Tag Archives: walkable

Greenville: The Vision for Becoming a Safe, Walkable City

By Dom Nozzi

Disclaimer: opinions expressed are solely my own and do not express the views or opinions of any Board or entity I am a member of.


In this document, I recommend measures for safer walking, bicycling, transit, and driving in Greenville.

To begin with, one size does not fit all. That is, Greenville must equitably provide for the full range of lifestyle and travel choices. There are at least three in Greenville County: Town center, suburban, and rural. Land development regulations – including transportation design geometries – need to vary within each of these “transects.” The regulations and specifications for each transect “zone” must be calibrated to maximize the quality of each zone.

Not only is this tailored approach much more equitable than a one-size-fits-all approach, it is also more resilient: The future is likely to be quite different than today, particularly due to likely resource, financial, demographic, energy and climate changes. Creating a full set of community designs will lessen the impact of significant community shifts to new ways of living and getting around, so changes will not be as painful and costly.

In addition, establishing a range of regulatory zones and transportation patterns is more sustainable, politically. Conventionally, the community must engage in endless, angry philosophical battles to determine the most acceptable one-size-fits-all lifestyle and travel preferences (which inevitably means that the regulations and designs must be watered down to a mediocrity that no one likes – as a way to minimize objections). Instead, when lifestyle zones are established (urban, suburban, rural) and both land use regulations and transportation designs are calibrated differently for each lifestyle zone, political battles are minimized and the regulations and designs can be better attuned to the lifestyle in question. You don’t like the restrictive parking regulations we are applying to a town center? Fine. If you prefer less restricted parking rules, you clearly should be opting to live in a more drivable part of the community.

A visual example of transect zones.

Design elements that undercut the objectives of a zone are called Transect Violations. A large strip commercial shopping center with an enormous asphalt parking lot is an example of a transect violation in the Greenville town center.

The walkable zone strives for relatively compact, human-scaled, slower-speed street traffic design. Light fixtures and fences are shorter. Buildings are taller and more likely to mix residences with retail or services. Alignments are more rectilinear, hardscapes typically are emphasized over greenscapes, and landscaping is more formal. Setbacks are smaller. Streets are more narrow and distances between homes and shops are relatively short. Motor vehicle parking is more scarce and more expensive to use. Densities tend to be higher. In the walkable zone, “more is better.” That is, a walkable lifestyle tends to be higher quality when more housing, retail, services, and culture are added. The drivable/bikeable zone seeks to be more spacious, more private, and densely vegetated. Roads are wider and speeds are higher. Buildings are shorter and usually single-use. Motor vehicle parking is more abundant and cheaper to use. Setbacks are larger, as are distances between homes and shops. Densities tend to be lower. In the drivable zone, “more is less.” That is, a drivable lifestyle tends to be lower in quality when more housing, retail, services, and culture are added. The rural conservation zone is focused on preservation and is more isolated. Landscaping is relatively naturalistic. Sidewalks and bus service tends to be absent. Speeds are relatively high. Open space, farming, and pasture tend to be abundant.

Unfortunately, in most American cities – including Greenville — the supply of walkable, compact housing is far short of demand for such housing (which substantially increases the cost). Conversely, there is far more of a supply of drivable, more dispersed housing than the demand for such housing (which was recently exemplified by the fact that suburban housing values suffered significantly more than walkable housing values during the housing crash of the late 2000s). Indeed, communities such as Greenville face a growing housing crisis in the future, as the so-called Millennial generation (those reaching adulthood in 2000) is less interested in the drivable suburban lifestyle than previous generations.

Because supply far exceeds demand for town center housing, the transect zone most in need of improvements and expansion in Greenville are the walkable, compact existing and emerging town centers. Greenville needs to provide substantially more walkable, compact housing in future years to create a balanced housing supply and to increase resilience.

It is essential that the Greenville town center make the pedestrian the design imperative. In the center, the pedestrian, not the bicyclist or car or transit, must be paramount. If we get it right for the pedestrian in the town center, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled, and everyone else.

While this document pertains to recommendations for the Greenville Town Center, the recommendations can easily and quickly be adjusted – as appropriate – for other transect zones found within Greenville.

The key for creating safer intersections, roads, and streets is to move away from the century-long engineering practice of using “forgiving design.”

In the Town Center, it is essential to understand the counterproductive nature of calling for a reduction in traffic congestion or seeking an easing of traffic flow. Both of these measures (which are such a consensus in our society that even cyclists, pedestrian advocates, and transit promoters also counterproductively call for such things) lead to a dangerous oversizing of road/parking/intersection infrastructure, and use of high-speed road geometries. By far, the best way to achieve transportation safety is to design roads and intersections for slower speeds (it is not a coincidence that a growing number of cities are joining the “slow cities” movement. https://www.planetizen.com/node/21630)

And a big part of slower speed transportation design comes from road diets (removing excess travel lanes, as was done on Main St in Greenville), reducing travel lane widths (which can be quickly and inexpensively done whenever streets are re-striped), converting one-way streets back to two-way operation, and shrinking the size and turning radius of intersections.

Far too much space has been allocated to easing car travel and car parking. This has infected our cities with the gigantism disease — a disease that results in much less safety, much less prosperity, much less civic pride, much more sprawl, much less human scale, and much lower quality of life.

In recent years, landmark studies have conclusively determined that Safety In Numbers is an essential strategy for promoting transportation safety. With that in mind, these recommendations include not only measures that directly address transportation safety, but also effectively grows the number of pedestrian, bicycling and transit trips as an indirect and important way to promote travel safety. In other words, recommendations promote pedestrian, bicycle and transit trips that are safe, rewarding, and convenient.

The Health, Safety, and Welfare of Greenville, and the Impact of SCDOT

Cities emerge because their setting – their transportation geography – excels at allowing us to exchange goods, services, and ideas. When healthy and safe, cities are engines of innovation, conviviality, social capital, pride, productivity, prosperity, comfort, and long lives.

To do these things, cities – particularly town centers — require such things as slower and safer speeds, walkability, agglomeration (clustering) economies, compact human scale design, and lifestyle and travel choices.

Like all state departments of transportation, the South Carolina DOT (SCDOT) has a single-minded objective that makes it the enemy of the health of cities. Their sole, one-size-fits-all objective is to maximize the speed of the maximum number of motor vehicles. This is a recipe for the destruction of cities, as this objective creates excessive and dangerous speeds, disperses and isolates the city and its residents, destroys human scale, and eliminates lifestyle and travel choices.

The first order of business in modifying its roads to be conducive to city health, safety and welfare, therefore, is for Greenville to take over ownership and maintenance of the many roads in the Greenville town center that are owned by SCDOT.

