Tag Archives: traffic safety

A Call to Arms for Dramatically Improved Public Health and Safety

A Manifesto

By Dom Nozzi

There is an old, well-known Chinese adage that from crisis comes opportunity. The pandemic we are now in is a severe crisis, and for all of us today, a crisis that pushes us into uncharted waters.

Fortunately, we can leverage this health crisis to create significantly better public health and public safety through timeless transportation and urban design principles that were once nearly universal, yet have languished over the past century – much to the detriment of public health and safety.

A Time of Crisis

We face a number of crises that are growing in magnitude. At the top of our minds today is the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis arose lightning fast and we are all laser-focused on it as a result of the 24/7 coverage by all media outlets.

But there are three other enormous societal crises that seem less immediately important, but only because they have been slow-motion problems for several decades, rather than emerging overnight like the pandemic. These other societal problems are akin to the “frog in the slowly heating pot of water” syndrome, where most of us don’t notice the water slowly heating, so we don’t jump out of the pot in time to save ourselves. Those slow-motion emergencies include:

  1. Traffic Safety. For the past 70 years, the number of traffic fatalities in the US has ranged from 35,000 to 55,000 deaths per year. This is the equivalent to one hundred 747 jetliners crashing and killing everyone aboard every year, or two fully loaded 747s crashing and killing everyone aboard every week. This is barbaric, and a death rate no civilized society should tolerate.
  2. Physical Fitness. Our society is facing a severe public health crisis. Obesity and other significant lifestyle-related health problems have skyrocketed in recent decades. For the first time in history, the youngest generation is not expected to live as long as the generation that preceded it.
  3. Woefully Poor Financial Health. All levels of government and millions of American households are facing severe financial troubles. The United States, for example, is by far the world’s largest debtor nation.

The good news is that as the Chinese taught us, we can find ways to turn these threatening crises into exciting opportunities to create a stronger, healthier, happier future. We already know a great deal about these opportunities to move us out of these crises, and most of them are not difficult or costly to implement.

Misconceptions

For positive opportunities to emerge, we need to have the courage to boldly innovate. But to innovate, we need to be aware of misconceptions.

  1. Pandemic Infections. Conventional wisdom wrongly informs too many of us today that going forward, we will have lower infection rates and better public health if we continue moving toward more dispersed, lower-density land use patterns. But our best science informs us that this is simply not true. Data clearly shows that there is no connection between city density and infection rates or death rates. This is because a person’s likelihood of infection is largely tied to prolonged indoor exposure rather than the density of housing in a neighborhood. Prolonged indoor exposure (including being inside a car) is as likely in lower-density communities as higher-density communities – maybe more so. And recovery from infection is connected to readily available, higher-quality medical services. Such medical services tend to be more available in denser cities than in less-dense communities.
  2. Traffic Safety and Managing Congestion. Again, tens of thousands have died on American roads every year for the past century. Indeed, it is also arguable that after a century of improved safety efforts, our roads are now more dangerous than ever in many communities. This shocking, long-term traffic safety failure is largely based on a societal over-emphasis on single-mindedly promoting car travel, and our failure to learn that conventional congestion reduction tactics only make our roads more congested and less safe over time. Another factor is our century-long use of the “forgiving roadway” design strategy, which “forgives” an inattentive, speeding motorist in part by removing things such a motorist can crash into. The result is a large and growing epidemic of inattentive motorists who too often drive too fast. A third major reason for our century of failure in reducing traffic deaths is that we are suffering greatly diminishing returns in our century-long use of the ineffective “Five W’s.” To improve traffic safety, we persist in calling for more of the following: (1) Warning signs; (2) Warning lights; (3) Warning paint; (4) Warning enforcement; and (5) Warning education. These five things are not effective in promoting traffic safety, and are becoming less effective the more we continue to use them.

Opportunities

Fortunately, our society does not need to come up with major new breakthroughs for seemingly impossible-to-solve problems with no solutions in sight. For decades, individuals and groups have sought to advance tactics that are time-tested and known to be effective. We describe the effective tactics below.

