Tag Archives: road safety

The Gigantism Disease

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 17, 2008

The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney

American cities, like most others in the world, are dying. Despite an emerging downtown renaissance being led by a notable growth in downtown residential development, changing demographics, and escalating gasoline prices.

Cities are dying due to an affliction I call “Gigantism.”

Like overeating, inactivity and obesity, gigantism is not being imposed on us by an evil outside force. It is largely self-inflicted.

We have become our own worst enemy because we have spent over 80 years building a world in which it is nearly impossible to navigate without a car. The Barrier Effect, as described by Todd Litman, when applied to transportation planning, refers to the “barriers” that over-design for car travel creates for other forms of travel. To put it simply, designing an “incomplete” street (a street that is designed exclusively or predominately for cars) makes travel by walking, bicycling and transit extremely difficult, if not impossible. In effect, an incomplete street creates a self-perpetuating vicious cycle because the travel barriers created by incomplete streets tend to continuously recruit new motorists who were formerly non-motorists—non-motorists who now find that on the incomplete street, travel by walking, bicycling or transit is unacceptably unsafe, inconvenient or otherwise unattractive.

Over time, the incomplete street increases the proportion of community members who are now traveling by car. Tragically, this on-going recruitment of new motorists compels many communities to spend large sums of public dollars to widen and speed up roads to (unsuccessfully) strive to accommodate the growing number of motorists. And these newly widened, higher speed roads create an even larger barrier effect. Which recruits even more motorists (“induced demand”), which then builds pressure for even wider roads, resulting in roads that drivers, bicyclists, pedestrians and transit users find unpleasant and unsatisfactory, fueling the demand for further “improvement,” usually widening.

We are therefore compelled to insist, at every opportunity, that new development promote car travel. Yet cars and people have vastly different needs. Due to their large size, motor vehicles require vastly over-sized parking lots, large building setbacks and wide, multi-lane roads reasonably free of other motor vehicles (despite the conventional wisdom, most cities actually have too much open space — but this open space is for cars, not people). To achieve that, widely dispersed, low-density, single-use patterns of development are necessary. Street lighting must be tall and bright, and retail signage must be enormous to promote visibility and readability in high-speed motor vehicles.

Because motor vehicles enable us to travel greater distances more conveniently, growing regional “consumer-sheds” are created, which has enabled the rise of gigantic “big box” retail development which takes advantage of such retail regionalism.

We are left with an overwhelming and disheartening amount of auto-centric architecture. Architecture that no one can be proud of.

This brutalization of our everyday world, amplified by the over-sizing of roads and parking lots, leaves a public realm that Americans have understandably fled. Instead, we are compelled to increasingly turn inward into the private realm of our accessorized, huge turn radius for roadluxurious homes and cars. Without a public realm worth caring about and participating in, we seek alternative outlets for a meaningful life. And this is exemplified by the substantial growth in the average size of the now gigantic American house, which has enlarged from 1,385 square feet to 2,140 square feet (a 54-percent increase) from 1970 to 2000.

Our over-sized world stands in stark contrast to what many people tend to prefer, which is smaller building setbacks, human-scaled and low-speed streets, modest lighting, signage and parking. People feel exposed and uncomfortable in gargantuan spaces—spaces over-designed for motor vehicles.

On average, a person in a car consumes 17 times more space than a person in a chair, which means that cars devour an enormous amount of space. The average car is 14 feet long by 6.2 feet wide = 55 square feet. The average person in a chair is 2.25 feet by 2.25 feet = 5 square feet.  Thus, a car consumes 17 times more space than a person sitting in a chair (even more if person is standing). By multiplying the number of cars in Florida in 2005 by 17 square feet, we can estimate that cars consume 1,581,100 square feet or 35,677 acres or about 27,444 football fields.

Planner Victor Gruen, in 1973, estimated that every American car is provided with four parking spaces.

In The High Cost of Free Parking, Shoup estimates about 1 billion parking spaces for cars in the U.S.  If this were all surface parking, parking lots would consume approximately 12,375 square miles (roughly the size of Maryland). As a rule of thumb, a parking lot typically requires an additional 10 to 20 percent of its land area as stormwater basin area, although this can vary rather significantly based on such factors as soil type. Therefore, we can assume that a 300 square-foot parking space (the amount of space a typical car needs for parking, as well as maneuver space in the parking lot) would require 300 x 0.15 = 45 square feet of stormwater basin. In other words, if we include both space taken up by the typical parked car, maneuver space, and stormwater basin space, each car requires 345 square feet of land area just for parking.

