Tag Archives: sprawl

Fixing Florida Growth Management Law with a TCEA Exception Area

By Dom Nozzi

February 25, 2000

The Florida Growth Management law adopted in 1985 had a serious flaw regarding its “concurrency” rules that stated that new development could not lower adopted levels of service. The rule sounded wonderful, but had a serious, unintended consequence when applied to roads because it strongly promoted new development to occur in outlying areas where road capacity was plentiful. Such capacity is quite scarce in the in-town locations where new development is more desirable from the point of view of a community.

In other words, the law was strongly promoting sprawl and strongly discouraging infill development in town centers – the opposite of the intent of the law.

The major fix attempted for this flaw was for the State of Florida to adopt what it called “transportation concurrency exception areas” (TCEA) that communities could establish if they demonstrated to the State that they had factors in place to make such an exception work better (such as the provision of transit service in the exception area). To adopt TCEA as a tweak of the State growth law was essential to avoid the enormous unintended consequence of promoting sprawl and discouraging infill.

The TCEA has achieved two critical goals: Allowing communities to avoid having to enforce road concurrency where infill is desired, and removing a powerful sprawl incentive. Because road concurrency is the only level of service standard that matters,large lot subdivision because urban roads just outside the city are filling up, and because we need to reverse the fact that growth is much more rapid in such unincorporated urban areas around Florida cities than within cities (which is highly detrimental for a number of reasons), we need to be careful. Because even a paper tiger TCEA (ie, a TCEA that has weak conditions for being granted) is significantly better than no TCEA.

Having said all that, here are some tools for strengthening the TCEA rule, off the top of my head, to use TCEA to incentivize infill and discourage sprawl.

  • Be sure the TCEA is modest in size so that we can focus more on those areas where we truly want to encourage development. The TCEA area, in other words, should not extend out to suburban, drivable locations where transportation choice will not arise for several decades, if ever. Another benefit to a more modest TCEA size is that a smaller TCEA allows us to have stronger standards, since we inherently have to water TCEA down if it applies to an overly large area that captures suburbs.
  • Prevent the County from adopting their own TCEA in unincorporated urban areas around the city, since that would obviously would apply the TCEA to suburban sprawl locations where transportation choice is unlikely or impossible.
  • Within the TCEA, allow no net increase in road capacity: No new travel lanes or turn lanes.
  • Remove the parking minimum requirement within the TCEA. Requiring the provision of [free] parking as a condition for development approval is a fertility drug for cars.
  • Establish a high level of service for transit in the TCEA—say, a 10-minute transit frequency.
  • Do not allow drive-throughs.
  • If a project is over, say, 5 dwelling units or 10,000 square feet, require that the building be at least 2 stories high.
  • Allow no new cul-de-sacs.
  • Within a TCEA town or neighborhood center, require a minimum number of residential units per “X” square feet of non-residential floor area.
  • Require the commercial building front facade to be 0-20 feet from the front property line (for both streets if on a corner), and allow no car parking in front of the building.
  • Allow no block faces greater than 400-500 feet.
  • Require curb and gutter.
  • Pay RTS so that each employee or resident in the project is given a free transit pass.

Only with such meaningful requirements can a TCEA achieve growth management goals and not promote undesirable unintended consequences.

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Leveling the Playing Field by Getting the Prices Right

A review by Dom Nozzi of “Perverse Cities: Hidden Subsidies, Wonky Policy, and Urban Sprawl” (2010), by Pamela Blais

January 16, 2012

Blais describes a dizzying, almost countless number of ways in which suburban sprawl is heavily subsidized. Such strong market distortions expose the extreme falsehood of sprawl apologists who claim sprawl is the result of an unfettered free market. Instead, Blais shows over and over again the perversity of those living efficient, sustainable, walkable lifestyles in town center locations who are significantly subsidizing andpe artificially increasing the demand for inefficient, unsustainable, car-dependent sprawl lifestyle. As Blais notes, it is as if those driving small, fuel-efficient cars are subsidizing the purchase of Hummers.

