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Boulder CO is in the Dark Ages with Its Transportation and Land Use Policies

By Dom Nozzi

October 30, 2018

An article appeared in the 7/23/18 edition of the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper describing how two local activists (with views very similar to my own) were leaving Boulder because they were utterly frustrated by the local politics and had decided that the situation was hopeless.

I am completely sympathetic to the two people (Zane and Christina) that article focused on.

In my ten years of living in Boulder, I have become greatly disappointed (and surprised) by how much Boulder and its citizens dwell in The Dark Ages regarding the views of a very large number of Boulder citizens in the areas of transportation and land use. The city has a reputation for being progressive, and while that may be the case on some issues, it becomes clear, when you look under the covers, that when it comes to transportation and land use development (housing and parking in particular), Boulder is quite elitist, entitled, and politically right wing.

The “progressive” label for those two categories largely comes from the fact that Boulder is so wealthy, which means a lot of money is spent on transportation facilities (the City is infamous for over-designing obscenely expensive facilities such as bike routes and overpasses and underpasses and buses).

The reactionary politics on those two issues means that despite all the lip service paid in Boulder, housing is much more expensive in Boulder than it should be (housing would be much less expensive if there was the will to adopt effective strategies), and transportation is far more car-oriented and car-happy than it should be.

Despite all of this, I intend to remain in Boulder for the long term. Despite the painfully outdated and counterproductive views here, there are so many things I love about Boulder that I am very happy here. That more than compensates for the exasperating politics.

The following are transportation and land use reforms I would have suggested for Boulder had I ever been asked while serving for five years on Boulder’s Transportation Advisory Board (I was never asked, which is telling). This is based on my living in Boulder for several years and my 38 years working academically and professionally in transportation.

Use Effective Street Design Strategies to Meaningfully Improve Safety. Over and over again, for a century, Boulder has applied “The Five Warnings:” applied more Warning paint, added more Warning signs, used more Warning lights, pushed more Warning education, and adopted more Warning traffic law enforcement. It hasn’t worked. Streets are more dangerous than ever. Warnings don’t work partly due to diminishing returns caused by excessive, redundant warnings that now clutter our streets.

Instead, for a noticeable improvement in traffic safety, Boulder must substantially redesign its roads and streets. Design roads to induce slower, more attentive driving. Phase out “forgiving” design. Restore and make permanent the funding for traffictra calming design (a citywide effort to create narrower/greener streets, traffic circles, roundabouts, smaller intersections, curb bulb-outs, slow streets, chicanes, etc.). Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases.

Ratchet Down Use of Underpasses and Overpasses. With the possible exception of the Boulder Creek Path, underpasses or overpasses provide very little bang for a very expensive buck. Money saved by building less underpasses or overpasses can fund a great deal of traffic calming for many years, provide a lot more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and substantially improve neighborhood quality of life. Deciding underpasses or overpasses are needed should be a message that streets and intersections are too large. They also show that the City has given up on EVER humanizing and greening that street.

Provide Parking Efficiently. Underpriced/free parking is a fertility drug for increasing the number of car trips. Parking also makes an area less compact, less walkable, less safe, and more of a dead zone. In the Boulder town center, new parking should only occur within parking garages, and only to replace existing surface parking spaces (ie, no net increase). Excessive parking is a problem citywide, and must be controlled by converting minimum parking requirements to maximums. The City must annually survey the total number of parking spaces in the town center to ensure that the total number is not increasing over time (it should be decreasing). Free or underpriced parking artificially encourages car use and promotes excessive provision of parking. Improve fairness in funding via increased use of user fees such as parking, a VMT fee, and pay-at-the-pump car insurance. Require that the cost of parking be unbundled from the price of new housing.

Install Beautifying Raised Medians. Too many Boulder streets have dangerous, ugly continuous left-turn lanes. North Broadway, east Pearl, and Arapahoe are examples where “turn pockets” can replace continuous left-turn lanes.

Restore Two-Way Streets. Many cities throughout the nation have converted one-way streets back to two-way operation because it is now widely known that one-ways are extremely dangerous, inconvenient, deadly for retail and homes, and induce excessive driving. The one-way loop in town center Boulder should be restored to two-way operation.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. The City should either hire one or more people to monitor such conditions on a regular basis, provide an easy and high-visibility way for bicyclists and pedestrians to report on problems they encounter, or both.

