Tag Archives: road improvement

Boulder Shows It Still Doesn’t Get It on Proposed Widening of Arapahoe Road

By Dom Nozzi

June 27, 2017

A news article and an accompanying op-ed by the editor in chief were published in the Daily Camera in June 2017, and it made my blood boil.

Here we are in 2017, and despite over 100 years of repeated failure, too many citizens, elected officials, and staff continue to be convinced that it is necessary to spend a huge amount of what I thought were scarce public dollars (not so scarce when it comes to road/intersection widening and buying Pentagon weapons, though…) to worsen transportation, taxes, land use patterns, and quality of life by widening roads and intersections.

My friend Michael Ronkin informed me later that day, after I read these disheartening newspaper submissions, that even Geneva, Switzerland is not truly getting this.

It galls me that those proposing these road or intersection “improvements” in the face of growth projections consider themselves to be “far-sighted” in calling for this in advance of the growth. Part of the thinking, as Charles Marohn points out, is that road and intersection widenings in the past were not widened “enough,” the road or intersection was soon overwhelmed with “excess” car trips, and it was discovered that the need for a SECOND widening was far more expensive, overall, than if the road or intersection was widened “enough” in the first place. “Enough” so that the second widening would have been unnecessary. The solution? Deliberately overbuild the size of the road or intersection so that the unexpected surge in car trips in the future could be accommodated without the need for a very costly second widening. This is considered being “farsighted.”

However, by widening roads or intersections, at great public expense, such “far-sighted” people are locking their communities into a far worse future. They don’t have a clue about things like induced car travel demand (new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened) and how bigger roads/intersections inevitably lead to more sprawl and car dependence. And a loss of a sense of place or a sense of small town charm.

They don’t realize there is an alternative to the century-long ruinous widenings. “Let It Be,” as the Beatles once said, and socially desirable results will emerge (rather than be undermined by widening). If we don’t try to “solve” anticipated congestion by widening, we will realize slower speeds, less car travel, more bicycling/walking/transit, more compact development, more of a sense of place and charm, lower taxes, less car crashes, less obesity, etc.

I am convinced that once a society commits itself to a car-happy world by building happy-car infrastructure (dispersed low density development, big parking lots, big roads, big setbacks, big intersections, single-use development, etc.), it traps itself in an irreversible downward spiral, because even in “enlightened” communities such as Boulder, the car-oriented road infrastructure and the dispersed land use patterns needed to make car travel free-flowing obligates citizens to angrily insist that car-happy design (which is extremely hostile to non-car travel) continue to be provided. After all, the community now forces citizens to travel by car. There is seemingly no alternative. We must dig the hole deeper. We must lock ourselves further into car dependence.

Given this downwardly spiraling trap, America and its cities will need to run out of money before it is forced to stop the unsustainable insanity of widening roads and intersections. After all, even a century of failed widenings has apparently taught us nothing at all.

A final note: Boulder and Boulder County pride themselves in being smart, progressive, and cutting edge — particularly when it comes to transportation. But these planned road and intersection “improvements” on Arapahoe Avenue illustrates that Boulder is far behind the times and continues to be moronic when it comes to transportation.

By the way, a number of folks in Boulder like to respond to my pointing out that Boulder doesn’t get it regarding widenings by saying that Boulder no longer widens roads. While that may be true, Boulder continues to widen INTERSECTIONS (by creating double-left Arapahoe Ave Boulder COturn lanes, for example) all the time. But bigger intersections are worse than wider roads in many ways. For example, oversized intersections forever lose the ability to create a small town sense of place. It will always be a placeless, car-based location where people will never want to hang out. Such intersections will forever fail to pay for themselves because they eliminate the sales tax and property tax potential of those locations.

One of our societal problems is that news reporters often perpetuate myths when they write on topics they are not informed about. Many readers assume that if the comments are published in a newspaper, they are probably true.

This is a particularly big problem on the topic of transportation, as citizens (including reporters) tend to think it is so obvious what needs to be done to improve transportation. It is common sense! They fail to realize that many effective transportation tools are counter-intuitive.

Unfortunately, I will be stepping down from the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board before I get a chance to speak out against this tragic mistake and cast a lone vote against the proposed Arapahoe Avenue “improvements.”

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Plans by the Florida Department of Transportation to Continue Their History of Worsening Gainesville

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2004

At the request of supervisors at the City of Gainesville, Florida Planning Department (FDOT) in the summer of 2004, I attended a Florida Department of Transportation meeting at the University of Florida Conference Center on SW 34th St. The meeting agenda was to discuss plans for road modifications (which the road engineers euphemistically and inaccurately called “improvements”) for SW 2nd Ave between SW 34th St and the University of Florida campus.

The meeting room contained a modest number of citizens and about 45 DOT engineers, which made me feel like I had been transported back to the 1950s and had somehow ended up at an IBM executives convention (a festival of thin black ties, white shirts, pocket calculators and crew cuts).