“Much of the attention [by governments seeking to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inducing global warming] has been focused on programs that aim to reduce consumption within the home – energy-efficient appliances, windows, insulation, furnaces, and so on.” But Blais then points out that because household car travel creates such significant levels of emissions, and such travel substantially increases when homes are located in remote suburban locations, “when it comes to reducing energy use and GHG emissions, the location of the home is far more important than are the green features of the house itself…even the greenest house located in the suburbs…and an energy-efficient car, consumes more total energy than does a conventional house with a conventional car located in [a town center].”

How are so many North American cities (inadvertently?) subsidizing sprawl? One extremely important way is by using average cost pricing rather than marginal cost pricing. “…prices charged for [various urban services] rarely reflect the higher costs of servicing a larger or more distant [residential or commercial] lot; rather, prices based on average costs are used. In other words, costs are averaged across a range of different types of development associated with a range of actual costs…those properties that incur lower-than-average costs pay more than their [fair share of] costs, while those properties that incur higher-than-average costs pay less than their [fair share of] costs.”

Examples that Blais cites of this pricing perversity include:

  • “those who live on small lots subsidize those living on large lots;
  • Smaller residential units subsidize larger residential units;
  • Those who don’t drive or drive less subsidize uses that generate more trips;
  • Land uses that generate fewer trips subsidize uses that generate more trips;
  • Those who live in less expensive-to-service areas subsidize those who live in more expensive-to-service areas;
  • Those who live nearer the centre of the city subsidize those who live farther from the centre; and
  • Urban dwellers subsidize rural dwellers.”

Blais also notes that average cost pricing also undercharges those living in remote locations for the following goods and services: “water and sewer services, roads, parking, electricity, natural gas, basic telephone, cable TV, broadband internet, postal service, municipal snow clearance, recycling collection, garbage collection.” Each of these, Blais reminds us, tends to cost more to provide in outlying suburbs, yet average cost pricing charges such residents less than their fair share of community costs (and therefore overcharges those living in efficient town center locations).

“Sprawl is underpriced, and so the demand for it is exaggerated. Efficient forms of development – denser development, smaller lots and buildings, low-, medium- or high-rise apartments, mixed use, and central locations – are overpriced, so demand for them is reduced [below what would naturally occur].”

Local governments have been their own worst enemy. “…it may be troubling to think that the problem of sprawl – one that governments have been struggling to solve for decades – has, in fact, been largely created by those same governments…”

Contrary to what we hear from the defenders of sprawl, “[s]prawl is not the result of market forces but, rather, of a particular variety of distorted market forces. Moreover, these distortions emanate largely from public policy.” We can be somewhat hopeful, however, because since many of these market distortions arise from government decisions, citizens and elected officials have it within their power to correct such distortions. And as Blais says, “[g]etting the prices right, and getting an unbiased market operating, would go a long way towards curbing sprawl…more accurate price signals will prompt new kinds of decisions, choices, and market responses, shifting demand and supply towards more efficient development patterns.”

I would note that this has already started happening over the past decade – albeit not because of government action, but where a noticeable shift toward more fuel-efficient cars and a growth in town center living has been sparked by such factors as rising and volatile gasoline prices, and overall economic woes.

Stronger local government regulations requiring smart growth, compact development, and prohibitions against sprawl have been tried for several decades throughout North America, yet have been almost a complete failure. “This failure is a very expensive proposition, given the considerable resources devoted to this effort compared to tangible results…one could say that we have the dubious honour of being blessed with both the costs of planning and the costs of sprawl.”

According to Blais, this is largely because “sprawl has been viewed narrowly within the planning paradigm – as a planning problem that calls for a ‘planning’ solution. The focus has been on solving sprawl with regulatory and design approaches. While these approaches are without question a critical part of the solution to sprawl, the problem is that they have not addressed, nor are they capable of addressing, other critical causes of sprawl, in particular, the mis-pricing issues [this book describes]. Unless these causes are addressed directly, sprawl will remain an elusive and intractable problem.”

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Thoughts about the 2005 Florida Growth Management Legislation

by Dom Nozzi

May 18, 2005

The 2005 Florida State Legislative session was billed as the most substantial growth management legislative modifications since the Growth Management Act was adopted in 1985. This legislation has been hailed by a large number of groups—from builders, to public interest groups and environmental groups—as something that “will finally allow Florida to make growth management much more effective.”

