighborhood, and treating the column as if it were a soapbox. Let me start by saying that the NA is not a gardening club. The initial, on-going, and primary purpose of the NA is to look out for the interests and welfare of the neighborhood, and this inevitably entails that the NA and its officers should and do openly express viewpoints about governmental and private sector plans and actions. Indeed, the NA was formed, in part, to hold forums for candidates running for political office (our 2/22/05 city commission candidate forum is an example of a long-standing tradition of the NA holding candidate forums), and, when necessary, to appear before the City Commission to make appeals for neighborhood interests. In addition, there has been a long NA tradition of inviting elected officials, local government staff, and local developers to NA general meetings to discuss issues, plans and proposed developments in or near the neighborhood (primarily to urge that such issues, plans and developments proceed in a way that is compatible with the neighborhood).

Furthermore, an essential role played by the NA president (both currently and in the past) is to serve as the official spokesperson for the neighborhood. And to do so in a way that, in the judgment of the president and its officers, is promoting the interests and welfare of the neighborhood. This often requires that controversial, highly-charged opinions be openly expressed. Inevitably, in a healthy community, these opinions will not necessarily be shared by all members of the community (in which case, dissent should be expressed). However, it is important that the president provides a viewpoint that is believed to promote the welfare of the neighborhood, rather than be silent on issues that are important to the neighborhood welfare. Should the neighborhood be silent on such issues, there is great danger that the neighborhood will convey the implied message that it has no concerns or viewpoints about its welfare.

Neighborhood silence can easily lead to quite inappropriate, harmful actions being taken by elected officials, public staff, or private developers with regard to neighborhood interests.

In sum, it is entirely appropriate for the NA president to use her or his judgment to frequently and openly express viewpoints believed to be in the interests of the neighborhood, even if those viewpoints are considered “controversial,” or if it is known that the opinion is not shared by everyone in the neighborhood.  Limiting the views of the NA president to only those in which there is a known neighborhood consensus would not be practical or desirable as it would be exceptionally difficult to ascertain what views are considered a consensus. And even if it were possible to know when consensus was reached, the consensus views would be almost exclusively composed of trivial, unhelpful, non-statements (the neighborhood, after all, has residents with widely differing opinions on nearly all important issues — as it should).

You note that the NA president suggests that the neighborhood “insist” that a new nearby business be designed in a way that is compatible with the neighborhood. You indicate that it is not appropriate for a neighborhood to tell a private property owner how to design their private property.

On the contrary, I believe it is extremely appropriate (indeed, I would call it an obligation) for the neighborhood and its elected representatives to express opinions about how developments near and within the neighborhood are designed.

Why?

Because developments in or near a neighborhood can have a very direct, significant impact on the welfare (the property values or quality of life or civic pride) of the neighborhood. The US Supreme Court acknowledged this approximately 80 years ago (and continues to affirm this in its decisions since then) by granting local governments the power to zone private land and apply land development regulations to such land. By doing so, the Court clearly acknowledges that such power is both appropriate and necessary “to protect the health, safety and welfare” of the community. Examples of these constitutionally permissible, appropriate powers applying to private property include sign regulations, zoning regulations stating which uses are allowed on which private properties in a community, building setbacks, noise regulations, building height limits, parking regulations, controlling access to public roads, building and electrical code safety regulations, stormwater control regulations, fire regulations, utility regulations, etc.

Community public safety would be dangerously compromised if this regulation and oversight were not in place. Only if the development of the site would have no affect on the health, safety and welfare of those who visit the site or those who live near the site should the property owner be granted the ability to “do anything she or he pleases to do with their private property.” A long-recognized ethical principal states that your right to swing your fist ends at the beginning of my nose.

I don’t believe it is fair to describe my comments about the proposed 16th Avenue and Main Street development to be comments of “disdain.” Indeed, I am largely impressed by what is proposed and what the designers are willing to do to create a higher quality project. My comments were intended to simply have the neighborhood residents be vigilant about the proposed design of the site so that it can perhaps become an evenco better design (from the point of view of neighborhood interests), and to be on guard against design revisions that would be undesirable to neighborhood welfare. I apologize if the wording of my comments suggested otherwise.

Note, as an aside, that with regard to equity, the public has every right to have a say as to how the property at 16th Avenue and Main Street is developed, as a substantial amount of the commercial value embodied in that property is due to road and utility improvements which were paid for by public tax revenues.

