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Debating Whether Transportation Drives Land Use with My Gainesville Planning Department Supervisors

By Dom Nozzi

February 17, 2000

I had a loud debate with my Gainesville, Florida planning department supervisors yesterday on what the Land Use portion of Gainesville’s Long Range Plan should say.

I pointed out that because transportation drives land use, it is hopeless, in the long run, for local government to fight proposed rezonings from single-family residential to non-single family on major, hostile streets. None of them agreed with me at all, and believe the City should continue our long, hopeless fight against rezoning proposals from single-family to non-single family on hostile streets. This is maddening, and obviously being colored by recent NIMBY attacks against the City.

After the meeting, I sent the planning manager excerpts from the West Palm transportation element. He responded with this:

Dom, I didn’t read all of this but I generally agree with the part I read. Transportation travel land use, and bad land use decision drive people away also.  If the Street is bad and the Land use is bad what do you think will happen.  For Gainesville the Streets are bad and the Land use is no so bad, so lets change the street and keep the land use. [this is the verbatim, uncorrected transcript of his message to me]

I responded to those comments with this:

“Glad you agree with West Palm and folks like Walter Kulash, who would say exactly what I and West Palm Beach would say on these issues. My main point: We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone single-family residential land that they own and cannot use as single-family residential land use due to the road.

“Granted, there are a few who could live in a single-family residential home and put up with the noise and reduced property value. Forty years from now, if we do not fix our arterials to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family residential and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners burned out on fighting those never-ending battles.street without on street parking

“In the long term, as Kulash points out, no force on earth – not even five no-growth advocates on the City Commission — can stop that incremental change. Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping the single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

“The best we can realistically hope for, in the long run, if we don’t fix the streets, is land use that makes sense for major streets (according to what the market wants), and helps transit, while minimizing strip commercial. That is why I think we should give some consideration to favorable recommendations on petitions that request going to office use or multi-family use (but not retail).

“Again, I am not recommending that we initiate the land use changes (that will inevitably come) — even though that would be most fair for suffering single-family property owners along major streets. Our message must be: “Either fix the street, or be fair and honest by realizing we are going to get incremental conversion away from single-family.”

West Palm Beach FL has shown clearly what can happen overnight (dramatic land use improvements and property value increases) when the street is fixed.

My comments to the Gainesville Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“I’ve not had a full night’s sleep for weeks, and have recently developed a severe case of insomnia. So when you see me dozing off at future staff meetings, you’ll understand.

“And it is not just student noise that is out of control. It is also emergency vehicles, vacuum trucks, police helicopters, etc… With regard to SW 13th Street (a major state highway running north-south through the middle of Gainesville), let me again try to make clear that the public sector, short of doing a major change to the street (such as we’re proposing for SW 20th Avenue), has nearly no meaningful way to affect the land use market. The Land Use plan I wrote for Gainesville, for example, will have a future land use map that merely adopts what is on the ground already, with a few minor tweaks based on what citizens have asked for on their individual property and we have agreed to. But even IF we could make wholesale, visionary changes to our land use map, such changes would have little meaning (or fairness) unless they are attuned to what the market calls for in those locations — and us planners would not be doing work to determine market feasibility of changed designations. Again, transportation drives land use. So unless we make radical changes to SW 13th, all we can expect is uses that are consistent with that sort of highway.

“Personally and frankly, I think converting SW 13th to a “4-lane urban street” is an oxymoron. Not to say that I’ve given up on 13th, because I think we’ll ultimately return to our senses and make it a 2-lane. I don’t know enough of the details to know what Chapel Hill has done, but I’m fairly certain that they are things we cannot duplicate anytime soon — such as buildings up to the street (which I would oppose on a 4-laner without on-street parking, since it is unfair to the business).

“I would have to see why Chapel Hill works well. I do not think it is feasible to slow traffic on a 4-lane state highway because FDOT would not allow it. It can happen with a 2-lane state highway due to things like congestion and a narrow street profile that does not create the illusion of a high-speed highway.