Not by legislating a sustainable, walkable, timeless vision for how communities should be designed. Not by providing quality of life tools such as required growth boundaries, reformed land development regulations, parking reforms, acknowledging that road concurrency is fueling sprawl and harming communities (recognizing, in other words, that in urban areas, congestion is our friend), property tax reform (to stop promoting sprawl and downtown ruin), or calling for road diets.

None of these actions were urged by legislators.

No, what our legislators decided to do to “improve” growth management and the future quality of life of Floridians was precisely what should NOT have been done to achieve these objectives.

The major action by the legislature? “Starting to properly funding growth management after 20 years of insufficient funding.”

Our state “leaders” voted to proclaim that the solution to protect our future quality of life is to pour billions of public dollars into building bigger roads so that we can “prevent growth from congesting our roads.”Untitled

So there you have it. Bigger roads means happier Floridians.

Oh, sure. The legislature took some baby steps with regard to water supply and schools. A tightening of the concurrency rule that requires development to “pay its own way.” But each of these were comparatively trivial actions.

By far, the big message from our legislators in 2005 was that we have “growth management” if we widen roads to “prevent further congestion.” The be all and end all of quality of life in Florida is “free-flowing traffic.” Happy cars is our sole focus to create happy communities.

At least that is what one is led to believe, when it is recognized that about 75 percent of the funding the legislators found to “fund growth management” is being directed toward roads.

Oops.

We forgot (again) that we cannot build our way out of congestion. We forgot that widening soon makes congestion worse. We forgot that wider roads is like throwing gasoline on the fire of sprawl, auto dependence and community decline. We forgot that happy cars and happy people mix like oil and water. We forgot that widening roads is the most effective way to destroy community quality of life. We forgot that the impossible task of widening our way out of congestion will further bankrupt state and local government—thereby starving other essential public programs.

We forgot that what is good (in the short term) for our SUVs is NOT good for our communities.

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Leverage and “No Growthers”

by Dom Nozzi

December 20, 1999

There is a national epidemic of people, over the past few decades, who oppose all forms of development. There are not only NIMBYs = not in my back yard. There are also CAVEs = citizens against virtually everything, NIMTOOs = not in my term of office, BANANAs = build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything, and my personal favorite: NOPEs = not on planet earth.

Clearly, much of this opposition has arisen because, since approximately WWII, we’ve developed our neighborhoods and cities to make cars happy instead of people. Suburban sprawl is primarily fueled by our single-minded efforts to make cars happy. And sprawl gives us horrific government and household financial crises, massive environmental destruction and loss of farmland in our outlying areas, declining and unsafe “in-town” areas, visual blight, excessive dependency on our cars, loss of civic pride, distrust of (and anger towards) government and developers, hopelessness and despair. It is no wonder that we are a nation infested with a “no growth” attitude. And it is no surprise that our costly and ugly development patterns make such an attitude justifiable.

The problem is that a “no growth” attitude is ultimately unsustainable, since you cannot stop growth — you can merely push it into other areas.

Unfortunately, these “other areas” are usually the outlying natural areas and farms surrounding our cities. After all, outlying land is usually less costly and more abundant than in the city, and there are fewer NIMBYs in outlying areas. Perhaps most disturbing is that development of these outlying areas inevitably leads to the destruction of vast amounts of relatively sensitive natural areas, guarantee excessive dependency on the car, make walking and transit nearly impossible, destroy any sense of neighborliness, and give us unbearable service and household costs.nimby-web-2

Today, we seem to have a new problem emerging — or at least a problem becoming more sophisticated. Increasingly, “no growthers” have found potent new leverage to achieve their agenda. The new leverage is now primarily coming from environmentalists, and elected officials who lack the courage to be leaders in the face of emotional, angry NIMBYs.

Environmental Leverage

Environmentalists are understandably disturbed by the destruction of wildlife and habitat by most conventional development, and usually work to stop any development — no matter its design or location. But environmentalists must pick their battles. Is it wise to burn out the troops by fighting to save every single tree in every development proposal, especially when doing so encourages developers to find less contentious outlying areas, where development will harm more important and more sensitive natural areas? Shouldn’t environmentalists understand that excessive dependence on car travel is perhaps the most profound threat to the environment (air pollution, water pollution, sprawl, etc., are mostly due to the car), and that fighting in-town development will push more new development to areas where it is impossible to travel except by car?

