Tag Archives: traffic calming

Sounding the Alarm for Traffic Safety in Boulder

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2018

Recently, the Boulder (Colorado) City Council has indicated that improving traffic safety is a significant priority. And rightly so, given the surge in traffic deaths in Boulder in recent years. The City has adopted a “Vision Zero” objective (zero serious traffic injuries or deaths).

However, the Boulder program is the same old song and dance that Boulder and most every other American city have been engaged in to “improve” traffic safety. Every few years for the past century, Boulder has “redoubled its efforts” to deploy The Five W’s: (1) more Warning signs are erected; (2) more (or revised) Warning lights are installed; (3) more Warning paint is painted; (4) more Warning education is called for; and (5) more Warning enforcement is urged. But after a century of redoubling our efforts to do those things, Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever. For example, the Boulder Daily Camera newspaper recently reported that traffic deaths in Boulder County were higher than they have been since at least 2004. And while Boulder was once again ranked relatively high as a bike-friendly city a few days ago, the ranking curiously but accurately noted that Boulder ranked poorly for bicycling safety.

The Five W’s path to safety has failed.

Such campaigns border on being patronizing. And traffic safety education is a form of victim-blaming.

As far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been VZaround). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. Therefore, adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Like most other cities, unfortunately, Boulder has spent the past century designing streets to enable (and therefore encourage) high speed, inattentive driving.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the “Forgiving Street” design (a design used too often by state and local traffic engineers to “forgive” motorists who drive too fast or inattentively – which thereby encourages speeding and inattentive driving) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. The Five W’s have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to severely diminishing returns.

If we are serious about achieving “Vision Zero,” we need to redesign our streets.

What if, instead of continuing to pursue The Five W’s, we start putting more of the onus on transportation engineers and motorists by designing streets and intersections that obligate slower, more attentive driving?

Such driving is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail health.

How do we humanize streets in this manner? We can, for example, install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped and sufficiently large traffic circles, raised medians and roundabouts – many in Boulder are too small. We can reduce the width of streets and travel lanes. We can shrink the size of intersections. We can remove unnecessary travel lanes – particularly on roads with four or more lanes. We can pull buildings up to streets instead of having them set behind parking lots. We can install more on-street parking. We can reduce the size of intersection turning radii. We can remove a number of town center turn and “slip” lanes. We can reduce the size of shoulders and vision triangles. We can reduce the width of driveways. We can substantially increase funding for the neighborhood traffic calming program to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “give-way” streets.

Inducing slower car speeds is essential for enhancing travel safety, effectively encouraging non-car travel, and improving town center and neighborhood quality of life. There are important reasons why a “slow cities” movement is spreading worldwide.

Boulder is not now politically ready to seriously strive to attain Vision Zero, as there is insufficient political will to do the things listed above. Years after the Folsom Street lane repurposing was put in place, many in Boulder are still screaming mad about it. Some call such traffic safety measures “impede and congest” tactics intended to “annoy” motorists and “force” them to use bicycles or transit.

Why is it not an “impede and congest” tactic intended to “annoy” bicyclists and pedestrians and “force” them to drive a car when it comes to the frequent action to enlarge intersections to have a double-left turn lane? Or install a large parking lot? Is this not a double standard?

Given this lack of political will, the City should suspend the Vision Zero goal until it is ready to deploy the tactics necessary to actually reach Vision Zero.

The 30th Street, Canyon, East Arapahoe, Colorado, and Iris projects should also be suspended for the same reason.

Shame on Boulder.

 

 

 

 

 

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Boulder and Vision Zero

By Dom Nozzi

April 10, 2018

For me, the reason this photo is so powerful is that it is emblematic of a number of troubling and tragic aspects of American transportation.VZ

The photo shows that as far back as 60 years ago, Binghamton NY had a Vision Zero objective in place. But when we think about it, ALL US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder CO (my home city) – have had a Vision Zero objective for about 100 years (or for at least as long as cars have been around). In other words, all cities have always worked to achieve Vision Zero – at least subconsciously. The only real novelty is that a growing number of cities are now openly stating that objective, rather than just having it in the back of our minds.

Adopting a Vision Zero objective is little more than “putting old wine in new bottles.” I say that because:

  1. Despite the fact that all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have had an objective of zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries for a century, our roads are more dangerous than ever.
  2. The reason our roads are more dangerous than ever is because all US cities – including Binghamton and Boulder – have managed their roadway systems for the past century with three overriding goals: (a) Maximizing motorist speeds; (b) Deploying the failed Forgiving Street design strategy; and (c) Stubbornly sticking to the same old song and dance of more safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement for safe roadways.

