Tag Archives: stress

Civility Needs to Go Viral

By Dom Nozzi

Civility needs to “go viral.”

Why?

Because in my experience, there has been a steep decline in civility in American society for several decades.

The first and most powerful step in restoring a reasonable level of societal civility is to put our big city “stroads” on a road diet. A “stroad” is a delightful term coined by Charles Marohn of Strong Towns, and refers to those dangerous, multi-laned thoroughfares you encounter in nearly every city, town, and suburb in America. They’re what happens when a street (a place where people interact with businesses and residences, and where wealth is produced) gets combined with a road (a high-speed route between productive places). They are enormously expensive to build and, ultimately, financially unproductive. They’re also very dangerous. And they are the futon of transportation” because, just as a futon is neither a particularly good bed nor a particularly good couch, a stroad is neither a particularly good road or a particularly good street.

Greenville makes this step obvious. Motorists are obligated to drive 15-25 mph smoothly on appropriately road dieted Main Street. This is contrasted with the 45-55 mph speeds motorists are allowed and enabled to drive on Greenville’s many stroads. Of course, on a stroad a motorist is not driving at those higher speeds smoothly. Instead, the stroad inevitably forces motorists to engage in “jack rabbit stop and go” travel, where motorists engage in short bursts of excessive speeds followed by frequently repeated stops and slow downs.

Despite the fact that nearly everyone expects a slow speed road to be frustrating and unpleasant to drive on (“WE ARE VERY BUSY AND NEED TO BE ABLE TO DRIVE FASTER!”), driving on Main Street in Greenville versus driving on the Greenville stroads leads to far better and more enjoyable motorist experiences.

On slow speed Main Street, nearly all drivers are more courteous, more calm, more relaxed, more happy and smiling, more polite, more well-mannered, more patient, and filled with civic pride.

The drive, even though slow in speed, FEELS like it goes by relatively quickly. This is because the drive is more aesthetically pleasing and enjoyable. Some drivers don’t want the driving experience to end.

On higher speed stroads, by striking contrast, drivers are more hostile, angry, stressed, impatient, hot-tempered, enraged at any fellow citizen who DARES to get in the way by driving or turning too slowly, and ashamed to live in a city with such an oversized, strip-commercial roadway blight (this is exemplified by the fact that no one takes their out-of-town guests to show off the higher speed stroad, whereas many show off Main Street to their guests).

The drive, even though higher in speed, FEELS like it takes a relatively long time. This is because the drive is ugly, frustrating, and stressful. Drivers can’t wait to get off the stroad.

The unpleasant, stressful, angering, impatient, hostile, uncivil, short-tempered emotions induced by stroads spills over into the stroad-driving motorist’s life beyond the unpleasant stroad experience and into the realm of family life, work life, social life, and interactions with fellow neighbors and other citizens.

Stroads in Greenville include – but are not limited to – the following:

Augusta Avenue

Peter Hollis Boulevard

McDaniel Avenue

Academy Street

Stone Avenue

Buncombe Street

Rutherford Street

Richardson Street

Poinsett Highway

Pleasantburg Drive

Laurens Road

Mills Avenue

Church Street

In sum, converting stroads to streets is an effective way to substantially promote civility (and happiness!) in American society.

We start doing that by removing excessive numbers of lanes on stroads.

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Questions to Ask When Hiring a New Fire Chief

By Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Noise Pollution Should be Mostly — But Not Always — Context Sensitive

By Dom Nozzi

Noise control is an important element in community design. But if we are striving to design a quality community, the level of ambient noise needs to vary based on your location in the community.

If you desire a walkable, compact, urban lifestyle, you should expect higher levels of ambient noise, because a walkable lifestyle necessarily includes more activity and vibrancy – which inevitably means more noise. Through compact concentration, activities occur in closer proximity — in other words, it is condensed in a smaller space. And because a walkable lifestyle means that there is a more vibrant public realm, there is more noise-producing “hustle and bustle.”