Control Size. The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. In other words, because most all Americans travel by car, one of the most common desires expressed by citizens is larger parking lots, wider roads, and bigger intersections. Yet this constant refrain has left Boulder with oversized spaces that are dangerous and utterly lack any sense of charm – what I call the “gigantism” disease. The urbanist (and the transportation engineer) must therefore regularly urge their community to resist this temptation, as smaller, human-scaled spacing is a fundamental key to lovability, public health and safety, and happiness. Given this, Boulder must hire one or more enthusiastic new urbanist transportation engineers who have a track record in reducing transportation infrastructure sizes.

Keep Service Vehicles Small in Size. Overly large fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles obligate traffic engineers to use excessive (and therefore dangerous) street and intersection dimensions to accommodate oversized vehicles. This can be avoided by ensuring that fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles are relatively small in size.

Require City Staff to Use Plain English and Avoid Biased Terms. Boulder transportation documents and presentations should not use language that is biased toward car travel. Use “plain English” as much as possible. Adopt a plain English and Unbiased Communication Stylebook.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. Boulder has a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Boulder must do what it can to provide a much larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations. Accessory dwelling units and co-ops should be allowed “by right” in single-family zoning (and without a requirement that off-street parking be required), form-based (rather than conventional use-based) zoning should be applied throughout most or all of the city, density and height limits need to be increased in many parts of the city – particularly near transit routes, the maximum number of unrelated people who are allowed to live in a home needs to be increased, mixed use zoning should be more widely allowed throughout the city, and on-street parking needs to be installed on a great many city streets.

Adopt the “Idaho Law.” Cities in Colorado such as Aspen have adopted the “Idaho Law” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. This simply makes legal what the vast majority of cyclists already do, and encourages more cycling by making cycling much more advantageous.

Remove Barriers to Conversion of Surface Parking Lots. The conversion of parking lots to buildings should be extremely easy – particularly at older shopping centers. In the town center, remove any regulatory barriers to that conversion by eliminating parking requirements, softening stormwater requirements in the town center, etc.

Fee-in-lieu of Parking.  To reduce the enormous and wasteful amount of space consumed by surface parking lots, allow developers to pay a fee-in-lieu of parking and use that revenue to create public parking (preferably in space-efficient stacked parking garages).

Conclusion

I do not intend to suggest that a huge number of cities in the US are doing a lot better than Boulder on this list of 13 strategies. They are not. But some cities – cities that have a lot less brainpower and a lot less money – are adopting some of these strategies more boldly than Boulder.

Who to blame for Boulder (and nearly all other US cities on nearly all of these strategies) being so backward in transportation and land use? My broken record answer is that I believe it started a century ago when cars emerged, which locked nearly all US cities in a self-perpetuating downward cycle that leads large numbers of citizens to be obligated to politically press for happy cars rather than happy people. After decades of that effort, a much larger number of citizens are now car cheerleaders who have become obligated to be dead set against most or all of the 13 strategies I list above.

When citizens are thereby trapped in auto-dependency, there is very little that elected officials or staff can proactively do. At the margin, aggressive and exceptionally courageous officials and staff can strive to adopt prices that signal citizens to incrementally live a less car-dependent life (cash-out, paid parking, unbundled parking, road tolls, etc.), eliminate required parking rules, shrink roadways and parking lots, etc. Passively, officials and staff can keep their fingers crossed that a gas crisis or energy crisis or economic crisis gives citizens a kick in the pants.

In sum, I believe Boulder and nearly all US cities are decades away from moving away from the car-dependence downward spiral. It matters very little who is elected or what ideas are employed, because in the US (where I agree with the observation I saw recently that US cities have too much democracy – ie, we too often allow unschooled, emotional citizens to make decisions that professionals should be making — like we do with medicine, for example), too many citizens live in a world where a life other than a car-based life is impossible, and will not elect or support officials who do not pamper car travel. Citizens in nearly all cities – including Boulder – are forced to make the world a better place for car travel rather than a better place for people.

Many Boulder friends I discuss the above issues with speak wistfully about how much they miss the way Boulder was when they first moved here. It strikes me that nearly all of what they miss (quieter, smaller, safer, easier to bike and walk, etc.) has been lost in Boulder because like nearly every other American city, Boulder was not wise enough to avoid the seductive trap: Failing to realize that making car travel easy is not a way to protect quality of life. It is instead a recipe for ruin. Boulder has thrown away so much of its lovable charm by trying to make cars happy, and in the process destroyed so much of what it had that people loved.