  1. Infections. Reducing rates of infection and deaths due to infection, according to medical professionals and science-based studies, is best achieved in communities that are designed for easy, pleasant, safe, and frequent walking and bicycling (because physically active people strengthen their immune system). That is, communities that are compact, human-scaled, and mix housing with offices and shops and schools. This design induces large numbers of people to engage in health-promoting travel and reduce health-endangering driving (driving that kills many Americans each year from crashes – not to mention the toxic car emissions, noise pollution, and physical inactivity that degrades our health). By being healthier through increased physical activity that comes from regular walking and bicycling, we strengthen our immune system, improve our lungs, promote neighborly “social capital,” reduce stress, and boost the effectiveness of vaccines. By contrast, those living in low-density residential suburbs are relatively inactive because most all of their travel must be by motor vehicle. This lifestyle weakens human immune function. And therefore makes our bodies more fragile and susceptible to disease. In a world where millions of bacteria and viruses are always near us in cities and suburbs, the key for avoiding serious infection problems is based on a strong immune system, not isolation. In sum, resilience against current and future infection is best achieved with compact, sociable places where it is easy and common to walk to shops and schools and other daily needs. A part of this is the growing interest in closing or redesigning streets to reduce infection and improve our quality of life. We know that infection rates go down more substantially when people are outdoors rather than indoors, which has led restaurant owners to ask that street space be re-allocated to non-car use by extending restaurant seating into streets. Many are noticing that during the pandemic, smog is clearing and cites are quieter due to lower levels of car travel. This has led many cities to redesign streets for more slow-speed people-oriented activity, or close streets to cars. Many streets are therefore becoming more like the shared, safe Dutch “Woonerfs” or European walking streets. This tends to induce a large community increase in walking, cycling, safety, conversation, and smiles. The good news for drivers is that lower-speed design means a reduced need for stop signs or other roadway controls, which means motorists need to stop less often.
  2. Traffic Safety and Congestion. There is a growing worldwide movement toward the keys to improved traffic safety. Those keys are centered on slowing down. “Slow Cities” and “Slow Foods” are two examples of this, and the results are impressive. Designing streets to obligate slower, more attentive driving by reducing the width or size of streets or intersections is effectively reducing crashes and traffic deaths. Traffic engineers must be given the authority to be flexible in the designs they use in street design, rather than be obligated to follow “conventional” dimensions – which tend to be excessive and induce excessive car speeds. Fortunately, the design manuals engineers use provide that flexibility, in spite of conventional wisdom. By creating slow, attentive “walking (or “open”) streets,” we are opening the door to a growth in the number of compact, convivial, front-porch oriented neighborhoods. This, in turn, results in more health-promoting community walking and bicycling, which strengthens our immune system. The more slow-speed, compact community also allows another essential benefit: It allows us to AVOID congestion (congestion that is inevitable in a healthy city). In a healthy city, the large size of cars in a car-dependent society leads to unavoidable congestion – congestion that only worsens if we widen roads, for example. Why? Because road widening induces people to drive more often. It is one of the Iron Laws of Transportation that you cannot build (or widen) yourself out of congestion. But you CAN avoid getting stuck in it with the proper community design.
  3. Finances. Low-density, car-based community design has bankrupted federal, state, and local government because the cost to provide and maintain the roads and parking lots and accoutrements for that lifestyle is fantastically high. Governments cannot afford the cost largely because density of development must be kept low to make car driving and parking reasonably tolerable. That low density does not come close to providing enough tax revenue to pay for the needed car-based transportation system. Indeed, strongtowns.org calls these low-density suburbs that cannot pay their own way a “Ponzi-Scheme.” Households also suffer significantly in a car-based community. In a community where nearly all travel must be made by car, a household must own a larger number of cars, and the annual cost to own and operate each car now exceeds $10,000 per year. This obligation to own several cars in an American household helps explain why the cost of transportation for the American household has gone from about two percent of the total household budget 100 years ago to 22 percent (and rising) of the household budget today. Reducing the number of cars a house must own – through compact, walkable design — is therefore an effective way to create affordable housing.
  4. Resilience and Strength. The car-dependent, isolating (low social capital) suburb is highly vulnerable to serious decline in a future where we experience severe and inevitable declines or disruptions in such things as economics, energy, and climate change. That is, a car-dependent community, like physically inactive people, is extremely fragile. By striking contrast, a community designed to be compact, low-speed, and sociable is comparatively strong and resilient. A community offering several forms of active travel (walking, bicycling, and transit) is relatively able to adapt to inevitable future change or survive impacts such as a pandemic.

The desirability and rarity of human-scaled, compact, slower-speed design  in American cities highlights that an important strategy we need for a better future is associated with our cities having too much space. Too much space allocated to car travel and parking. Too much distance created between destinations. Not that we have too much in the way of parks or squares or plazas or other “open spaces,” but that we have buildings that are set back too far from sidewalks. Too many “sea of asphalt” parking lots. Roads that contain too many travel and turn lanes. Intersections that have grown too enormous. Too much distance between the home and both neighbors and the corner store.

Our first and most important task for creating the walkability that healthy, strong, and happy people the world over love is to create modest, human-scaled city spaces. To make spaces to drive and store a car smaller in size by reallocating that space to “people-oriented” activities such as restaurants or strolling – particularly in our town centers.

What Is To Be Done in America?

To best implement what we call for above, these should be our top priorities for America.