Most of our project-specific environmental battles have been won. We have strong water, air, and tree rules. The most important environmental, economic and quality of life threat is not the smokestack. It is car-oriented sprawl into our outlying areas.

It seems to me that the priority for environmentalists is to slow sprawl to outlying areas, and to create cities with a wealth of transportation choices and quality of life — a quality of life that reduces the desire to flee the city. An effective way to do that is to return to the age of designing our in-town locations to make people instead of cars happy.

Elected Officials Leverage

The second form of leverage is the elected official who lacks courage and leadership, which seems to be another epidemic in America. Here, the “no growther” can realize success because fearful elected officials are often anxious — in the face of angry citizens opposed to a development project — to find a rationale to deny development approval. A handy way to find such reasons without appearing to be lacking in courage, or appearing to be “caving in” to a hostile group of citizens, is to simply state that you would support the in-town development if only it was not going to remove trees. Or harm a wetland.

Ultimately, these are fertile times for the “no growther.” People understandably assume that any new development will be bad, given what has happened over the past several decades. Environmentalists are understandably enraged by environmental destruction. The level of anger and hysteria has reached such a fever pitch that we understandably find ourselves with elected officials who live in fear of such strong emotions. It is a vicious cycle that is contributing to sprawl and a decline of our quality of life.

These new forms of leverage allow the “no growther” to be increasingly successful in stopping in-town development. But to the extent that the “no growther” is successful, our fate will be to suffer a decline in quality of life and a loss of sustainability because outlying sprawl will accelerate and our in-town locations will continue to stagnate.

What is needed is the courage and will to incrementally move Back To The Future so that we again design for people instead of cars. Inevitably, such an approach will restore trust, confidence and respect for our elected officials and our developers.

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Does Transportation Drive Land Use?

By Dom Nozzi

June 15, 2000

Often, I notice people express the opinion that transportation is dependent on land use. Similarly, I’m often told that land use comes first, and transportation planning and development follows to accommodate the land use. That “land use drives transportation.”

But let’s keep in mind that transportation is profoundly a vicious cycle and significantly changes behavior and markets over time. For example, when/if we add capacity or widen major roads, we set into motion some enormous political and economic pressures, and behavior changes. Widening a road will inevitably reduce the number of bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users (because it is now more difficult, unsafe, and unpleasant to use the bigger road). This creates more car trips (“induced travel”). And the induced travel created by the widened road, is used, post facto, to justify the widened road (a classic self-fulfilling prophesy). Because the bigger road carries more high-speed traffic, it becomes unpleasant to live along the road. So, over time, housing values decline along the road, and single-family gets converted to student rental, multi-family for students, office and retail. And because it is now more pleasant and fast to drive a car, people are better able to live in remote areas and commute to their jobs in the city.

Why? Because cross-culturally and throughout history, the average daily roundtrip commute is 1.1 hours. Some people will relocate to more remote locations to create a new equilibrium when the road is widened.

Many people dream of living in a “cabin in the woods.” Therefore, wider roads create a strong demand for sprawl housing, because the wider road reduces travel time from home to daily destinations. Is sprawl possible without car travel? Could a huge number of us live in remote locations if our transportation system did not provide cheap and easy car travel?

Most people would be unwilling to live in low-density, outlying, sprawling areas — or drive a car for every trip — unless roads are designed for high speeds and high volumes, and parking is both free and abundant. All the conditions that people dislike about the city — whether real or perceived — such as noise, crime, etc., can be more easily fled if the newly widened roads allow you to get to work each day in a reasonable period of time, even if you live in an outlying area. The ultimate result is that as we add capacity to streets, we set in motion a pattern of sprawl and strip, we wipe out farms, and we accelerate the decline of in-town areas.

Another outcome is that our in-town streets become little more than “escape routes.”

Quite often, our transportation planning advisory boards are dominated by home building interests. Clearly, this industry realizes the fundamental importance of widening roads to create sprawl residential markets for them.

