Tag Archives: sidewalks

A Better Transportation Future for Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

January 7, 2017

A better transportation future for Boulder, Colorado — despite the conventional wisdom — is about reducing excessive driving advantages. It is not about finding more money for bike lanes, sidewalks, or transit.

Boulder has spent decades emphasizing the provision of more bike lanes, sidewalks, and transit as a way to promote non-car travel, but as exemplified by the lack of success in july-2015-2increasing non-car travel for a great many years, this “supply-side” tactic is well known by both practitioners and researchers to be almost entirely ineffective – particularly if land use densities are low and car parking is underpriced and abundant.

What I call the “Four “S” strategy to effectively encourage cycling, walking and transit use is the key to success: Reduce car Speeds, Reduce Space allocated to cars, reduce Subsidies for motorists, and Shorten distances to destinations (via compact, mixed-use development).

Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies need to place more emphasis on nudging citizens with sticks such as user fees (which still retains the choice to travel by car, it must be noted), and less emphasis on carrots such as bike parking and sidewalks.

While “supply-side” strategies and “green gizmo” technology ideas (such as self-driving cars) are seductive at first glance (largely because they are relatively easy to implement politically), they will remain ineffective.

 

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Effectively Increasing the Number of Bicyclists, Pedestrians, and Transit Users

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 20, 1999

To effectively encourage more bicycling, walking, and transit use, the first order of business is to put a firm, permanent moratorium on widening roads or intersections in urbanized areas. Each time we widen a road or intersection, we drastically increase the number of car trips and substantially decrease the number of non-car trips.

The research I’ve seen shows that even modest shifts of 5 to 10 percent from car to non-car travel are extremely unlikely in our current transportation environment. So no, I do not believe public facility or service enhancements for green transportation will give us a measurable shift.

I saw a study about a year ago, that I think I have in my files, that looked at factors in various US cities that created meaningful bike trips. In its conclusions, it talked about what it felt were the correlations between various treatments and shifts to bike trips. I have not seen reported correlations for pedestrians.

For transit, it is a broken record: End free parking, reduce parking supply, increase density, and let congestion happen. If you do all those things, you can get something on the order of a 30 percent shift at selected businesses. The literature does not show any meaningful shift by using commonly suggested strategies such as increasing bus frequency or using cleaner buses or adding bike lanes or adding sidewalks.

Connector paths or sidewalks or streets between neighborhoods and shopping and schools would be enormously helpful. Unfortunately, as has been learned in countless proposals to install greenway bike trails, it is nearly always politically impossible for government to initiate such connections, due to fear of crime, black people, etc. All we can hope for, in most cases, is for the neighborhood to ask local government to install the connector. Had we been wise in the past, our codes would have required such connectors up front, as a part of development approval. If the connector is there before the homes, people are much more likely to accept them than if they are retrofitted. Sadly, nearly all American communities are mostly built out, so code changes to require such connectors up front will not help much.

Tragically and bizarrely, major opponents to connectors and greenways (to connecting schools with neighborhoods) has often been the school board! Their fear is security and liability. This opposition is astounding, given how much school board transportation costs have skyrocketed in recent decades, and nearly all public schools have a traffic jam near the school each morning. It is also shocking because schools are now well aware of the obesity epidemic their students are afflicted by.

What has frustrated me in the past is that too often, the bike/ped advocates usually prioritize bicycling and walking improvement projects in outlying areas with such a low density that such projects will inevitably attract only a small number of users, instead of 141104-harding2focusing on higher density urban settings (such as a town center, where we can be confident there will be a large number of users. I believe the reason for this is that appointed bike/ped advocacy board have had a long tradition of being dominated by recreational, long-distance bicyclists, whose main interest is to see that they have better access to long recreational rides on rural roads.

Another problem common in community prioritization of bicycle and pedestrian projects is that there tends to be an oversized influence from the local home builders, so that local governments tend to prioritize things in outlying, low-density areas to support new subdivisions.

Communities, as a result, regularly spend enormous amounts of public dollars to build sidewalks that almost no one uses (because it connects to nothing and is near only a tiny number of residences). Local governments squander large sums for infrastructure that hardly anyone uses in sprawl, car-oriented locations, instead of spending money on more urban sidewalks that could have helped a great deal.

In my work as a town planner, I attempted to set up a criteria-driven ranking system to get us away from this horrible prioritization. Of course, the system was ignored.

The common bleeding heart attitude in many communities means that it will just take one sprawlsville homebuilder to warn that if local government does not build sidewalks and bike lanes out in sprawlsville, kids will die. Such vested interest crying is hard to resist, and often means that there will be little change in how local governments spend their meager bicycle and pedestrian dollars.