  1. Reform Our Land Use Zoning. We need higher allowable densities. We also need zoning that allows the following by right: accessory dwelling units, mini- and micro-housing, small shops and small offices, co-housing, and duplexes. Relax or eliminate setback or landscaping requirements. This reform effectively creates more affordable housing, and has been accomplished in Minneapolis and Oregon.
  2. Slow, Attentive Streets. Particularly within town centers, make slow street design (mostly through modest, human-scaled street and intersection dimensions) the default design. Calm high-speed streets with smaller street and intersection dimensions. “Forgiving Street Design” preferences overallocation of space to cars, and substantially worsens traffic safety by promoting excess speeds and inattentive driving. Replace this philosophy with “Attentive, Slow-Speed Design,” which preferences slower, safer, more human-scaled streets and intersections. One beneficial change that would result from this revised philosophy is that our streets would more likely be gracefully enveloped by street trees (street trees abutting the street tend to be discouraged by Forgiving design). End our counterproductive, century-long habit of overallocating road space to cars by putting a moratorium on road and intersection widening. America has allocated far too much urban space to car travel and storage. This undermines an enormous number of societal health and safety objectives. The health and innovative creativity of a city depends on clustering (economists call this “agglomermation economies”), and over-allocating space to cars severely undermines clustering by dispersing the city into sprawl. We need road and parking lot diets, restaurant seating expanding into roads, landscaped bulb-outs, and smaller intersections. Widening increases per capita car-based travel, worsens traffic congestion in the long-run, imposes unaffordable maintenance costs on government, degrades public health, and increases the number of traffic fatalities. America needs far more welcoming, healthy, shared streets such as Woonerfs, living streets, open streets, walking streets, and give-way streets. Making our communities and transportation systems more compact and slower speed effectively improves our ability to reduce infection and death rates, significantly improves our physical fitness, and dramatically improves the financial condition of all levels of government as well as our households.
  3. Reform parking. We need to convert minimum required parking rules to maximum allowable parking, unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing, tax parking spaces, allow housing and shops and offices to replace parking by right, and replace off-street parking with on-street parking (this is a low-cost, quick way to calm traffic, enhance business health, and put over-sized roads on a diet).
  4. User Fees. For a much more equitable and societally beneficial future, revenue needed to provide for car travel should move substantially toward user fees (such as metered parking, road tolling, or Vehicle Miles Traveled fees) rather than unfairly relying on property tax or sales taxes.
  5. Restore Passenger Rail. Restoring America’s formerly impressive passenger rail system is a powerful tool for building great neighborhoods and great cities. If we are to soon see a massive transportation infrastructure stimulus in response to the pandemic, that stimulus needs to include a big expansion in American passenger rail. For the coming decades, the emphasis should be getting the most bang (mileage) for the buck by emphasizing slow-speed rail. High-speed rail is sexy and exciting, but it buys us very little rail mileage because the cost is enormous. Some of that slow-speed rail can later become, incrementally, high-speed.
  6. Reduce the Size of Service Vehicles. For better public safety, better public health, and a higher quality of life, street dimensions should be dictated bases on slow-speed, human-scaled, place-making design. Unfortunately, American roads tend to use a “design vehicle” to dictate road dimensions. This design vehicle tends to be enormous service vehicles such as fire trucks and buses. This is backward. And substantially undermines societal objectives. Reducing service vehicle sizes used in a community is a way to escape this unintended consequence.
  7. Reform Property Taxes. Nearly all American cities strongly discourage compact, mixed use, infill development with their tax structure. Instead of strongly discouraging infill (and encouraging surface parking for land speculation) by taxing improvements to land (renovations, infill, etc.), we should be taxing the land. This has been done in Pittsburgh. It is known as a “land value tax” (or “single tax”).
  8. Convert One-Way Streets Back to Two-Way. A great many cities are implementing this reform because one-way streets undermine several community objectives. They harm residential and retail health, increase the amount of inattentive and high-speed driving, increase motorist frustration, induce more wrong-way travel, produce confusion for out-of-town motorists, increase the distances driven by car, and reduce gaps in car platoons.
  9. Better Train Transportation Engineers to Speak Objective, Plain English. Too often, professional transportation engineers use so much jargon, biased language, and bureaucratic terminology that their presentations or written recommendations are nearly incomprehensible to a non-professional audience of citizens. This is an important problem, as it is essential for neighborhood citizens to be fully aware of what is being communicated to them as problems or options or plans from professionals. Without a full comprehension, citizens are not fully able to participate in transportation discussions that are often significantly affecting their safety or quality of life. They have less ability to express their concerns about transportation. This can give too much decision making to the professional staff – including missing important information about problems to be solved. An effective way to correct this is to better train professionals to speak plainly and speak without bias. We provide guidelines in the appendix of this document.

Many of these design practices were followed for most of human history (in America, up until approximately World War II). It is time to start returning to that tradition. There is no better way to address pandemics, loss of physical health, financial woes, traffic safety, improving our transportation system, or promoting our quality of life.

Plain English and Objective Language Guidelines

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2016/10/23/plain-english/

https://domz60.wordpress.com/2014/11/20/unbiased-terms/

 

 

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Filed under Bicycling, Politics, Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

The Inappropriateness of Highway Design in a City

 

By Dom Nozzi

There is a big problem in the roadway design found in Boulder, Colorado. Too much of the design has an inappropriate “highway” orientation.

This is incompatible with what a city needs to be healthy and safe.

Exemplifying this is a dedicated right-turn lane in central Boulder (for those of you who live in Boulder, it can be found on Raleigh onto Broadway southbound). This lane – because it creates excessive asphalt width for motorized vehicle travel — inevitably promotes excessively high motor vehicle turning movements and promotes inattentive driving by the turning motorist. Without removing that right turn lane, in my opinion, this intersection will remain a dangerous intersection.