As for retail land use impacts caused by transportation, when there are so many cars being carried by a bigger road, business people cannot resist putting enormous pressure on staff and officials to rezone the businessperson’s property to retail in order to takearapahoe-ave-boulder-co advantage of all those potential customers driving by each day. This is precisely why we see so many big box retailers clamoring for sites at major intersections. In fact, in the planning department I work in, we get calls all the time from people who want to rezone from residential to office or retail along our major arterial streets.

High-volume big box retailers, except in large, high-density cities, are not viable unless the public sector provides large subsidies in the form of high-speed, high-capacity, multi-lane streets (big roads enable the big box to draw cars from a regional “consumer-shed”). Not only that. These retailers also depend on the public sector to allow them to build enormous and free surface parking lots, and enormous building footprints.

As expected, we so often have strip commercial – intense land use development pressure — on major roads near interstates. Could such streets have been anything else other than strip commercial, given the street design and the access to the Interstate? Are single-family homes viable along such a street? If you owned land along such a stretch, would it be rational for you not to do everything in your power to get the local government to grant you the right to sell to those 70,000 potential daily customers, as the “big box” retailer so often wants to do?

I’ve seen land use plans and maps prepared in the past, and I know that it is not a “plan” at all. Almost entirely, when we talk about a mostly built-out city, it is simply recording what is there already. Almost none of it is a proactive vision of what the planners want. If we engaged in wholesale land use changes in the land use map/plan to enact our sustainable, livable vision, all of the planners would be in fear of losing their jobs and all of the commissioners would be thrown out of office. Elected commissioners and staff are forced, by political realities, to be reactive in our land use “plan.” Transportation, on the other hand, is something we can make changes to, because it is often feasible, politically, to make the change.

It matters not a whit whether planners designate a site for retail or single-family residential. Over time, what will happen to the property is determined by the road design and traffic. If the land use designation does not correspond to what is happening on the road, the land use will get changed, or the land will be abandoned. If our street network is designed for modest car speeds, modest car volumes, connectivity, and access (in other words, transportation choice), we will get viable transit, bicycling, walking and neighborhood retail and mixed use, not to mention higher densities, more traffic congestion (which is, in cities, a good thing), compact development, and a control on sprawl. High-speed, high capacity roads will give us the reverse, regardless of what our land use “plan/map” says.

Is it not much easier to predict what will happen to the land uses along a street based on the way the street is designed than to predict what will happen to the street based on the land uses along it? Similarly, is it not more feasible to predict whether there will be a sprawled, dispersed, low-density community if we know, in advance, what the street system and form of travel will be, compared to whether there will be future sprawled community based on what the current land uses (or land use plans) are designated for various properties? For example, West Palm Beach FL is currently experiencing a dramatic, beneficial land use change throughout their city soon after they re-designed their streets by removing travel lanes, calming traffic, and doing substantial streetscaping. Land use improvements there are clearly driven by transportation changes.

Transportation engineers love to try to deny responsibility when their studies (which are flawed because they don’t accurately account for human behavior) show that a road must be widened. The engineer usually claims that land use drives transportation, and that their high-speed, high-volume roads are merely “meeting the demand created by the land uses.” “It’s not our fault that we must spend millions to widen roads, tear out houses, and ruin the environment. We are forced to because of the land use.” But this ignores the fact that high-speed, high-volume roads create a vicious cycle and substantially modify behavior, as noted above. The important danger of this highly misleading claim from many engineers is that it leads us to incorrectly believe that we have no choice. We must widen the road because of the land uses on the ground. Too often, we are mislead into believing that land use choices we made in the past are now forcing us to widen the road.

Engineers must not be allowed to wiggle out of culpability with such an excuse. The traffic engineer who explains it is the land use that “forces” the road widening seems sensible until you look closer and find out how the market brings enormous and unrelenting pressure to change the designations when we change the roads, and how human reactions to road conditions draws or repels residences. If we are incredibly courageous and true to our principles, we might be able to delay the re-zoning for a few years on a widened road that is now hostile for residences. But that just means that because the road carries so much high speed, high volume traffic, it is no longer feasible to keep the property residential because the quality of life is so miserable (as a result, the residential building eventually is abandoned, or is downgraded from owner-occupied to rental), or it is no longer rational to keep it as a farm because you can make millions by selling it for a shopping center or subdivision.