The above means that to promote ease of motor vehicle travel, there is no alternative but to build sprawling, dispersed, low-density cities.

Of course, the growing size of American vehicles—particularly the SUV phenomenon—has fueled a need to build bloated roads and parking areas to accommodate these over-sized vehicles. Making matters much worse, however, is the decades-long trend of the growing size of trucks—particularly fire trucks.

Unfortunately, some fire chiefs are choosing to purchase larger and often less maneuverable fire apparatus. An unintended consequence is that such choices will dictate future community decisions about street dimensions. Larger truck decisions can prevent a community from designing safer, more human-scaled streets.  Fortunately, wise fire chiefs who are aware of a need for a more charming, safe, human-scaled community are able to make fire apparatus choices that are in line with such objectives (buy purchasing smaller fire vehicles, for example, or at least buying “articulated” vehicles that allow maneuvering in tight streets). If some parts of a community must have larger, less maneuverable fire apparatus for safety reasons, it would be wise to consider having both larger and smaller vehicles. One size, after all, does not fit all when one considers both the larger dimensions found in suburbia and the more modest dimensions found in urban settings.

For engineers, therefore, the design vehicle obligates the design of colossal lane widths and turning radii, which moves cities further from a livable human scale.

Where has the charm gone?

When we look for charming locations in our communities, we find that this charm is invariably found in our historic districts—places built, in general, over 100 years ago. We Catania Italy walkablelove to visit places like Paris and Geneva, with their ancient, intimate architecture, their layout of streets and neighborhoods, and their romantic ambience. And newer places are most valued when they mimic that style. We find that the more contemporary development—the more contemporary streets and roads—are invariably not charming. We have apparently lost the ability to build lovable places.

Why?

Is it because of the need to promote public safety? Is cost an issue?

Hardly.

It is because charm is impossible when we must design for the colossal spaces required to accommodate the car. Buildings must be set back enormous distances from the street to accommodate vast fields of parking (even the turning movements of the motor vehicle require that a building be pulled back from the street intersection to create the “vision triangle” and turning radius necessitated by a large, high-speed vehicle).

One unintended consequence of this dispersal and pulling back of buildings is that buildings lose the ability to “hold” an intersection. Or frame an “outdoor room” ambience on a street. Place-making is not possible when these human-scaled spaces are lost. There is no “there there” anymore.

Nothing to induce civic pride.

The gigantism disease is also aggravated by our decades-long road design efforts to maximize vehicle speeds, and to implement the related “forgiving streets” design paradigm. High-speed road geometries create enormous dimensions for intersection turning radii, lane width, shoulder recover zones, and size of roadside signage.

Forgiving street design delivers tree-less streets, over-sized vision triangles, and a removal of on-street parking, among other things. The motorist is “forgiven” for not paying attention while driving. Forgiven for driving at excessive speeds. Forgiven for careening off the road.

An unintended consequence of such design is that a large and ever-growing number of motorists are found to be driving too fast, too inattentively and too recklessly. Ironically, the intended safety improvements from the forgiving street actually result in less road safety.

High-speed design and forgiving streets, then, result in a loss of human-scaled streets, and the promotion of speeding, inattentive, road-raged motorists completely incompatible with quality urban areas.

Buildings must also be dispersed from each other to accommodate car travel, as the placement and agglomeration of buildings in a walkable, human-scaled pattern quickly creates intolerable vehicle congestion that gridlocks an area.

Induced demand, where a road widening breeds new car trips that would not have occurred had we not widened, locks us into a never-ending cycle of congestion, widening, more congestion, and more widening. Endlessly.

Or until we run out of public dollars.

This vicious cycle brings us 4-lane roads. Then 5. Then 6. Then 8. Ultimately, we are left with dangerous, high-speed, overly wide, increasingly unaffordable roads that we dread and are repelled from. Roads that, again, are car-scaled and not human-scaled. Ironically, the roads we hate most are those we’ve spent the most of our tax dollars to build. What does that say about what we are doing to ourselves?