As long as Boulder continues its counterproductive, decades-long, highly expensive efforts to convenience cars, this city will remain a very dangerous place for travelers and will fail to achieve its newly adopted “Vision Zero” objective, regardless of how much we install more safety lights, safety paint, safety signs, safety enforcement, and safety education. There is no win-win when it comes to cars.

And Boulder continues to fail to understand that.

There are serious negatives to double-left turns (and their highway cousins, the dedicated right-turn lane and the slip lane).

Of course, double-left turn lanes also destroy human scale and a sense of place. A double-left turn lane intersection will never feel like a place to hang out because it vastly exceeds human scale. These over-sized intersections are so hostile that they obligate property owners at each of the four corners of the intersection to pull back from the intersection with massive setbacks, large asphalt parking lots, and auto-oriented land uses that can tolerate such an unpleasant atmosphere (such as a gas station). This sort of deadening creates an area of apparent abandonment, and is the antithesis of what a city needs for health.

Ultimately the double-left turn intersection fails to induce nearby land uses that will generate tax revenues sufficient to make this part of the city self-supporting. It becomes an on-going financial liability that will forever drain substantial dollars from the city budget

The enormous size and relatively high motor vehicle speeds induced by a double-left turn intersection creates dangerous and intimidating conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, which substantially reduces the number of such trips and increases the number of traffic injuries and fatalities.

It is exceptionally improper to install what amounts to a highway “deceleration” lane in a city (not to mention the fact that it would further widen an already over-wide roadway). Cities should not have deceleration lanes, overpasses, flyovers, grade separations, highway interchanges, 6- or 8- or 10-lane configurations or anything else that accommodates highway speeds by motor vehicles and undermines the important need to create lower-speed, human-scaled dimensions in our infrastructure.

It is likely that this proposal is a response to historical rear-end collisions in that location, where cars following too close behind cars in front of them rear-end the car ahead when the car ahead makes a right turn onto Raleigh. But this “solution” simply enables a form of travel (inattentive, high-speed driving and tailgating) that is inappropriate in a city.

Despite what conventional traffic engineers believe, roadway design influences travel behavior positively or negatively. When Boulder builds highway-oriented design, it inevitably induces an increase in inappropriate highway-style (read: high-speed, inattentive) driving. This is toxic for a city. Street design needs to induce desirable behavior, not induce undesirable behavior.

Shame on Boulder for this proposal.

I have to wonder how much money the City will spend to worsen its transportation system in this way?

 

 

 

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Excerpts from Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules (2018)

 

By Dom Nozzi

In February 2018, I read an excellent book regarding walkable design. Jeff Speck’s Walkable City Rules turned me on to this inspiring 15-min video. It shows how a city being run down by a high-speed, high-volume, massive, dangerous, car-only intersection full of angry motorists could be reborn into a much more courteous, safe, welcoming, healthy, shared place with right-sized roads (diets), removal of traffic signals and traffic regulation signs, expansion of pedestrian areas, and street design that obligates slow and attentive driving.

Please share this with friends and your local traffic engineers!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-vzDDMzq7d0

Excerpts from the book:

“There are many things that can be measured in cities, each of which has its own impact on success. Density, diversity, walkability, property value, resource conservation, life expectancy, educational attainment, the production of patents, GDP, carbon footprint, free-flowing traffic: all of these relate to a city’s well-being, attractiveness, and future prospects. Yet only one of them, the last one, is routinely used to direct decision making around a city’s growth, and ironically, it is the one that works to the detriment of all the others. Let that sink in. The one aspect of urban life that has the most impact on city planning, traffic flow, exists in almost perfect opposition to all the other good things a city can have…The more dense, diverse, walkable, and desirable a city is, the more it is likely to be congested. The less fuel it burns and the lower the obesity rate, the worse the traffic. Ditto that on educational attainment, patents per capita, and GDP (Every 10% increase in traffic delay correlates to a 3.4% increase in per capita GDP). In the US at least, greatness brings congestion. Why, then, is design controlled by congestion, and not by greatness?”

“In every major American city, pedestrian deaths are a part of life…The news cycle is predictable: first comes the victim blaming, then the driver blaming – sober drivers are almost never punished – then perhaps a discussion about speed limits and enforcement. Through it all, the crash is called an ‘accident’ as if it was not preventable. Rarely is the design of the roadway itself considered. And never – NEVER – is there any reconsideration of the professional engineering standards that created the hazard in the first place. The Swedes, those geniuses of driving safety, know better. For some time, the leadership of the Swedish traffic safety profession has acknowledged that street design is at the heart of traffic safety, and modified its engineering standards with an eye to lowering speeds in urban areas. The results are astounding. Their traffic fatality rate as a nation is about one quarter of the US, but the biggest difference is in the cities. In 2013, Stockholm, with a similar population to Phoenix, lost six people to car crashes. Phoenix lost 167. Remarkably, Stockholm made it through 2016 without a single pedestrian or cyclist dying. Welcome to ‘Vision Zero’…In Seattle, too – where city engineer Dongho Chang tweets daily about bike lanes, curb extensions, and other safety improvements his department is installing – the impact of Vision Zero is clear…While not stated outright, both its goals and execution fly in the face of a half-century of negligent engineering practice…Advocates should rally publicly around the tragedy of road deaths to overcome hurdles to its adoption.”

