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Effective Ways to Encourage More Bicycling

By Dom Nozzi

I have over 20 years of experience as a senior city planner, am a lifelong bicycle commuter, prepared a master’s thesis on bicycle travel, and am a published author describing car traffic and sprawl.

I know of no simple, quick, easy ways to induce large numbers of contemporary Americans to engage in more bicycling on pathbicycling. I do, however, know of tactics that can be effective, yet require a number of years, political leadership and wisdom, and enlightened staff and citizens. For these reasons, the tactics are rarely used in America, which helps explain the embarrassingly low levels of bicycling in the US.

In no particular order, effective tactics include (and to some extent overlap):

Affordable housing and transportation choice require that we reduce distances. If we provide more housing and sensitive intermingling of offices, schools and shops with that housing, we will provide more affordable housing because families will reduce their car ownership (owning, say, two cars rather than three) and devote more income to housing. We need to combine this housing strategy with higher commercial intensities, which is primarily achieved by substantially reducing the massive oversupply of parking that nearly all retail locations provide.

The absence of market-distorting subsidies for car travel. By far, the biggest subsidy in America is free parking. One of the most important reasons why most all Americans drive a car for nearly all trips, rather than bicycle, walk or use transit, is that over 98 percent of all trips are to locations w/ free and abundant parking. As Shoup points out, free and abundant parking is a fertility drug for cars.

Similarly, we need to start correcting other funding inequities, because motorists pay nowhere near their fair share of transportation costs. It is commonly believed and utterly false that gas taxes pay the costs that motorists impose on society (such taxes only pay a tiny fraction of those costs). In addition to starting to price a much larger percentage of parking, we need to convert many of our roads to become toll roads. Other tactics include a “vehicle miles traveled” tax, much higher gas taxes, and “pay at the gas pump” car insurance. These pricing tools would provide much-needed fairness and adequate funding in an age where funding unfairness is enormous and transportation funding is entirely inadequate. The tools also effectively nudge travelers toward greener travel. Such fees could replace or reduce existing taxes or fees (a concept known as being “revenue neutral”).

To be safer and more compatible with housing, shops and non-car travel, streets must be designed to obligate slower, more attentive driving. The large speed differential we see on nearly all roads today between cars and bicyclists is an important reason why so few feel safe riding a bicycle. A small speed differential between cars and bicycles can be created by using traffic calming measures such as modest street dimensions and on-street parking.

Many roads, streets, and intersections are too large. They degrade quality of life, reduce safety and force too many of us to drive a car too often. Shrinking roads (by, for example, reducing them from five lanes to three) is an essential way to promote transportation choice. Roads in a city that are five or more lanes in size are incompatible with a quality human habitat, and make it too dangerous for bicycling, walking or transit use. “Road diets” are increasingly used nationally.

When effective tactics are properly deployed for a reasonable period of time, a powerful, self-perpetuating virtuous cycle begins to evolve. When non-bicycling members of the community observe a large number of others bicycling, many are likely to be induced to begin bicycling because of the “safety in numbers” perception, the fact that bicycling seems more hip, “normal” and practical (“If he/she can do it, so can I!”), and the growing awareness on the part of motorists that bicyclists are likely to be encountered (which also increases motorist skill in driving on a street being used by bicyclists).

Note that the above should not be taken to mean that I believe we should “get rid of all cars”, or that American cities should build auto-free pedestrian/bicycle zones. I support well-behaved, unsubsidized car use that is more optional than obligatory. Car use and design that is subservient to the needs of a quality habitat for humans, rather than the situation we find in most all American communities, where cars dominate (and in many ways degrade) our world. A dysfunctional place where cars are so dominating that transportation choice is lost. Where it is not practical, safe or convenient to travel, except by car.

Instead, we need to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars.

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Bicycling, Economics, Politics, Road Diet

The Counterintuitive Impacts of Traffic Congestion and Road Widening

By Dom Nozzi

The conventional wisdom claims that widening a road will reduce traffic congestion and fuel consumption.

The conventional wisdom is wrong.