Here is what Newman & Kenworthy (Cities and Automobile Dependence, 1989) have to say:

“In general, [transportation] modeling has assumed that land use is “handed down” by land use planners and that transport planners are merely shaping the appropriate transport system to meet the needs of the land use forecast. This is not the case. One of the major reasons why freeways around the world have failed to cope with demand is that transport infrastructure has a profound feedback effect on land use, encouraging and promoting new development wherever the best facilities are provided (or are planned).” (pg 106)

Why is Europe so walkable and compact, and the U.S. is not? Is it that they are just more educated and appreciative of the merits of walkable communities? Or is it that they mostly developed before the auto age, whereas we developed after the emergence of the auto age? And why is it that Europe is now, after entering the auto age, starting to see the sprawl we are experiencing?

The Florida growth management law requires that “level-of-service” standards be created, and that new developments only be allowed if they are built “concurrently” with the infrastructure and services they would need. But the only concurrency measure from the Florida law that matters is the road level-of-service. Every other concurrency measure – recreation, utilities, solid waste, etc. – is, for all intents and purposes, ignored in comparison.

We are fooling ourselves and doomed to a life of permanent, never-ending battles with people who want to rezone singe-family land that they own and cannot use as single-family due to a wide road (granting that there are a few who could live in a single-family home and put up with the noise and reduced property value – sometimes, this is called “affordable housing”). Forty years from now, if we do not fix our major streets to make them more livable, we will, though incremental zoning changes, have those streets lined with offices and multi-family buildings and retail. And over those 40 years, we will have a bunch of planners, citizens, and officials burned out on fighting those never-ending battles. In the long term, as Walter Kulash points out, no force, not even five “no growth” commissioners, can stop that incremental change after we have designed a street for high-speed, high-volume traffic.

Yes, we can succeed, in the short term, in keeping property zoned single-family. But that will only mean that we’ll have a bunch of vacant homes, and depressed property values.

Once the transport system is in place, the market/political pressure to take advantage of that system is overpoweringly strong, and will overwhelm any countervailing efforts. It hardly matters how courageous, visionary, or progressive a planner or elected official is. If the roads are designed to encourage sprawl, we will get sprawl. No zoning or land use designations (such as “large-lot” zoning) can stop it, and there is no community in the US that has succeeded by trying to control sprawl with designations. When we create and construct our transportation plans, we have, essentially and indirectly (and often unintentionally), established our future land use plans, not vice versa. It is as simple as that, and it is time for us to realize it.

All that said, I’m willing to concede that we should have our road and land use plans work concurrently. So yes, we should designate outlying areas for conservation and farms. But unless we concurrently get the transportation right, we are wasting our time.

In sum, keeping a road at a modest width with a modest number of travel lanes in the face of projected car traffic growth will, over the long term, result in less per capita car trips on that road, less new sprawl into outlying areas, less big box retail, more viable neighborhoods, a higher quality of life, and more residential density near walkable, livable, neighborhood-scaled town centers. Widening the road by adding travel lanes, over the long term, would give us the reverse. The excessive capacities that we typically build for our cities gives us too much sprawl, densities that are too low, and auto dependence. I believe that we should put a moratorium on adding street capacity to streets in our cities, before we wake up one day and wonder how we let ourselves become another auto-dependent south Florida, instead of a sustainable, sociable community featuring transportation choice, safety and independence for our children and seniors, and a unique community we can take pride in.

In the long run, the street shapes the land uses that will form along it much more profoundly than how the land uses would shape the street that forms through them. Let’s not let the traffic engineer fool us. Let’s not put in big roads and then valiantly try (and fail) to stop the sprawl and strip, and then flog ourselves when we are unable to stop the land use degradation. Transportation comes before – and determines — land use. A high quality of life, and sustainable future, depends on our realizing that.