“Level of service is the system that traffic planners use, often exclusively, to determine the success of a street network. Level of service (LOS) rankings run from A to F, with A representing unimpeded flow and F representing bad delays…Many engineers aim for an LOS of A or B, because…A’s and B’s are best, right? To an engineer’s mind, the less congestion the better. But this belief ignores the fact that an LOS of A or B corresponds to cars moving at higher speeds than are safe for an urban center. Moreover, experience teaches us that there hardly exists a single successful, vital, main street that would earn an A or B rating. When it comes to retail performance and street life, LOS could aptly be said to stand for Lack of Success…It is clear that the LOS system, which was created to assess highways, is the wrong measure for determining the success of a city. Or, it perhaps is useful, but only if we consistently aim for an LOS of E…Only as a LOS of D emerges into E do we see a significant drop in driving speeds. Even a high F would seem to provide a slow but steady flow of traffic, ideal for a main street…Because congestion is spuriously associated with pollution, it once seemed wise to impose upon new development a burden of maintaining a high LOS. This approach ignored the fact that the most free-flowing traffic is found in those places where people drive the most miles – that smooth traffic is indeed an inducement to driving – and thus our most congested cities make the lowest per-capita contribution to greenhouse gases. In light of this new understanding, the State of California recently eliminated LOS from its environmental review process, and replaced it with a focus on reducing VMT: Vehicle Miles Traveled. Under the old rules, ironically, environmental regulations would stop you from adding a bike lane to a street if a traffic study showed a negative impact on the flow of cars. This still happens in many places. But California has regained its sanity and is once again leading the way in limiting the environmental impacts of driving.”

 

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Is Bicycling Without Separated Bicycle Paths “Suicidal”?

 

By Dom Nozzi

December 18, 2018

Someone responded recently to an essay I wrote. My essay mentioned the fact that the US has the lowest levels of bicycling in the world. He claimed that this low level was due to the fact that it is “suicidal” to bike when there are no separated bicycle paths.

As an asice, bicycle paths that are physically separated from the street, in contrast to bicycle lanes, which are in-street bicycle routes separated by car travel lanes by a painted white stripe.

My response…

I’m not sure why a person would consider bicycling on streets rather than on separated bike paths is “suicidal”?

I have been a bicycle commuter for about 50 years (about 2-6 bike rides every day during that time, and almost never on a separated path. I have never had a close call with a motor vehicle in all that time. In addition, I have been working academically and professionally in bicycle transportation for about 35 years, and know from that work the following: bicycling is far safer than most people realize (which confirms my own personal experience). I have long known a great many friends who are both motorists and who have ridden a bike without separated paths.

Of the friends who were killed in road crashes, nearly all of them have been killed while driving a car than riding a bike (admittedly, this is anecdotal). However, the data supports that anecdotal observation. For example, your life expectancy is longer if you are a bike commuter rather than a car commuter, and not only because you are more healthy.

My 35 years of academic and professional work also shows that separated bike paths are not an important limiting factor in the number of people who choose to become bike commuters. Even if it were, almost no city can afford to install a comprehensive system of off-street paths, and without such a system, paths are of little use to the bike commuter.

Much more important limiting factors in how many people choose to travel by bicycle are density of housing, retail and offices (a measure of how compact the community happens to be), distance to destinations, and available free parking for motorists. Each of those factors are enormous barriers to widespread bicycling in the US, due to the very low levels of compact density, the relatively large distances to destinations, and the enormous amount of free car parking provided in US cities.

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Speeding in Boulder CO

By Dom Nozzi

June 30, 2018

Yesterday on a NextDoor email list in my town of Boulder CO (a list that I can barely stand to look at given the proliferation of moronic, mean-spirited, misanthropic, selfish views expressed there – particularly when it comes to transportation or urban design), there was a comment posted about two young deer that were killed by a motorist on Iris Avenue here in town.

Some of the comments in reply talked about how we need to urge people to pay attention and not be speeders. One blamed it on people moving here from out of town.

The following is what I posted in response to such comments.

Speeding on Iris is almost entirely due to the high-speed geometrics of Iris. It has nothing to do with people moving here from elsewhere. Big intersection turning radii, clear zones, overly wide travel lanes, and most importantly, a four- and five-lane road cross section.Double-Left Turn Intersection 2 Pearl n 28th by Dom Nozzi

Iris was scheduled recently to become a three-lane instead of a 4- or 5-lane street, which would have made it a much safer street, a street with more attentive motorists, a street with less speeding, and a street much more conducive to nearby residential, but the shamefully hostile reaction to the Folsom Street road diet means that the Iris project has been shelved and Iris will remain a roadway with large numbers of dangerous, speeding and inattentive motorists.