Agglomeration Economies

Cities, to be healthy, must leverage “agglomeration economies.” That is, thriving, vigorous cities are characterized by densification, concentration, compactness and clustering of people, buildings, and activities. As Steve Belmont points out in Cities in Full (2002), an intensification of property is a sign of city fitness and dynamism. As city property is converted to a less intense activity such as parking, widened roads or over-sized building setbacks, the energy of the city is dissipated, and is a sign of a city in decline. Therefore, the gigantism borne from the gap-tooth dead zones created when property is cleared for vehicular parking or roads is toxic to a city.

The vehicle “habitat” in cities (parking and highways) drains the lifeblood from the metropolis.

It is not only the directly deadening effect of replacing buildings and activities with roads and parking that kills a city. Highways and parking also indirectly eviscerate a city by powerfully fueling the residential and commercial dispersal of communities through sprawl.

Finding Our Way Back to the Future

It is said that both the dinosaurs and the Roman Empire collapsed due to gigantism. For our society to avoid that fate—to restore safety and quality of life to our cities in the future—will require us to return to the timeless tradition we have abandoned for several decades. For cities to become sustainable, safe, enjoyable places to live, we must return to the tradition of designing for people first, not cars. In cities, that means that we return to low-speed street geometries and compact building placements.

We already have models. The historic districts of our cities. The charming, lovable places that tourists flock to the world over. As James Howard Kunstler noted in 1996, “[From]  1950 to 1990…we put up almost nothing but the cheapest possible buildings, particularly civic buildings. Look at any richly embellished 1904 firehouse or post office and look at its dreary concrete box counterpart today.” “The everyday environments of our time, the places where we live and work, are composed of dead patterns…They violate human scale. They are devoid of charm. Our streets used to be charming and beautiful…[in] Saratoga Springs, New York, there once existed a magnificent building called the Grand Union Hotel…”

One element of this return is that the “forgiving street” design paradigm be replaced by the “attentive street” paradigm in cities. That is, streets must be designed not to “forgive” reckless driving, but to instead obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively, which, as European demonstration projects have found, improves traffic safety. Doing so will also restore human scale.

Ideally, given the enormous space consumed by motor vehicles and the much smaller spaces that most people (as pedestrians) prefer, the motor vehicle must feel squeezed and inconvenienced when it finds itself within the city.

Only then will quality of life for people, not cars, flourish.

References

Belmont, Steve. (2002). Cities In Full. APA Planners Press.

Downs, A. (1992). Stuck in Traffic: Coping with Peak Hour Traffic Congestion.  Cambridge, MA: Lincoln Institute of Land Policy.

Kunstler, J. (1996). Home from Nowhere. New York: Simon and Schuster, pp. 88, 90.

Litman, Todd. (2002). “Evaluating Nonmotorized Transport.” TDM Encyclopedia. Victoria Transport Policy Institute. http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm63.htm

McNichol, Tom (2004). “Roads Gone Wild.” Wired Magazine. December.

 

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Run for Your Life When a Traffic Engineer Wants to Make a Road More “Safe”

By Dom Nozzi

Conventional traffic engineers (the people who have been designing our roads for the past century) often like to make the claim that their design strategy is to make the road more “safe.” The tragic irony is that a great many of their “safety” tactics actually make the road much less safe.

And that helps explain why today, we have an epidemic of unsafe, inattentive motorists driving at excessively dangerous speeds. What could be more ironic?

Here is an excellent, common example of how our roads become less safe in the name of “improved safety”:

A road intersection have what are called a “turning (or “curb”) radius.” This radius is a measurement of the tightness or width of the corner of the intersection. The following image illustrates a tight radius vs a wide radius…curbradius

Too often, the conventional traffic engineer will recommend a wider turn radius for “safety.” He or she will frequently state that a wider radius is needed to help improve pedestrian safety. Without a wider radius – the engineer will often claim—motorists will sometimes jump the curb, which would endanger pedestrians.

Nonsense.

What actually happens in the real world is that the wider radius allows most motorists to negotiate the turn at a much higher (and more inattentive) speed, and there is very little that is more dangerous than a motorist driving at excessive speeds inattentively. If a motorist “jumping the curb” was truly a problem, hardened bollards should be placed at the curb to to punish or otherwise discourage reckless, excessively speeding driving.

