Tag Archives: oversized roads

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.

 

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Our Sprawling Fate

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2002

Nearly all American cities are locked into the downwardly spiraling death grip of suburban sprawl because our predecessors built big, multi-lane roads with big capacity.

sprawl-developmentWe are condemned to sprawl nearly endlessly because of the vast blunder of constructing huge roads and highways.

Plans and regulations that prohibit sprawl, or wise and courageous elected officials will be unable to save us from a sprawling fate.

Why? Because transportation drives land use. Big roads — not long-range comprehensive plans or development regulations or courageous, wise politicians — determine if we will sprawl. The big roads have created a POWERFUL market that screams sprawl, sprawl, sprawl to property owners, developers, and speculators in remote locations. No force on earth can stop that tidal wave of market demand created by big roads.

In the long run, we only have one realistic way to avoid sprawling. Those big roads either need to be put on a serious diet by removing travel lanes, or we need to passively allow such roads to become more congested (by not counterproductively widening them or synchronizing traffic signals or reducing development densities or adding more turn lanes).

Let’s fantasize wildly for a minute: Let’s say that we find the hundreds of millions of dollars we need to create quality transit in our city. Does that put people on transit?

Nope.

It is still exceptionally irrational to use even high-quality, free transit when you compare it to all the massive advantages of driving a car alone. Travel by car is way too fast, too convenient, too cheap, too unrestricted, too status-building, too much of a suit of armor, etc.

Transit cannot compete with such advantages unless we have lots of congestion, connected and dense and modestly-sized streets, expensive and scarce parking, higher residential densities (which, by the way, are unavoidably created by congestion), mixed use, and walkable and compact design of developments.

Quality transit exists in most of our big cities because they have lots of these essential ingredients, not because they have lots of money for transit, or great plans and regulations, or brilliant, fearless politicians.

 

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Traffic Safety Suggestions to the Boulder Colorado Mayor

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 17, 2016

I met with the mayor of Boulder in October 2016 to offer my suggestions for how the City could effectively take steps to address the recent uptick in traffic safety problems in Boulder. The following are my suggestions.

Traffic calming is the first order of business. Quick and relatively low-cost calming strategies that have some effectiveness: (1) on-street parking; (2) curb bulb-outs and traffic circles (these “horizontal interventions” effectively slow cars without slowing emergency response times – particularly when those interventions use “mountable curbs”); (3) install street trees near the edge of the street (popular with neighborhoods, modest effectiveness in slowing cars and making motorists more attentive); (4) photo radar (modest effectiveness, needs to be coupled with relatively frequent fines).

We need to review the list of Big Ticket (relatively expensive) transportation projects. Can some of them be delayed or foregone and instead put the Big Ticket money into refunding neighborhood traffic mitigation (calming)? Can we alternatively find new money to add to the Transportation Department budget so we don’t have to reallocate dollars from other important transportation safety needs?

We need trend data that goes back decades. Not just a year or two. Surely this info exists for decades: (1) The number of annual car crashes citywide (or on selected streets); and (2) change in average car speed citywide (or on selected streets).

Things we probably can’t directly measure but which are nevertheless crucial: (3) change in crossing distance for pedestrians; (4) change in the amount of distracted or inattentive driving; (5) change in the number of discouraged bicycle, pedestrian, and transit trips; and (6) change in ‘near misses.’

Given the enormous number of citizens emailing the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) I serve on –emails about the significant amount of speeding and cut-through traffic in their neighborhoods — we have a very serious problem in Boulder with dangerous car travel. The fact that a neighborhood is so often told by the Transportation Department that the neighborhood does not qualify for traffic calming is a clear sign that our qualification triggers are too high of a bar and need to be revised.

  • Lowering the trigger threshold could involve lowering speed limits (even though doing so is not an effective way to slow cars, it would allow more neighborhoods to qualify for calming – because speeding would be recorded more often);
  • Giving staff the authority to calm a street if the street width exceeds, say, 25 feet;
  • Allowing a neighborhood to qualify for calming if, say, at least 80% on a block support doing so.

About 75 percent of the emails TAB has gotten contain counterproductive suggestions for calming (for example, lowering speed limits, increasing law enforcement patrols on a street, speed humps, and stop signs).

The two biggest bang-for-the-buck transportation strategies that Boulder can deploy to improve safety, improve quality of life, promote infill, and recruit new bicyclists and pedestrians is removing unnecessary travel lanes on oversized roads and intersections; and traffic calming.