The “Vision Zero” project Boulder has recently started (striving for zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries) will largely be applying the century-long, ineffective tactics to roads such as Iris: more warning signs, more warning lights, more warning education, and more warning paint.

It is time to demand the City use effective safety tactics: redesigning streets to obligate safer, slower, more attentive driving, rather than the century-long design to induce inattentive, higher-speed driving.

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Boulder’s Most Needed Transportation Reforms

By Dom Nozzi

April 1, 2018

As I stepped down after my five-year term on the Transportation Advisory Board (TAB) in March 2018, I left with the following thoughts about the most pressing transportation reforms needed by Boulder – a city that is surprisingly behind the times regarding transportation despite its progressive reputation.

First, I was often attacked for being “anti-car” and convincing the city to take harmful transportation actions. This is laughable. The role of TAB is completely reactive. TAB serves only as a rubber stamp for proposals by the city, and never has the opportunity to proactively suggest transportation reforms to the city.

The following are transportation reforms I would have suggested for Boulder had I ever been asked (I was never asked, which is telling). This is based on my living in Boulder for several years and my 35 years working academically and professionally in transportation.

The Five Warnings Don’t Improve Safety. Over and over again, for a century, Boulder has applied more Warning paint, added more Warning signs, used more Warning lights, pushed more Warning education, and adopted more Warning enforcement. It hasn’t worked. Streets are more dangerous than ever. Warnings don’t work partly due to diminishing returns caused by excessive, redundant warnings that now clutter our streets.

Redesign Streets. Design streets to induce slower, more attentive driving. Phase out “forgiving” design. Restore and make permanent the funding for traffic calming design (a citywide effort to create narrower/greener streets, traffic circles, roundabouts, smaller intersections, curb bulb-outs, slow streets, chicanes, etc.). Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases.

Ratchet Down Use of Underpasses and Overpasses. With the possible exception of the Boulder Creek Path, underpasses or overpasses provide very little bang for a very expensive buck. Money saved by building less underpasses or overpasses can fund a great deal of traffic calming for many years, provide a lot more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians, and substantially improve neighborhood quality of life. Deciding underpasses or overpasses are needed should be a message that streets and intersections are too large. They also show that the City has given up on EVER humanizing and greening that street.

Provide Parking Efficiently. Underpriced/free parking is a fertility drug for increasing the number of car trips. Parking also makes an area less compact, less walkable, less safe, and more of a dead zone. In the Boulder town center, new parking should only occur within parking garages, and only to replace existing surface parking spaces (ie, no net increase). Excessive parking is a problem citywide, and must be controlled by converting minimum parking requirements to maximums. The City must annually survey the total number of parking spaces in the town center to ensure that the total number is not increasing over time (it should be decreasing). Free or underpriced parking artificially encourages car use and promotes excessive provision of parking. Improve fairness in funding via increased use of user fees such as parking, a VMT fee, and pay-at-the-pump car insurance. Require that the cost of parking be unbundled from the price of new housing.

Install Beautifying Raised Medians. Too many Boulder streets have dangerous, ugly continuous left-turn lanes. North Broadway, east Pearl, and Arapahoe are examples where “turn pockets” can replace continuous left-turn lanes.

Restore Two-Way Streets. Many cities throughout the nation have converted one-way streets back to two-way operation because it is now widely known that one-ways are extremely dangerous, inconvenient, deadly for retail and homes, and induce excessive driving. The one-way loop in town center Boulder should be restored to two-way operation.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. The City should either hire one or more people to monitor such conditions on a regular basis, provide an easy and high-visibility way for bicyclists and pedestrians to report on problems they encounter, or both.

Control Size. The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. In other words, because most all AmericansArapahoe Ave Boulder CO

travel by car, one of the most common desires expressed by citizens is larger parking lots, wider roads, and bigger intersections. Yet this constant refrain has left Boulder with oversized spaces that are dangerous and utterly lack any sense of charm – what I call the “gigantism” disease. The u

rbanist (and the transportation engineer) must therefore regularly urge their community to resist this temptation, as smaller, human-scaled spacing is a fundamental key to lovability, public health & safety, and happiness. Given this, Boulder must hire one or more enthusiastic new urbanist transportation engineers who have a track record in reducing transportation infrastructure sizes.

Keep Service Vehicles Small in Size. Overly large fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles obligate traffic engineers to use excessive (and therefore dangerous) street and intersection dimensions to accommodate oversized vehicles. This can be avoided by ensuring that fire trucks, buses, and other service vehicles are relatively small in size.

Require City Staff to Use Plain English and Avoid Biased Terms. Boulder transportation documents and presentations should not use language that is biased toward car travel. Use “plain English” as much as possible. Adopt a plain English and Unbiased Communication Stylebook.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. Boulder has a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Adopt the “Idaho Law.” Cities in Colorado such as Aspen have adopted the “Idaho Law” which allows cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and stoplights as stop signs. This simply makes legal what the vast majority of cyclists already do, and encourages more cycling by making cycling much more advantageous.