Another canard that the engineer often pulls out is that the wider radius is needed because the road is used by very large vehicles (such as buses or trucks). The large vehicle becomes what is called the “design vehicle” that the engineer uses to design the road geometries.

But again, the unintended consequence emerges. By enabling the large vehicle to negotiate a turn with a wider turn radius, we induce the high-speed, inattentive driving by the much more common passenger vehicle. Overall safety goes down as a result, because while a large truck jumping a curb is perhaps averted by the wide radius, such vehicles are quite rare, whereas the smaller passenger vehicles which are induced to drive more recklessly are much more common.

In a walkable downtown, it is ass backwards to use a large vehicle as the design vehicle for designing the streets. The pedestrian should be the design “vehicle” if a town center is to be designed for walkability. Using a large vehicle as the design vehicle utterly undercuts the objective of creating a safe, walkable street design for pedestrians.

There are much more appropriate strategies for dealing with large vehicles in a town center that is intended to be walkable. First, the effective turn radius can be made wider without creating the unintended consequences I mention above. This can be done quite simply by adding on-street parking close to the intersection. Or, the community can prohibit the use of large vehicles in the town center.

When conventional traffic engineers mention “safety,” watch out. Usually, it is just a smoke screen to grab the moral high ground at a public meeting concerning street design. Meanwhile, the man behind the curtain that we are not supposed to notice is designing the street for a single-minded objective: Higher motor vehicle speeds — which, of course, degrades our safety and quality of life.

Tactics such as wider intersection turn radii usually fall under the category of the conventional “forgiving street” philosophy, whereby we “forgive” reckless, high-speed, out of control driving by eliminating things that motorists might run into, such as trees, pedestrians, buildings, parked cars, etc.

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Designing Streets for Safety

By Dom Nozzi

In September 2007, a citizen in Micanopy, Florida asked me about whether a large “vision triangle” was a good idea at a street intersection. A vision triangle is an imaginary triangle drawn at the corners of an intersection that is to be clear of “visual obstructions” such as buildings or fences or signs.visibilitysmall

I informed this person that in general, the need for a vision triangle arose in the 20th Century, when engineers began to design “forgiving roads” to try to safely accommodate higher speed, reckless, incompetent, inattentive driving of cars and trucks. Such a design paradigm assumes that drivers will always drive at high speeds in a reckless, incompetent, inattentive way.

I believe this concept is increasingly being seen as flawed. It is a self-fulfilling prophecy that inevitably results in the growth of higher speed, reckless, incompetent and inattentive driving.

Drivers drive at the highest speed at which they feel safe. They also devote as much attentiveness as is deemed necessary, and no more. Therefore, if we design roads that “forgive” high speed and inattentive driving by moving trees/vegetation/buildings away from the street with a large vision triangle, a growing number of drivers will consequently drive at higher speeds and less carefully, because they can now do so more safely.

There is now a growing call, which I strongly support, that suggests we should reverse this safety strategy. After all, the track record of this form of conventional safety engineering has been awful over the past several decades. Crashes have not declined, and drivers drive faster and more recklessly.

The new paradigm, which I believe will result in a safer transportation system, is one that obligates motorists to drive carefully. To drive more attentively. More slowly.

In a compact, walkable town center, which needs to be low-speed in design, we need to return to the tradition of designing for the Attentive Street, not the Forgiving Street. Buildings, vegetation (particularly street trees) and fences needs to be moved close to the street. Vision triangles should be quite modest in size.

The dilemma is that at first glance, it would seem that a larger vision triangle promotes safety, since the motorist can see a larger area of potential threats such as other motor vehicles on the crossing street. But counterintuitively, the opposite is true, as I demonstrated above.

Woonerf in Binghamton

 

For safetly, motorists should find streets that require them to drive slower

and more carefully in order to feel safe. By being obligated to be slower and more careful, safety increases.

This is the opposite of what engineers have been trained to believe over the past several decades, so many continue to ferociously oppose such a design shift.

In sum, assuming we are designing a street that would appropriately have a relatively low design speed of 10-20 mph, I would urge the vision triangle to be extremely small. Larger triangles encourage less safe, higher speed, less attentive turns and cruising speeds by motorists.