Accessibility, Not Mobility

Cities – particularly healthy, quality cities — tend to have relatively poor vehicle mobility (due to congestion), but are economically prosperous due to excellent accessibility (activities are clustered together and there are many travel options). To promote economic competitiveness, then, accessibility trumps mobility.

Traffic congestion is therefore not an impediment to economic activity as long as development patterns minimize the amount of driving needed to reach destinations, and that travelers have transportation options to choose from.

Roadway level of service is a less important indicator of transport system performance than average per-capita commute travel time and total per-capita transportation expenditures. Compact development that results in more accessible destinations are the best way to improve transportation and increase economic productivity, because they reduce the average distance between destinations and therefore total travel costs. Conversely, efforts to reduce congestion by, for example, widening roads or intersections, provide little (or negative) economic benefit overall because they reduce overall accessibility in a community, and induces low-density development patterns that do not pay their own way in tax revenue generated.

While it was true that a century ago, providing or expanding road infrastructure was economically beneficial, continuing to do so today suffers so much from diminishing returns that most all road infrastructure expansion results in severe negative economic impact.

In sum, transportation should be evaluated based on accessibility rather than mobility.

Traffic engineer Ian Lockwood highlights a key concept for bicycle, pedestrian, and transit advocates. Current U.S. traffic engineering culture pursues greater mobility, i.e. how fast someone can get between places. Lockwood says we should focus on accessibility instead. In doing so, we’d improve transportation options.

The fundamental purpose of a transportation system is to provide people with comfortable access to what we want, in a short amount of time. Whether or not we use motor vehicles to accomplish this access, is a secondary concern. In fact, energy independence would be best served if we used motorized vehicles as little as possible. Measuring convenient human access in terms of the speed of motor vehicles is indirect and counterproductive. This is because transportation planners often minimize transportation choices in order to reduce delays per vehicle mile traveled (VMT) — for example by shortening signal light durations, removing pedestrian crosswalks, and minimizing bike lanes. While increasing vehicular mobility, these measures reduce the safety and convenience enjoyed by pedestrians and cyclists.

A destination can be considered highly accessible if it can easily be reached by the full range of transportation choices.  Town centers tend to be highly accessible since it is easy to reach by foot, by bicycle, by transit, and by car.  By contrast, a large office complex in a suburb has poor accessibility because it can typically only be reached easily by car.

Accessibility is an important objective, since essential destinations, when they feature good accessibility, can be enjoyed by all citizens — including children, seniors, the handicapped, the poor and others without access to a car — rather than being something that can only be reached by those with the use of a car.

High accessibility is therefore inclusive and community-building.  Low accessibility is exclusive and isolating.

Imagine an urban street grid completely dominated by cyclists and pedestrians, with many nearby destinations, and a few vehicles wending their way through the crowd at 3 mph. Such an area would generate a poor “mobility” score, even though it serves many people with quick, convenient errands, while consuming minimal energy.

If the fundamental goal of a transportation system is happy vehicles, then striving for mobility and reduced congestion are appropriate. However, if the fundamental goal is happy people and a healthy city, we must seek accessibility.

Convert One-Way Streets back to Two-Way Operation

One-way streets increase speeding, increase inattentive driving; increase motorist impatience; make streets less conducive to residential and retail (as well as discouraging bicycling and walking); make newcomers more likely to get lost; increase motorist aggravation; increase motorist travel distances (which increases GHG emissions and fuel consumption); and make dangerous wrong-way travel more likely.

According to one researcher, “One of the worst things that happened in a lot of American cities was the implementation of a one-way street network in downtown areas that created corridors for moving in and out of the city as rapidly as possible. Because of the glaring, significant problems associated with one-way streets, a growing number of cities throughout the nation are converting one-way streets in their town center back to their original two-way operation.

Stroads and the Maximum Number of Lanes

According to traffic engineer Chuck Marohn, a “stroad” tries and fails to combine two types of motor vehicle routes. A stroad tries to be a street — which Marohn describes as a “complex environment where life in the city happens.” A place with pedestrians, motor vehicles, buildings close to the sidewalk for easy accessibility, many entrances and exits to and from the street, a place where a high level of exchange of goods and services occurs, and a place for temporary parking and delivery vehicles.

The stroad also tries to be a road, which Marohn describes as a “high-speed connection between two places” with wide lanes, almost always an excessive number of travel lanes and turn lanes, and limited entrances and exits. Marohn finds that stroads do not function well as either a street or a road. In that sense, Marohn calls a stroad the “futon of roadways,” in the sense that like a stroad, a futon does a poor job in trying to be a bed as well as a sofa.  According to Marohn, the problem with stroads is that engineering codes tend to emphasize speed and traffic flow rather than safety, so that stroads try to be “all things to all people” but end up failing in every way as a result.

Greenville suffers from an extremely large number of stroads within its town center. For the town center to provide safe travel for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and passenger motor vehicles, each of these stroads must be redesigned to become a street – that is, a street conducive to a healthy town center. It is likely that the following stroads in town center Greenville will remain stroads as long as they are owned by SCDOT: Augusta Ave, Peter Hollis Blvd, McDaniel Ave, Academy St, Stone Ave, Wade Hampton Blvd, Buncombe St, Rutherford St, Richardson St, Townes St, Poinsett Hwy, Pleasantburg Dr, Laurens Rd, Mills Ave,

Church  St, Butler Ave, Washington St, North St, and College St.

Healthy town centers should never have roads that exceed three lanes in size, as exemplified by town center Main Street in Greenville. A larger number of lanes creates severe safety problems for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users, increases motor vehicle emissions, increases average vehicle speeds, promotes “jackrabbit” driving, harms small-scale retail and residential, fails to pay its own way regarding tax revenue, degrades nearby neighborhoods, and not only fails to eliminate motor vehicle congestion but actually increases the scale of congestion.

Greenville must incrementally road diet the several stroads within the town center, as was done for town center Main Street. One of the best ways to do this is to replace curbside travel lanes with on-street parking – although in many cases, excessive travel lands and turn lanes can simply be removed without the need to replace them with parking. Road diets are most affordable when done as part of the periodic restriping of a road. The easiest and therefore most common form of road diet is a conversion from four lanes to three.

Greenville must also incrementally diet oversized intersections by eliminating the second left turn at double-left turn intersections.

Vision Zero: The Five (Ineffective) Warnings

This laudable “Vision Zero” program strives for zero traffic deaths or serious traffic injuries. However, nearly all American cities which adopt this important goal engage in the same old ineffective song and dance. They repeatedly use the Five Warnings: Warning signs, Warning lights, Warning education (traffic safety education is a form of victim-blaming), Warning paint, and Warning enforcement to promote safety. Such campaigns border are patronizing and profoundly ineffective in improving safety. They are used repeatedly by elected officials, however, because they are a low-cost, politically easy way to reduce complaints from citizens.