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Transportation Remedies

by Dom Nozzi

June 1, 2000

In theory, being concerned about the added traffic (the additional number of car trips) a new development will create is helpful. It recognizes that increasingly, the new form of pollution in our age is not belching smokestacks and sewer pipes so much as it is the number of car trips coming from the new development. But conventionally and historically, our “remedy” has been to widen the nearby roads, add huge seas of asphalt parking, and make the street intersections enormous.download

It has been only recently that we are finally starting to realize that this “remedy” ironically makes things worse. Such a “remedy” accelerates suburban sprawl, chases away residences (which cannot tolerate proximity to car-intensive areas), makes it more difficult to walk, bicycle or use the bus, degrades our quality of life, moves us closer to being an “Anywhere USA” instead of a unique town, and forces us to make nearly all of our trips by car.  These remedies make cars instead of people happy by creating the “induced traffic” problem in which we stimulate new, additional car trips that would not have occurred had we not tried to make cars so happy with wider roads and more parking.

Instead, our concern about a new development and the car trips it will potentially generate should be focused on strategies that are effective in reducing this new form of “pollution.” We need to insist that the new project, when feasible and appropriate, is walkable, and mixes residences with offices, retail, services, schools, and parks. That is, we need to return to the timeless, traditional, pre-WWII way of building our town and neighborhoods.

It is only through this approach that we can ensure that new developments deliver a quality of life that is free from excessive car trip “pollution” — developments we can look forward to, instead of dread.

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

By Dom Nozzi

June 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Bicycling, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

Fighting Against What Is Wanted

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 26, 2017

Many in Boulder CO hold contradictory views.

On the one hand, one hears a lot of folks saying they hate sprawl and cars (at least those driven by others) and the high cost of housing in Boulder.NIMBY-protest-Toronto-Boston-SanFrancisco-neighbourhood-airport-housing-preservation-Condo.ca_-512x341

On the other hand, many of these same people hate the things that would most cost-effectively reduce those problems: compact development, accessory dwellings, increasing the number of adults who can live in a home, buildings over one or two stories, smaller setbacks, less private open space, traffic calming, restricted/priced/managed parking, and shrinking oversized roads.

Oops.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

The Deadly Stew of Transportation

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 18, 2017

American society mixes together a deadly stew in transportation: We combine forgiving road design (which forgives motorists for not paying attention) with very busy lives (which inevitably induces an epidemic of motorist speeding), sleep deprivation (which inevitably leads to falling asleep at the wheel), and a car-dependent community design (which obligates most of us to drive for all our trips — and putting all those huge, heavy, high-speed metal boxes on our roads inevitably creates frustration because all the boxes of our fellow citizens are always congesting roads).

Instead of continuing our century-long, single-minded effort to maximize the speed of cars (and therefore condition motorists to expect high-speed driving), we need to more universally design our street system to obligate slower and more attentive driving forgiving(thereby conditioning motorists to expect slower speed driving — at least in cities).

Forgiving street design is not the ONLY cause of distracted, high-speed, angry driving, but I believe it counterproductively amplifies existing societal problems, such as the desire to live in dispersed, car-dependent living arrangements. Forgiving street design makes dangerous driving more frequent.

We have ramped up education and enforcement efforts every few years since the 1920s to fight dangerous driving, yet we probably have more distracted, speeding, angry driving than ever before. Even if those levels are not the highest ever, they are certainly unacceptably high today.

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Is Boulder, Colorado in Danger of Becoming Too Dense?

By Dom Nozzi

March 9, 2017

I hear it all the time as a resident of Boulder, Colorado: “Boulder is too dense!”

I beg to differ.

I support Boulder’s long-standing objectives, such as reducing the city carbon footprint (to ease global warming), reducing noise pollution, improving affordability, increasing the number of trips made by foot or bike or transit, slowing tax increases, ensuring the City has the fiscal capacity to engage in needed/ongoing maintenance of our infrastructure, protecting environmentally sensitive outlying areas from suburban development, reducing traffic injuries and deaths (in part by designing streets to be slower speed and obligate motorists to be more attentive), promoting small retail shops and discouraging large retail shops, encouraging diversity and creativity, improving public health, and retaining a lovable character rather than an Anywhere USA character.

Each of these worthy objectives are furthered by more compact (dense) development.

Unfortunately, despite the conventional wisdom, Boulder is actually quite dispersed. Shockingly so.

Indeed, Boulder is so extremely low-density suburban that if we don’t become more compact and add a lot more housing, we will continue to undermine each of the objectives I list here.