Maximizing motorist speeds and using the Forgiving Street design (a design used by all federal, state, and local traffic engineers) results in excessive dimensions for roads, an excessive number of overly wide travel lanes, excessive sizes for clear zones and vision triangles and shoulders, and oversized intersections (as well as an over-use of turn lanes). Inevitably, this has led to an epidemic of speeding and inattentive driving, which creates extremely dangerous, deadly conditions for a roadway system. More safety signage, more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement have only a trivial impact on making such a dangerous roadway system safer – particularly because our doubling down on such strategies every few years for the past century has led to greatly diminishing returns.

Given these three goals/strategies Binghamton, Boulder and all other US cities have been saddled with for the past century, it is nearly certain that our roadways will continue to grow increasingly unsafe and our ability to achieve Vision Zero will continue to diminish.

I remain convinced that Boulder should put our Vision Zero objective on hold unless or until Boulder is politically ready to adopt effective tactics to reach Vision Zero. As it stands now, Boulder is not politically ready, and having a Vision Zero objective under such conditions will give the City’s Vision Zero program a black eye.

What are the effective tactics for achieving Vision Zero?

  1. Abandon the deadly objective of maximizing motorist speeds and using Forgiving Street design. Such a goal and design substantially undermine a large number of important Boulder transportation, safety, and quality of life objectives. Replace this with the goal of designing roads to obligate slow, attentive driving — driving which is conducive to safety as well as nearby residential and retail development. In other words, transform roads into streets. This is most effectively achieved by removing excessive travel lanes (ie, road diets and various horizontal traffic calming treatments such as bulbouts and raised medians), removing turn lanes, reducing the width of travel lanes, reducing the size of shoulders and vision triangles, eliminating super-elevations on turns, removing double-yellow lines, installing more on-street parking, reducing the size of turning radii, reducing the width of driveways, installing more canopy street trees, and pulling buildings up to front sidewalks. See this, for example.
  2. Remove more of the large financial subsidies for car travel to further reduce excessive, low-value car travel. For example, eliminate minimum parking requirements and reduce the amount of underpriced or free parking. There are many more ways to reduce subsidies that I will not list here.

By using these effective tactics for reducing the speed, space, and subsidies that we pamper motorists with, Boulder and other cities will have a much better chance of achieving Vision Zero.

 

 

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If I were King of My City

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

May 1, 2006

I often find myself highly frustrated by the actions or inactions of the city I live in. Because many of my views are so “controversial,” I have little chance of ever being elected to office in order to seek such changes from such a decision-making position. Instead, I am left to speculate what I would do if I were the “king” of my city.ki

If I were king, I would make deep and permanent cuts in police and fire budgets. Nearly all cities in America put excessive amounts of public tax money into the police and fire departments. Crime rates counter-intuitively increase when police expenditures increase (partly because doing so starves public programs that more effectively reduce crime rates, and partly because more police dollars means there are more police available to detect crime). Nearly every year, due to the politics of fear (“Babies will die in burning buildings if you don’t give the fire department another $30 million!” or “Your homes will be burglarized if you don’t give the police department another $10 million!”), communities spend excessive amounts of money on police and fire services. While these services are extremely important, they should not be funded by starving other services essential to local quality of life (parks and recreation, streetscaping, code enforcement, traffic calming, energy conservation retrofits, restoration of environmentally degraded natural areas, road diets, efforts to reduce noise pollution, open space acquisition, town and regional planning, bus service, and bike and pedestrian paths, etc.). More money for police also increases the number of times that citizens are charged with petty crimes (because the police have more resources to do so). This also promotes a “police state” atmosphere. In large part, the excessive moneys cities tend to allocate to police and fire services is based on extreme levels of societal hysteria, which candidates for office and elected officials both promote and leverage for their own ends. The excessive and continuously increasing police and fire budgets are a recipe for community ruin. A companion reason for this over-allocation is the utter lack of leadership found in America.

If I were king, I would ground law enforcement helicopters (used in many cities). A police helicopter creates substantial noise pollution (particularly in central city neighborhoods) and has little payoff in comparison to the high on-going maintenance costs. In addition, such helicopters create citizen anxiety in the sense that they create a “war zone” ambience in the community.

If I were king, I would establish and implement a citywide Road Diet and traffic calming plan. There is nothing that city government can do that would more effectively improve in-town retail, residential and office health and safety than to remove travel lanes from 4-, 5- and 6-lane roads and slow average car speeds. Such road modifications would also dramatically improve street safety and promote bicycle, transit and pedestrian travel. This would also be the most powerful way to slow and reverse suburban sprawl, discourage Big Box retail, reduce property taxes, reduce regional air pollution and fuel consumption, promote infill development, reduce sign pollution, improve property values and improve quality of life. I would couple diets/calming with a charter amendment which would set a 3-lane maximum street size in an urbanized area and 5-travel lane maximum road size in suburban areas.