Remove Barriers to Conversion of Surface Parking Lots. The conversion of parking lots to buildings should be extremely easy. In the town center, remove any regulatory barriers to that conversion by eliminating parking requirements, softening stormwater requirements in the town center, etc.

Fee-in-lieu of Parking.  To reduce the enormous and wasteful amount of space consumed by surface parking lots, allow developers to pay a fee-in-lieu of parking and use that revenue to create public parking (preferably in space-efficient stacked parking garages).

 

Background

Human-scaled streets and intersections. Many roadways and intersections have grown enormous in size in Boulder. Roads such as East Arapahoe, Canyon, Colorado, 28th Street, and Baseline now have such a large number of travel lanes and turn lanes that pedestrians and bicyclists must now cross an enormous distance made more daunting by the high speed car traffic on these roads. Anything more than 3 or 4 lanes is extremely dangerous to cross, and these roadways now contain up to 7 or 8 lanes. This oversizing has been driven by an effort to promote “free-flowing” traffic – even at rush hour. Given the enormous size of cars (a person consumes 17 to 100 times more space in a car than in a chair), and the large number of regional commuters coming to Boulder each day, retaining “free-flowing” traffic — even at rush hour — is a recipe for finding yourself oversizing streets and intersections. Boulder has certainly done that. By doing so, Boulder now has a number of oversized roads that are too big for a city, too big for safe bicycling or walking, and too big to have any reasonable chance to achieve “vision zero” for crashes (reducing the number of traffic deaths and serious injuries to zero). To put the oversizing problem in perspective, if we want to carry 50,000 people per hour in each direction of a road, we’d need one lane worth of road if they are carried by train, two lanes if carried by bus, and 18 lanes if carried by car. Put a moratorium on road and intersection capacity increases, and transform or repurpose oversized roads and intersections (no more than one turn lane at intersections, no more than two travel lanes in the town center, and no more than four travel lanes outside town center). Neck down streets and intersections with bulb-outs, circles, roundabouts, and raised medians.  Canyon and Broadway in the town center should be transformed into two travel lanes, bus pull-outs, and left turn pockets.

Adopt effective traffic safety tactics to Replace Forgiving Design. At the dawn of the auto age a century ago, nearly all American cities – including Boulder — adopted forgiving roadway design. Forgiving design “forgives” a motorist for driving too fast or not paying attention by increasing the width of travel lanes, adding travel lanes, and removing “obstacles” from the areas flanking roads (trees, buildings, etc.). The naïve thought was that this would reduce the number of things motorists would crash into. The unintended consequence, however, was that this design significantly increased motorist speeding and inattentiveness, as a motorist tends to drive as fast and as inattentively as the roadway design allows. The result of forgiving design is that there is an epidemic in motorist speeding and inattentiveness – aggravated by the concurrent epidemic in sleep deprivation that causes most all of us to occasionally fall asleep at the wheel. For improved safety, use design that obligates motorists to be more responsible for (and attentive to) driving safety by, for example, reducing the emphasis on victim-blaming warning signs, flashing lights, street paint, education, and traffic signals, and putting much more emphasis on street design that obligates slower speeds and attentive driving. Such traffic calming tactics involve creating more modest street dimensions (via such things as on-street parking, bulb-outs, traffic circles, etc.). Phase out “forgiving” street design.

Humanize streets. Use traffic calming tactics to create several new neighborhood-based “slow” or “shared” or “Give-Way” streets. Install beautifying elements on streets such as more street trees and attractively designed/landscaped (and sufficiently large!) traffic circles and roundabouts. Restore annual City funding for the neighborhood traffic mitigation (traffic calming) program.

Provide parking more efficiently. Require businesses above a certain size to only offer priced or cash-out parking, substantially increase the percentage of parking that is priced citywide, convert minimum parking requirements to maximum parking, allow most or all business parking to be shared, create a fee-in-lieu of parking in the town center, remove barriers to replacing excess surface parking with buildings, allow no net increase in town center parking.

Improve pedestrian safety and street aesthetics where there are now continuous left turn lanes. Install raised medians at East Pearl Street, Broadway (Meadow to US 36), and Arapahoe Ave (turn pockets/raised medians). Raised medians should be designed to be “mountable” by large service vehicles and emergency vehicles.

Convert one-way to two-way. To substantially improve retail and residential health, improve comfort and safety for pedestrians and bicyclists, reduce wrong-way travel, reduce out-of-towners getting lost, reduce motorist aggravation, and reduce motorist travel distances, the one-way loop in the town center should be restored to two-way operation.

Improve funding, fairness in funding, and reduce motorist subsidy. Institute user fees via tools such as (but not limited to) priced parking, tolled roads (congestion fee), pay-at-the-pump car insurance, VMT fee, weight-based fee, mileage-based registration fee, and a mileage-based emission fee.

Don’t let service vehicles drive street design. As Peter Swift showed in his Longmont CO study, over-sized streets and intersections leads to an increase in vehicle speeds and motorist inattentiveness, which leads to an increase in injuries and deaths caused by the increased number of car crashes. This increase in injuries and deaths far exceeds the number of injuries and deaths avoided by larger fire trucks and faster fire truck speeds.