Besides the low density and short-statured nature of development I have observed in Boulder, there is another element that strongly signals that Boulder is suburban in character. sprawl
Christopher Leinberger has pointed out that in compact, walkable neighborhoods, “more is better.” That is, new, more compact development tends to be welcomed because it typically improves the quality of life of those living a walkable lifestyle (more things to walk to, for example). By contrast, says Leinberger, in a drivable suburban neighborhood, “more is less.” In such a setting, new and more compact development tends to be detrimental to the drivable quality of life of residents (roads are more congested and parking is more scarce, for example).

For decades, Boulder has had a near consensus that “more is less,” which is a strong signal that Boulder is a drivable suburban community. Indeed, stopping development – or, if not possible, at least minimizing the density of new development — tends to be the be all and end all of protecting or improving quality of life in Boulder.

Our very low-density, dispersed suburban character means that Boulder’s per capita environmental impact is, ironically, very large (being “green” means far more than engaging in curbside recycling or driving a Prius). Dispersed land use patterns found in Boulder are unsustainable, very environmentally destructive, and ensure that nearly all trips in Boulder will be made by motor vehicle.

There is a growing desire for compact, walkable, town center housing — particularly with the Millennial generation — yet Boulder provides very little if any of that sort of housing. Demand for such housing is substantially higher than the supply of it. Which severely amplifies the affordable housing crisis in Boulder.

Sustainability is far out of reach for Boulder unless we provide a lot more compact, walkable housing.

In sum, I think Boulder is quite far from being “too dense.” So far that a “too dense” Boulder will not happen in our lifetimes — if ever. Indeed, it seems to me that Boulder’s biggest concern should be that we are too dispersed.

I previously wrote about why I believe so many people in Boulder (like in so many other American communities) believe their community is “too dense,” despite the obvious signs I cite above.

It is enormously ironic that a great many Boulder residents — not to mention the millions worldwide — love the great historic cities and towns of Europe so much that they happily spend huge sums of money to visit such towns on a regular basis. Nearly all of us love Copenhagen. We adore Amsterdam. We are charmed by Perugia. We are delighted by Dubrovnik. We cannot get enough of Granada.

Yet each of these celebrated cities are far more compact – far more dense – than Boulder.

Why this disconnect?

I believe there are three important reasons. First, the contemporary modernist architectural paradigm we have been saddled with for several decades has thrown the inherently lovable 315-0722092524-NSA-building-and-parking-lotand timeless traditional building design into the waste can in favor of repellent, “innovative,” look-at-me design. Citizens are thereby conditioned to equate new compact development with hideous buildings. Second, local zoning regulations in cities such as Boulder have made lovable, human-scaled design illegal by requiring excessive setbacks, excessive car parking, and excessive private open space. Third, nearly all citizens live car-dependent lifestyles. And because their cars consume such an enormous amount of space, motorists are compelled to fear and oppose town design that they otherwise love as tourists. They have, in essence, become their own enemies by striving to improve their life as motorists (equating quality of life with easy parking and free-flowing traffic), not realizing that doing so is ruinous to a healthy city and a lovable quality of life.

For much of our history up until the 20th Century, citizens welcomed and celebrated new development in their communities because they knew that almost invariably, the new development would improve the quality of life in their community.  Steve Belmont has informed us that a densifying city is a sign of city health. But that welcoming of new development has been understandably inverted into a widespread opposition to new modern-architecture-Ronchamp-Chapeldevelopment, largely due to the modernist architectural paradigm, local car-friendly development regulations, and car-dependent citizens who have become cheerleaders for their cars rather than for themselves, their family, and their neighbors.

Boulder can comfortably house a great many more newcomers, and if our land development regulations are properly crafted to insist that new development be walkable, our community will be greatly improved in each of the ways I list above.

For the record, I generally dislike buildings taller than 5 stories (the limit set by city charter), but know that the city can be much better and provide a lot more housing by allowing buildings to be 3-5 stories in appropriate locations.

Note, too, that I do not believe that EVERYONE should be obligated to live in more compact, walkable housing. A community should always provide sufficient housing for the full range of lifestyle choices: walkable town center, drivable suburban, and rural.

Unfortunately, drivable suburban is about the only lifestyle option offered in Boulder. Because we have made the cities we love impossible to build.

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Filed under Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking