Tag Archives: speed

The Myth of Boulder CO Being a Top Bicycling City

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 7, 2017

In the September and October 2016 editions of Bicycling Magazine, the magazine issued a “Hall of Shame” recognition to the City of Boulder, Colorado for removing protected bicycle lanes on Folsom Street. The magazine also moved Boulder down the Top Ten Bicycling Cities list from 6 to 10. While I agree with both of these decisions, Bicycling Magazine may want to consider lowering Boulder’s status even further as a top US cycling city.

The extremely hostile opposition to the redesign of Folsom Street in Boulder has unveiled an enormous myth. Boulder has long been touted as being exceptionally progressive and forward thinking regarding bicycle (and other forms of) transportation. I had bought into this myth myself.

But the stunning opposition to the Folsom Street right-sizing (removal of two of five travel lanes) motivated me to think again about that widespread belief. The following tally shows that Boulder is behind the times on a number of transportation issues.

Traffic Calming. Slowing down and calming dangerous, speeding traffic is extremely important for neighborhood health and safety, not to mention overall quality of life. For these reasons, designing streets to obligate slower car speeds is a widespread and growing action throughout the nation. Boulder essentially ended its neighborhood traffic calming efforts in respond to a funding shortfall and furious citizen opposition in the 1990s and 2000s.

Right-Sizing. Removing travel lanes from oversized roads, like traffic calming, is an essential and cost-effective way to dramatically improve safety, reduce speeding, reduce noise pollution, reduce regional car travel, improve residential and retail health, and nudge a number of residents toward bicycling, walking and transit. Again, right-sizing is a widespread and growing reform throughout the nation. Boulder is likely to end all efforts for the foreseeable future to further right-size gigantic in-city highways due to extreme citizen opposition that emerged in 2015 regarding the Folsom Street project.

Car Parking. Excessive quantities of free off-street parking is a gigantic problem both in Boulder and nationally. It is a massive subsidy to motorists, induces an artificially high level of car travel, destroys city and residential health, and makes for extremely unsafe and inconvenient conditions for walking, bicycling and transit. By substantially dispersing the size of a town center and overall community, excessive parking found in Boulder and elsewhere is toxic to city health. Cities throughout the nation are therefore converting counterproductive “minimum” parking requirements to “maximum” requirements. Macys-at-29th-St-July-2015-smBoulder parking regulations remain antiquated, after decades of this problem being identified, by continuing to require large minimum parking requirements and doing relatively little to convert free parking to priced parking. Or to convert excessive existing parking into more community beneficial uses such as office, retail, or residential.

Synchronized traffic signals. Synchronizing traffic signals is commonly thought to “ease” car traffic flow or reduce congestion. But it has long been known that we cannot build our way out of congestion by adding new road capacity – and synchronization does this indirectly — as more capacity simply induces new latent car trips that would not have occurred had we not increased capacity. This is particularly true when considering cars, which, because of their enormous size, quickly congest roads. Many cities have therefore opted not to synchronize signals (which, by the way, is surprisingly expensive) or have made the synchronizing less counterproductive by timing the signal lights for bus and bicycle speeds rather than car speeds. Boulder continues to synchronize signals for car speeds, and there appears to be no support for revising this.

One-way streets. One-way streets induce speeding, inattentive driving, motorist impatience, regional car trips, suburban sprawl, and declining retail and residential health. They also discourage bicycle and walking trips. For these reasons, a great many cities have returned their one-way streets to two-way operation, and this trend is accelerating due to the growing awareness of problems associated with one-way streets. The Boulder town center is substantially hobbled by a toxic one-way street loop, and there appears to be no political support for returning to two-way operation.

Bicycle parking. Since at least the early 1980s, it has been well known that the “inverted U” bicycle rack parking design (and minor variations) is the only well-functioning, low-cost design for bicycle parking. Yet it was only in 2015 that Boulder opted to require such parking, and even when it did, the regulations still allow an extremely inferior alternative design.