As for the Main Street views I expressed, I offer no apologies for the position I proudly take (and publicly express). While my views are not necessarily those of the City of Gainesville, they are views that are consistent with a recent vote of our city and county commission sitting as the Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO).

In addition, I have been a senior city planner in Gainesville for nearly 18 years with a master’s degree in city planning. A few years ago, I wrote the long-range transportation plan for the City, and served, professionally, on a design team for the reconstruction of Main Street.

In preparation for much of that work, I conducted substantial, thorough research of published literature and analyzed the work done in communities throughout America. What I have learned is that in countless communities (many of which are quite similar to this city), a courageous decision was made to reduce the number of travel lanes on large community roads within the community. Invariably, this sort of road “restoration” in cities in all parts of the nation lead to dramatic, nearly overnight improvements in street safety (for motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users), retail and residential health, and civic pride. It is quite astonishing to see how many communities have experienced such a substantial improvement in these community factors so quickly and inexpensively. Far from “making it more difficult to travel,” these “diets” usually improve not only motorist safety but also improve driving pleasure and convenience.

Which helps explain why our MTPO voted in favor of the idea.

All of this helps explain why I recently wrote a book entitled “Road to Ruin,” published in October 2003 by a national publisher (Praeger Publishers in Connecticut), and why I am regularly invited to speak throughout Florida and the nation about the viewpoints expressed in the book.

The above observations help explain why I believe I know a thing or two about the proper design of streets such as Main Street, and partly why I believed it was appropriate for me to make my viewpoint known in the NA newsletter.

You should know that on a number of occasions, I have remained silent on issues that troubled me and were related to the neighborhood. Largely, these are issues where I don’t believe I have sufficient information or knowledge about the topic, or don’t believe there is sufficient neighborhood support for the view which I hold about the topic. In general, I strive to have the views I express at NA meetings and in the newsletter be tempered by what I believe are acceptable (or officially approved) by the NA Board of Directors and the majority of neighborhood residents.

In closing, let me point out that you are more than welcome to run for president, vice-president, or Board of Directors of the NA so that you would have a larger voice in what views are expressed by the NA. Or to urge others to do so, should you feel the desire to influence the viewpoints expressed by the NA. Having the NA be silent — even if silence is only applied to issues considered “controversial” — is, I believe, a recipe for neighborhood decline, and a dereliction of duties for its duly-elected office-holders.

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The Charade of Being a Member of a Transportation Design Team

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 17, 2003

What a fiasco. What a charade…

I just came out of yet ANOTHER extremely tense and emotionally stressful Metropolitan Transportation Planning Organization (MTPO) Design Team meeting.

At nearly all of the meetings I’ve been to since I was assigned to that committee a few years ago while I was a senior planner for a Florida city, there were hostile exchanges and questions/rebuttals between local folks on the design team and Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) staff. These are meetings where FDOT is laying out their latest plans – plans for destroying the city where their road plans are proposed.

On July 15, the Design Team had a rather crowded agenda chock full of FDOT projects to “improve” my city and otherwise make the city more “safe.”Carmageddon highway

Of the 15 members of the Team, I was the sole “no” vote on 10 of the 11 projects on our agenda that day.

Several new turn lanes. Resurfacing huge roads with no plans to shrink the excessive number of lanes. Speeding up traffic.

It was the usual plans to incrementally move my city towards a future of extreme car dependency. A future that inevitably leads to an extreme decline in quality of life and sustainability.

On two of the projects, FDOT wanted to resurface BIG, MULTI-LANE monster roads. In the committee discussion, I confirmed with the City traffic engineer that these two road segments are WAY under capacity. Only a tiny handful of cars use them each day.

No-brainer candidates for seizing the opportunity during resurfacing to restripe these overweight five-laners to three lanes. As usual, my suggestions were met with derision, scoffs, nervous chuckles and, ultimately, deathly silence. Discussion quickly changed to other “more important” ideas such as adding a few trees or shrubs. No one made a comment about my proposed lane reductions.

One of the items was a discussion about FDOT plans to essentially buy the front yard of some unfortunate folks to add bike lanes. Land owned by a university and adjacent to the project were deemed off-limits because they were part of a “bird sanctuary” — I guess it is perfectly fine to take land away from human habitat within a city, though…

Taking land was needed to install bike lanes and straighten out the road. Which, by the way, would SPEED traffic and REDUCE safety.

As an aside, the redesign of the paired streets in question was originally intended to primarily improve safety, but again, we only care about CAR safety at HIGH speeds, not pedestrians, bicyclists or transit – no matter that the project is next to a large university campus where there are an enormous number of pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users.