Would Stop Signs Increase Safety?

In general, stop signs are not a recommended treatment for slowing cars or increasing safety (or making a larger vision triangle safer). Stop signs can create a false sense of security and are often disregarded. Better treatments would include horizontal, physical interventions such as a traffic circle, a roundabout, narrower travel lanes, bulb-outs, on-street parking, speed tables, etc. In other words, as I noted above, designs that obligate the motorist to drive more slowly and attentively. Stop signs do not do that.

To achieve this slower, more attentive and safe street design, it is important to work with an engineer who is sympathetic to the Attentive Street design paradigm. I recommend designers such as Michael Ronkin, Dan Burden, Michael Wallwork, Walter Kulash, or Ian Lockwood.

Low design speeds not only improve street safety. They also improve retail health. They create “drive-to” shopping streets rather than “drive-through” escape routes.

_____________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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

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

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

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Policies in Our Plans Won’t Save Us

By Dom Nozzi

Nearly all of our elected officials and many of our citizens have convinced themselves that widening roads and extending utilities are technical decisions and therefore non-political. “We’re just protecting public health and safety, or providing jobs for poor people, or helping the economy.” They either don’t realize or deliberately hide the fact that such decisions are profoundly political, and are the most powerful factors driving sprawl, economic decline, harm to quality of life, and environmental destruction.

People that make the mistake of thinking that such decisions are technical rather than political perhaps comfort themselves by agreeing to adopt land use policies that discourage sprawl or environmentaladmin-ajax (2) destruction. They perhaps believe such words are effective in stopping undesirable community development actions. That road widenings or utility extensions have nothing to do with inducing such things as sprawl development.

In theory, a community long-range plan could state something like “The City shall not add road capacity” or “The City shall not extend utility service beyond the urban service line.” But in the real world, it is nearly impossible, politically, to adopt such policies. Adopting such policies takes politicians with courage and enlightenment, and we simply do not have such a thing.

So we continue to fool ourselves by thinking that a policy such as “The City shall prohibit sprawl” or “The City shall create a greenbelt” or “The City shall create large-lot zoning” will save us, not realizing that the critical land use and quality of life political decisions were already made when we decided to widen a road or extend a sewer line, and that such “technical” decisions will overwhelm any chance of non-infrastructure policies having a chance to be effective. These non-infrastructure, feel-good statements only have a chance if we strongly intervene on the marketplace by our infrastructure decisions.

An example I see a lot in my work is the relentless avalanche of re-zoning petitions planners get from people who have a single-family house along a widened, unlivable street. Naturally, the house now has much more value as an office or retail building (after all, who’d want to live along a hostile, high-speed street?), so it is to be expected that the decision to create the speedway has set into motion the never-ending political pressure to beat planners and elected officials over the head until the re-zoning is granted (and we take a step toward more strip commercial). The alternative we often see is decline or abandonment of the home.

Sure, we could have a long-range community plan policy that says we shall not allow strip commercial, and we shall protect residential along this street, but who are we kidding? Who’d want to live in such a home? It is unfair not to grant the re-zoning in such a case. So incrementally, regardless of who our elected officials are, we get sprawl and strip when we decide to make the street a speedway. That decision is, in the larger sense, not a technical decision. It is a political decision that indirectly says the community has opted to create strip commercial sprawl. When the decision to widen the road is made, it is merely ineffective lip service to have long-range community plan policies that say strip commercial sprawl won’t be allowed.

In sum, communities need to figure out a way to stop the decisions that drive bad land use — things like road widenings and utility extensions. The question, then, is what tools we have to make the right decisions and prevent the ruinous decisions – the decisions that seem technical but are actually political. The long-range community plan is not that tool unless that plan is adopted by a community that consistently elects wise, courageous leaders. Because we are a reactive society that usually only takes such action when a serious crisis emerges, it is my opinion that only major crisis or significant discontent is experienced by the community. Such things as a substantial economic downturn, an enormous increase in gasoline prices, or severe traffic congestion.

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Questions to Ask When Hiring a New Fire Chief

By Dom Nozzi

What sorts of questions should be asked of candidates who are seeking to become the new fire chief in your community?

Despite the conventional wisdom, it is not asking whether the candidate is familiar with the latest fire trucks. Or whether the candidate is courageous in putting out fires.