Newman and Kenworthy are the scholars to read on this issue. Their studies persuasively show that the reverse of the conventional wisdom is true.

Research has found that cross-culturally and throughout history, humans, on average, will live in a place that creates a round-trip commute time of approximately 1.1 hours per day. Therefore, when we widen roads, the faster commute time that is briefly created will enable more dispersed residential sprawl to get us back to the 1.1 hour equilibrium.

People, in other words, drive longer distances (and drive more often) when a road is widened. In a growing community, that means the congestion is not reduced. And the increased driving increases the amount of fuel consumed.

This sprawling, dispersing impact of road widening is inevitable, regardless of how aggressive your land use plan is in controlling sprawl.

In many locations within the US, we have seen an upward trend in the number of roads that are now highly congested. This has happened despite the fact that this country has spent trillions of public dollars over the past several decades to try to reduce congestion by widening roads. Given the growth in congestion traffic jam on huge hwy (and the failure to reduce congestion in the long run) despite all the widenings, this strategy has failed catastrophically. It is perhaps the most costly, misguided and damaging action taken in human history.

Indeed, the trillions we have spent to widening roads has actually created new car trips that would not have occurred without the widening — thereby validating both the studies of Newman & Kenworthy, as well as the “Triple Convergence” described by Anthony Downs. The Triple Convergence states that when a road is widened, three things inevitably occur. First, motorists who had been taking alternative routes to avoid the congestion now converge back on the widened road. Second, motorists who were avoiding congested times of day now converge back on such rush hours. And third, motorists who had opted to use transit, walk or bicycle to work start converging back to driving by car after the road widening.

In a growing number of American communities, the response to congestion is to let it be. This approach is known as “planned congestion,” and is the preferred strategy for such communities because of the enormous costs of widening roads, the benefits of congestion, and the counterproductive consequences of widening. I am an enthusiastic supporter of planned congestion for several reasons. Fighting against congestion by widening a road is part of the road-building, home-building and auto-maker lobby paradigm, because they know that if we try to fight congestion, we will get more road widenings, more cars, more car travel and more sprawl.

One of the many benefits of congestion is that, as transportation planner Ian Lockwood says, congestion creates a “time tax” for motorists. That is, the motorist pays a “fee” when they are slowed down. That “fee” is the time they lose in congestion. Conversely, then, the “time tax” created by congestion contracts our residential patterns as people seek to maintain that 1.1 hour equilibrium I mentioned above.

In our political climate, it is nearly impossible to use much more efficient and effective tactics: that is, to have motorists pay the real cost of their travel through high gas taxes or congestion (toll) fees. Instead, we keep motorists on welfare by not having them pay directly for the roads they drive on, or the time of day when they drive. All of us pay directly for water and electricity and food based on how much water, electricity and food we consume. Why not take the same approach with driving?

Because it is so politically difficult to directly charge motorists on welfare for their driving, the easiest way to control excessive driving (particularly at rush hour) is to indirectly charge the motorist by letting congestion happen. By not widening the road. By not adding turn lanes. By not timing traffic signals.

As Walter Kulash says, fighting congestion by widening a road is like loosening your belt to fight obesity.

 

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Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life.

Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com

Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com

50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF

My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover

My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here:

http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290

My Adventures blog

http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/

Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog

http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/

My Town & Transportation Planning website

http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/

My Plan B blog

https://domz60.wordpress.com/

My Facebook profile

http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi

My YouTube video library

http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi

My Picasa Photo library

https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534

My Author spotlight

http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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Filed under Energy, Politics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Incrementally Reducing Excessive Car Use

