Tag Archives: sidewalk

Transportation Comes Before Land Use


By Dom Nozzi

May 21, 2004

The condition of the street determines what happens alongside it. I agree with urbanist Robert Gibbs when he says it is unfair to require a business to abut a streetside sidewalk when the street does not have on-street parking. When street carrying a relatively large volume of cars lacks on-street parking, the street is too hostile to have buildings butt up to it. I don’t at all blame businesspeople for pulling away from the street when the street is a “car sewer.”street without on street parking

In sum, either a relatively large street without on-street parking is forever to be a strip commercial “lost land” because it is impractical to shrink its size, or it needs to be made livable (largely with on-street parking and removal of travel lanes – both of which create a more human-scaled, slower-speed environment) before you start requiring buildings to behave themselves by pulling up to the sidewalk and having an entrance face the street.

If we try to force buildings to be pedestrian-friendly BEFORE the street is rehabilitated, we risk giving urbanism a black eye. We understandably increase the likelihood of a political firestorm of businesspeople SCREAMING to elected officials not to force their buildings up on the sidewalk.

Sadly, we fail to heed the above warning, and instead we almost always keep our fingers crossed and hope — in desperation — that we can fix the land development regulations or redo the urban design along a street before we fix the street, because fixing the street is (usually rightly) seen as being a non-starter (at least in our lifetimes), and the former is WAY more do-able.

To put land use before transportation is an ineffective path of least resistance.



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Filed under Road Diet, Transportation, Urban Design

Why Are American Cities Not Able to Encourage Large Numbers to Walk?


By Dom Nozzi

May 28, 2009

The conventional wisdom says that we can encourage large numbers of people to walk if we just provided a lot of well-designed sidewalks.

But after over 20 years, I’m still waiting for American cities to show this will happen. The city I worked for as a town planner had nearly 100 percent coverage of neighborhoods by sidewalks, but only a vanishingly small number of citizens walked – even though our population contained a large number of relatively healthy, young strip commercial sidewalkstudents.

Why are more not walking? Is there something we could do to sidewalks to make them more “enjoyable, comfortable, and safe”?

Could it maybe be that people prefer driving when all that free and abundant parking that awaits them everywhere, rather than walking 5 miles?

I’m still waiting for ONE example of a community in the US which has successfully employed the strategy of widespread sidewalk provision to encourage a lot of walking.

I know of none.

Even if there was a community which could afford the astronomical costs, sidewalks (and bike lanes and bike paths) are not likely to induce regular commuting or shopping trips by mom, kids and seniors (and healthy young people) when the distances are extreme, as they are in almost all of suburbia.

Fortunately for those of us who urge effective tactics, it doesn’t really matter if we have no elected officials who are willing to do what is necessary to effectively induce non-motorized travel (such as a big sales tax increase, or more compact development).

No matter how much most Americans love suburbia and car dependency, they will not be able to vote to escape the inevitable and substantial increase in gasoline prices, and other inevitably rising prices associated with car travel.

There will be a lot of pain, agony, wailing and gnashing of teeth when this happens — particularly in suburbia, where so many have thought that they were forever entitled to $2/gallon gas.

Once this inevitable increase sends gas over $10/gallon, Jim Kunstler and I (who discussed this yesterday at a cafe) are certain that there will be a miraculous “enlightenment.” Suddenly, even committed suburbanites will want transit, compact development, scarce and priced parking, mixed use, buildings at the sidewalk, and road diets. Such community features will become wildly popular (rather than there being vigorously opposed as they are today).

The problem, of course, is that if we’ve not installed quality transit, compact development, scarce and priced parking, mixed use, buildings at the sidewalk, and road diets in advance of the big rise in gas costs (because we are, as Jim Kunstler likes to say, wicked, fat, stupid, lazy, overfed clowns), there will be a lot of pain and violence.

Widening streets will not be possible in the future. We won’t have the money. And even today’s car cheerleaders and sprawl promoters will see that 8-lane roads don’t make sense when gas costs $15/gallon.