“More so than most, I can envision such a 13th Street corridor fairly easily. Given time and vision and courage, it can be wonderful. Many people consider me a pessimist on certain things, but hypocritically are extreme pessimists on things I’d like, such as a walkable city. I would strongly support what you suggest be done on 13th. But I do not believe it (a four-lane urban street) would dramatically change 13th to make it a good market for higher density residential or pedestrian vibrancy. Call me a pessimist, but I’m convinced we MUST remove travel lanes to make SW 13th work. And isn’t that necessary if we are going to install on-street parking there?

“But are we not skirting around the key effort? Don’t we need to admit that we need to slow the growth of UF, get more on-campus housing, or get better code enforcement (or a combination of such things)? I’m sorry, but I just don’t see a realistic way to transform SW 13th the way you and I know it needs to transform someday.

“In my humble opinion, we cannot realistically expect good redevelopment along SW 13th as long as FDOT forces it to remain a high-speed highway. I just don’t see colored crosswalks, landscaping, or wide sidewalks dramatically changing things. Don’t we, for example, have some colored crosswalk pavers out on Newberry Road near Oaks Mall now. Has that meant anything at all?

“I like your enthusiasm and ideas about Westgate, too, but am not sure even a Dover/Kohl charrette could do much unless the owners of the center felt the plaza was collapsing economically. There are things we might be able to do with an overlay district I’ve outlined in my urban design toolbox (which has been pulled from the urban design plan I wrote because it is “too new urbanist”). I’m hoping we can adopt such an overlay for places like Westgate, but the change will be painfully slow unless the plaza is torn down. That is the only way we can get the buildings re-configured in a proper way.

“Thanks for your comments, good suggestions and concern.”

More of my thoughts expressed to the Comprehensive Long Range Planning Chief:

“Probably our most enormous problem with ‘fixing’ this area is that we will not be able to do it as long as it remains a high-speed, 5-lane state highway. We can only save it if we can take out 2 travel lanes, but I suspect this is not politically feasible, given our FDOT people and our commission. SW 13th already has a bike lane that is excellent for bike commuters, but it would be interesting to create an off-street greenway trail there. Any opportunities? Any way to extort such a thing? Also, the existing buildings are way too far off the street to make for quality urbanism. We’d need code requirements that say that any reconstruction or new development must be on the sidewalk. Again, probably not politically feasible.

“So without removing travel lanes and without pulling buildings close, we have a long-term, huge problem. And this is not even to mention the fact that our residential density and commercial intensity along there is way too low. Once again, all we can do as the public sector to move the market in that direction is to remove travel lanes.

“I think we’d probably need some special, non-Traditional City [walkable Gainesville regulations I wrote for downtown] overlays for the two areas, and perhaps hire Dover to do the plan. Retrofitting such miserable places is a monstrous job that requires a lot of political courage and staff time. (which is why people like Dover are helpful) I could do overlays for the areas, but it will take a LONG time for them to transform those areas.

“An example of the problem of Trad City applied to Westgate: Would it be feasible and appropriate, without an internal street plan, to require all redevelopment there to demolish the strip store and put it up on 34th or University? Seems like we first need to adopt an internal street plan, and then find the courage to get the plan adopted and conformed to. And then have enough redevelopment interest to see meaningful redevelopment over a reasonable period of time.”

 

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Philadelphia: The Curse of the One-Way Street

By Dom Nozzi

In January 2012, I accept an invitation to serve as keynote speaker for a forum entitled “Walkability: Philadelphia Strides Into the Future.” I give the presentation on a Thursday night at the Academy of Natural Sciences on Logan Square.

My message, in part, is that while the city is already one of the best in the nation for walkable quality (largely due to its high density and proximity of destinations), the city needs to engage in transformative tactics to get to the next level. That the greatest cities share a common trait: they are all world-class places for enjoyable walking.

“It is not about providing more space for pedestrians (such as building new or wider sidewalks),” I point out. “It is about taking away space from cars (via road diets, removal of off-street surface parking, and so on), so that cars are assigned more of their fair share of space, rather than be allocated an excessive amount of space.”