By Dom Nozzi

Recently, a colleague and friend of mine noted that he felt that a new residential development proposed for my compact, walkable, historic neighborhood should provide more parking than would be offered in my vision (I recommended that the new development only provide metered on-street parking, and no off-street parking). He indicated that if he were buying at that location, he would want at least one garage space (but wouldn’t want it on the front of the house). He added that alley garages are good compromises, presuming there are alleys. Overall, he agreed with my position about reducing the excessive American pampering of car use as a long-term strategy. His reservation was that in the near term, during the transition to walkable places, “97 percent of us are stuck needing cars, and alienating 97 percent of potential buyers is a problem.” I responded by pointing out that with regard to metered parking, I agree with parking guru Donald Shoup (author of the influential, must-read book The High Cost of Free Parking): For both new and existing residential developments, install parking meters that are free to use by the adjacent residents. Because the meter revenue can (and should) be spent only for improvements to that vicinity, residents would have a choice: Either use those spaces and lose revenue that would have otherwise been used to improve their neighborhood, or don’t use those spaces and increase that neighborhood improvement revenue. I told him that I agreed with him that one alley-loaded garage space is acceptable, and that front-of-house off-street parking is not. I apologized for the fact that my comments sometimes seem, undiplomatically, so blatantly “anti-car.” It is not my intent to “get rid of all cars” or to alienate those who must use a car, I told him. I fully understand that most of us must have the option of using a car. I also understand that transitioning to a world of less excessive car use needs to be incremental. I therefore favor price signals and compactness. Neither of those tactics prohibit cars. But pricing car use and car storage adds equity and signals to the motorist that the car has significant negative impacts (those impacts are mostly hidden in the US because we have over-allocated space to cars and have underpriced car use). Compactness is a companion tactic that adds a needed inconvenience signal. Again, the option of using a car is maintained, but the increased inconvenience (from tighter parking or more narrow streets and roads) sends another needed signal to the motorist: In this case, that the motorist (at least in a town center) is in a PEOPLE habitat (and should therefore feel somewhat inconvenienced and uncomfortable). It is in the drivable suburbs where it becomes more appropriate for the motorist to feel convenienced and comfortable. I reiterate: My suggestions retain the option to use a car. But I believe my approach can incrementally move us in the direction of providing a needed wider range of lifestyle and travel choices. The status quo of underpriced, convenienced cars in town centers undercuts the important need to provide more and better lifestyle and travel choices for those who seek a more walkable lifestyle. Yes, my tactics would be politically unpopular (and perhaps unpopular in some of our housing markets as well). But I know of no other effective ways to engage in what I believe is the essential task of creating more and better lifestyle and travel choices. The good news is that the approaches I support ARE working successfully elsewhere, so we know it is not impossible. Shoup’s book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is a book that I highly recommend. It is the best book I’ve ever read about planning in America. It is telling that the book contains so many powerful, important messages that many professional planners and architects are highly respectful of his work, and he is regularly hired throughout the nation to consult on parking problems. I told my friend that I was puzzled by his noticeable disdain for pricing parking, and his calling it “punishing drivers.” Punishing? Really? Is it “punishing to charge people to rent a hotel room, or should staying in a hotel room be free? What about those priced lockers at airports and ski resorts? Is it punishment to charge people to use those? Should we give rooms and lockers (and real estate) to people for free if those people are poor? (to avoid “Lexus” hotel rooms and “Lexus” lockers – in reference to his disparagingly calling toll lanes “Lexus” lanes) I asked my friend if he disagreed when Shoup points out that “free” parking is not free? Is there a way, I asked, to avoid full parking lots and an absence of available on-street parking other than pricing it? The only ways I know of other than pricing are building WAY too much parking so that you have a lunar landscape of endless parking (and kill the community in the process). Or you keep residential densities and commercial intensities at very low cow town levels. How do we avoid congestion on major congested roads in Colorado without tolling them, I asked. We have known for several decades that road widening is bankrupting and counterproductive (and is like solving obesity by loosening your belt). Sure, it is easier for the rich to pay for tolls than the middle class. But isn’t that true with all goods and services in our society? Does it reward the rich and punish the middle class (who have no choice but to use utilities) to charge a price to use electricity or water? Or should those be free so that we don’t have Lexus Sewers? I’m fairly sure that