Since Boulder is admirably on a fast track to implement Vision Zero (bring traffic-related serious injuries and fatalities to zero), and since Vision Zero is an umbrella that includes major roadways (arterials and collectors), can we combine Vision Zero with Neighborhood Traffic Mitigation (calming) for faster traffic calming implementation? The City calming program only addresses neighborhood streets, while Vision Zero includes major roads. Serious car-related injuries and deaths nearly always occur on major roads. It is naïve to think that we can create a pedestrian and bicycling system that is separate from major roads. Such a separate system cannot affordably reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations that pedestrians and cyclists would like to reach.

Oversized roads, such as the 8-lane Arapahoe at 30th Street, are an example of the City striving to accommodate the huge influx of regional car trips. In part, this seems to be an “affordable housing” strategy. But 5-, 6- and 8-lane roads are too big for a city that seeks to promote safety and travel choice and compact development. Regional car trips CAN be 30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftsaccommodated with less lanes. Some motorists can opt to accept moderately slower commute times. Some motorists can choose a different route. Some motorists can drive at a non-rush hour time. Some motorists can use transit. Some motorists can live closer.

As for affordability by living in an outlying town, studies show us that this is a false economy, as the cost to live in auto-dependent locations often exceeds the cost savings from lower-cost homes.

“Slowing fire truck response time” due to calming is a red herring. There are effective ways to slow cars and increase motorist attentiveness without significantly slowing emergency vehicles. In addition, the Peter Swift 2003 study in Longmont conclusively showed that oversizing roads and intersections to reduce emergency vehicle response times results in a substantial net loss in community “life safety.” Yes, there may be a slight increase in fire-related injuries and deaths, but that increase is far exceeded by the substantial increase in car-crash-related injuries and deaths. For the best public safety results, therefore, Boulder needs to focus on “life safety,” not just the subset of “fire safety.” See: http://bettercities.net/news-opinion/blogs/robert-steuteville/21128/bad-call-wide-streets-name-fire-safety

The “Five Warnings” (more lights, paint, enforcement, education, signs) have been tried every few years for about 100 years. After all of those efforts, our streets and intersections are more dangerous than ever – largely because streets and intersections are WAY over-sized. The Five Warnings do almost nothing to make such deadly, oversized roads and intersections safe.

 

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Bicycling in Boulder

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 11, 2016

Speaking as an experienced, life-long bicycle commuter who wrote a masters thesis focused on bicycle transportation, and someone who has cycled in cities across the nation, Boulder does relatively well in providing an off-street system for cyclists (albeit, a system which only reaches a tiny fraction of important community destinations).

On-street cycling in Boulder is also pretty good in some neighborhoods.

However, in my opinion, Boulder’s major streets (called “collectors” and “arterials” by transportation professionals) are some of the most hostile, dangerous streets I’ve ever ridden.

I believe this is true because Boulder has spent decades trying to achieve free-flowing traffic as a prime (yet in my view, ruinous) method of protecting quality of life. Because cars consume so much space, and because Boulder has such a large number of in-commuters who cannot afford to live here, and because too much or our street design uses “forgiving” street design, and because transportation is a zero-sum game (when cars win, other forms of travel lose), Boulder has oversized most all of its major streets.

Oversized streets are inevitably dangerous for everyone.

Boulder has also made the mistake of thinking an off-street bicycle network is sufficient for cycling.

I disagree.

Because such a system will never reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations, cyclists (and pedestrians) will regularly be forced to at least occasionally use very dangerous streets that Boulder has apparently given up on (i.e., we have opted to make them car-only streets).

Examples: Broadway south of Iris, 28th Street, Arapahoe, Canyon.

Nearly all bicycle commuters want to travel on those corridors, but even someone as experienced and confident as me cannot tolerate cycling on those stroads. The wonderful 30th-and-arapahoe-double-leftsterm “stroad” – pioneered by Chuck Marohn – refers to a street that transportation planners have tried (and failed) to deliver the benefits of both a street and a road. A stroad is an awful example of a street and an awful example of a road. Each has their place, but no transportation corridor should be designed to be both.

If someone like me feels many on-street situations are dangerous for me on a bike in Boulder, we can be confident that the vast majority of Boulder residents feel the same way.