If I were king, I would inventory downtown improvement needs, and then correct them. Conduct a thorough, detailed, walking tour of downtown to identify existing downtown needs—such as sidewalk gaps and other sidewalk flaws, needed road diets, needed on-street parking, needed raised medians, and surface parking that should be converted to infill buildings. Following the inventory, I would devote resources sufficient to aggressively eliminate such needs each year. Many downtowns fail to reach their full potential and are unable to invoke much civic pride due to the large number of neglected downtown infrastructure needs.

If I were king, I would shrink the size of most elected city commissions/councils. A larger number of commissioners ensures that decisions are dumbed down, and the necessary yet more controversial decisions are less likely to be approved. This defect is exemplified by the dysfunctional fiasco of “trying to do something by committee”—a universally recognized recipe for mediocrity – mediocrity that gets worse as the size of the group increases in size. Larger decision-making bodies also increase city administrative costs and lengthen city commission meetings.

If I were king, I would crack down on major noise polluters. Emergency vehicle sirens, cars, power landscape tools, burglar alarms, etc., have exponentially increased city noise pollution problems. The most effective method for controlling noise is to establish a powerful, full-time city noise pollution control office.

If I were king, I would reduce excessive car parking and road subsidies.  It is monstrously counterproductive for cities and private businesses to heavily subsidize solo auto commuting by offering free parking to their employees. Parking cash-out—where employees are given the option of either retaining their free parking or being given a salary increase—is the most effective way to reduce the excessively high and extremely costly single-occupant vehicle employee commuting patterns in cities. Such a program would also end the exceptionally unfair practice of not offering non-auto commuters an equivalent subsidy. Cash-out should be required for both local government agencies and for large private organizations in the area. Coupled with this should be a strategy to shrink the supply of free parking citywide. I would convert parking minimums to parking maximums in land development code citywide. I would eliminate required parking regulations and set parking maximums. I would establish market-rate metered on-street parking, and return the meter revenue to surrounding neighborhoods (in other words, create parking benefit districts [based on the recommendations of Donald Shoup]). Similarly, non-tolled, free-to-use roads promote excessive, long-distance, low-value, solo driving, as well as traffic congestion. User fees for both roads and parking would go a long way towards efficiently and affordably providing for car travel, and a more compact, livable community.

If I were king, I would effectively promote walkable, timeless, traditional development. In the city planning department, hire a set of walkable urban design planners to review site plans. In city public works department, hire a traffic engineer as director who is a skilled and enthusiastic supporter of transportation choice and walkable, compact urban design. Not doing so ensures that in walkable areas, site plans for new development and street designs for modified streets will be sabotaged by staff who have a suburban value system. I would revise city land development codes to be form-based and transect-based (graphics-rich, comprehensible, vision-based, and context-sensitive). I would move development regulations away from one-size-fits-all by establishing a set of urban/walkable regulations for walkable areas, a set of suburban/car-centric regulations for suburban areas, and a set of rural/preservation regulations for peripheral areas with important natural features or agricultural land.

If I were king, I would transform shopping centers into walkable town centers. Conventional shopping centers are over-designed for “happy cars.” Their excessive use of “sea of asphalt” parking in front creates a strip commercial, “anywhere USA” atmosphere that degrades quality of life and civic pride, and takes away from a unique community character. Travel by transit, walking or bicycling is significantly less likely because nearly all trips to such centers must be by car (due to the hostility of such design for bicyclists, walkers and transit users). I would require selected conventional shopping centers to incrementally transform themselves into walkable, mixed use town centers, as has happened across the nation.

If I were king, I would require buildings to behave themselves. When parking is placed in front of buildings, and buildings are set back an enormous distance from a road, human scale is lost, quality of life is harmed, development is less attractive, and travel by transit, foot or bicycle is less possible. In walkable areas, I would prohibit car parking in front of buildings, and require modest front building setbacks.

If I were king, I would improve citizen comprehension of development actions. Nearly all communities have a nearly incomprehensible set of land development regulations and have a staff which specializes in making presentations and writing reports that are nearly impossible for citizens to understand — thereby subverting democracy and citizen involvement. I would revise city land development codes to radically shrink the size of the land development regulations. Replace jargon and “legalese” with “Plain English” and simple drawings. I would train staff to make presentations and write reports that are easily understood by citizens. I would hire a full-time city employee whose only responsibility is to ensure that city documents and presentations are clearly understandable to citizens.

If I were king, I would create effective incentives for converting downtown surface parking lots into multi-story buildings. Nothing is more deadly to a downtown than the deadening influence of surface parking. To be an attractive destination and to be competitive with the suburbs, a downtown must maximize vibrant, active, economically healthy use of its land, and surface parking works strongly against these objectives. I would allow no net increase in downtown surface parking lots, and would incrementally reduce the amount of existing surface parking. Vertical increases through parking garages would be okay, but only if first floor is retail, office, entertainment, or a combination of these.