Note that the Five Warnings were, initially, meaningfully improving safety when first used several decades ago. But they have been so over-used over the past century that they now suffer from severe diminishing returns. In part because they contribute to information overload by being overused, which makes them extremely likely to be disregarded.

After a century of using these ineffective “warning” tools for safety, roadways in cities such as Greenville are more dangerous than ever. We must be serious about achieving “Vision Zero,” rather than simply being politically expedient. Greenville can show it is serious about transportation safety by designing our streets and intersections to obligate motorists to drive more slowly and more attentively. It is long past time to deemphasize The Five Warnings in favor of physically redesigning our streets to obligate safe, attentive speeds. Only then will we make meaningful progress in improving safety for walking, bicycling, transit, and driving.

Parking Reforms

Abundant, free parking provided for by the conventional land development code parking requirements invites people to drive a car alone when making trips instead of walking, bicycling, car-pooling or using transit, because the trip by car becomes more convenient and cost-free.  In addition, large surface parking lots take up a large amount of valuable city land that could be better used for retail, office, civic, or plaza uses.  Furthermore, surface parking aggravates the urban “heat island effect,” not to mention stormwater management problems, and makes life more dangerous, more unpleasant, less interesting, less vibrant and less convenient for people walking, bicycling, or using transit.

Required parking lowers city density and land values.  Onerously high parking requirements provide a competitive advantage to the suburbs over downtown areas, since the land-rich suburbs allow a developer to more cheaply meet high parking requirements.  The parking requirements, in this way, encourage sprawl.

Many cities are now reducing their required parking space standards based on these concerns, and the fact that the required supply of parking often far exceeds the demand, with the exception of the few major shopping days each year.  But even during peak periods, a study in the Seattle region found that the parking supply for offices was 36 percent higher than average peak demand.

Today, it is typical to provide parking for the “20th busiest hour of use, but Donald Shoup notes that this leaves at least half of a shopping center’s parking vacant for at least 40 percent of the year.  In Texas and California, office and shopping developments typically have twice as much parking as they need.  On average, required parking supply exceeds demand by 16 to 63 percent.

Creating an upper limit on the number of parking spaces that can be provided on a site is an increasingly popular and straightforward way to ensure that excessive parking is not provided.  By setting an upper limit, the standard allows the provision of parking to be based more on what the developer sees as the market demand for parking.  It seems reasonable to expect that a developer will not “cut her or his own throat” by providing too few parking spaces.  Most have clear incentives to provide enough parking to ensure successful business conditions.

Greensville must conduct an annual inventory of the number of parking spaces in the town center, and couple that with a goal to incrementally reduce that number. Parking in the Greenville town center should be more efficiently provided by generously allowing the sharing of parking, fee-in-lieu parking, and leased parking (public ownership of parking).

Parking close to a destination is important only when the place is dull.  If the destination is exciting, people are willing to walk great distances to get to it.  And the more parking provided near the destination, the less interesting the place becomes.

Recommended Parking Reforms:

  1. Require that new residential projects unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing.
  2. Convert minimum parking requirements to a maximum number of allowed spaces. This in effect creates an exemption from being required to provide parking. The decision to provide sufficient parking is left to the property owner or business.
  3. Require relatively large businesses to offer a parking cash-out program for employees. Cash-out programs are examples of how walking, bicycling, and transit can be made more advantageous than driving (see section below).
  4. Create incentives and remove obstacles to convert town center surface parking to buildings. This is particularly important for parking that fronts public sidewalks.
  5. Expand the ease at which developments or businesses can share parking spaces – particularly when hours of operation are offset.
  6. Provide Greenville-sponsored town center parking that can be leased to businesses or residences that need parking space.

Modest Turning Radius

A large turning radius at a street corner reduces safety for pedestrians and bicyclists because a larger radius: (1) increases the crossing distance for pedestrians and bicyclists at intersections, thereby increasing crossing time and exposure to motor vehicles; and (2) encourages faster, more dangerous vehicle turning speeds and “rolling stops” at intersections.

Designing street corners with smaller turning radii recognizes that the vast majority of vehicles on neighborhood streets (the “reasonably expected” vehicles) are small, slow-speed vehicles.  Larger radii, by contrast, take a “worst-case scenario” approach that designs for the extremely rare large or high-speed vehicle.  Such an overdesigned street results in higher vehicle speeds, less pedestrian and bicycle travel, and less livable neighborhoods.

Because large radii encourage higher speeds by frequent users of the street (small, slow-speed vehicles) while solving some problems of the rare large and higher speed vehicle, any safety benefits derived from the environment designed for the rare vehicle are overwhelmed by the safety problems created by the frequent vehicle.  Overall, there is a decline in net neighborhood safety.

Minimize intersection crosswalk widths by minimizing turning radii, so that motor vehicle turning speeds are less than 20 miles per hour on left turns and less than 10 miles per hour on right turns, and so that the width of the crosswalk is no more than 48 feet.

Similarly, a larger curb turning radius at a parking area ingress and egress point allows vehicles to negotiate a turn rapidly, whereas a smaller radius forces a vehicle to slow down.  Traffic engineers prefer a larger radius for vehicle convenience and curb protection, but such a radius makes life more inconvenient and dangerous for pedestrians.

On-Street Parking

On-street parking provides several benefits.   It buffers pedestrians from moving vehicle traffic, thereby attracting pedestrians to the area.  This attractiveness (and the convenient parking provided) becomes an effective means of retaining and attracting businesses — especially in the town center.  In addition, on-street parking usually reduces the number and width of travel lanes, thereby providing several traffic calming benefits such as slower vehicle speeds and increased ease of crossing streets by pedestrians.  Slower speeds reduce the number and severity of traffic accidents — in part by making motorists more alert to pedestrians.  On-street parking also reduces the need for large parking lots.

By contrast, off-street surface parking and first-floor parking in a parking garage create “gap tooth” dead zones that detract from the urban vibrancy so attractive to residents and visitors.

Greenville has several blocks in the town center than can benefit from the installation of on-street parking. As Donald Shoup recommends, this parking must be priced, should be dynamically priced to reflect change in demand during the day, and should be priced to achieve an 80 percent usage rate on a block face. The parking revenue, according to Shoup, should be dedicated for use on the block where the parking revenue derives from.

Turn Lanes and Slip Lanes

Turn lanes and slip lanes induce excessive motorist turning movement speeds and dangerously inattentive turns. Such lanes – particularly right turn lanes and right-turn slip lanes – tend to be inappropriate for town centers, as they significantly enlarge the size of intersections, which destroys the essential need to create a slower, human-scaled sense of place that only relatively small intersections can provide. Turn lanes make pedestrian crossings exceptionally dangerous due to the higher motor vehicle speeds, the inattentiveness induced in drivers, and the significant increase in intersection crossing distance.