Transportation is in a silo. For decades, we have known that transportation and land use are intimately related, and profoundly shape each other. Many community objectives cannot be achieved unless transportation and land use work together. We cannot, for example, install an enormous, high-speed highway in the middle of what is intended to be a compact, safe, walkable town center, as the highway undermines the desire for nearby walkability. Yet in Boulder, there is a surprisingly strict separation between long-range transportation plans and long-range land use plans and at public workshops pertaining to street or land use strategies for particular locations in the city. And the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board has, in at least my tenure, been extremely timid about discussing otherwise obvious land use issues when discussing transportation issues.

Slip lanes. Slip lanes allow cars to make relatively high-speed, inattentive right turns, which create dangerous turning conditions for pedestrians and bicyclists at intersections. Boulder has installed a large number of slip lanes at intersections throughout the city – including in the town center.

Double-Left Turn Lanes. Double-left turn lanes, like slip lanes, allow relatively high-speed, inattentive turns by cars, which results in dangerous conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, not to mention motorists. Double-left turn lanes create enormous intersection sizes that induce suburban dispersal from such intersections, make crossing by bicycle or foot exceptionally dangerous, kill the important need for intersections to create a human-scaled sense of place, and promote suburban sprawl. In addition, these extremely expensive intersection treatments ignore the fact that we cannot build our way out of intersection congestion. Boulder has installed a very large number of such dual left-turn lanes.

Idaho Law. The Idaho law allows bicyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs, and red signal lights as stop signs. The law acknowledges the fact that stop sign and signal light regulations are designed for dangerous, heavy, high-speed cars, and are generally unnecessary for bicyclists. Bicyclists depend on leveraging momentum when traveling, and stops eliminate momentum. A number of cities in Colorado have now adopted the long-standing Idaho law to substantially increase bicyclist convenience and reduce inequity. Boulder continues to resist adopting such a law.

Town Center Bicycling. Healthy town centers are places that tend to be superb locations for bicyclists to live and travel, as centers contain a large number of destinations (which reduces travel distances) and the best centers emphasize low speeds. Despite its national reputation for prolific and quality bicycle facilities, however, the Boulder town center contains a large number of roads that are shockingly hostile to bicycling.

Summary

Yes, Boulder has provided an impressive system of bicycle paths and transit, which perpetuates the myth that Boulder is unusually progressive regarding transportation. But the paths and transit are much more a matter of Boulder being wealthy rather than Boulder being cutting edge, or brilliant, or progressive. Because off-street paths and transit in no way impede happy, excessive car travel, they require relatively little leadership. Driving by car in Boulder remains highly convenient and enjoyable. Paths and transit, it turns out, are in a way simply green washing lip service.

The “Four S” Strategy. Boulder has spent decades emphasizing the provision of more bike lanes, sidewalks, and transit as a way to promote more non-car travel, but as exemplified by the lack of success in increasing 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.

The “Four S” strategy to effectively encourage more cycling, walking and transit use: reduce car Speeds, reduce Space allocated to cars, reduce Subsidies for motorists, and Shorten distances to destinations (via compact, mixed-use development). Given the clear effectiveness of this strategy, Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategies in Boulder 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.

I was a professional town and transportation planner for 20 years in Gainesville FL. That city is far more politically conservative than Boulder, yet on many of the measures above, Gainesville is much more progressive.

 

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In Town Centers the Pedestrian is the Imperative, NOT Bicyclists or Cars or Transit or the Disabled

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 6, 2009

I applaud the desire to provide for all forms of travel. This is particularly important in (what should be) a low-speed town center environment.

For a town center to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, low-speed car travel is essential, and a “park once” environment must be created. Here, the pedestrian, not the bicyclist or car or transit, must be the design imperative. If we “get it right” for the pedestrian in the town center, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just Céret,_France,_main_street_2pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled and everyone else.

However, if we suboptimize bicycling, transit or cars to the detriment of other community objectives, the unintended consequence is that most everyone loses.

Too often, eager bicycling advocates loudly proclaim that a town center needs bike lanes and a removal of on-street car parking. But I believe that bike lanes and the removal of on-street parking in a town center serve to suboptimize bicycling — and I speak as a bicycle commuter.