If I were king, I would improve sidewalks. Sidewalks improve property values, improve quality of life, create a formal and walkable ambience, create a more human-scaled streetscape, promote safety for pedestrians (particularly seniors and children), and send a message that the community values walking. I would significantly increase funding for sidewalk gap removal, and significantly reduce funding for repair of trivial sidewalk damage (hairline cracks repair is wasteful and gives city a very bad black eye). I would hire a full-time urbanist pedestrian engineer to review site plans.

If I were king, I would rehabilitate creeks. Many urban creeks are placed in pipes, covered over, or otherwise harmed ecologically. I would restore (“daylight”) concrete ditches and channelized creeks to naturalized, meandering creeks. I would rehab creeks in this way as long as walkability can be retained in walkable areas.

If I were king, I would reduce fuel subsidies. Motorists are heavily subsidized not only with free parking and free roads, but also by the fact that gas taxes only pay a tiny fraction of the cost of impacts that motorists impose on society. I would significantly increase the gasoline tax, but only if there is an ironclad assurance that revenue would only be used for bicycling, walking and transit — not road capacity increases.

If I were king, I would establish geography-sensitive impact fees. Nearly all new development—particularly in the suburbs—are heavily subsidized by existing residents. New or increased impact fees can reduce this market distortion by having development pay its own way. I would exempt walkable, self-contained, mixed-use projects.

If I were king, I would strengthen codes enforcement. When people live on smaller lots in a more urbanized area, it is especially important to enforce codes such as the noise ordinance, lighting, dumping, and the like. This is because in “close quarters,” people tend to be less shielded from the actions of their neighbors. There is, therefore, an elevated need for sufficient code enforcement for most people to choose to live in more compact locations to encourage people to live in or near such locations.

If I were king, I would build an off-street greenway system. An off-street greenway path system for bicyclists and pedestrians is a powerful means of improving community quality of life, promoting sociability, and enhancing civic pride. Such paths are also an effective way to provide a “training ground” for novice bicyclists who, through using the paths, can gain the confidence and skill needed to “graduate” to in-street bicycling. I would hire a “Get Things Done” Greenway Czar for effectively moving the city public works department in this direction.

If I were king, I would establish an urban growth or urban service boundary. Because nearly all communities have ruinously allowed departments of transportation to build enormous roads within the city and county, there now exists enormous market pressure to develop residential and retail projects in the remote sprawl areas of the county. The only way to correct that market distortion in the short term (so that the pressure to sprawl is emasculated) is to enact an urban growth boundary around the city. Because of big roads, plans and regulations are completely insufficient, even if every commissioner was anti-growth and pro-compact development.

If I were king, I would make downtown infill development less costly. Reuse and redevelopment in the town center is often highly desirable, and there is often market interest, yet such downtown improvements are not achieved because the developer learns that it is simply too costly to follow various building codes downtown (widening building hallways, for example, is commonly required by contemporary codes, yet such a building modification is nearly always prohibitively expensive). I would create more incentives for more residences and other forms of infill buildings downtown — in part, by lowering the bar for building codes that create obstacles for building retrofits or new buildings. States such as New Jersey and Maryland have effectively achieved this by adopting what they call a “Smart Building Code.”

If I were king, I would adopt a land value tax, which is a levy on the unimproved value of land. It is an ad valorem tax on land that disregards the value of buildings, personal property and other improvements. A land value tax (LVT) is different from other property taxes, because these are taxes on the whole value of real estate: the combination of land, buildings, and improvements to the site. A land value tax, as exemplified by Pittsburgh PA, is a powerful way to promote town center development, as conventional property taxes discourage town center development by punishing the property owner with higher taxes when building improvements are added to the land. The result of the conventional property tax is that it leads many property owners to speculatively hold their property in a low-value use such as a parking lot.

If I were king, I would increase residential densities in appropriate locations. In walkable areas, establish higher residential and commercial densities and mixed use to make walking, transit, and bicycling more feasible, smaller and locally owned (and neighborhood-based) retail more possible, and to make the public realm more vibrant.

If I were king, I would ensure that the primary community farmers market is located within the town center. Too many communities blunder badly by deciding to locate their main farmers market in a peripheral location that can only be reached by car. The result is that it is more costly to shop at the market (in terms of time and transportation cost), and because there are no nearby retail, office or cultural facilities nearby, there are no “spillover” benefits. A number of downtowns throughout the nation enjoy such spin-off benefits, and promote transportation choice, by choosing a downtown market location.

If I were king, I would end the draining of downtown energy. To be healthy and vital, a downtown needs to exhibit “agglomeration economies.” That is, there must be a compact concentration of offices, retail, housing and civic buildings within a walkable, downtown location. Unfortunately, due to our car-crazed society, a number of such destinations have left for peripheral locations to find more free parking, bigger roads, less costly regulations, and less NIMBY opposition. I would prohibit the further dispersal of such “social condensers” from the downtown, such as the conference center, the farmers market, large movie houses, the main post office, government buildings, medieval faire, etc. Importantly, this is achieved by keeping town center roadways small in size and low in speed, as well as minimizing town center surface parking lots.