In any event, I pointed out that as a long-time bicycle commuter who has traveled that segment of the street thousands of times, it was my opinion that it is, by far, the most crucial bike lane installation need in the county — particularly because it is next to a major campus, and the lack of bike lanes would be at a very dangerous pinch point — even for experienced bicyclists such as me.

So I told the committee that while I did not at all support the FDOT “solution,” adding the lanes there was essential. I pointed out, hopelessly, that the only reasonable design solution was to go back to the design that was nearly approved a few years ago — to remove one of the three travel lanes and create two-way traffic (one lane in each direction) and turn pockets — essentially creating a very ped-friendly, bike-friendly, neighborhood-friendly, LOW-SPEED design. We’d then have plenty of room for bike lanes without the need to take two-thirds of a front yard of a home. My suggestion was met with silence and the topic quickly changed to something like…oh, I don’t know…the paint color to be used on street signs.

As an aside, it should be noted that FDOT staff ALWAYS gave the citizen Team pure engineering drawings. In other words, drawings that contain a vast, complex web of hundreds of solid and dashed lines and dimensional measurements that are completely irrelevant to a lay audience trying to make a decision about the project. As in meetings past, I pointed out at the meeting that it was completely impossible for me to figure out ANYTHING about what was being proposed on most of the projects. The drawings were a cluttered, jumbled mess. If FDOT was seeking to hide what they were doing on the projects, the drawings they give us is an excellent way to do it.

One must suspect that this is not a coincidence.

For several of the items, I began the conversation by asking FDOT to tell me, in plain English, what on earth they were proposing, since I had spent days unsuccessfully trying to decipher the packet we’d be given. On a number of them, I had no idea. Even the City traffic engineer had to ask FDOT staff at the meeting what was being proposed on a few of the drawings. One certainly has to wonder if FDOT DELIBERATELY gives the committee engineering drawings KNOWING that only geeky engineers could make heads or tails of what is being proposed.

The Design Team is an embarrassing joke, and I’ve made that known to my supervisors a number of times since being appointed (asking my supervisors more than once to be taken off the Team). All they do is argue heatedly for window-dressing trivialities such as asking FDOT for a few more trees or shrubs — all to make driving a car more aesthetically pleasing to the motorist speeding by at 45 mph. No thought is ever given by this GARDEN CLUB committee to designing streets for FUNCTIONAL improvements. No thought or care is directed toward the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users — in part because there is very little knowledge of what those sorts of travelers need. But all of us sure know how to design for faster sport utility vehicle driving, though.

And FDOT staff regularly gets quite defensive about their projects, or says the trivial little landscape things asked for are “outside the scope of the project.” Sometimes, though, their proposed destruction of the city is obvious even to them, and they will ease their guilty conscience by throwing us a few more trees to put a band-aid on their latest atrocity.

It is a complete waste of my time. And humiliating, because just by being there, I am implicitly and erroneously sending a message that I think the items that are pushed by the majority of the Team is anything more than insignificant.

I’ve come to learn that it is a waste of time to make motions for functional and effective design strategies, since I’m never able to even get a second to a motion.

Gotta get back to arguing for another crape myrtle…

And to add extreme insult to all of the above, it was announced to the Team during the meeting that JEB!, our fearless governor at the time (Jeb Bush, that is), had a few hours earlier just signed legislation which allows FDOT to EXEMPT itself from local rules. “No stinkin’ local regs are going to stop us from ramming a freeway through your town, boy!”

One has to wonder what point there now is to having a Design Team, or even an MTPO. Now even our nearly meaningless local government landscape and sign rules can be ignored. FDOT ALREADY had the defacto power to trump local laws. Now it is official. I wonder if they are going to even TELL us locals about their plans to “improve” our roads in the future, before their bulldozers show up…

As Duany has pointed out, state DOTs have been more destructive of southern cities than General Sherman and the Union Army during the Civil War…

______________________________________________________________

A response to the above from a friend and colleague:

Dom, remember you are George Washington.  Your goal is to keep an army together until you win.  You cannot win a direct battle with the Redcoats (FDOT).  However, you can win surprise attacks, such as Trenton on Christmas Day.  Of course, I want to be there when you cross the Delaware in your boat through the ice.  Your vision is the future.  The highway engineer’s vision is of the past.  You will win, but you will spend many winters in Valley Forge.  I want to be there, also, at Yorktown.  You will win.  The only question is when.

 

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