Where are the best locations for new bike lanes in a community? As a lifelong bicycle commuter and researcher, it is clear that the most important places for local governments to provide bike lanes is on the major streets that draw a lot of cars. Why? Because bicycle commuters have the same travel destination desires as motorists, and major streets (absent a citywide greenway network) are, by far, the fastest, most efficient way to travel.

Let us not trivialize bicycling. Bicycle commuters want to save time, too. Local government cannot, for example, build an off-street connector path between most neighborhoods and, say, a shopping center, which is a place commuter cyclists often need to bike to.

So while I agree that the off-major-street connectors and greenways can be enormously helpful for certain neighborhoods, local governments need to realize that for a large number of bicycle commuters — who tend to be perfectly comfortable riding on a major street with a bike lane, and strongly prefer such routes due to time savings – local governments need to fill in the gaps on major streets (with bike lanes or “protected” lanes).

So it is a two-pronged approach: (1) Build an off-street network to train novices to walk or bicycle so that they can eventually “graduate” to being able to do so on major streets; and (2) fill in the gaps on major streets with bike lanes or protected lanes, and calm streets so that the higher car speeds do not occur in the urban areas.

Local governments need to stop squandering money on projects that will not EVER carry many users in remote, low-density areas that do not connect to anything (and are only used to support sprawl developers and their recreation-minded customers).

And local governments should be very careful that we do not use a big cost, high visibility green transportation project to prove that we can get a decrease in car travel, and have the project flop with low use, thereby giving such an idea a black eye because the local government failed to account for critical things like density, price signals, and parking supply.

Probably an important reason why so many conventional transportation planners resist recommending effective tactics to reduce car travel is that the dominant societal paradigm does not see any feasible way to shift a meaningful number of trips away from car travel, nor do most even think it is appropriate or desirable, since many transportation planners are motorists themselves.

To conventional planners, the only legitimate behavior modification is the massive social engineering we’ve engaged in for over a century: widening roads and intersections, requiring low-density development, and heavily subsidizing car travel. All of this has artificially increased car travel far beyond what it would have been had we not pampered car travel so aggressively. Encouraging more car travel is perfectly okay and desirable.

But using effective behavior modification to reduce car trips is not even on the table. It is unAmerican and a Marxist-Leninist conspiracy.

But like prison reforms, we will be forced to use more effective car reduction tactics eventually, once we reach the limits of how much we can afford to spend to widen roads. Cost limits will suddenly and miraculously allow us to be enlightened.

A big part of what I do as a town and transportation planner is to try to encourage my community to start the transition early, since the longer we wait, the more painful and costly it will be to do what we will eventually be forced to do.

Sadly, much as we desire it, there are no easy magic bullets for making our travel sustainable.

 

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Can Sidewalks Be Too Wide?

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 11, 2004

Speaking as someone who works in a city where folks hardly walk at all (Gainesville, Florida), and as someone who is a strong advocate of promoting walking and urbanism, wide sidewalkI am convinced that it is, indeed, quite possible to build sidewalks that are too wide.

If a street is not vibrant or compact or active enough to experience more than a tiny trickle of pedestrian volumes, a relatively wide sidewalk can create a perception that the streetlife is dead, even if it is not entirely dead. A narrower sidewalk can, in such a circumstance, make the street seem more alive, even if the pedestrian volume remains the same. In addition, a relatively wide sidewalk can create an ambience that is not human-scaled and the feeling of being over-exposed — particularly if there are few or no pedestrians using it.

In my experience, pedestrians often enjoy the sociability of walking a moderately crowded sidewalk (often produced by a relatively narrow sidewalk), in stark contrast to our preference when driving a car on a crowded road.paris narrow sidewalk

I would add that some of the best walking experiences I’ve had have been on Charleston
and Nantucket sidewalks (or many ancient European cities), which tend to be quite narrow.

 

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Local Government Development Regulations as a Recipe for Sprawl

 

By Dom Nozzi

August 5, 2005

I worked as a town planner for Gainesville, Florida for 20 years. Like most cities, Gainesville’s plans, policies, regulations, elected officials, and planning staff proclaim that the City supports compact development, more bicycling and walking and transit use, and less sprawl.

Tragically, however, Gainesville has adopted a long list of development regulations that require dispersed, drivable suburbia. Examples are nearly endless.

Gainesville’s building setbacks, like in nearly all cities, are gigantic and desperately fought for by staff.parking_sea

Gainesville’s parking requirements, like in nearly all cities, are ENORMOUS, and staff aggressively fights for as many parking spaces as it can extract from the developer. To do this is to be a “hero” for nearby neighborhoods concerned about “spillover” parking – one of the great bugaboos in American town planning.