If I were king, I would adequately fund recreation. One of the great embarrassments of communities throughout the nation is the woeful state of undeveloped, unfunded parks and recreation system. Indeed, most communities spend only pocket change on recreation. I would re-allocate city annual funding (primarily by drawing dollars from the long over-funded police and fire budgets, which I would reduce substantially) to provide substantially more funding for parks and recreation development and programming. And do so without increasing taxes.

Concluding Thoughts

The above agenda is not one that will win any elections in this day and age. But they are all essential, long-neglected tasks that communities must achieve to avoid the downward spiral. It is telling that so much of the above agenda is politically toxic. A better future, however, can only be achieved if a community finds the political leadership to move in these directions.

 

 

 

 

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Will Boulder’s Traffic Safety Program be Effective?

By Dom Nozzi

October 24, 2017

Whenever I hear about a call for “more education” to improve traffic safety, I know that the issue is not one we are serious about solving (and the call usually comes from the political right wing). It is telling that we don’t hear calls for “more education” when it comes to robbery, murder, terrorists, etc.

Given the fact that all cities have, countless times, doubled down on more education for traffic safety for the past century (and our roads are now more dangerous than ever), traffic safety education campaigns probably suffer more from diminishing returns than anything I can think of.

It is a safe bet that all Americans, when they were children, were told over and over and over to LOOK BOTH WAYS or BE CAREFUL or WATCH OUT FOR CARS whenever crossing a street. For Boulder to aggressively push a HEADS UP campaign (or LOOK BOTH WAYS) at crosswalks is condescending, patronizing, and a shameful example of victim-blaming. It is treating adults like children.lo

Most all of us in traffic safety are well aware of the fact that road engineering to slow cars and obligate motorists to be more attentive is far and away the most effective tactic for traffic safety (using traffic calming interventions and other means of reducing space allocated to cars). No other tactic comes even close to improving safety, to the point of the other tactics almost not being worth even mentioning.

One thing that has really bothered me in my 4.5 years on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board is how often staff comes to us with solemn, proud sincerity to assure us of the importance of pursuing “the 4 (now 5) E’s”: the outdated, decades long tactic of having us work on Education, Enforcement, Encouragement, Evaluation, and Engineering. Please. Doing this sets up a false equivalence which strongly implies that each is equally important. A much better way of stating this is that there is one big E (engineering), and 4 secondary E’s that are almost not worth considering.

I understand why the City of Boulder is pushing education so hard for its “Toward Vision Zero” traffic safety project (as it has done every few years for the past century). It is because politically, it is utterly impossible to push effective engineering solutions such as road diets (given the Folsom Street debacle that many people are still furious about years after it erupted).

It is so very easy, politically, to push education. Zero opposition from citizens. Who would oppose such a nice thing? When all you have is a hammer (education), all of your problems look like nails…

To its credit, the City has restarted funding for traffic calming, which can be very effective. But that was only after a huge number of citizens demanded it. Staff opposed restoring funding, and it is likely that the City will (intentionally?) continue to okay the construction of speed humps, knowing that humps are furiously opposed by some for their noise pollution and car damage and opposition by the fire department. Knowing, in other words, that humps are a poison pill that has a chance of killing traffic calming again.

It must also be said that even though traffic calming is effective, its effectiveness is substantially muted by the fact that it will not be applied to the major roads in Boulder, which are very hostile, dangerous death traps.

Frankly, given the large number of traffic deaths and serious injuries Boulder has suffered recently, I don’t know what it will take to get the City to take serious action to meaningfully improve traffic safety.

The education push in 2017 shows Boulder is not serious.

Given the above, I continue to recommend that the City suspend and discontinue its Toward Vision Zero program until the City is ready, politically, to seriously pursue it. As it stands now, the Toward Vision Zero program is giving Vision Zero a black eye by being almost entirely a lip service program.

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Green Cars are Nowhere Near the Complete Solution

By Dom Nozzi

October 17, 2017

I don’t think anyone disagrees with the point that we need to promote both “green” cars and fewer cars.

The problem in cities such as Boulder CO, though, is that it seems like most or all efforts are directed at cleaner “green” cars (which makes it seem like dirty cars are the only problem). I and many others in Boulder believe Boulder has plateau’d in shifting people from cars to bicycling, walking, and transit, and there are still far, far too many per capita trips by car.