For a town center to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, safe, attentive motor vehicle travel is essential, and a “park once” environment must be created. Town center Greenville, to become a great city, must be exceptionally convenient, safe, convivial, and rewarding for walking. Such a walking environment is the key for creating what the town center must have: the Park Once environment.


Crosswalks should be clearly visible at all intersections on busy streets.  Bricked crosswalks, with white street bands to allow the driver to better see the walk, should be used when traffic calming is the intended benefit.  The brick provides texture that alerts the driver, the next time she or he drives through the area, to be cautious.  The bricks also make the crosswalk more visible.

It is important that crosswalks be as short as possible for pedestrian safety. Often, this is done with landscaped bulb-outs, raised center medians, on-street parking, and road or intersection diets.

Double-Left Turn Lanes

Double left-turn lanes should not be used in Greenville. Conventional traffic engineers incorrectly claim that such intersection “improvements” will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing congestion.

Instead, double-left turn lanes increase emissions and reduce pedestrian and bicyclist trips. Double-left turn lanes have been shown to be counterproductive even if we are just looking at car capacity at an intersection. Adding a second left-turn lane suffers significantly from diminishing returns. A double-left turn does not double the left turn capacity. Why? By significantly increasing the crosswalk distance, the walk cycle must be so long that intersection capacity/efficiency (for cars) is dramatically reduced.

By creating excessive asphalt width for motorized vehicle travel, double-left turns (like dedicated right-turn lanes or slip lanes) induce excessive motor vehicle turning speeds, and a dangerous level of motorist inattentiveness.

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.

Double-left turn lanes 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 car-centric land uses that can tolerate such an unpleasant atmosphere (such as a gas station). This sort of deadening creates a area of apparent abandonment, and is the antithesis of what Greenville 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

Michael Ronkin, former bicycle/pedestrian coordinator for the State of Oregon, adds that double-left turn lanes are an abomination. He adds that “they are a sign of failure: failure to provide enough street connectivity. Without enough street connectivity, intersections must be gigantic so they can accommodate all the extra turns the motorist must make as they drive out of their way and circle back to their intended destination.

Greenville must enact a moratorium on the construction of new intersection double-left turn lanes and eventually remove existing double-left turn configurations (unless they are necessary to avoid excessive congestion caused by a road diet).

Road Design Profoundly Induces Undesirable Land Use

It appears that Greenville believes that street design occurs in a vacuum. That road design does not shape land uses adjacent to the road or in the region. This view, to the extent that it exists, is mistaken. When Greenville or Greenville County add or maintain excessive numbers of travel lanes (ie, widen a road or keeps a road at an excessive width), land uses adjacent to the road become much less hospitable to residences or retail due to the hostile, noisy, high-speed nature of the newly widened road. Residential property values drop catastrophically when near a noisy, dangerous road, which leads to abandonment and a significant decline in property tax revenue. Indeed, overly large roads are a Ponzi Scheme, as initial assumptions about increased wealth due to the wider road instead lead to lower-density design on and near the roadway becoming a severe tax liability, as such development utterly fails to pay its own way in terms of the relatively meager tax revenue it generates compared to the relatively high need for services and infrastructure it demands.

Reform Transportation Design Construction Standards

Greenville transportation design construction standards specify the dimensions and geometries of city street and intersection design. Because these standards tend to promote convenient, high-speed car travel, they substantially undermine several important Greenville objectives, such as promoting safe bicycle, pedestrian, and motor vehicle safety, and increasing the number of bicycling and walking trips. In particular, “forgiving” street design should be eliminated.

Create More Equity in Transportation Funding

To increase transportation funding equity, more effectively achieve Greenville transportation and quality of life objectives, and diversify funding, establish or enhance one or more of the following: (1) a Vehicle Miles Traveled fee; (2) a more comprehensive market-based priced parking program; (3) priced roads; (4) pay-at-the-pump car insurance; (5) weight-based vehicle fees; (6) gas taxes; (7) mileage-based registration fee; and (8) a mileage-based emission fee. If possible, make such new taxes/fees revenue neutral by reducing or eliminating other fees/taxes when the new user fee is instituted.

Promote Affordable Housing with Land Use Policies

Increase affordable housing by creating land use patterns that reduce the number of cars a household must own. Ease restrictions on accessory dwelling units, mixed-use, and higher occupancy limits. Require new development to unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing. Unbundling is another example of a program that makes a walking and bicycling lifestyle more advantageous than driving (see section below).

Minimize the Size of Service Vehicles

Keep service vehicles in Greenville relatively small so that large vehicles (buses, fire trucks) don’t obligate engineers to design street dimensions to the point of over-sizing such dimensions. Greenville needs to incrementally replace over-sized service vehicles with smaller vehicles in future years.

Designing for the infrequent large fire truck may, on balance, be more harmful than helpful because it may encourage improper travel behavior by the more frequent users of neighborhood streets.  For example, larger trucks often result in the construction of larger turning radii, yet the benefits obtained by the rare truck are outweighed by the frequent passenger car, which is encouraged to drive faster due to the larger radii (Motorists tend to travel at speeds they feel safe at, and a street designed for safety at high speeds thereby result in higher average travel speeds.)  Faster vehicle travel discourages travel by pedestrians and bicyclists, who feel less safe with the higher speed traffic.  In addition, the higher average speeds make the neighborhood less livable because the neighborhood not only sees a restriction in travel choice but also suffers from ambient noise level increases.

Designing for “possible” uses such as large trucks, instead of “reasonably expected uses” such as cars, leads to worst-case scenario design — not a proper way to design a livable or safe neighborhood.

Traffic Calming

Throughout history, streets have provided not only a place for vehicle travel, but also a place for walking, socializing, business transactions, and recreation.  It has only been since the 1940s that streets have been given over almost entirely to motor vehicles.  Planners have found that restoring the historical sharing of street space for several public uses — not just for high-speed motor vehicle travel — is critical to achieving several community objectives, including environmental quality, financial efficiency, and neighborhood livability.  What has emerged as an effective solution in the overwhelming majority of western European cities — and to a growing extent in Asia, Australia, and the U.S. — is the use of traffic calming, which is primarily designed to reduce average vehicle speeds.

Traffic calming represents a fundamental shift in traffic engineering.  The conventional approach has been to achieve safety by removing obstacles and other forms of “friction” from the street, thereby enabling even a high-speed, reckless motorist to avoid collisions with utility poles, trees, etc.  This is also known as designing for the “forgiving roadway” — a road that “forgives” such reckless driving.  But a large body of research has found that such a strategy actually reduces safety for motorists, and makes streets deadly for children, senior citizens, and other pedestrians and bicyclists.  The reason for the paradox is that making a street safer for higher-speed driving encourages motorists to drive at higher and more reckless speeds because they can now do so more safely.   The result is higher average vehicle speeds, more reckless driving, and less safety for all.