 

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“Hometown Democracy” in Florida

 

By Dom Nozzi

September 10, 2004

In 2004, there was a voter referendum proposed in Florida called “Hometown Democracy.” It was an effort to substantially increase the use of direct democracy over representative democracy (due largely to many Florida residents feeling as if their elected officials were not listening).

This is my take on this constitutional amendment to go to direct democracy…

In general, I am quite uncomfortable with the idea. In some ways, the amendment would be an obstacle to the “re-use of vacant/abandoned lands” efforts that have become an important issue, because citizens would have a high likelihood of voting against nearly all proposals to intensify a land use designation on a property — and such “upzoning” is often needed to make it viable to re-use abandoned lands.

It also strikes me that the direct democracy folks are an extreme form of NIMBYism (the Hogtown Greenway Bike/Pedestrian Path Debacle is a good, infamous example of the dangers of direct democracy in Gainesville). While I am sympathetic to the thought that nearly all upzonings in the past have delivered us bad development (auto-oriented national chains and big box retailers and huge asphalt parking lagoons), and that it would therefore be handy to have citizens be able to trump weak-kneed politicians who so often cave in to Supercenters and Drive-Throughs (etc.) by reversing a zoning or land use decision, it seems to me that this is a sledgehammer rule that would lead to a lot of unfortunate, unintended consequences.

Indeed, in so many places (including Gainesville), if we were to lock in the status quo by having NIMBY citizens always voting against upzonings, we’d be locking ourselves into a dispersed, suburban, auto-oriented downward spiral that we are in today. Often, we need to have selected properties upzoned from residential to non-residential so that we can have a more walkable, compact community that is vibrant, sociable, and less dominated by excessive car travel. But it would seem that with direct democracy, about 99 percent of all such upzonings would be voted down.

It strikes me that the crucial change we need is to revamp the land development codes for places like Gainesville so that in-town developments deliver us walkable, pleasant, friendly projects that don’t overwhelm neighborhoods with big roads, big traffic, big noise pollution, and big light pollution. In other words, requiring that development build in a neighborhood-friendly, traditional manner.

The key to a better future does not lie in stopping all growth and development. The key is stopping auto-oriented development, rapid land consumption at the periphery, and BIG roads. We desperately need well-designed, walkable, in-town development.

Gainesville’s land development regulations require project design that delivers suburban, auto-oriented development everywhere. In my opinion, we must move away from that destructive, one-size-fits-all approach that says everyone should live the suburban lifestyle. Some of us should have the option of living a walkable urban lifestyle or even a rural lifestyle. The Gainesville code largely says we have only one choice: suburban.

I say we should revise our codes so that we set up at least 3 lifestyle zones, with accompanying regulations. Urban Zone gets compact, walkable design regulations, Suburban Zone gets big setbacks and other car-oriented dimensions. The Rural Zone gets small village cluster and farm/woodland regulations. That way, citizens will increasingly urban-to-rural-transect-Duany-Plater-Zyberk-smbe accepting of new development projects in their neighborhoods. They will hopefully live in their lifestyle zone of choice, and will eventually find that the 3-tiered development code results in new projects that promote their lifestyle. The nearly universal desire to fear the next proposed development in the neighborhood (no matter what it might be) can transform to that happy time in our decades ago past when we actually looked forward to the new development proposal.

As Padriac Steinschneider once said, the opposite of bad development is good development, not no development.

However, I might be sympathetic to the idea if it were somehow restricted to unincorporated areas remote from cities where we don’t want any development.

 

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Conversation with the VDOT Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator About Transportation and Land Use

By Dom Nozzi

December 10, 2008

In late 2008, I had an email conversation with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator about which comes first: transportation or land use.

VDOT Coordinator: “This particular issue raised quite a storm on the [Bicycle/Pedestrian professionals email] list and it then continued when I raised the issue here at VDOT.  But the bottom line is this (and it reflects what I mentioned in my previous posts), we at VDOT react to what localities do in terms of land use and planning.   …”

“… Another issue that was raised,” noted the Coordinator, “was that of suburban environments that urbanize over time and become areas with greater need for transit, pedestrian, and bicycle travel.  My response then … was that the shortfall is with local planning, both for having created these environments in the first place, and also for not revisiting these environments when the roadway is no longer compatible with the context of land use that has developed.  Under the new [regulations], localities have the option, and are being encouraged to develop corridor plans which will then be submitted to VDOT with exceptions to the standards.  …”

I responded by pointing out that I enjoyed, agreed with, and often learned from what he posted on the email list.