Nearly everyone in Gainesville — including most public works staff — join the Florida Department of Transportation in fighting for HUGE intersections and wider roads (I recall that my proposal to limit use of turn lanes downtown in the Transportation Element I prepared for the City was shot down, and my 4-lane maximum road size was subsequently removed after the plan was adopted.

Gainesville has over 33 zoning districts. More single-use districts means more sprawl.

Sidewalk requirements don’t really do much to discourage sprawl when located in suburbia, because distances are too large to encourage people to walk to destinations. They just ease our guilty conscience.

Maximum “floor area ratio” (FAR) requirements (which set the maximum square footage of building that can be built on a property) are extremely low. Low FARs strongly discourage walking, and undercut the need for creating an urban fabric that possesses human-scaled charm.

Minimum lot widths are excessive. Relatively small lot widths promote vibrant, sociable, convenient walkability.

Maximum building height limits are nearly always less than 5 stories. As such, compact urbanism is extremely difficult to achieve.

The City adopted a huge and growing “transportation concurrency exception area” (TCEA). This was done when it was realized that requiring developers to show that “adequate” road capacity was available for the new car trips the development would produce was counterproductively promoting car-oriented sprawl. But instead of adopting a TCEA that covered only the relatively discreet downtown, Gainesville adopted a TCEA that applied to the entire city – including suburban locations.

Which promotes sprawl.

And even if it properly only applied to the downtown, it would still have been unhelpful because it did not effectively require any form of meaningful compact urban design. To correct this, the City should have only been granting a TCEA if the City was getting urbanism in exchange for exception. As it is, all the City got was what amounted to little more than a few shrubs for landscaping.

Overall, Gainesville – like nearly all cities in America – has adopted land development regulations that ensure a future of unlovable, car-happy sprawl.

How odd, since the plans and elected officials and staff always seem to be united in opposing sprawl…

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Keys to Walkability

By Dom Nozzi

December 11, 2006

How do we make a place exceptionally 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 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, since for most Americans, there is little that is more anathema than deliberate behavior modification.

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, market-priced parking, locating the parking on the side or rear of new buildings, etc.

I just returned from a two-week trip in southern Italy and Sicily. It was magnificent, Catania Italy walkablecharming, 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). “Pedestrian Level of Service” (called “PLOS”) is an effort to quantify the quality of the walking environment. Is the PLOS 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, unlike what many in America seem to think.

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 141104-harding2too 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 James Howard Kunstler argues, much of America may not have a future.

 

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How Useful are Bicycle Lanes and Sidewalks in Inducing New Biking and Walking Trips?

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 20, 2009

When it comes to utilitarian/commute walking and bicycling (and not recreational cycling), sidewalks and bike lanes don’t seem to induce a meaningful number of trips by pedestrians or bicyclists by those who are currently driving a car — particularly in suburbia.

In my opinion, it is irrational and therefore extremely unlikely that people will opt to walk or bike (even on bike lanes or sidewalks) instead of drive a car, for trips to work or a store or other utilitarian trips. Particularly because, as Donald Shoup so convincingly points out, the free parking spaces that Americans find on nearly all of their car trips are begging people to drive a car.

Another very important factor that make bike lanes and sidewalks unlikely to induce huge turn radius for roadnew utilitarian bike and pedestrian trips are the enormous distances one finds in low-density, single-use suburban settings.

Gainesville, Florida, where I was a planner for 20 years, had sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere, yet it was VERY rare for me to ever see or hear of someone walking or bicycling for utilitarian purposes (even though we had an enormous number of college students there). I almost always felt that I was one of 3 or 4 bicycle commuters in all of allegedly bike-friendly Gainesville (where bike lanes and paths are all over the community).

In stark contrast, I have been to communities in both America and Europe (Charleston, Copenhagen, Rome, etc.) where there is an enormous amount of biking and walking. And quite frequently, such places have rather inadequate sidewalks or bike lanes. In my opinion, those places have lots of bicyclists and pedestrians because of such things as their compact town centers, mixed uses, scarce and expensive parking, and short travel distances.

Other examples: Many have observed that in a number of “new urbanist” towns, many continue to drive despite sidewalks and short distances. Or notice that most everyone drives even though their trip is only a few hundred feet in length. Again, in my opinion, that is largely explained by the abundance of free parking that awaits at the destination.