Traffic calming, in contrast, requires the motorist to drive at a slower (and therefore safer) speed by re-introducing various forms of friction into the street.  Traffic calming involves making design changes to a street or parking lot to slow down and “discipline” motor vehicles, and make streets mixed-use rather than single (auto)-use.  Strategies include traffic circles, roundabouts, on-street parking, narrow travel lanes, reduction in travel lanes, woonerfs, traffic diverters sidewalk bulb-outs, smaller turning radii at intersections, and elevated/textured/brick crosswalks.

An additional benefit of more modest vehicle speeds is illustrated in Figure ___.  As is shown, the field of the motorists’ vision is substantially reduced at higher speeds.  This not only increases the danger of pedestrians and bicyclists.  It also tends to encourage businesses along the street to “shout” with glaring signs and lights — to better attract the attention of motorists driving at higher speeds.  The details of a streetscape and building that the pedestrian finds to be an important element in a pleasant walk tend to disappear over time.  Blank walls, loss of sidewalk windows, and loss of pedestrian-scaled signs emerge along the sidewalk as the businesses seek to appeal to the attention of the higher-speed motorist.

Two attractive, safe, high-performance street types that effectively maximize travel choice, as well as retail and residential health, are the “woonerf” and the “give-way” street. A woonerf (or “living street”) is a safe-speed street designed with such low-speed, attentive geometries that they are safely shared by motor vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists (Google “woonerf,” or go to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woonerf). Woonerfs shrink the width of the travel lanes to, say, 9 feet each. The height of signs and street lights are at a short, human-scaled height to create a “low-speed ambiance.” Woonerfs tend to include street furniture, and plenty of new green tree, shrub and flower landscaping in elevated “planter” boxes to the street. Woonerfs can be installed quickly, relatively cheaply, and temporarily if they do not work out.

Similarly, a “give-way” street is a two-way street that is so narrow that the motorist must “give-way” to an on-coming car. Studies show that give-way streets are among the safest of all street designs. Not coincidentally, they also tend to be a street containing some of the most expensive homes in a community.

Speed Humps and Stop Signs Not a Good Traffic Calming Solution

Speed humps are a commonly used tool by cities such as Greenville to calm (slow down) car traffic. Common because they are inexpensive to install. While it is highly desirable to use street design to obligate slower, more attentive motor vehicle travel, speed humps suffer from several problems.

Humps create neighborhood noise pollution, punish even slow-speed vehicles, create inconvenience and discomfort for bicyclists, induce “jack rabbit” (speeding between stops) driving, create severe obstacles for emergency vehicles, and are visually obtrusive.

The best solution in the long run, however, is to end the installation of vertical interventions such as speed humps and remove all existing humps.

Horizontal interventions such as road diets, landscaped bulb-outs, raised and landscaped medians, canopy street trees, and on-street pocket parking are far better for quality of life, beautification, human-scale, reduction of speeding, and avoidance of vehicle damage.

It is long past time to end the use of speed humps in cities. Existing speed humps need to be removed, and replaced with tools mentioned above.

Stop signs, like humps, promote jack rabbit driving. Like humps, stop signs are a very popular traffic calming suggestion by citizens. And frequently approved by elected officials due to their low cost and politically easy way to satisfy complaining constituents.

Stop signs are one of the most disregarded traffic control signs on roadways, which makes them relatively dangerous for pedestrians, as they create a false sense of security for those crossing. Jonathan Staddon, writing in Psychology Today, states that “[the] stop sign…does two bad things: First, it makes you look at the stop sign rather than the traffic [or pedestrians]—it distracts. Second, it doesn’t tell you what you need to know. It tells you to stop even when you can see perfectly well that there is no cross traffic. It shouts “don’t trust your own judgment!””

“[Stop signs are] not an effective means to control speeding. Research shows that where stop signs are installed as ‘deterrents’ or ‘speed breakers,’ there are high incidences of intentional violations resulting in [crashes]. When vehicles must stop, the speed reduction is only near the stop sign, and drivers tend to speed up

between stop sign controlled intersections. When not required to stop by cross street traffic, only 5 to 20% of all drivers come to a complete stop, 40 to 60% will come to a rolling stop below 5 mph, and 20 to 40% will pass through at higher speeds. Signs placed on major and collector streets for the purpose

of speed reduction are the most flagrantly violated…overuse of stop signs will

cause many drivers to ignore them, creating a more hazardous situation, especially in low volume areas, such as residential neighborhoods.”


“When faced with the question of how to fix a dangerous street, the first instinct of many New Yorkers is to call for the most familiar symbols of regulating cars: the stop sign…But stop signs and traffic signals are usually ineffective, even counterproductive, if the goal is to make streets safer…the reason traffic control devices aren’t installed more frequently is quite simple: They tend to make streets less safe, not more…Instead of stop signs and traffic signals, street safety advocates suggest physically altering the street to slow down traffic. ‘Because… stop signs are not self-enforcing — they don’t come with a physical component that requires drivers to slow down — they can easily be ignored by drivers, especially if there isn’t visible enforcement by the police’ …

Acknowledging that many concerned citizens will nevertheless request stop signs or traffic signals, Ganson said that ‘when communities request safety improvements from the DOT it is most important to emphasize the problem and the overall need for safety improvements rather than request a specific solution.’”

Narrow Streets

Streets should be more than public utilities, more than the equivalent of water and sewer lines, more than just a conduit for cars.  Streets in cities must also provide places for casual socializing, business transactions, leisurely strolling, and political discussions.  Great streets are places where you can comfortably and safely walk, where you find clearly defined boundaries and qualities that engage your eye, where buildings compliment each other.

Streets that are excessively wide (because of the width of travel lanes, or because of the number of travel or turn lanes) reduce pedestrian safety by increasing street crossing time and average vehicle speeds.

Narrow streets force cars and trucks to travel at safe speeds through the neighborhood, which significantly contributes to neighborhood safety, low noise levels, low traffic volumes, and, therefore neighborhood livability.

A recent study in Colorado has found that relatively narrow streets are the safest (New Urban News, 1997).  The study looked at 20,000 auto accident reports over an 8-year period in Longmont, and examined fire department records.  The most significant causal relationship to injury and accident were found to be street width and street curvature…as street width widens, accidents per mile per year increases exponentially.  The safest streets are those that are 24 feet wide as measured from curb face. 

One of the most common difficulties of gaining approval for narrow streets is objections from fire officials, who often predict dire consequences…The report…found no increased fire injury risk due to narrow streets.  By contrast, there were 227 motor vehicle accidents resulting in injuries.  Even if narrow streets did create a moderately greater fire injury risk, they would still be safer than wide streets — because the risk of motor vehicle injuries is so much greater than fire injuries.