“It is about increasing the cost of driving, so that motorists are paying their fair share of the costs they impose on society.”

“It is about increasing the inconvenience of traveling by car, so that cars do not unfairly inconvenience other users of streets.”

I also note that the pedestrian must be the design imperative. That everything else – cars, transit, the handicapped, even bicycling – come second. When buildings and streets are designed, in other words, the first and primary objective is that the design improves conditions for walking. Only then do we look at providing for other forms of travel, and then only in such a way as to not impede or reduce pedestrian quality. Maximizing pedestrian quality effectively ensures that the community has maximized its quality of life, its economic health, its civic pride, and its sustainability.

I walk for several miles throughout the Philadelphia city center to get a better sense of the walking conditions. Immediately, I notice that the City has converted nearly every downtown street into a one-way street. So thorough, jarring and unpleasant is this conversion that it hits me over the head like a two by four. It is instantly clear to me: for Philadelphia to dramatically improve its walking quality, it must follow the lead of the large and growing number of cities throughout the nation that are converting their one-way streets back to two-way operation.

Philadelphia had made this unfortunate change to one-way streets back in the 1920s.

Why are one-way streets ruinous? Because they inevitably increase car speeds, motorist anger and impatience, and motorist inattentiveness. Streets quickly become a raging, peddle-to-the-metal racetrack of hurried, high-speed cars. Retail shops and residences start fleeing from the newly hostile street. Bicyclists are increasingly pushed onto sidewalks because of the immensely uncomfortable, incompatible danger of trying to share the street with the hurtling cars (bicyclists, in response to one-way streets, also find themselves increasingly riding the wrong way on one-way streets, as do some motorists). Those shops, homes and offices that remain on what are now a form of downtown highways start setting themselves back from the hostility of the street, or turn their backs by boarding up windows, pulling entrances to the side or back, and creating the immense, unfriendly blank walls that are now found on so many of downtown Philadelphia’s streets – thereby killing the energy, vibrancy and interest that a street needs for pedestrian quality.

The incompatibility of bicycling and one-way streets in Philadelphia is evident in at least a few ways. Not only the frequent bicycling on sidewalks I observe, but also the fact that the City has decided to remove on-street parking on many downtown streets in order to install in-street bicycle lanes. Healthy downtown streets have on-street parking on both sides, which slows cars and obligates more attentiveness by motorists. On a well-designed downtown street, car speeds tend to be slow enough that most bicyclists are comfortable sharing the street with car traffic, and on-street bicycle lanes (which detract from creating a human-scaled street environment, and probably increase car speeds) tend to be unnecessary and inappropriate. But when Philadelphia converted to one-way streets, this bicyclist comfort was lost, thereby obligating the need to degrade the pedestrian (and retail) quality of many streets by removing much on-street parking.

Worst of all, the experience for the pedestrian becomes awful with one-way streets. The ambience is quite loud (high-speed cars are the leading source of noise pollution in cites), and seemingly unsafe (high-speed cars seem very dangerous to the pedestrian, and often ARE dangerous due to the tiny reaction times high speeds create). Impatient, inattentive, hurried motorists conditioned to be that way on one-ways also do not tend to be in the mood or have the patience to offer the needed courtesy to pedestrians trying to cross or otherwise navigate on streets.

I acknowledge that many one-way streets in Philadelphia will be very difficult to revert back to two-way, as most streets are quite narrow. Probably only those streets that are three- or more lanes in size can be converted back to two-way, or two-lane streets that have low traffic volumes.

On the positive side, my hat is off to the city of Philadelphia on siren use reduction by police and fire trucks. In my two and a half days in downtown Philly, I hardly heard a single siren. This siren reduction is an enormous boost to the quality of life, the sense of calm and serenity, and the overall well-being of the city. The siren reduction in Philadelphia is in striking contrast to most American cities, where emergency vehicle sirens are nearly constant, 24/7 attacks on eardrums that powerfully create the impression that the city is under siege, or in an active war zone.

While the siren reduction is highly admirable, an essential task remains.

Philadelphia must convert many of its one-way streets back to two-way operation if it expects to get to the next level of quality walkability.