As for kids playing in the streets, I recommend reading Fighting Traffic (Norton). One hundred years ago, parents, teachers, and police officers insisted that kids had the right to freely play in the streets. Those days will return when gas prices skyrocket.

As a side note, even though NO ONE thought that university students in my Florida community would EVER ride the bus when I was a planner there in the 1980s, that city saw a HUGE numbers using the bus starting in the late 1990s.

Was it because we used the carrots of enjoyable, comfortable, and safe buses?


It was because we used effective tactics that I also recommend for biking and walking: Parking at the university campus is scarce and priced (and a big pain in the ass).

I am fully and sadly aware that the effective tactics I recommend are extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve in most of the US, politically. But opting for other more feasible tactics (bike lanes, bike parking, bike showers, sidewalks) doesn’t make them effective simply because we can achieve them more easily.

Let’s be honest: Most American communities are doomed because we have spent several decades building communities that have no future because it is nearly impossible to retrofit them for transportation choice and other forms of sustainability.

I’m building a bomb shelter for the coming empire collapse…



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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Should Boulder Prohibit Bicycling on Sidewalks?


By Dom Nozzi

August 16, 2014

Boulder Colorado is well known for providing an impressive range of bicycling facilities. However, the City prohibits bicycling on several sections of commercialized streets.

I have serious concerns about this prohibition. I should state first that I am very well aware of how poorly bicyclists mix with pedestrians on sidewalks – particularly sidewalks that are heavily used. An important reason for the incompatibility is that bicyclists and pedestrians have a very large speed differential, and pedestrians often move from side to side unpredictably. For these reasons, I typically tend to oppose bicyclists on sidewalks. I was a bicycle commuter in Florida for about 25 years, and I made it a point to almost never ride my bike on a sidewalk, and would strongly prefer it if I (and other bicyclists) NEVER had to be on a sidewalk. Professionally, I have spent much of my career strongly advocating that bicyclists not be allowed on sidewalks, and often argue with friends and others when I frequently hear the claim that bicyclists are safer (and belong) on sidewalks. I have always taken the position that bicyclists don’t belong on sidewalks.

It is therefore highly ironic that here in Boulder, where bicycle facilities are extremely high-quality and abundant, I suddenly find myself riding on sidewalks almost every day I ride. Not because I prefer it, but because I feel forced to do so.

There are two main reasons why, for the first time in my life, I am often riding on sidewalks. First, Boulder has a number of extremely important streets (streets that most all travelers understandably want to travel on frequently – that includes bicyclists) that are nearly impossible for a bicyclist to ride on – including for highly experienced, skilled bicyclists (I include myself in that category). These car-only, large_SMBIKE 1 MCNISHhigh-speed highways are exceptionally hostile to bicyclists. The main offenders are Broadway (particularly in the town center), Canyon, and 28th Street. Second, Boulder has a made what I believe is the very bad decision to convert a number of two-way streets to one-way operation in the town center. A growing number of cities are converting their one-ways back to two-way operation after discovering how toxic they have become to a healthy city and street. With one-way streets, bicyclists are presented with three extremely undesirable choices: (1) opt for a very inconvenient, out-of-the-way route that adds significant distance to the bicycle trip; (2) ride in the street against traffic (which is extremely dangerous); or (3) ride on the sidewalk. I typically opt for #3, even though I am well aware of the incompatibility-with-pedestrians problem.

Given all of the above, I believe it is extremely problematic for Boulder to not allow bicycling on commercial streets such as town center Canyon and Broadway (or on one-way streets).

By doing so, Boulder is taking the position that bicyclists are not allowed to bicycle on some of the most desirable, heavily used routes in the city. Only pedestrians and cars are allowed on those streets. While the regulation is a significant inconvenience for someone such as myself, it is much more inconvenient (and extremely discouraging) for the “interested but concerned” bicyclist that Boulder is now seeking to put special efforts into encouraging.