Openly acknowledge that car travel is a zero-sum game. Transportation decisions should be guided by the premise that improvements for car travel & parking, and the absence of motorist user fees, induce new car trips and nearly always reduce travel by walking, bicycling and transit. Conversely, shrinking the size of roads and intersections, and adopting motorist user fees, reduce car trips – particularly low-value car trips.

Revisit the TMP objective limiting congestion to no more than 20 percent of road mileage. This objective undermines several important Boulder objectives (quality of life, compactness, affordability, transport choice, etc.). Better measures include bike/ped/transit level of service, VMT, or trips generated.

Create a larger supply of compact, walkable housing. For too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban. And that it is never acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact, walkable development. Anywhere. The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial). One of the most effective ways to substantially increase the amount of walking, bicycling and transit use in Boulder, and one of the best ways to have those forms of travel be safer, is to create such walkable, compact, slow-speed neighborhoods where it is easy to walk or bicycle or use transit for most all daily or household needs.

Create an effective way to monitor the condition of bicycling and walking facilities. It is very difficult for even the most concerned transportation staff to monitor bicycle and walking conditions so they may be corrected in a timely way. [Note: A few years ago, I took it upon myself to inventory dangerous driveway and sidewalk “lips” that can easily upend a cyclist who is not paying attention. Attached is that inventory. I submitted it to staff and they gave me a response about which ones they could and could not address. In any event, this is an example of the monitoring that Boulder needs.]

 

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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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It is Time for Boulder to Put Road Safety Redesign Plans on Hold

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2018

I am concerned that after an unacceptably large number of traffic fatalities and serious traffic injuries, Boulder Colorado is not being serious about its new “Vision Zero” program (achieving zero traffic deaths or serious injuries over the course of a year).

At my last Boulder Transportation Advisory Board meeting in a few days, I made a motion to recommend that Council put the redesign of 30th and East Arapahoe, as well as the Vision Zero plan, on hold until Boulder has the political will to take effective design measures that will advance the essential objectives of increased travel by transit, bicycle, and walking. As well as the need to significantly improve safety, quality of life, and the viability of housing and small-scale retail.

As was the case with all but one of my motions on my five years serving on the Board, that motion failed to get a second, and therefore died for lack of a second.

Indeed, one member of the Board asked “how dare you” make such a motion to delay safety efforts in light of the recent serious traffic crashes. My response was “how dare we” respond to recent serious traffic crashes by only proposing to enact “same old song and dance” tactics that are almost entirely ineffective.pe

As it stands today, that political will to enact effective street design measures (such as road diets or traffic calming on major roads) does not exist, which means the City is wasting the time of staff, citizens, and Council members, as well as wasting money by pursuing a Vision Zero plan.

In my opinion, there are only a few ways to “change attitudes” or find the political will to redesign streets in order to effectively advance the important objectives I mention above.

One is for the City to face severe budget constraints that make it financially impossible to continue to promote easy and high-speed and free-flowing car travel. However, I don’t believe the City will face severe budget constraints for the foreseeable future.

The other is to be like the Chinese and leverage crisis as an opportunity to achieve those things that have been politically difficult. I am disappointed that the uptick we’ve seen in recent years in Boulder regarding serious traffic injuries and deaths has not led to our seeing enough of a crisis to seize the opportunity to adopt effective safety measures. Instead of moving toward street redesign which effectively obligates motorists to drive more slowly and more attentively, Boulder is opting for the same old failed tactics we’ve used every few years for the past century: more safety signs, more safety education (which tends to be victim-blaming), more safety lighting, more safety paint, and more safety enforcement.

It hasn’t worked.

Despite our doubling down on these tactics every few years for the past century. Our roads are now more dangerous than ever.

Without redesigning streets for slow, safe, attentive driving, we will continue to fail to meaningfully improve safety, increase non-motorized travel, protect shops and homes, or improve transportation finances.

Shame on us.

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Safety for Pedestrians

By Dom Nozzi

March 16, 2018

Some believe that our future will be one where most or all cars are self-driving. If that were true, pedestrians could behave more like they did historically. They could cross streets with much less need to be vigilant because they could be confident that self-driving cars would stop when detecting a pedestrian in the street. Such a world would return historic power to pedestrians — power that has been handed over to motorists over the past century.

In my opinion, however, such a world of self-driving cars is unlikely.

I’m therefore much more interested in our ending the practice we have followed for the past century in street design: designing streets to enable and therefore encourage carinattentive, excessively high-speed motoring. If we are serious about making our streets safe — as we must be if we consider ourselves to be civilized — we need to move away from the past century of street safety failure, which has focused, over and over, on more safety lights, more safety signage, more safety education, more safety enforcement, and more safety paint. To be effective, we need to design our streets to obligate slower-speed, attentive driving. That means streets that are more narrow and human scaled in their dimensions, have more friction with things like on-street parking, have a continuous wall of active and abutting buildings and canopy street trees, are more alive with (sometimes unpredictable) pedestrians, and have less of the “safety” features such as tall highway lighting, paint, signs, and clear zones.

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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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