There are many reasons for this: Densities too low; too many major roads and Double-Left Turn Intersection 2 Pearl n 28th by Dom Nozziintersections oversized and therefore nearly impossible to walk or bike; too little mixing of housing with offices or shops; too much free parking; too little traffic calming; too little road tolling; gas and gas taxes (and other motor vehicle taxes/fees) too low in price or absent; too many one-way streets; excessive parking requirements; over-concern about traffic congestion; failure to adopt an “Idaho Law;” silo-ing transportation and land use so that each is considered without the other; widespread lack of knowledge about (or outright opposition to) effective tools to shift motorists from cars to non-motorized travel; signal lights synchronized for car speeds rather than bus/bike speeds; failure to slow the growth in over-sized service vehicles; widespread belief in the myth that freer-flowing traffic reduces emissions and fuel consumption; over-emphasis on mobility rather than accessibility; no trend analysis of important measures such as quantity of parking or VMT per capita; extremely inflated estimates of bicycling levels that are not even close to reality; over-emphasis on stopping growth or minimizing density as a way to reduce car trips (such efforts actually increase per capita car trips); too much effort directed at creating more open space within the city (the city has way too much open space in part because so much of it is for cars); too much use of slip lanes and turn lanes in places they do not belong; widespread belief in the myth that car travel is win-win (it is actually zero-sum); failure to use raised medians in several locations; making bicycling impractical on hostile streets (due to extreme danger); and over-use of double-yellow center lines.

I also believe that installing bike lanes, bike paths, sidewalks, and improved transit has about reached its limit in recruiting non-car travel.

It seems to me that Boulder’s relatively high city government wealth has allowed the city to over-rely on politically easy tactics (more paths, bike lanes, sidewalks, buses) that involve throwing money at problems. To a great extent, the City rests on its laurels by pointing to the (inflated) bicycling rates, and buys into the societal narrative that dirty cars are the only problem with cars. Too little effort is therefore directed toward the tactics I list above.

I and many others in Boulder fear that the strong, highly visible push for clean cars is in certain ways distracting us from the extremely important need to make progress on the tactics I mention. Much of my tenure on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board (TAB), for example, has featured a lot on green cars, and pretty much nothing on the tactics I mention.

I think green cars are important, but even if we substantially increased the percent of such cars on our streets, we’d still have a huge amount of work in front of us to address the enormous number of substantial problems associated with per capita car travel – car travel that is way too high.

But I and many others in Boulder fear that the strong, highly visible push for clean cars is in certain ways distracting us from the extremely important need to make progress on the tactics I mention, and makes it too easy for people to conclude that dirty cars are our only problem with transportation.

The comments I make in this blog also apply equally to the promotion of self-driving cars, which is another silver bullet that too many believe will be a sufficient means of solving most or all of our traffic woes. Not only will they not do so if they become a large percentage of cars on the road. I also believe it is highly unlikely that we will ever see a large number of such vehicles on the road. So again, another unfortunate distraction when we have so many important, effective transportation tactics that are languishing for lack of strong advocacy.

I’m afraid that the lack of political will, and the surprising number of citizens who are misinformed, means that for Boulder to start moving on non-green car tactics, severe crisis will be needed that gives the city a kick in the butt.

 

 

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My Comments Regarding Vision Zero in Boulder Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

October 8, 2017

I have served on the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board for 4.5 years. Because only a tiny number of people attend the Board meetings, the thoughts shared by us Board members are heard by almost no one. Therefore, since I consider a “Vision Zero” plan that Boulder is now pursuing so important, and that item is on our October 9th agenda, I would like to give my views more daylight by sharing them on Facebook and my blog site.Vision Zero4

Vision Zero, by the way, is a vitally important objective that many cities in the US have adopted in recent years. It seeks to create a transportation system where there are zero traffic deaths or serious injuries.

Over the past year or so, Boulder has tragically seen several deaths and serious injuries on our roads. I was therefore initially quite happy to see that the City is now proposing a Vision Zero plan.

But while I am extremely supportive of a Vision Zero objective, the strategies being proposed by staff are little more than timid tweaks to the same old, ineffective strategies that Boulder and most all other US cities have tried now for the past century: More warning paint. More (or revised) warning lighting. More warning signs. More warning education. More warning enforcement. After a century of doubling down on these strategies every few years, our roads are in many ways far more dangerous than they have ever been.

In part, this is because the strategies are suffering from a severe form of diminishing returns. After installing thousands of warning signs on our roads over the past century, for example, it becomes information overload and motorists largely tune them out.

But mostly, these conventional strategies are simply ineffective in creating a safer transportation system. For the past century, we have poured a huge amount of public dollars into single-mindedly building roads that have too many lanes (roads are too wide). For a century, we have built roads engineered to encourage or enable high-speed, inattentive driving. Warning paint or safety education can do almost nothing to make it safe to walk across or bicycle on a monster 8-lane urban highway filled with speeding, impatient, inattentive drivers.Arapahoe Ave Boulder CO

In general, the only effective strategy we have to create a safer transportation system that has any chance of achieving a Vision Zero objective (besides creating more compact land use patterns) is to design streets with dimensions and geometries that obligate motorists to drive more slowly and attentively.