Some of the most dangerous streets turned out to be wide thoroughfares — 36 feet to 44 feet, with relatively light traffic (less than 500 average daily trips).

Designing a neighborhood street width to accommodate the relatively rare larger vehicles, instead of the “reasonably expected uses” of smaller neighborhood cars leads to “worst-case scenario” street design that increases neighborhood traffic speeds and reduces pedestrian activity.

Raised Medians

Town center roads in Greenville too often contain a continuous left-turn lane. Such lanes increase the chances of head-on collusions, increase average motor vehicle speeds, contribute to visual blight, and significantly reduce pedestrian safety.

Raised medians provide a safe refuge area in the middle of the street for crossing pedestrians.   Pedestrian safety and convenience is promoted because pedestrians only need to look in one direction when moving to or from the refuge to cross the street, can wait in a safe area in the middle of the street, and do not need as large a gap in the traffic flow as is required when no raised median is present.

In addition, when medians are landscaped with large street trees, they are enormously helpful in creating a pleasant streetscape.

When necessary, raised medians can contain relatively small left-turn “pockets” for left-turning motor vehicles.

Travel and Turn Lane Width

Traffic safety studies have found strong evidence that when travel or turn lanes exceed approximately 11 feet in width, there is a dramatic increase in speeding and motor vehicle crashes. Particularly in a town center, it is important that travel lane and turn lane widths range in size from 9 to 11 feet. Travel lanes exceeding 11 feet can be cost-effectively narrowed when a street is restriped.

Walk-In’s Instead of Drive-Through’s

In general, Greenville should encourage businesses at which a person can walk in for service or merchandise.  Almost every trip at least partly includes a walk at both ends.  Walking encourages sociability; human-scaled buildings, lighting and signage; a quiet atmosphere; serendipity; retail health; and civic pride.  Pedestrians are therefore the lifeblood of a healthy city.

Because they are the only form of trip in which one end of the trip does not include a walk, Greenville should discourage drive-through’s – particularly in the town center.  Every trip made to a drive-through represents a reduction in walking trips, and pedestrians, again, are the lifeblood of a vibrant urban atmosphere.  In addition, drive-through’s encourage trips by motor vehicle, which is detrimental to Greenville energy conservation, pollution, noise, safety, and overall quality of life objectives. 

On-Street Bicycle Lanes

On-street bicycle lanes are bicycle routes created alongside a motor vehicle travel lane. They are “installed” simply by painting a white line separating cyclists from motorists – typically on the right side of a relatively wide motor vehicle travel lane and typically 5-7 feet in width.

Some research shows that such bicycle lanes can increase average motorist speeds due to the perception that the roadway appears wider and more open to the motorist. This problem can be reduced by painting the bicycle lane to reduce the perception of a wider road.

It is unclear how well such bicycle lanes induce increased levels of community bicycling, or if they create safer bicycling conditions. They appear to create more cyclist danger when they are located next to on-street parked cars (due to the “dooring” problem).

Even if they do not meaningfully increase the number of community bicyclists, they can still be considered useful in promoting bicycling as they send a visual message that cycling is an accepted and facilitated form of travel in the community.

Protected Bicycle Lanes

Protected bicycle lanes — by providing physical separation between motor vehicles and bicyclists, rather than simply a painted white line for bike lanes —  are highly beneficial in providing substantial comfort for cyclists who are relatively timid, unskilled, or less confident about bicycling near motor vehicle traffic. Protected bicycle lanes are therefore effective in inducing bicycling by the inexperienced or less confident cyclist, which means that like off-street bicycle/pedestrian paths, protected bicycle lanes can help recruit and train those who do not yet bicycle due to fear or lack of cycling skills. Studies show protected bicycle lanes can be beneficial for retail shops, increase the number of community bicyclists, improve adjacent residential property values, and promote safety for both bicyclists and pedestrians.

Physical protection typically comes from on-street parked cars far enough from the curb to provide cycling space, planters, or bollards.


Make Bicycling and Walking Advantageous

Nearly always, in our car-centric world, it is more convenient, comfortable, safer, and more fashionable to travel by car than to walk, bicycle, or use transit.

This assessment must, when possible, be reversed when the opportunity presents itself, as a crucial means of growing the number of citizens who bicycle, walk, or use transit is to make such travel more advantageous than traveling by car. We need to create a community where it is at least occasionally seen by most everyone that bicycling, walking, and transit are faster, more pleasant, less costly, more efficient, more healthy, more safe, more trendy and fashionable, and more convenient.

The Trail Network: Rail Trails and Other Off-Street Bicycle and Pedestrian Paths

Trail Networks — which are ribbons of natural areas embroidered into our urban fabric — reconnect our neighborhoods and our ecosystems.  Children, seniors, and the disabled find safe places to visit friends, go shopping, or get to school.  Others are attracted by the opportunity to socialize, exercise, or travel to work in a pleasant setting away from the danger and unpleasantness of high-speed roads.

Volunteer groups typically are formed to remove years of litter build-up or to restore and maintain the trails.  Residences benefiting from the recreation, crime reduction, and neighborliness provided by the trail network see their property values stabilized or improved.  The cost of government services such as flood control, stormwater management, and parks go down due to the efficient way in which trail networks provide these functions.

Realtors and home builders take advantage of the ability of trail networks to boost the sale of houses and businesses near trail networks.  The local economy benefits from the improved tourism and business climate.  The environment benefits from the substantial public acquisition of natural areas, as well as the increased public awareness of such areas by trail users — which ultimately leads to increased public concern and support for the restoration and protection of our natural areas.

Trail networks are a cost-effective way to provide a popular transportation system for pedestrians and bicyclists.  Note that most trail networks have higher levels of bicycle use than pedestrian use. 

The three keys to making trails useful for transportation are accessibility to the trail (including the convenience of the trail to major destinations and a large number of access points along the trail), an active maintenance program, and trail safety. 

The importance of trail networks as a safe alternative for bicyclists and pedestrians is shown by studies indicating that the main disincentives to bicycling, besides the weather, are traffic safety and lack of bicycle routes.    Also important are travel time and travel distance, secure parking, and destination facilities such as showers and lockers.

Of the people who have bicycled at least once in the past year, 53 percent would travel to work by bicycle if safe, separate paths were available.

Trails that are separated from streets (such as a trail network, and in contrast to on-street bike lanes or sidewalks) act to train and recruit new commuting bicyclists.  The Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle, for example, has had increasing recreational and commuter bicycle traffic (as has the city overall) over the past decade.

A recent survey along the urban-oriented Pinellas Rail Trail (Pinellas County, Florida) found that 30 percent of the trips were for utilitarian purposes such as shopping or commuting to work.  Most or all of these trips would have been vehicle trips had it not been for the trail.