However, I said, speaking as a 20-year senior city planner, I need to point out here that “we in city planning” react to what private landowners and developers propose to us with regard to development along a roadway. Public sector planners have very little control as to densities or mixed uses or types of businesses that are proposed along a roadway. Yes, publicRichmond Cary St downtown Jun06 planners can write development regulations or corridor plans that call for walkable, mixed use, higher density design, but if the roadway is 5 lanes and designed for 45 mph (inattentive, talking-on-the-cellphone) speeds, such regulations will be a moot point, as property owners and developers tend to build to what the market seeks. And when you have a multi-lane, high-speed roadway, the market tends to seek low-density, drivable, single-use suburbia.

In other words, transportation determines (drives) land use.huge turn radius for road

Yes, such suburban areas can incrementally transform themselves to be more urban, compact, walkable, dense environments. But public planners and their regulations and plans will be almost entirely powerless to catalyze such a transformation. The effective catalyst in the case of a suburban environment fed by high-speed, high-volume roadways is for the DOT to make amends for its earlier decision to build an oversized roadway (usually justified on the grounds that the 5 lanes are needed to reduce or avoid congestion — even though we should all know by now that we cannot build our way out of congestion).

Often, the DOT will claim that the proposed large, suburban road is needed because of the land uses allowed by local government in the area. “DOT is just meeting the demand created by the land uses on the ground.”

Again, however, such suburban markets (and subsequent development) would not have occurred had larger, higher-speed roads not been built elsewhere in the community (not to mention all the underpriced parking provided).

So yes, public planners can play a role in developing regulations or plans that call for walkable, urban, mixed use environments. But the road must first be redesigned to accommodate it and create the market for it (usually by removing travel lanes and introducing other slow-speed design tactics).

I don’t pretend to believe that we can do this in the near future. It took us over 80 years to build this car-friendly mess we are in. We are therefore unlikely to find our way out of this for quite a while.

Here is a December 2008 article by Christopher Leinberger on the transportation/land use “chicken & egg” issue:

Transportation drives development

Dear President-elect Obama:

There is a “chicken and egg” question many people ask about building the built environment; which comes first, the transportation system or the buildings. This is asked about rail transit in particular. I can now definitively give you an answer to that question: transportation drives development. The transportation system a society selects dictates the form of the built environment. The current car/truck transportation system means most US metropolitan areas only have one development option, the familiar drivable sub-urbanism.

Much research has shown that there is now pent up demand for the opposite of drivable sub-urbanism; walkable urbanism, where most of daily needs can be met on floor, bike or by transit. The extra-ordinary price premiums per square foot being achieved for walkable urban development, whether in high density Manhattan, lower density Bethesda in DC or the newly developed Pike Market area in Seattle, shows that people are voting with their feet and pocketbooks for the ability to live and work in mixed-use, walkable places.

However, the bulk of the country is stuck with only a 20th century transportation system, completely car and truck dependent for all residential and commercial transportation. The majority of Americans are stuck with only the drivable sub-urban option for how to live and work.

For the US to become competitive with the market, economic and environmental demands of the 21st century knowledge-based economy, a more balanced transportation system with vastly increased options is crucial…that means more rail, bike and walking options. It also means a national high speed rail system connecting out major metropolitan areas to complement the Interstate Highway system and the national air system.

The 2009 reauthorization of the federal transportation bill is the country’s opportunity to put in the 21st century infrastructure we so desperately need. Funding a balanced system, rather than a highway-biased system, will do more than give the people what we want. It will also allow for the development of a way of living and working that is far more energy efficient and far less green house gas emitting. An upcoming Brookings study will show what is intuitively obvious; walkable urban households use about ¼ of the energy and emit ¼ the green house gases of drivable sub-urban households. Encouraging walkable urban development will also make the US far more energy secure, reduce the hundreds of billions of dollars we send to hostile countries abroad and will spark a huge boom in real estate development which will help drive the economy out of our current economic crisis.

The new Obama administration has the opportunity to fundamentally alter how we built the built environment; which accounts for over 35% of our country’s assets. The 2009 transportation bill will be the most important domestic legislation of the new century and will put the country on the road to development that is sustainable in so many ways. It is as important to the country from economic, environmental and social perspectives in the 21st Century as the highway and air systems in the 20th Century were. President Obama could preside over transportation legislation as important to the country’s future as President Eisenhower’s with the building of the Interstate Highway system.