This is not rocket science.

It saddens me to have learned in my 4.5 years as a Board member (and 8 years as a Boulder bicycle and pedestrian and transit commuter) that while Boulder transportation staff is well aware of (and often supportive of) these effective street design tactics, their hands are tied. They are not recommending these effective tactics in the Boulder Vision Zero strategy.

Why are staff’s hands tied? Why are they recommending the century-long same old song and dance for Vision Zero, instead of recommending effective street design strategies?

In part it is because Boulder cannot, by law, redesign state roads in Boulder (but this can be changed, however, as was done on Broadway).

But it is also because too many people in Boulder (and therefore its city government) are way behind the times regarding effective, beneficial transportation tactics. Or simply oppose such tactics. Here is one of several essays I wrote on this.

Staff and city government are not being given permission by citizens to be effective about traffic safety.

Even though I know I will not get a second on a motion I will make at the Monday Board meeting, I will make the motion because it is the only way to have my concerns be on the record and recorded in the meeting minutes.

I will move that the Board request staff suspend and withdraw the Vision Zero initiative because Boulder is not ready to use effective tactics to achieve Vision Zero.double left turn lane intersection boulder

To be fair, I should note that Boulder has re-started a traffic calming program (what Boulder formerly called “traffic mitigation” and now calls “speed management”). This is a very beneficial and effective traffic safety strategy for achieving Vision Zero (at least on smaller neighborhood roads).

However, this street redesign program is not clearly integrated into the Vision Zero plan, and because it will only apply to smaller neighborhood streets rather than the large, dangerous, high-speed roads in Boulder, it will do very little to move Boulder toward an overall Vision Zero objective.

 

 

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The Time to Prioritize Transportation Safety is Now

By Dom Nozzi

As a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board, I am alarmed by the recent uptick in serious injuries and deaths caused by vehicle crashes on roads in our area. The number is inexcusable.

One of the most common requests by citizens to our Board, the Transportation staff, and City Council is the need to reinstate the neighborhood traffic calming program that was defunded in the late 1990s. Speeding, cut-through vehicles are a serious problem for a great many neighborhoods. Such traffic discourages bicycling and walking; substantially increases noise pollution; endangers our most vulnerable (seniors, children, and pets); is a primary cause of loss of neighborhood quality of life; and fuels opposition to infill development.

What caused this state of affairs?

For several decades, we have been so successful in providing for fast, unobstructed travel by car that it has substantially undermined transit ridership, walking, and bicycling.

Many who venture out on a bicycle are soon reminded by an impatient motorist that she’s in the way and doesn’t belong there. “Danger” is an all-too-frequent reason given in surveys for not bicycling.

Wide travel lanes and multi-lane roads exert a nearly irresistible influence over a motorist. Even motorists who are not inclined to drive fast creep up to highway speeds. Amplifying this problem: large numbers of drug- or alcohol-impaired drivers, sleep-deprived drivers, and time-starved drivers. These factors are a dangerous mix, as they induce a great deal of high-speed, inattentive, reckless driving.

Making a street “safer” too often tends to increase vehicle speeds, which makes the streets less safe. One result: a disproportionate number of serious injuries and deaths in Boulder are suffered by pedestrians and bicyclists. About 40 percent of all children killed in motor vehicle crashes are killed while walking or riding a bicycle.

Measured by “years of life lost,” motor vehicles fatalities rank third. Since 1930 (!), over 30,000 Americans die in motor vehicle crashes annually.

Motorists are more likely to collide with pedestrians at higher speeds. At 60 miles per hour, the field of vision of the motorist is two-thirds less than at 30 miles per hour. In addition, the probability of a pedestrian being killed is only 3.5 percent when a vehicle is traveling at 15 miles per hour, but jumps to 37 percent at 31 miles per hour and 83 percent at 44 miles per hour.

Roadway geometry in safety-sensitive areas, such as schools, needs to keep speeds near 20 miles per hour.

Portland finds that traffic circles are most effective when constructed in a series. They are sometimes also located in the middle of the block. Circles reduce motor vehicle speeds. Circles reduce crashes by 50 to 90 percent, when compared to two-way and four-way stop signs and traffic signals, by reducing the number of conflict points. Seattle likes circles so much that they were building about 30 circles each year a few decades ago.

Despite the conventional wisdom, stop signs do not affect overall speeds or control speeding. Posting lower speed limits and enforcing them is not sufficient to achieve needed reductions in speeding. Modest physical reconfiguration of streets is the only reliable and cost-effective way to slow and control inattentive speeding.