How do we make the pedestrian the design imperative in a town center? Some of the more important tactics include reducing dimensions (such as street widths, building setbacks and the size of parking), increasing commercial and residential compactness, and obligating slow, attentive speeds by motorists.

Probably the most powerful, affordable way to achieve the above-mentioned tactics is on-street parking. Such parking effectively slows cars and obligates attentiveness by adding friction to the street. Such parking is also essential for healthy town center retail. And such parking sometimes dramatically improves pedestrian safety by reducing the street crossing distance.

In a town center, bike lanes tend to undercut each of those design objectives.

Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read in the field of planning/transportation (a must-read for all planners, designers and elected folks). In that book, Shoup identifies excessive parking as an enormous problem in nearly all American communities.

However, he points out that it is subsidized, underpriced OFF-STREET parking, required in excess by nearly all local governments, that is one of the most important problems in American cities. Shoup is a strong advocate of on-street parking (especially when it is properly priced and therefore efficiently used). I believe he would agree with me that for nearly all cities (even those with too much parking), an extremely important objective is to substantially INCREASE the amount of on-street parking and substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking. And that as much town center street frontage as possible be lined with on-street parking.

In a properly designed town center, car speeds are low enough that it is not only safe and pleasant for pedestrians and retailers and residences. Car speeds are also low enough to permit safe and pleasant sharing of the travel lane by bicyclists. And in a town center, for those bicyclists who are uncomfortable sharing even a slow-speed travel lane with cars, there tends to be nearby parallel lanes off the main street for the bicyclist.

Important downsides for removing town center on-street parking:

*Smaller retailers tend to suffer so much that empty storefronts result and retailers flee to more remote locations that are inconvenient/unsafe to walk or bicycle or bus to. In other words, bicyclists should be strong supporters of a healthy town center retail/residential environment, in part because it promotes a compact community with short travel distances.

*Unless travel lane width is dramatically reduced, bike lanes tend to add asphalt width to the main street. That can mean longer, more dangerous crossing distances for pedestrians, and higher speed and less attentive (and therefore more dangerous) car travel.

Again, town center designers must be careful not to suboptimize bicycle, transit or car travel in the town center, since doing so tends to be detrimental to the pedestrian, which is the town center design imperative. The irony for bicyclists calling for the removal of on-street parking in a town center is not only that it is detrimental to bicycling. On-street parking removal in a town center was (and still is) most loudly called for by the motorist lobby (which fought to increase town center street widths and car speeds beginning about 85 years ago).

And for the record, I am a strong advocate of in-street bicycle lanes on most all major streets in a city. I believe, however, that they tend to be incompatible with a low-speed, human-scaled ped-friendly town center.

 

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Improving Safety for Bicyclists and Our Future Prospects

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 30, 2009

Improving safety for bicyclists is importantly about the number of people bicycling. This is often called “Safety in Numbers.”

An important reason why safety in numbers is so powerful is that motorists are obligated to drive more slowly and more attentively. That is essential for safety. They also tend to expect bicyclists on a regular basis, and therefore learn how to drive more safely near them. Unexpected surprises are always unsafe at higher speeds.

I’m open to the idea that “protected” on-street bike lanes (which have physical barriers between cyclists and cars), and off-street paths next to a street can attract a lot of new bicyclists. As I understand it, one of the most important — if not most important — reasons people don’t bike is perceived safety problems. I don’t wear a helmet when doing low-speed town center bike commuting in part because I want to Cyclists-in-Copenhagen-001send the message that biking is not deadly — helmets send the very bad message that your life is at risk on a bike.

However, I remain unconvinced that protected bike lanes or off-street paths will draw large numbers in the US. Boulder CO is perhaps closer to doing that than any smaller city I know here in the US, and while they have a relatively large number of residents biking, it is still a tiny fraction of the total. I think the European situation doesn’t give us much accuracy on the impact of protected lanes or off-street path inducement because Europe is so different than us. There, the parking is comparatively scarce and expensive. Densities and mixed-use is high. Destinations tend to be comparatively proximate. And gas is expensive. All of those factors tend to induce high levels of biking, walking and transit use.