No, the most essential questions center around whether the candidate has a philosophy that centers around the broader question of life safety, rather than the much more narrow question of fire safety.

As shown by a study done by Peter Swift, widening roads (or keeping existing roads excessively wide) is often justified to promote fire safety, because it is claimed that wider roads reduce fire truck response times. But the Swift study conclusively showed that such wider roads result in less overall public safety, because the increases in injuries and deaths due to wider roads far exceeds the reduction in injuries and deaths due to faster response times. A key for public safety, then, is to not narrowly focus on a subcategory of safety (in this case, fire safety), but to instead aim to improve overall life safety.

Given this, the most important questions that a community should ask fire chief candidates would be:

1. What are your thoughts about reducing the size of fire trucks?

This question is crucial because the now gargantuan size of trucks used in most cities means that our fire chief, perhaps more so than the traffic engineer, isprofoundly dictating — every time she or he decides to purchase a big truck — that our neighborhood and arterial streets will be monstrous in width in order to “safely” allow passage by the big trucks at high velocities.admin-ajax (5)

The (unintended?) result is more dangerous, high-speed community streets filled with reckless, inattentive drivers, and lower neighborhood quality of life. Why? Because motorists tend to drive at the highest speeds that can be driven while feeling safe and comfortable. And when streets are over-designed for excessive widths and other geometries, motorists are enabled to drive a higher speeds (as well as driving more inattentively).

2. What are your thoughts about reducing a bloated fire department budget?

A bloated department budget sub-optimizes the services of that department and starves other important community services such as recreation, social services, environmental protection, and street design.

3. What are your thoughts about minimizing the use of emergency vehicle sirens?

In nearly all cities, emergency vehicle sirens are out of control. Sirens are used excessively because of irrational fear of crashes with cars, a hysterical fear of lawsuits, and the endless drive to reduce vehicle response times, not to mention the psychological benefits of importance, excitement and power that some firemen feel when they sound the fire horns as much as possible. Given these factors over the course of the past century, excessive siren use escalates continuously in a never-ending race to have the loudest and most frequently used fire sirens.

Those of us who have experience living in a town center are more exposed than others to the jangled nerves associated with the 24/7 wailing of sirens, helicopters, flashing emergency lights, and racing emergency vehicles that bombard most all town centers. The experience of living in a town center, due to the out of control emergency vehicle problem, is one of feeling like you are living in a war zone. Due to the unpleasantness of such a state of affairs, many throw up their hands and flee to the expected peace and quiet of the suburbs, thereby undermining extremely important community objectives regarding the fight against sprawl. If communities (justifiably) strive to encourage more downtown residential development, why are we chasing folks out of downtown by creating a sleep depriving, frenzied, stressed ambience downtown?

True leadership means insisting that fire chiefs abide by over-arching community objectives such as public safety and quality of life. For fire chiefs, that means that the person a community hires must be someone who enthusiastically supports the need for smaller fire trucks, a more modest fire department budget, and a significant reduction in siren use.

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Conventional, Forgiving Road Design Reduces Road Safety

By Dom Nozzi

Conventional “forgiving” road design strives to forgive bad drivers. Engineers who subscribe to conventional road design look at road crash data that shows many crashes have occurred due to excessive speed, or due to the driver using a cell phone, or putting on make-up.

The solution seems obvious: Design roads so that if the driver is driving too fast, or is using his cell phone, or is putting on her make-up, there will be less chance of a severe crash.

Unfortunately, this obvious solution results in less road safety. Why? Because conventional engineers have forgotten about human nature. If you design a road to forgive a driver for engaging in reckless driving, you encourage people to drive too fast and drive too inattentively. Human nature is such that most people drive at the highest speed that feels safe (regardless of what the speed limit sign says). Because we are so busy these days, we try to find more time in our day by driving faster and by multi-tasking (talking on a cell phone while driving, for example).

Engineers who have been designing the forgiving road for the past 60 years have therefore been busy widening roads, removing on-street parking, removing street trees, and pulling buildings away from the street — all in an effort to minimize the chance of a speeding, inattentive driver crashing into something.

But it does not take rocket science to realize that the forgiving road has the unintended consequence that most of us will drive more dangerously. We drive faster and more inattentively because we can do so more safely now.