While off-street rail trails and other paths physically separated from roadways can be substantially safer than on-street bike lanes, off-street paths and trails tend to only connect to a tiny fraction of destinations that cyclists and pedestrians need to reach. This severely limits the usefulness of off-street paths and trails for most all but the recreational cyclist and pedestrian. However, as these paths are extended and path branches added – along with the new and adjacent-to-the-trail residential and retail and service development induced by the paths – these off-street paths are slowly growing in usefulness.

Off-street paths are an excellent example of how walking and bicycling can be made more advantageous than driving, as only walkers or bicyclists are able to enjoy the beautiful, quiet, convivial, happy, often wooded ambiance that such trails commonly provide. An experience that is almost never available to the motorist.


Sharrows are quick-to-install, low-cost, on-street bicycle routes that simply use painted symbols on the street. The symbols are intended to signal to bicyclists and motorists that the travel lane is a lane to be shared by bicyclists and motorists. Because the lane is shared, sharrows tend to only be a good idea for relatively narrow streets – such as a woonerf or give-way street – that obligate low-speed, attentive driving by motorists. Main Street in Greenville does a pretty good job of providing a low-speed street that can be comfortably shared by many. Higher speed roads outside the town center usually need on-street bike lanes or protected bicycle lanes. And in any location where higher-speed motor vehicles are found, we tend to need physically separate bike paths. All this is to say that the appropriate bike facility dependent on the location we are talking about. In sum, sharrows don’t tend to work well – or attract more than a tiny number of bicyclists — in high-speed locations such as suburbs.

Modest Block Face Length

Sidewalks that must wrap around large block faces are an impediment to pedestrian convenience due to the excessive size of the block.  Unfortunately, there has been a trend toward longer and longer blocks.  The practice of block consolidation contributes to a city scaled to cars and is a grave error if pedestrian-friendliness is the goal.  Smaller blocks have more intersections, which provides more places where motor vehicles must stop and pedestrians can cross.  Also, short blocks and more frequent cross streets create the potential for walking more directly to the destination (the shortest route, as the crow flies).  In addition, a more dense network of streets disperses traffic, so that each street carries less vehicle traffic and can be scaled less as a superhighway and more as a livable space — which makes streets more pleasant and easier to cross.  More intersections provide the pedestrian with more freedom and control, since they can take a variety of different routes to their destination.  Shorter blocks also make the walk seem less burdensome, since a person can reach “goals” (such as intersections) more quickly.  Block lengths should be no more than 300 to 500 feet in length.  If they must be longer, mid-block “cross-access” routes should be created.

One important way to keep blocks short and streets connected is to strive to retain street rights-of-way (ROW).  Requests for vacating ROWs must be scrutinized to ensure that they are only granted if there is a clear public interest that outweighs the vital objectives of walkable, bikeable, route-choice-rich neighborhoods.

Centrally Located Social Condensers

“Social condensers” — the place where citizens of a community or neighborhood meet to develop friendships, discuss issues, and interact with others — have always been an important way in which the community developed and retained cohesion and a sense of identity. 

Ray Oldenburg (1989), in The Great Good Places, calls these locations “third places.”  (The first being the home and the second being work.)  These third places are crucial to a community for a number of reasons, according to Oldenburg.  They are distinctive informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful, and they enrich public life and democracy.  Their disappearance in our culture is ruinous to our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

There are essential ingredients to a well-functioning third place.  They must be free or quite inexpensive to enter and purchase food and drink within.  They must be highly accessible to neighborhoods so that people find it easy to make the place a regular part of their routine — in other words, a lot of people should be able to comfortably walk to the place from their home.  They should be a place where a number of people regularly go there on a daily basis.  It should be a place where the person feels welcome and comfortable, and where it is easy to enter into conversation.  And a person who goes there should be able to expect to find both old and new friends.

According to Oldenburg, World War II marks the historical juncture after which informal public life began to decline in the U.S.  Old neighborhoods and their cafes, taverns, and corner stores have fallen to urban renewal, freeway expansion, and planning that discounts the importance of congenial, unified and vital neighborhoods.  The newer neighborhoods have developed under the single-use zoning imperative — which makes these critical, informal social gathering places illegal.

Segregation, isolation, compartmentalization and sterilization seem to be the guiding principles of urban growth and urban renewal.  In the final analysis, desirable experiences occur in places conducive to them, or they do not occur at all.  When certain kinds of places disappear, certain experiences also disappear.

Third places and other forms of social condensers are critical for a city that seeks to create a sense of community, and are exemplified by such region-serving facilities as farmers markets, governmental offices, major cultural facilities such as performing arts centers, major trails, convention centers, festivals, celebrations, outdoor concerts, large and active parks, post offices, and, increasingly, large retail establishments.  These region-serving facilities are so effective in drawing people to a single place, where they interact with others in the area, that they behave in the same way as “anchor” stores in shopping centers and malls.

These region-serving facilities are so important to creating a sense of community that the State of Oregon adopted a rule that state office buildings must be located within a city rather than in unincorporated areas.  These outlying areas typically feature very poor access for those without a car.  In addition, they typically provide few “spin-off” benefits, since there are usually few, if any, facilities that could benefit by being nearby the social condenser.

By contrast, a centrally-located social condenser is usually very accessible for all members of the community, such as the poor, the handicapped, children, and seniors too old to drive a car.  These segments of the community can therefore enjoy the benefits of the social condenser and sense of community in a central location — even without access to a motor vehicle.  Also, a central location usually features a rich array of establishments that can benefit from the “spin-off” of people who go to the condenser and then engage in “trip-chaining,” in which they run other errands such as obtaining services, going to a restaurant or movie, or purchasing goods.  As a result, the centrally located condenser helps keep downtown areas from becoming irrelevant to those making day-to-day trips.  And irrelevancy has changed many downtowns into dying ghost towns.

The Swamp Rabbit Trail is an excellent example of a social condenser in Greenville.

Mixed Uses

The emergence of dispersed, sprawling cities over the past 50 years was predicated on the notion that housing must be separated from the nuisances associated with the inner city.  But these large expanses of “single-use” suburbs, containing little more than residences, created inconvenient and unsafe distances between residences and the places people wanted to travel to — such as jobs, shopping, schools, and parks.  The result has been a large increase in motor vehicle dependence, which has led to a crisis in the areas of housing affordability, traffic congestion, traffic deaths, taxation, farm and forest preservation, air pollution, noise pollution, crime, downtown decline, juvenile delinquency, and loss of a sense of community.

However, many of the nuisances that led to the separation of residences from other land uses have declined in significance.  Today, offices, shops, and industries are more likely to be found in clean buildings with pleasantly landscaped surroundings, rather than belching smoke, noxious odors, or foul sewage effluent.  Contemporary problems, such as the motor vehicle traffic generated by businesses, can be more successfully controlled through such measures as traffic calming, making the integration of such establishments with neighborhoods possible again.