Too often, I’ve seen elected officials unjustifiably pat themselves on the back for creating a bike-friendly community because they required installation of bike lanes or bike parking. But it was mostly window dressing, because in places like Gainesville, most everyone continued to drive for the reasons I mention above. Politicians are typically unwilling to show the leadership needed to use effective tactics like more compact development, mixed use, and efficient car parking. Instead, they engage in easy-way-out lip service that buys them votes but doesn’t meaningfully change the community.

In sum, the suburbs are in deep trouble when gas prices go way up again. Their low densities, single-use patterns, and long travel distances means that even with bike lanes and sidewalks, most people will feel obligated to pay a lot more money to buy gas, because the distances are too daunting to walk or bike. Suburbs, to have a future, need to be more compact or at least create new town centers.

I am in full agreement, despite what I’ve said above, that communities should ALWAYS require new development to install bike lanes (particularly in suburbia) and sidewalks (particularly in town centers). In fact, I enthusiastically wrote ordinances that Gainesville adopted which required sidewalks for all new development. I fully agree that people should not be expected to walk on a road due to lack of sidewalks (except, perhaps, in very low-density, low-speed or rural conditions), or be expected to bike without bike lanes (except in low-speed town centers). If nothing else, such facilities show the community is bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

A very important message to send. It shows that the community respects such people.

 

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Congestion and Transit in Toronto

By Dom Nozzi

May 2013

In 2013, a Toronto friend told me that traffic congestion is a problem in that city and its economy.

I told him that I don’t agree that congestion significantly harms the local economy (in most cases). See, for example, this from the economist Todd Litman : http://www.vtpi.org/UMR_critique.pdf Transportation “improvements” to “reduce” congestion suffer today from the law of diminishing returns.

Each transport dollar we now spend results in fewer and fewer benefits than in the past (indeed, in my view, most all dollars WORSEN our communities and their economies).

It is not a coincidence that the most economically healthy cities tend to be severely congested. Because cars consume so much space, only a tiny number of people in cars are needed to create congestion. Given that, there is a problem if a city is NOT congested in certain locations. The problem is not congestion. Congestion is a sign of a healthy, attractive city that people want to be a part of. The problem is when there are no alternatives to avoid the congestion.

Congestion is a powerful motivator. It can be very helpful in generating the political will to create alternatives to avoid the congestion, as Toronto is finding with its interest in more transit. Other ways to avoid the largely inevitable congestion: More housing in town center locations. More street connections (by reducing dead ends and cul-de-sacs). Tolling roads. Putting roads on a diet. Making streets more “complete” so they handle more than just cars. More jobs and shopping in residential areas. Properly priced car parking (nearly all cities provide too much underpriced or free parking). Cash-out parking. Unbundled parking. Paying for car insurance at the gas pump. And so on.

As a Michael Ronkin and I often say these days, creating more walking, bicycling and transit is much more about TAKING AWAY things from motorists (subsidies, road & parking space, etc.) than it is about providing facilities for bicycling, walking and Safeway-July-2015-smtransit. So while sidewalks, bike paths and better transit are usually important, it is typically the case that such things are secondary to doing the things I list above.

Too many cities put the cart before the horse by providing transit with the necessary prerequisites of properly managed parking, proper pricing, and proper land uses, for example. Toronto has done reasonably well on this. But I also suspect there is much more they can do to create better conditions for healthy transit.

Easy and fair way to pay for more and better transit is tolling roads and properly pricing the parking, among other things. I suspect as good as the city is compared to most other cities, Toronto has a long way to go in creating fair user fees for transport. I’m sure that like in most larger cities, transit is well-used because it is costly and inconvenient (as it should be, for fairness and quality of life) to drive a car.

“Agglomeration Economies” are very important for the (economic and social) health of a city, and things that “ease congestion” tend to create urban DISPERSAL, which directly undercuts the agglomeration economies that cities need to be healthy.

Something else to consider: the “travel time budget,” which informs us that humans are apparently hard-wired for a certain amount of time allocated to daily commuting. Cross-culturally and throughout history, that budget tends to be about 1.2 hours per day (some do more, some do less, but the average is about 1.2). Given that, we can know the consequences of certain actions regarding congestion: When faced with the “time tax” of congestion, many will (in the long run) live closer to work or travel at non-rush hour times or take different routes, or travel by bike/bus/walking as a way to stay within their travel time budget.

The conventional (and mostly failed) approach is to “ease congestion” by widening roads and intersections. The triple convergence and travel time budget let us know that by doing so, we will NOT ease congestion for very long (by widening). About all we will achieve is greater geographic dispersal of where jobs, shopping and housing are found in the city (city sprawl accelerates). That, of course, quickly worsens sprawl and increases commute times.

 

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