The solution is clear, yet counter-intuitive: We need to design roads so that we force drivers to pay attention and slow down. On such roads, a much smaller number of drivers will speed or talk on a cell phone, because it is too risky to do so on a street that is not forgiving. If you don’t pay attention, or if you speed, you will suffer consequences. On roads that are not forgiving, we breed more attentive drivers. And more skilled drivers.

Forgiving roads with too many “safety” features, by contrast, breed a decline in driving skill. It is therefore no surprise that there seems to be a large a growing number of drivers who drive poorly. Now we know why American drivers are among the worst drivers in the world.

_________________________________________________

Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

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

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

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

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

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

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

My YouTube video library

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

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

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A Road Diet for Main Street

by Dom Nozzi

I’ve spent the past several years, as a city planner, learning what works and what doesn’t work with regard to transportation planning. I’ve done research, and talked with a great number of city residents and transportation experts. I even wrote a book (and a second, shortly).

In many ways, what I have learned is the opposite of what I, and most other people I know, have always believed. The overwhelming consensus is that the way we’ve done things for the past few decades no longer makes sense.

What I have learned leads me to strongly recommend that cities put a number of their town center streets – particularly their Main Street – on a “road diet,” where travel lanes are removed and the road becomes, say, 3 lanes rather than 4.

Again, making a road more modest is the opposite of what we’ve always believed. But there are a number of very important reasons why a road diet (such as a conversion from 4 lanes to 3) would be beneficial for a city:

 No Meaningful Loss of Capacity. At first glance, it would seem irrefutable that removing travel lanes from a street would create congestion. However, the inside lane of a 4-lane street is generally used as a left-turn lane and therefore cannot be used as a through lane. As such, only the curb lane can handle most through trips if the street has no left-turn lane. Consequently, a 3-lane street with a left-turn lane handles about the same number of vehicles as a 4-lane. In fact, studies show that 4-lane and 3-lane streets carry about the same number of vehicles.

No Spillover. Because there is no real loss of capacity, going from a 4-lane to a 3-lane street would not cause any increase in “spillover” vehicle trips-the trips that might be diverted to adjacent streets near the road-dieted street by motorists seeking to avoid a congested street.

More Safety. A 3-lane is noticeably more safe than a 4-lane, resulting in a substantial reduction in crashes. Vehicle speeds go down, there is less variability in vehicle speeds, and there is less speeding. In addition, there is a big reduction in what engineers call “conflict” points and an increase in “sight distance” for turning and crossing traffic on a 3-lane. This is particularly important for many of our senior citizens who drive, since fewer conflict points and increased sight distance means fewer decisions and judgements have to be made to enter or cross a 3-lane street. Similarly, a 3-lane reduces the street-crossing distance where a pedestrian must be exposed to moving vehicle traffic, and creates a “refuge area” where a pedestrian can safely wait until there is a gap in traffic and safe crossing is possible (4-lane streets do not have a refuge area). A 4-lane street is a hostile, unsafe, high-speed highway that creates a safety barrier for those trying to cross it. For these reasons, a 3-lane street would be substantially more “permeable” for residents seeking to cross the street.

No Loss of Travel Time. Even though average vehicle speeds are lower on a 3-lane, travel time either stays the same or actually declines, according to studies I have seen.

 Reduction in Blight and Strip Commercial. One of the regrettable aspects of a great many 4-lane streets is that the high-speed nature of them often incrementally converts the street into an ugly, glaring, blighted, “Anywhere USA” commercial strip featuring huge seas of asphalt parking and buildings that retreat from the hostile the street. A 3-lane street can lead us back to an attractive, walkable, human-scaled street and building design that can restore a civic pride in the street, instead of being a street we don’t care for. Streets that are treated by removing travel lanes becomes a drive-to destination, rather than a drive-through “no man’s land.”

Improved Health of Main Street Land Uses. One thing that nearly all road diets deliver as a community benefit is the restoration of a healthy place for buildings. The “diet” will result in improved retail and office health along the dieted street, and actually make it possible again to see the establishment of new residences along the street. Indeed, dieted streets can become what we have traditionally called a “shopping street.” A bustling, fun, safe street that induces community pride.

It is a no-brainer. Put your “overweight” town center streets on a road diet.

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