Christopher B. Leinberger

Leinberger is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution, director and professor of the graduate real estate program at the University of Michigan, partner in Arcadia Land Company and president of LOCUS, a national real estate organization.

This article is available in the December 2008 issue of New Urban News, along with images and many more articles not available online. Subscribe or order the individual issue.

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Gigantism: Is Boulder’s Future Green or Grey?

By Dom Nozzi 

Boulder, Colorado has a magnificent greenbelt that will stand as an engine for quality of life far into the future.

But there is a counterbalancing sickness, exemplified by an asphalt cancer that is spreading within the city. Why? Because a person in a car consumes as much space as 17 people sitting in chairs. Despite all of the admirable things Boulder has done, there are lots of cars in the city.

The needs of cars (mostly lots of asphalt space and high speeds) and the needs of people (mostly low speeds and human-scaled spaces like Pearl Street Mall) are diametrically opposite. When Boulder provides (or allows) all of this expensive asphalt for cars, a powerful sprawl dispersant is created.

Boulder is suffering from a disease faced by many cities: GIGANTISM. Gigantic streets, gigantic speeds, gigantic intersections, gigantic parking lots, and what amounts to gigantic sprawl.

Despite this overabundance of asphalt for cars, roads and parking lots are often congested, due to how much space each car consumes (see the Untitledimages). It is also because roads are free to drive on, and nearly all parking is free. First year economics (and the Soviet bread lines) inform us of the inevitable result: congestion and long lines.

There is plenty of conversation about affordable housing, but no mention of a powerful tool to create such housing: designing neighborhoods so that households own one car rather than two. Or two cars rather than three. The annual cost of owning a car is $9,000. With proper neighborhood design, a household able to shed a car can devote that $9,000 to a mortgage or rent each year.

Boulder actually has plenty of affordable housing. But that “housing” is for cars, not people. And it is in the form of inhospitable seas of asphalt that people abhor. We’re in a vicious cycle, as space-hogging cars have an insatiable need for ever more asphalt, which makes Boulder less walkable. Less human-scaled. Like drug addicts, cars can never have enough “free” road and “free” parking space. The excessive amounts of car parking is another reason why housing is much less affordable, as many are forced to pay for expensive parking they don’t need.

Part of the vicious cycle: the more asphalt we create for cars, the more driving we induce, because the excessive asphalt makes it increasingly unpleasant and dangerous to walk, bicycle, or use transit. Fewer walk or bicycle each time we add turn lanes or off-street parking. More of us are compelled by the added asphalt to drive more frequently.

The asphalt cancer accelerates global warming, a thinly-spread and unsustainably sprawling region, and a self-inflicted (and enormously expensive) ruination of our quality of life.

Causes and treatment for this cancer?

• The four- and five-lane Canyon and Broadway in the town center. Since three lanes is the limit for human scale and calm speeds, we must put these highways on a “road diet” (reduce them to three lanes) when they enter Boulder’s town center – a place that should be calm, low-speed, and human-scaled, not for high-speed regional highways.

• Fair pricing. Motorists shouldn’t be subsidized. Price roads and parking.

• Double-left turn lanes. Engineers point out that adding a second turn lane suffers from severely diminishing returns. We cannot exempt Boulder from the Iron Law of Roads: You cannot build your way out of (intersection) congestion.

• Large off-street parking lots. In a town center which should be compact, walkable, and charming, big off-street lots create unwalkable, gap-toothed dead zones that repel pedestrians, small shops, and homes. Such parking should be incrementally supplanted with buildings and if necessary replaced by on-street parking and parking garages. Parking rules should be reformed and more efficiently provided by allowing more shared parking, and by properly pricing it so that people are not spewing car exhaust as they circle in search of parking (proper pricing ensures there will be available parking spaces).

• Continuous left turn lanes on North Broadway and East Pearl Street. Needed intervention: transform these into “turn pockets” with raised medians.

Enrique Penalosa once pointed out that a city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.

Boulder must return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars. Our future should be green, compact, place-making, and more calm. It should not be riddled with an asphalt cancer that only a car could love.

 

Note: A version of this essay was published by the Boulder Daily Camera on February 21, 2014.

 

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