Again, I tend to be strongly opposed to allowing bicyclists to ride on sidewalks. But when the Colorado Department of Transportation (and the City of Boulder?) opted to design town center Broadway and Canyon to be hostile, car-only superhighways (and opted to convert certain two-way streets to one-way), an unavoidable consequence (in my opinion) was to force the City of Boulder to take what is normally a very undesirable position (in some ways, a Faustian Bargain): allow bicyclists to ride on sidewalks on those exceptionally hostile streets. Building car-only Broadway and Canyon in the town center (as well as creating one-ways) makes such a policy nearly unavoidable, unless the City of Boulder wishes to significantly handicap or inconvenience bicyclists by not allowing them to ride along Broadway or Canyon in the town center.

In sum, I believe that the regulation discriminates against bicyclists. I should add that I recommend allowing bicyclists on sidewalks with deep regret (for the reasons I mention above), which to me adds urgency to the need to, say, road diet Canyon and Broadway in the town center to make them Complete Streets, because in general, bicyclists do not belong on sidewalks. But until that day of reform for Canyon, Broadway, and the one-way streets comes, bicyclists should be allowed on the sidewalks of those streets.



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Ingredients for Walkability

By Dom Nozzi

How do we make a place walkable?

Proximity is crucial as a measure – perhaps reducing all other measures to insignificance by comparison. In nearly all of America, unfortunately, our car-centric history has dispersed destinations to a point where it will be nearly impossible to retrofit walkability into American cities. Tragically, it will require decades or generations Prague May 2014 (14)before we will see sufficient infill and densification in our communities for any semblance of area-wide walkability to be established.

In addition to lack of proximity, another enormous problem we face in striving to encourage more utilitarian walking (and bicycling and transit use) is that America is drowning in an over-abundance of free parking. When we know that plenty of free parking awaits us nearly everywhere we need to go, we are essentially being begged to drive a car, and we end up seeing many drive even when their destination is only a short distance away (and even though there may be wide sidewalks and vibrant, pulled-up-to-the-street buildings).

[As an aside, the fact that free and abundant parking is so strongly demanded and is such a powerful way to manipulate travel behavior is curious. Why? For most Americans, there is little that is more anathema than deliberate behavior modification. And free parking is a powerful form of such “social engineering.”]

It is therefore essential that we work to restrict the availability of free and ample parking. Some strategies: unbundling the price of parking from housing, parking maximums (instead of minimums) for new construction, applying a market-price to parking (being sure that the revenue is spent in the vicinity of such parking), and locating the parking on the side or rear of new buildings.

In November 2006, I enjoyed a two-week trip in southern Italy and Sicily. It was magnificent, charming, romantic, delicious, boisterous, and invigorating. We visited some of the world’s most walkable cities, and enjoyed the experience of walking in places filled with pedestrians (mostly local, as we were there off-season). We were immersed in a walking culture.

Guess what? Most all of the places we walked had no sidewalk at all (or had “sidewalks” only a meter or so wide). Is the “pedestrian level of service” (the quality of the walkability) high or low in these Italian cities? I believe so many walk in these wonderful Italian cities because of proximity, the difficulty in finding parking, and the expense of owning and driving a car. Very little (or none) of it is due to wide sidewalks or pleasant landscaping.

I believe that to promote walkability, many Americans call for the installation of wide sidewalks because truly effective strategies (proximity and restrained/priced parking) are too costly, too painful, too long-term, or not seen as realistic in any way at all. So we build sidewalks (sometimes) because we can. It helps many of us pay lip service to providing walkability. And when no one ends up using the sidewalks, skeptics point to them as confirmation that Americans will never be pedestrians in any meaningful way.

In this interim, grim time for pedestrians, we need to encourage compact, human-scaled, parking-restrained, place-making projects that can serve as shining examples of what we need on a broader scale.

We have spent enormous sums of public and private dollars, and several decades, to do all we can to enable car travel. For most of America, there will be no overnight path to walkability. Indeed, as Kunstler argues, much of America may not have a future.


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Filed under Urban Design, Walking