Doing so will enable Philadelphia to attain world-class greatness as a city.

_________________________________________________

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

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

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https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design, Walking

Gainesville’s War Zone

 
 

 

By Dom Nozzi

THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA-THUMPA!

 

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEE . . . OOOOOOOOOOOOOOO . . . EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!

These assaulting, incessant, head-rattling sounds occur 24 hours a day. Seven days a week. They are the sounds of living in the middle of a war zone.

Saigon in 1970? Beirut in 1980? Baghdad in 2007?

No. It is the ambience that those who reside in and near downtown Gainesville have had to endure now for several years.

Over the years, when I lived in Gainesville, visitors from out of town invariably told me how astonished they were by the frequent, alarming sounds of low-flying helicopters and emergency vehicle sirens in Gainesville. How it seems much louder and much more frequent than what they experience in cities such as Washington, D.C., or Miami.

For me, it led to sleep deprivation. Frayed nerves. Tension. And rage. I called the Gainesville Police Department on a regular basis between midnight and 6 a.m. to complain, and beg the police to stop the menacing, circling the helicopter in downtown neighborhoods so I could get some sleep.helicopter

How many who live downtown verge on a nervous breakdown due to this unrelenting, screaming, troubling noise?

How many have resigned themselves to what seems like a constant state of emergency, and have decided to somehow tough it out by taking sleeping pills or wearing ear muffs in bed?

How many have given up on downtown living and have vowed to move to the “peace and quiet” of a suburban home?

How many have vowed to never live in downtown—unable to stand the siege-like atmosphere?

Many assaulted citizens simply don’t know who to complain to. Or that it is even possible or appropriate to complain.

Others are (inaccurately) convinced that constantly circling helicopters and incessant, 24/7 convoys of shrieking emergency vehicle sirens are necessary to capture dangerous criminals or put out raging fires.

Some simply have lowered their expectations of the amount of quiet they can expect at night. They have given up on having a serene, calm, peaceful city.

News flash: There are not dangerous murderers running around downtown who must be apprehended several times a night by a helicopter. The constantly circling police helicopters are circling not because they must, but because they can.

On balance, does tracking shoplifters with helicopters at 3 a.m. result in a net benefit for our quality of life, despite the Baghdad-like tone it creates?

racing-fire-truckIt is not necessary to use fire truck and police car emergency sirens as promiscuously as does the city of Gainesville. A friend tells me his (much larger) city has a policy whereby emergency vehicle sirens are used significantly less between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. And that when the station is near a neighborhood, the siren is not activated until a major road is reached. After all, there are significantly fewer cars on the road at that time, or on neighborhood streets. And a great many citizens are trying to sleep.

At 6 a.m. one recent morning, I noticed (silently) flashing police car lights here in Richmond, Va., where I now live. It reminded me that I’ve heard significantly fewer sirens in this city than while living in Gainesville. Richmond is much larger than Gainesville. And it led the nation in murders in 1994. If Richmond can have quiet nights, why not Gainesville?

Is Gainesville truly interested in promoting quality of life? In promoting an increase in the number of people who live in or near downtown? If so, it is imperative that city-induced noise pollution be reduced.

First, the police helicopter needs to be permanently grounded or employed significantly less. I’m not convinced that helicopters reduce crime.

Let’s assume, though, that the chopper is useful when pursuing dangerous criminals . How often do we have dangerous murderers running around in Gainesville? Maybe once every 25 years? Certainly not three times a night.

Second, the city police department and fire department need to follow the lead of most every other city in the nation. Significantly reduce siren use in the early morning. Especially on neighborhood streets.

After all, I don’t believe Gainesville has more crime and fires and car crashes than D.C. or Miami that would justify more sirens in Gainesville than in those enormous, problem-prone cities.

Is Gainesville truly serious about quality of life and increasing the desirability of living in or visiting downtown?

 

 

A version of this essay was published by the Gainesville Sun on 4/13/08.

 

_________________________________________________

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

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

 

 

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Filed under Economics, Environment, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design