I am sad to see Zane leaving. He has been a friend and political ally of mine (we served together on the Transportation Advisory Board). I wish him well.

 

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

The Town Planning Medical Metaphor

By Dom Nozzi

March 20, 2018

It has been said that town planners are doctors for cities. The job of the town planner, according to this metaphor, is to prescribe medicine (zoning and transportation recommendations) that will improve or maintain the health of a city.

To borrow an analogy from Donald Shoup, let us say that the town planning “doctor” lives in the 18th Century in Colonial America. It has been claimed by historians that George Washington’s doctors hastened the death of our ailing former president by administering blood-letting, which was a widely accepted medical treatment at the time. Indeed, had the American Medical Association been in existence in those days, they would have strongly recommended blood-letting due to the guidelines established by medical science and books of medicine of that age.bl

Let us say that you were a doctor in Colonial America, yet you had come to learn that blood-letting was detrimental to the health of patients. But the AMA, your medical books, and nearly all of your patients were strongly demanding that you administer blood-letting. If you agree to administer blood-letting, you will keep your patients (patients that are otherwise threatening to use another doctor who favors blood-letting) and will therefore keep your job as a doctor.

But if you abide by your Hippocratic Oath to do no harm, you will not administer blood-letting. You recognize that doing so would be a form of medical malpractice. However, you will therefore lose your occupation as a doctor.

What do you do?

Similarly, let us say you are a town planner in contemporary America, and you had come to learn that requesting developers to provide the “free” off-street parking was toxic to the health of your town – particularly your town center. But your land development code, your elected officials, your planning supervisor, and nearly all of the citizens in your community were strongly demanding that you request abundant off-street parking from developers. If you agree to demand that required off-street parking, you will keep your job as a town planner (your office is otherwise threatening to replace you with another planner who will follow parking guidelines and the orders of your supervisor and citizens).

But if you go along with requesting off-street parking, you will do so knowing that you are violating your duty as a town planner to promote the health of your town.

What do you do?

To borrow from Victor Brandon Dover, this analogy works even better if we look upon off-street parking as an addictive drug (Donald Shoup calls off-street parking a fertility drug for cars). As a town planner, your citizens (and the banks that finance development loans) are addicted to the off-street parking fix. As an addict, they must get their fix, yet they can never get enough of it. Giving them their fix is a downward spiral, as it pulls them more strongly into their addiction. The same is true with providing wider roads and larger parking lots, as doing so makes citizens increasingly wedded to their cars because other forms of travel become less safe or feasible when roads and parking are enlarged.

Do you, as a town planner, keep administering a (off-street parking) fix to your addicted patients (citizens)? Is it not true, though, that doing so would be a form of malpractice?

315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lotIn sum, given the state of affairs I outline above, is it not true that the very heavy contemporary town planning emphasis on enabling car travel (particularly via the demand for providing off-street parking – which is so much of what American town planners now do in their jobs) exemplifies the premise that town planning has become an outdated, failing profession? That it is trapped in the role of administering medicine (or a drug) that is clearly toxic to its “patients” (the town)?

It is time for us to reform town planning so that it returns to the timeless tradition of planning for people, not cars. To return to restoring city health, rather than pushing papers (issuing permits) for cars.

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Florida Growth Management Has Put Gigantism on Steroids

By Dom Nozzi

September 17, 2017

Florida Growth Management and its “concurrency” is a high falutin’ term which has, almost single-mindedly, been directed toward ensuring that new growth happens concurrently with widened roads and more parking. All other concurrency concerns arestreet without on street parking trivial by comparison (such as parks, water, schools, etc.). “Sufficient” roads and parking is equated with maintaining quality of life.

Tragically and ironically, these obsessive efforts to ensure happy motoring is about the most effective way to undermine quality of life, not protect it.

For Florida Growth Management regulations to truly protect and advance quality of life, those regulations should be focused on promoting the people habitat, not the car habitat. State and local growth management regulations must insist on quality urban design, which is largely achieved by requiring new development to be compact and human-scaled.

Since Florida started state-directed growth management back in the early 80s, the state has gotten the opposite.

Communities have instead been degraded by dispersed, car-scaled design. Why? Because to be happy, cars need dispersed, low-density, single-use development. A car-based society induces gigantism, and the gigantism disease has been administered growth hormones via “growth management” and “concurrency.”

Maybe someday Florida will wise up and adopt planning laws that promote quality of life. It has done the opposite for 35 years.

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Transportation Remedies

by Dom Nozzi

June 1, 2000

In theory, being concerned about the added traffic (the additional number of car trips) a new development will create is helpful. It recognizes that increasingly, the new form of pollution in our age is not belching smokestacks and sewer pipes so much as it is the number of car trips coming from the new development. But conventionally and historically, our “remedy” has been to widen the nearby roads, add huge seas of asphalt parking, and make the street intersections enormous.download

It has been only recently that we are finally starting to realize that this “remedy” ironically makes things worse. Such a “remedy” accelerates suburban sprawl, chases away residences (which cannot tolerate proximity to car-intensive areas), makes it more difficult to walk, bicycle or use the bus, degrades our quality of life, moves us closer to being an “Anywhere USA” instead of a unique town, and forces us to make nearly all of our trips by car.  These remedies make cars instead of people happy by creating the “induced traffic” problem in which we stimulate new, additional car trips that would not have occurred had we not tried to make cars so happy with wider roads and more parking.

Instead, our concern about a new development and the car trips it will potentially generate should be focused on strategies that are effective in reducing this new form of “pollution.” We need to insist that the new project, when feasible and appropriate, is walkable, and mixes residences with offices, retail, services, schools, and parks. That is, we need to return to the timeless, traditional, pre-WWII way of building our town and neighborhoods.

It is only through this approach that we can ensure that new developments deliver a quality of life that is free from excessive car trip “pollution” — developments we can look forward to, instead of dread.

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Free Flowing Traffic: Desirable or Ruinous?

By Dom Nozzi

August 25, 2017

Highway expansion ruinously continues in Boulder CO — largely through the on-going efforts to add new turn lanes at intersections in Boulder.

That exceptionally counterproductive action will only become less common when Boulder residents are able to decouple “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking from quality of life.

There has been a decades-long assumption that one of the primary keys to quality of life in Boulder is to strive for free-flowing traffic. The main tactics have been to minimize development, minimize density and building height, resist removal of road/intersection/parking capacity, and add turn lanes.

The pursuit of free-flowing traffic inexorably leads to the “asphalt-ization” of a community because the pursuit results in oversized roads and intersections and oversized parking lots. It leads, in other words, to gigantism, where in addition to massive roads, intersections and parking lots, building setbacks are huge, the sprawling Arapahoe Ave Boulder COgeographic spread of a city becomes seemingly endless, street signs become enormous, street lights almost reach the clouds, and shops become massive. Free-flowing traffic means a very large per capita production of toxic air emissions and gasoline consumption. It means impossible-to-avoid stormwater problems. Freely-flowing traffic substantially reduces per capita bicycling, walking and transit use. It results in bankrupting cost increases for households and local governments. Free-flowing traffic creates social isolation, obesity, stress, road rage, traffic crashes that lead to massive numbers of injuries and deaths, and vast abandonment of older town centers.

I cannot think of anything that is more detrimental to quality of life than striving to maintain “free-flowing traffic” and abundant parking. Doing so is toxic for a city.

Tragically, a great many intelligent, “green” Boulder residents fight for free-flowing traffic and abundant car parking. There is a bi-partisan consensus that roads and intersections and parking lots must be wider. That driving and parking should be “free.” That motoring should always be pleasant.

It is a recipe for ruin masquerading as a quest for a better quality of life.

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Behind the Times: Making It Difficult to Walk or Bicycle in Boulder CO

By Dom Nozzi

July 24, 2017

Despite the conventional wisdom – that Boulder CO has long been a mecca of cutting edge, progressive transportation — Boulder has spent several decades making it very difficult to be a bike commuter (or a pedestrian). This happens in part because the citizens of Boulder are behind the times regarding transportation, but also because many actions taken by the City of Boulder are not easily seen as being detrimental to cyclists (or pedestrians).

Some examples.

Many signal lights at intersections are timed for car speeds rather than cyclist speeds.

Slip lanes and continuous left turn lanes are used in the Boulder town center. Such design is extremely hostile to pedestrian safety and significantly undermines the need to create low-speed, human-scaled design in the town center.

The construction of oversized roads and intersections that are too often deadly or intimidating for those not in a car (streets such as Colorado, Broadway, Arapahoe, Canyon, and the many double-left turn intersections are examples).Arapahoe Ave Boulder CO

Terrible design of bike parking racks (or insufficient amounts of racks) all over town. Like a great many American cities, bicycling is trivialized by assuming that “innovative” bike parking rack design is desirable, instead of functional, easy-to-use design. This assumption trivializes bicycling because we all know that there is only one acceptable way to design a car parking space. Why do we allow an “anything goes” approach when it comes to bike parking?

Traffic rules that are designed for heavy, high-speed cars rather than cyclists. An example is something that only a tiny number of places in America have avoided: the requirement that bicyclists must stop at stop signs. Another example: traffic signals that are needed for cars but not bicyclists.

High-speed road geometries. Examples include overly wide car travel lanes, overly wide intersection turning radii, banked curves in a road (so cars can travel on the curve at higher speeds). Street lights and street signs that are too tall – thereby creating a highway ambience that induces higher car speeds.

Too often allowing a business to place car parking in front of a building. Among the great many problems associated with this all-too-common urban design mistake is the fact that parking lots in front of buildings substantially increase walking and bicycling distances, and destroy the human-scaled ambience that most people enjoy.

Not requiring developers to unbundle the price of parking from the price of the home or business. This action means that bicyclists or pedestrians who don’t need the car parking pay higher prices for goods and services to pay for expensive parking they do not need.

Lack of on-street bike lanes on many hostile, high-speed roads. Roads such as Broadway, Canyon, and East Arapahoe are nearly impossible for all but a tiny handful of bicyclists to feel comfortable bicycling. Boulder’s major streets are so hostile because Boulder has strongly bought into the failed, outdated concept of the “street hierarchy” system of roadways. In this system, roads are designated as arterials, collectors, and local roads. Local, low-speed, low-volume neighborhood roads (relatively safe places for bicycling a walking) feed traffic into collector roads (which are more unsafe due to higher speeds and larger widths), which feed into arterial roads (which are the most dangerous, high-speed, very wide roads). Because of the hierarchy of smaller roads feeding larger and larger roads (in the same manner as a watershed, where smaller streams feed larger and larger creeks and rivers), the larger (arterial) roads often become congested because they must handle car trips from throughout the community. Similarly, larger rivers often flood because they must handle water flowing from throughout the watershed. In addition to increasing the likelihood of congestion, the road hierarchy system also and inevitably creates roadways that are not complete streets. They are too high-speed, too wide, and too hostile for safe, comfortable walking or bicycling.

Lack of compact development, which disperses destinations so they are too far to bike or walk to.

Traffic signals that don’t detect cyclists or pedestrians, which means that cyclists and pedestrians must often suffer the indignity and inconvenience of having to wait for a motorist to arrive before the traffic signal will change to a green light.

There are many, many more examples.

Many of the above impediments to cycling or walking are due to the ruinous transportation imperative that all American cities (including, shamefully, Boulder) have pursued for more than a century: high-speed, unimpeded, free-flowing car traffic. This objective has — as an unspoken objective – been designed to keep cyclists and pedestrians out of the way so motorists can avoid being slowed down in their oversized, high-speed cars.

Stepping up enforcement of the pedestrian crossing rule, for example, masquerades as a way to improve pedestrian safety, but the primary reason is to allow motorists to drive at high, inattentive speeds without needing to slow down and pay attention. Such a rule is a form of victim-blaming.

Boulder and nearly all American cities have a lot of work to do if it expects to remove the many obstacles to safe and easy bicycling and walking in town.

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Filed under Bicycling, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, 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.

 

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

Reforming Parking

By Dom Nozzi

January 18, 2016

Based on what I have learned in my 20-year career as a town planner, there is little that is more important than substantially reforming parking regulations. Nearly all community parking regulations – including those in Boulder, Colorado – are horribly outdated.images

The first task is to jettison required parking rules. That is, eliminate laws that require new development to provide parking. As Donald Shoup points out so clearly, nearly all community parking requirements are almost completely arbitrary and nearly always excessive. Excessive parking artificially induces car trips that would not have occurred had such parking not been provided. Fear that the elimination of such a rule will lead to the provision of insufficient parking is unwarranted, as property owners are well aware that they are slitting their own throats if they provide insufficient parking, because insufficient parking will threaten the financial viability of their development.

A town center should also emphasize priced, on-street parking and discourage free, off-street parking.

The price of parking needs to be unbundled from the price of housing, so that a person can opt to pay less for their housing if the decide they don’t need a parking space. This is a great way to get more affordable housing.