Calming helps reduce neighborhood noise pollution. From a distance of 48 feet, a car traveling at 56 miles per hour makes ten times more noise than a car traveling at 31 miles per hour. Reducing average speed from 25 miles per hour to 12 miles per hour reduces noise levels by 14 decibels (ten times quieter). At higher speeds, every 12 to 15 miles per hour in speed increases results in a 4 to 5 decibel noise increase.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) notes that the importance of reducing traffic speed cannot be overemphasized, and has stated that traffic calming is one of the more cost-effective ways to promote pedestrian and bicycle use in urban and suburban areas, where walking and bicycling are often hazardous and uncomfortable. And as for children, Stina Sandels, a world authority on children and road accidents, says that the best road safety education cannot adapt a child to modern traffic, so traffic must be adapted to the child.

Fortunately, there are effective street design tactics to substantially increase road safety, and these methods can be deployed without significantly slowing emergency vehicle response times.

I urge Council to restore funding for neighborhood traffic calming (by adding new dollars rather than shifting existing dollars from the current city transportation budget). Since the City does not have the authority to introduce safe, speed-slowing designs on larger state roads, I urge Council to lobby the State legislature to give Boulder the authority to do so, as well as to stiffen penalties for driving infractions.

I also recommend more compact development in appropriate locations, sponsoring a transportation safety speaker series, and more street connectivity.

We have a duty to make Boulder streets much safer. Let us not delay doing so.

 

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Boulder, Colorado Traffic Safety is Ineffective and Behind the Times

 

By Dom Nozzi

October 11, 2016

Every few years for about 80 years, Boulder and pretty much every other city in the US “redoubles its efforts” to engage in more education and enforcement to promote bicycle and pedestrian safety.

At best, such efforts have had marginal benefits.

After 80 years of “redoubling our efforts,” Boulder’s streets are more dangerous than ever.

In my view, these endlessly repeated campaigns are largely a waste of time and money (except to show symbolic support for political reasons), and the very minor benefits diminish each time we implement these campaigns (the dilemma of diminishing 3556802_origreturns). Indeed, such ineffective and repeated campaigns may be worse than a waste of time, as they can distract the City from engaging in pursuing meaningful strategies. Strategies such as retrofitting streets for slower and more attentive car travel, reducing the size of roads and parking lots, significantly increasing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians by removing motorist subsidies and making community development more compact.

Nothing else comes remotely close to being as effective as these tactics in increasing motorist attentiveness, slowing down motorists, and growing the number of bicyclists and pedestrians. I am ashamed of how much Boulder has delayed doing these things – particularly in the face of the many recent traffic fatalities and the plateauing of the levels of bicycling, walking, and transit use.

If it were up to me, Boulder would forego a number of expensive, big-ticket “safety” projects in the pipeline right now (which I believe do almost nothing to improve safety) and divert that money to effective tactics I mention above.

And start doing that immediately.

Shame on Boulder for dragging its feet and being so far behind the times regarding redesigning our streets effectively. Shame on Boulder for thinking it can just give up on trying to calm larger roads and monster intersections. For thinking that it is a good idea to create an alternative (“separate but equal”?) off-street path system for cyclists – a system that will never allow commuter cyclists to reach more than a tiny fraction of destinations cyclists have a right to get to by bike.

 

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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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Is Traffic Calming Unsafe?

 

By Dom Nozzi

November 1, 2016

On October 5th, David Wagner alleged in the Boulder CO Daily Camera that traffic calming (which uses street design to slow cars to safe speeds) does not improve safety, yet significantly degrades fire safety (due to slower response times).

This is a red herring.

A study by Peter Swift conducted in Longmont CO found that when cities use excessive dimensions for roads to reduce fire truck response times, there is a net LOSS in overall safety.

Why?

Because those road dimensions lead to a large increase in car crashes, and the number of injuries and deaths caused by that increase in car crashes far exceeds any decrease in fire injuries/deaths due to allegedly slower fire truck response times. Dan Burden – a national traffic calming expert and son of a fire chief – disputes the claim that fire truck response 8330087time is significantly slowed. Boulder would benefit from having Burden conduct a traffic calming audit with the Boulder fire department, and demonstrate designs that slow cars without slowing fire trucks.

Swift’s study shows that safety is far better served when a community focuses on the much broader question of LIFE SAFETY rather than the subset of FIRE SAFETY.

Something not easy to measure in studies: When car speeds are not slowed by traffic calming measures, a large number of potential bicyclists and pedestrians are deterred from biking or walking (particularly children and seniors) due to perceived danger of high car speeds. Conversely, slow car speeds effectively recruit large numbers of cyclists and peds. Studies show that a society where there is less walking and cycling — and the more driving — public health declines and deaths increase.

The Transportation Advisory Board has been inundated with dozens of emails from citizens throughout the city pleading for the Board to calm their neighborhood streets due to dangerous speeding and cut-through traffic.

They would beg to differ with Mr. Wagner’s remarks.

 

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