The presentation by FDOT was perhaps the most dry and emotion-less of any presentation I had ever heard. In a dull, monotone voice, we heard about 50 minutes of what amounted to droning, “fine print” comments. “This meeting is commencing at 7 pm Eastern Standard Time. It is being held in the Hilton Conference Center, 1714 SW 34th Street in Gainesville Florida 32605. This room holds 80 people. It contains fire sprinklers. If you have comments or questions, they must be written down on 5×7 card stock slips of paper using a #2 pencil. The temperature in this room is 71 degrees. The lumination of the overhead lighting in the room is with incandescent bulbs. The ceiling is 12 feet high. The chairs provided in this room are dark blue in color…”

The following is a summary of what FDOT wants to do to my community this time:

  1. Create a 5-lane monster road (with two turn lanes) west of 34th to the Fire Station.
  2. Build an enormous stormwater pond behind the Publix at 34th, which will wipe out a wooded area and a home.
  3. Install highway-oriented (read: 50-foot high) road lighting (DOT is also installing pedestrian lighting as window dressing below what amounts to the towering UFO landing strip lighting).
  4. Significantly enlarging the size (capacity) of the intersection at 34th St & SW 2nd Ave (34th and University intersection has already been made, essentially, an interstate highway interchange).
  5. Install 10-foot wide bike paths on both (?) sides of SW 2nd Ave. I had in the past been loudly, vigorously opposed these paths over the past few years.

I suspected that the 10-foot bike paths will be FDOT’s way of reducing future costs and opposition when they come back to widen SW 2nd Ave.

Inevitable results: More fuel for suburban sprawl to the west of Gainesville, a larger amount of traffic congestion at these intersections within about 5 years, and a reduction in transportation choices (folks shopping at the Westgate Plaza area at the west end of the project will be less likely to be able to walk to retailers across the street from 34th or Carmageddon highwayUniversity. Instead, they’ll need to hop in their cars to cross those stroads as they now do at the Gainesville Mall and Butler Plaza — which is an outright attack against City plans in recent years to make the Westgate area more walkable).

When one local citizen asked why earlier plans to neck down the intersections with bulb-outs (so that the crossing distance would be reduced and the intersections would therefore be more pedestrian-friendly), an FDOT engineer responded that “highway standards have changed recently and such bulb-outs are no longer allowed.”

One wonders what ever happened to “context-sensitive design” FDOT has so proudly proclaimed in recent years.

Is all of this financed and being done by some sort of evil, alien, invading force bent on destroying the City of Gainesville? Should we send in the Marines to ward off this threat to our community?

Nope.

FDOT is a PUBLIC agency and they will be using $15.7 million dollars in PUBLIC tax revenues that we citizens of Gainesville (and others in the state and nation) have paid.

It does not require rocket science to understand why communities like Gainesville are so very often starved for public dollars that we end up cutting corners to deliver ourselves an embarrassing, bare bones, plain wrapper county courthouse and parking garage. We also end up continuing our decades-long neglect of needed citywide streetscape and road-to-street reform projects.  And have the shameful distinction of possessing a community-wide public park system that is the most underfunded of any park system for a comparable city/county in the nation.

When we spend $15.7 million for these SW 2nd Ave “improvements” (not to mention the millions we pour down the law enforcement and emergency service rat hole each  year…), is it any wonder at all why we have NO dollars to improve our buildings and parks, or do AUTHENTIC improvements to our miserable roads?

We have met the enemy and he/she is us.

We continue on the Road to Ruin…at our own expense…

 

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Forcing Wal-Mart to Increase the Size of Roads or Intersections

By Dom Nozzi

A common strategy for “mitigating” (“reducing,” for those of us who speak Plain English) the negative traffic impacts of a proposed Big Box retailer such as Wal-Mart is to require the retailer to pay to widen roads or intersections that serve the store. Doing so is thought to do two things. First, it is thought that such “improvements” will allow the community to avoid traffic congestion caused by the giant retailer. Second, there is a dream that doing so will stop the retailer because the company will not be able to afford to “improve” the road/intersection.

A quick aside: Calling a road or intersection widening an “improvement” is inappropriate. While there might be a brief improvement for motorists, such widening is a degradation for bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users.

Is it a good idea to require a proposed Big Box retailer to pay for a bigger road or intersection? In my view, doing so is the worst possible thing that can be done for a proposed retailer. “Easing traffic flow” is precisely what a huge retailer wants and needs, since they are striving to serve a regional population of consumers. They are striving to make things as convenient as possible for as many motorists as possible. Therefore, anything which “eases” traffic flow is an enemy of nearby neighborhoods, the community, and overall quality of life (largely because it would induce huge volumes of new car trips from all over the region – car trips that would have never occurred had the road or intersection not been enlarged).

Especially in town centers, streets must be designed for modest, low-speed car travel. Traffic calming, on-street parking, landscaped bulb-outs and landscaped medians can be very useful. A connected street network is essential, as it slows car speeds and provides travel route choices.

Effective, quality low-speed design obligates motorists to pay attention when they drive. To be careful when they drive. Using the conventional, free-flowing design model, motorists are encouraged to drive too fast, too recklessly, too inattentively. While driving in such “forgiving” places, motorists are enabled to put on make-up. Talk on the cell phone. Eat a sandwich.

Why? Because the street design allows the motorists to pay less attention. The result is dangerous, inattentive, high-speed car traffic.

Oversized streets or intersections make an area totally unwalkable. Quite unsafe, particularly for seniors and children. It becomes much more of a car-only place. It becomes, ultimately, an Anywhere USA indistinguishable from any other strip commercial area in the nation.strip2

Essentially, the street design vision of a community – particularly its town center — should be to create a “Drive To” place that is walkable and safe, rather than a “Drive Through” place that enables large-volume, high speed traffic. Only big retailers want (and need) the latter.

As for the thought that big retailers will be stopped if expensive road and intersection widening is required, don’t fool yourself. Big retailers have big pockets. Typically, even relatively expensive road and intersection modifications are pocket change for the big retailer looking to cash in on a prime market.

 

 

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design