Codes need to be revised, if necessary, to allow existing businesses to easily infill into existing parking areas. Because nearly every community has required the installation of excess parking, a great many parking areas are opportunities for town center financial benefits and enhanced vitality. Most land development codes put significant barriers in the way of doing this – for example, by not allowing there to be a reduction in the amount of parking at the location in question. Developers should not be required to devote time and money to the revision of codes in order to convert parking to a better use of land.

Surface parking should be kept away from streets. When surface parking lots abut streets, they create “gaptooth dead zones” that kill the vibrancy of the street and undermine agglomeration economies. Existing surface parking lots abutting streets must be retrofitted with liner buildings along street frontages at a minimum.

The Codes need to allow a substantial amount of joint parking so that parking can be shared. Allowing the sharing of parking obviously reduces the amount needed, and it is very common for this to be possible, since businesses often have provided far more parking than they need (usually as a result of the excess parking required by local government). Another reason why shared parking is often possible is that many businesses have hours of operation that do not overlap the hours of nearby businesses. Rather than have such parking sit unused, that parking can be used by a nearby business.

A downtown association should have city-owned parking garages that can be leased to businesses and residences (so they don’t have to provide as much of their own). This is a form of “cash-in-lieu” of parking.

Businesses should be required to provide a “parking cash-out” option whereby employees are given a choice: either retain a free parking spot (the status quo) or be given a higher salary, a bus pass, or money to purchase a bicycle (among other possible rewards).

Property taxation needs to be inverted so that a “Land Value Tax” is used https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Land_value_tax. The fact that nearly all cities assess much higher taxes on a property owner that develops/improves/upgrades their property strongly encourages downtown land speculation (which helps explains why there is WAY too much surface parking in American downtowns). In this counterproductive situation, property owners tend to hold their property unused or undeveloped (to avoid a taxation penalty for developing it) until they find the property can be sold for an attractive price.

Push-back you can expect: POOR PEOPLE CANNOT AFFORD TO PAY PARKING METERS! IT WILL HURT DOWNTOWN! NOT EVERYONE CAN RIDE A BIKE!

Each of those red herring arguments will need to be squashed by leadership. There are quite a few well-known responses to these concerns that can convincingly show why the concerns are not valid.

Reforming parking is one of the most important, effective ways to improve the health and vitality of a town center and many other locations in a community.

 

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Traffic Congestion and Parking

 By Dom Nozzi

June 30, 2014

An essential ingredient for a healthy city is to be compact (not sprawled), and able to leverage “agglomeration economies.”

Because a healthy city ALSO provides for the full range of lifestyle choices (rather than forcing everyone to live the same way), we must provide for the full range of land use patterns. The town center should be relatively compact (agglomerated), and outlying areas should retain a more dispersed pattern.

Given that, it is not at all appropriate or feasible to have a “one-size-fits-all” measure for the level of motor vehicle travel delay a community adopts. If we adopt a measure that strives for too little delay citywide, the town center loses its competitive strength: compactness and agglomeration. In a healthy, thriving city, it is essential that traffic congestion measures such as “travel delay” be calibrated geographically.

Can we say up front what we believe to be the MAXIMUM size for parking? For roads? For intersections? I believe we MUST (and can) do that. We must draw a line in the sand. We can say, for example, that our quality of life means it would NEVER be okay to have a six-lane highway in the town center. In fact, when I wrote Gainesville FL’s transportation plan, I succeeded in having that plan contain a policy that did this very thing: “No road in city limits shall exceed 4 through lanes.” Much as I hate to make this concession, we might also want to say that “no intersection shall exceed 2 turn lanes in the outlying areas, or one turn lane in the town center” here in Boulder.

Boulder, like nearly every other American city, has a very large oversupply of parking lot space — mostly because cars consume so much space, and most all of it is free. Because imagesnearly all parking is free, there tends to be an endless effort to try to provide “enough.” This process is endless because a free product or service in great demand induces a nearly infinite demand for such a product or service. The enormous and infamous Soviet bread lines is an excellent analogy.

“Free” parking is paid for in higher costs for groceries and haircuts by those retail and service shops providing all that parking, and the inducement of too many unnecessary car trips.

The biggest problem with parking is not too little space. It is too much space. Too much asphalt space means, among many other things, flooding problems, stormwater quality problems, lack of walkability, lack of community aesthetics or civic pride, creation of spaces that feel unsafe or uncomfortable (particularly for women and seniors), high/unaffordable costs for households, governments and consumers of goods and services.

Calibrating the price of parking so that supply of parking and demand for parking is “in balance” is successfully being used in a great many cities right now, and is one of the most important principles pushed by the national parking guru (and hero of mine) – Donald Shoup. Shoup has successfully gotten a great many cities to use the “Goldilocks” principle in parking pricing. Prices vary throughout the day and week based on demand (quite easy with today’s electronic technology) so that approximately 80 percent of the parking spaces are being used at any one time. If more than 80 percent are used, prices automatically increase. If less than 80 percent are used, prices automatically decrease. The “Goldilocks” price (“just right”) is the price that results in about 80 percent use.

Minimum parking requirements for new development has been used by nearly every American city has been used for 100 years now. The required number of parking spaces is almost never based on studies estimating expected parking demand for the development in question. Instead, it tends to be quite arbitrary and not based on local conditions, as the required number is based on a survey of national parking requirements.

The required minimum number of spaces is almost always excessive, largely because the parking is available for use by the motorist at no charge. Such “free” parking inevitably induces excessive demand for parking because even relatively trivial motor vehicle trips – such as buying a cup of coffee at rush hour on a major street – are encouraged by the lack of a fee for parking.

If we convert minimum parking requirements to MAXIMUM parking requirements, the business owner — rather than government mandate using arbitrary numbers — is able to decide how much to provide: Zero to the maximum. The minimum parking requirement says the owner MUST provide AT LEAST “X” spaces, and that number, again, tends to usually be too many spaces. Since a property owner is much better able to assess how much parking he or she needs to provide (to be profitable or to make financiers happy) than government, a maximum gives the owner a lot more flexibility than a minimum.

Priced parking is a superb way to assess how much parking is appropriate. The developer or the city decides how much parking is “enough,” and if the use is more than 80 percent of available spaces, the price of parking is increased. If less than 80 parking, the price is reduced.

No need to increase the amount of asphalt parking.

It is important for cities that use a maximum traffic congestion level of service (LOS) standard to sunset the auto LOS measure in the town center, since such a standard undermines a great many objectives for a healthy town center (low speeds, agglomeration economies, safety, reduction in car trips and fuel emissions, etc.). Instead of measuring and capping traffic congestion, we need to find a measure that creates disincentives for adding more road, intersection or parking capacity, and creates incentives for shrinking the space we allocate to car travel and car parking.

In my view, the over-allocation of space to cars is a HUGE problem in American cities. And most LOS measures incentivize providing larger roads, bigger parking lots, and more massive road intersections.

Some favor a “people” LOS or a “multi-modal” LOS, which I believe are big improvements over our auto LOS. But it seems that both might create incentives for wider roads, or bigger intersections.

 

 

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Do People Inevitably Ruin Pleasant Places?

By Dom Nozzi

May 22, 2016

Do humans inevitably ruin pleasant places? I hear this proclamation often from a good friend.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Making cars happy by fighting against traffic congestion and fighting for more free parking inevitably and powerfully fouls the human habitat – our neighborhoods and cities. Many of us have fled our car-happy fouled nests for greener pastures.july-2015-2

Why did we foul our original nest to make cars happy? Why don’t we return to the timeless tradition of making our nest PEOPLE-happy places?

Because it is inconceivable to us to make car travel inconvenient and costly. We have made the awful mistake of equating happy, cheap car travel with quality of life. It is a recipe, ironically, for fouling our own nest and fleeing to the “untouched” outlying areas.

In sum, this pattern has little or nothing to do with population growth or humans being hard-wired to want to destroy what they love. It has a LOT to do with our drive to make the car habitat wonderful, which unintentionally and unknowingly fouls the human habitat.

Humans don’t hate compact living arrangements. Indeed, we LOVE such design when we travel to ancient European cities.

Humans in space-hogging cars hate compact living arrangements.

When we get behind the wheel of a car, we think like a car. We think paradise is wide open highways and huge free parking lots. What we don’t realize until it is too late is that our cities then become like Houston. Or Buffalo. Or Detroit. Or Phoenix.

A huge number of Boulder CO greenies and intellectuals, for example, unknowingly promote loss of Colorado wilderness by ruinously thinking the key to their quality of life is to “stop growth,” fighting against traffic congestion and fighting for more free parking.

Shame on them. Shame on most all of us for agreeing with this.

 

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