As we move away from the walkable core, into drivable suburban areas, ambient noise expectations appropriately ratchet downward. In rural and preserve areas out further still, we should expect an even quieter ambience.

Like many others, I personally don’t mind the necessary, expected, traditional urban noises in the walkable core of a city, even though they tend to be relatively louder and more 24/7 than those in the suburban or rural areas. I am happy to accept higher ambient noise levels as an acceptable trade-off for better walkablility. I like being where the action is found.

However, I believe it is entirely valid to object to noise pollution that is not a necessary ingredient to a walkable town center. Over the past few decades, noise pollution has shot up significantly. Leaf blowers, parking lot vacuum trucks (which often operate at 3 a.m.), emergency vehicle sirens (which tend to be louder, more numerous and more often used than in the past), an enormous growth in Noise-Pollutionburglar alarms, boom boxes, high-decibel car stereos, etc., are proliferating throughout the nation.

Much of the growth in noise, BTW, comes from a growth in what I would call “uncivil” behavior by citizens who increasingly disregard their fellow citizens and think only of themselves — and much of this incivility comes from the growing American abandonment, neglect and degradation of our public realm.

I would insist that the above sources of noise – the leaf blowers, the sirens, the boom boxes — are NOT what those of us living in walkable locations should passively accept as an inevitable part of living in a city. Each of these noise sources is creating a significant increase in stress levels for even those of normal hearing sensitivities, and all of them can be eliminated or substantially reduced without causing harm to the operation of a healthy, economically sustainable community. None are an essential element of a healthy town center.

The great cities of the world were, over the course of great periods of time, perfectly fine without any of these recent contributions to urban noise.

Yes, those living in walkable core areas should expect higher noise levels. But at some point, it is appropriate to draw the line. There is an exponential growth in noise pollution — particularly from sources that are not a necessary part of urbanism — and quality communities need to have the self-respect to say “enough is enough.”

Having updated my city’s noise ordinance in the 1990s, and having been victimized by a great deal of noise pollution over the past few decades, I am in strong agreement with the objections that are often made about noise problems in town centers. It is common to hear objections about lawn maintenance equipment. And while I agree that lawn maintenance equipment is an enormous contributor to noise pollution, I would also point out that another big (and exponentially growing) offender — particularly late at night when most folks are trying to sleep — is security alarms and emergency vehicle sirens.

This source is particularly difficult to effectively address. Even though the noise they contribute is one that I find nearly intolerable, it is a noise that is extremely difficult to control, politically, because there is so much public hysteria over public safety. Efforts to control this noise source are usually met by angry charges that controlling it will compromise public safety. One is seen as a “busybody”. Or “overly sensitive” to a noise that “doesn’t bother most.” And how DARE you call for something that will lead to injuries and deaths!! (as if allowing for the unlimited, promiscuous use of sirens and alarms is the only way to reduce harm).

Note that there are cities who have effectively controlled these noise sources. Fire chiefs, for example, are instructed by elected officials that they don’t need to blare their sirens as much when there are relatively few cars on the road at 3 a.m. And how often are we sending out a large platoon of big, multi-million dollar fire trucks — with sirens wailing — for fender benders? Does it really contribute to our quality of life when we create a “war zone” ambience in our community?

Uncontrolled urban noise pollution is an important contributor to stress, and an important reason for folks to relocate to remote, sprawl locations. Indeed, when I hear politicians claim that they are working hard to control sprawl, if I don’t see them effectively going after noise pollution, I know that their claims are largely lip service. Or naive.

One thing I learned when I updated a city noise ordinance is that one of the few ways to effectively control noise pollution is to have full-time staff whose sole task is to control noise. Assigning noise control to the police is common, and a sure way to ensure that control efforts will be minimal.

After all, what police department will prioritize noise control over, say, murder or burglary?

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