even the middle class would much prefer to drive on uncongested major roads in Colorado by paying a “punishing” $1.50 than to sit in gridlock on those highways for free. I did that for years when I lived in Richmond VA, and was happy to pay the toll in exchange for having uncongested urban highways, even though I was unemployed there and hardly even had a middle class income. Shoup makes an essential point that those of us who advocate for much higher densities should be fully aware of. That the provision of excessive provision of parking (which is inevitable when the parking is free and the intent is to avoid parking congestion) will utterly prevent the provision of higher residential densities. Counterproductively, most all local governments require enormous amounts of parking — parking required by land development codes. Again, this is possibly the most powerful way local governments establish and maintain low residential and commercial densities. Shoup correctly notes that it is impossible to create walkable densities when conventional parking (read: excessive) standards are used. He rightly blasts the great many new urbanists who don’t “get it” regarding parking. New urbanists who insist on excessive, suburban and free parking supply in many developments. I believe parking is the biggest blind spot that many new urbanists have. Therefore, “fixing the zoning” to allow higher residential densities is not our first task, despite what my friend suggested as a solution. We could have the best in compact, walkable, higher density zoning, but if the zoning is coupled with conventional parking requirements, that higher density zoning has a hidden consequence: It may look like it will deliver higher densities on paper, but when coupled with the parking rules, one finds that the developer typically cannot get anywhere near the allowable density because so much of the site must consist of parking. Side note for libertarians: It is socialist, top-down, centralized government planning to have parking be required by law. Instead, libertarians should be leading the charge to eliminate government-mandated parking and replace it with parking maximums. This does two things: It allows the private sector to decide on its own how much parking to provide (rather than being forced to provide at least X number of spaces per square foot of building), and rightfully inverts the standard parking rule by calling for a MAXIMUM. Why is it proper for government to have a maximum? Because constitutionally, government laws must promote the health, safety and welfare, and a very important way governments can do that is by not allowing people to install excessive amounts of parking (ie, parking that substantially reduces densities – see above – and parking that harms quality of life, in part by establishing asphalt, gap-toothed moonscapes that kill the agglomeration economies necessary for a healthy town center economy, and dramatically reduces walking, bicycling and transit). The big problem in a world of underpriced gas and excessive/underpriced roads is the provision of too much parking, not too little (both underpriced gas and underpriced/overprovided roads artificially induce extremely high levels of car use, which induces excessive parking demand). While I’m one of those who desires pricing car use (punishing them?), I strongly object when my neighbors attack traffic congestion. Any city worth its salt, I say, has congestion. Why? Because cars take up an enormous amount of space, which means only a few drivers are needed to congest a road or a parking lot. If your road or parking lot is not congested, then, we’ve got “ghost town” problems. I also strongly object when neighbors in my compact, walkable, town center neighborhood attack new development as being “too dense.” One key thing I’ve learned in the profession of town and transportation planning is that “happy cars” MUST have low densities to be happy. Cars are a huge pain in the ass – inevitably – when there is any level of density, or any amount of pleasing, charming, attractive walkablility. You can have happy cars or walkable densities, but you can’t have both. _________________________________________________ Visit my urban design website read more about what I have to say on those topics. You can also schedule me to give a speech in your community about transportation and congestion, land use development and sprawl, and improving quality of life. Visit: www.walkablestreets.wordpress.com Or email me at: dom[AT]walkablestreets.com 50 Years Memoir CoverMy memoir can be purchased here: Paperback = http://goo.gl/9S2Uab Hardcover =  http://goo.gl/S5ldyF My book, The Car is the Enemy of the City (WalkableStreets, 2010), can be purchased here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/the-car-is-the-enemy-of-the-city/10905607Car is the Enemy book cover My book, Road to Ruin, can be purchased here: http://www.amazon.com/Road-Ruin-Introduction-Sprawl-Cure/dp/0275981290 My Adventures blog http://domnozziadventures.wordpress.com/ Run for Your Life! Dom’s Dangerous Opinions blog http://domdangerous.wordpress.com/ My Town & Transportation Planning website http://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/ My Plan B blog https://domz60.wordpress.com/ My Facebook profile http://www.facebook.com/dom.nozzi My YouTube video library http://www.youtube.com/user/dnozzi My Picasa Photo library https://picasaweb.google.com/105049746337657914534 My Author spotlight http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/domatwalkablestreetsdotcom

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