I guess that means I’d like to see a demonstration project in the US to find out if a comprehensive protected lane or off-street path system would induce high levels of biking. But the cost would be huge. And it is perhaps unwise to spend a lot of dollars on something that is not extremely likely to succeed. For example, I don’t believe even extremely high quality, frequent transit service would induce lots of transit use in non-large cities in the US.

There is too much free parking. Development is too dispersed. Gas is too cheap. And destinations are too far from each other.

Given these rather intractable problems in the US, we are probably a long way off from seeing large numbers of bicyclists or transit users. Probably the obstacle that is most difficult to overcome in the near term is our dispersed land use pattern. Even if gas is, say, $30/gallon, a lot of us will be forced to drive cars (even if we have a full network of protected bike lanes or off-street bike paths).

I continue to mostly adhere to the objective of taking back our streets from high-speed motoring, and urging compact mixing of housing, jobs, shops, and civic. We need to make transit, walking and biking feasible. I think movement in that direction is inevitable because higher gas prices are inevitable, as is the cost of continuing to try to add road capacity for suburbia.

I can envision, in the near future, various DOTs pursuing more aggressive non-auto projects as the cost of driving continues to mount. I’m sure that will mean that some state DOTs will decide to try the protected bike lane or off-street idea, at least as a demo on one or two corridors.

Ultimately, high-speed roads have no future. And if protected bike lanes or off-street paths are necessary because of high-speed roads (which I believe is true), it doesn’t seem like protected bike lanes or off-street paths are where we should be putting our energies right now. I’m concerned that “Plan B” for transportation and land use might need to be in place very quickly, so we probably need Manhattan project urgency RIGHT NOW to start getting us there. We need a train system. We need to build more compact, more localized communities. We need slower-speed and more human-scaled streets.

What this might all come down to is how much of an emergency we believe we are in. Do we have 10 years before gas is $50/gallon? Or 100 years? If the former, I don’t believe protected bike lanes or off-street paths make a lot of sense.

How do you see our future?

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On-Street Parking Should be Calibrated Based on Community Location

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 10, 2010

Town centers are fundamentally different in character, purpose, and objectives. Distances and setbacks are smaller. Speeds are more modest. There is more walking and less driving.

Therefore, design and development regulations should be calibrated so that town centers do not see the application of inappropriate suburban design.

For example, in town centers, in nearly all cases, residential single-family, residential multi-family, commercial and civic uses should all have on-street parking.

In a healthy town center, there are three design imperatives:

  1. Pedestrians.
  2. Low speeds.
  3. Modest dimensions for streets, destination distances and building setbacks.

One of the most effective, low-cost ways to do that is to provide as much on-street parking in a town center as possible, for all land use categories.asheville

As one moves out of the town center, design starts incrementally changing. In the first few rings outside of the town center, transit and bicycling become the imperative. Speeds increase and dimensions, distances, and setbacks are larger. Bike lanes become more appropriate and on-street parking becomes less appropriate.

In the more drivable outer suburban rings, cars become the design imperative. Speeds are relatively high, as are sizes. On-street parking is largely non-existent, and bike lanes become rather important and appropriate.

 

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We Need Slower AND Smaller Vehicles

 

By Dom Nozzi

February 21, 2010

I love the idea of designing cars for a maximum speed of 30 or 35 mph. High speed car travel is extremely toxic to cities and neighborhoods, partly because they powerfully induce community dispersal, isolation of people from others, promote non-local Big Box retail, and catastrophically degrade community and neighborhood quality of life.

My core message in my writings and speeches is that we must return to the tradition of slow(er) speed travel. An essential companion to the crucial need for slower speed travel, however, is that we need substantially SMALLER vehicles. A golf cart would be a good start…

The gargantuan space consumption of motor vehicles destroys the intimate, human-scaled, charming, romantic, walkable dimensions and spacing that nearly all humans Big Firetruckfind lovable (as shown, partly, by the places we most love to visit as tourists). The huge space consumption by cars (a person in a car takes up 17 times more space than a person in a chair) inevitably causes cities to become afflicted by the GIGANTISM disease.

Massive parking lots. Massive building setbacks. Massive highways. Massive distance from Point A to Point B. Result: A dangerous, unsustainable world that no one can love.

 

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