In recognition of the problems created by single-use zoning, Greenville should expand and incentivize mixing housing with retail shops and offices.

Mixed use reduces trip distances to the point where walking, bicycling, and bus trips are much more feasible for a number of different types of trips.   Mixed-use adds to neighborhood and urban vibrancy by increasing the number of places people can meet — such as a pub, on the way to work or a civic event, a grocery store, or a fitness center.  Mixed-use provides children with more of an awareness of community activities other than parks, residences, and schools.  In addition, it spreads travel more evenly across the day; and makes it easier for a single trip to satisfy multiple purposes.

Cervero (1989) cites a study that found up to a 25 percent reduction in vehicle trips within mixed-use development.  He also notes that mixed-use developments have the advantage of increasing the feasibility of ridesharing and shared parking arrangements, thereby significantly reducing the amount of parking needed at the development.

According to Andres Duany, if a commercial building looks like nearby residential buildings in terms of scale, disposition and character, a mixed-use neighborhood can work without major objections by homeowners.

Sustainable, Livable Density

The conventional way in which land use conflicts are addressed is to put distance between conflicting activities, and minimize the number of dwelling units per acre.  But this does little to encourage land users to reduce the damage they do to the environment.  Also, by segregating uses, we increase the amount of travel by car, which itself reduces the quality of the urban and natural environment.

By contrast, compact, higher density development reduces trip lengths, induces safe and attentive motor vehicle speeds, and makes bicycling, transit, and walking more viable. For these reasons, compact development generates about half as much motor vehicle travel as does sprawl development, making such a land use strategy one of the most effective in reducing car dependence. A compact, relatively low-speed environment is essential for a town center, as a healthy town center depends on the creation of a “park once” atmosphere. Parking once allows one to walk to each destination after parking. By contrast, in a drivable suburb, since each destination can only be reached by car, a “park over and over” design is created.

Minimum densities necessary for a viable bus system are approximately 7 dwelling units per acre.   Newman and Kenworthy indicate that only when densities exceed 7,000 to 8,000 persons per square mile do mixed land uses and shorter travel distances become predominant enough to significantly reduce motor vehicle dependence. These researchers note that a dramatic reduction in per capita gasoline consumption occurs when population density reaches 12 to 16 persons per acre.  “Low density land use ensures almost total dependence on motor vehicles, enormous travel distances, no effective public transit, and little possibility of walking or [bi]cycling.  Below five or six people per acre, a city almost ceases to exist, and requires enormous transportation energy to hold the scattered parts together.”

To get an hourly bus in the residential district, you must have one house per 1/4 acre.  To get one every 30 minutes, it’s 7 an acre.  To get one every 10 minutes, it’s 15 an acre.  That is the number of houses — with their inhabitants — who will supply the needed riders to fill a bus at 30- or 10-minute waits in residential areas.

To get an hourly bus downtown, you must have 5-8 million square feet of retail in the retail district.  To get one every 30 minutes, it’s 7-17 million square feet.  To get one every 10 minutes, it’s more than 20 million square feet.

A recent study found that distance is the most widely cited reason for not walking more often, thereby showing the importance of compact development as a strategy to encourage walking.  People living in high-density areas are much more likely to walk than those living in low-density suburbs, even when suburban trips are less than one mile (note that higher population densities seem to be more strongly correlated with higher walking rates than does a compact land use pattern).  There also seems to be a correlation between the shorter commute distances associated with compact cities and higher bicycling rates.  Compact, mixed-use development has been cited as much more likely than improved bicycle facilities, congestion fees, or fuel price increases to recruit motorists to bicycling.

Another study found that walkable, compact mixed-use communities reduce total vehicle miles traveled by 43 percent.

Residential development that averages 14 dwelling units per acre requires half as much road mileage to serve vehicle trips than development at 3.5 dwelling units per acre.   Another study found that for each doubling of residential density, vehicle miles traveled is reduced 30 percent.   Thus, if the population of an area doubled due to infill development, vehicle miles traveled would probably increase by only 40 to 60 percent, rather than the 100 percent it would increase if the population increase occurred in dispersed suburbs.

A recent study has confirmed that the shift from car trips to transit and walking does not occur until minimum job and housing densities are achieved.  For work trips, the thresholds are 50 to 75 employees per gross acre, or 12 dwellings per net acre.  For shopping trips, it is 75 employees per gross acre and 20 dwellings per acre.

One way to increase development densities is to remove land development policies that reduce development densities, such as minimum lot size zoning and minimum parking requirements.

The most appropriate locations for increased residential densities are areas surrounding town centers, major bus stops, and downtown. Households in pedestrian-friendly Portland, Oregon drive a car 50 percent fewer miles and make 33 percent fewer motor vehicle trips than those in the suburbs.

Downs makes the following points about density:

It is important to avoid very low average densities in any part of the urban area because they generate long average commuting distances.  There is a much bigger payoff — in terms of reducing average commuting distances and energy consumption — when average gross densities are increased from 1,000 to 5,000 people per square mile (1.25 d.u. per net acre to 6.25 units per acre) than there is when the densities are increased from 5,000 to 10,000 people per square mile (6.25 units per acre to 12.5 units per acre).  In other words, it is much more important to avoid having new growth occur at very low densities than to make sure it occurs at very high densities. 

Thus, an acceptable average minimum density might be 3.1 units per acre.

One reason for higher residential densities is to reduce daily travel.  With more people living in a square mile, the land needed to accommodate a given population size would be significantly smaller.  This decreases the total miles traveled in motor vehicles, even without an increase in the use of transit.

The average commuting distance of workers in the US increased by 24 percent from 1983 to 1990, partly because of the substantial growth in the suburbs of large cities.

Significant amounts of open space can be preserved and substantial infrastructure costs can be saved if new growth occurs at 9.4 units per acre instead of 4.4 units per acre.

From 1983 to 1990, total vehicle miles traveled grew by an astounding 40 percent nationally, whereas the growth in the number of people aged five years or older grew by only 4.3 percent.

Nationally in 1989, 75 percent of all commuters drove alone, which is an important reason for rush hour congestion.  But convincing people not to drive alone is extremely difficult, since driving along usually is faster, more convenient, more comfortable, more private, and less costly than transit.  And the cost advantage is especially significant for drivers who have free parking.

Because of the “triple convergence,” population growth, and the growth in vehicle use, increasing peak-hour road capacity by 10 percent would be swamped by expanded travel of much more than 10 percent in a short period of time.

When densities are less than 7 units per acre, the use of transit is very low.  At 7 to 15 units per acre, moderately convenient service by trains, buses, and taxis can be supported.

When it comes to transit use, however, density is less important than location.  Residences near downtown generate much more demand for transit than residences with the same densities but further from downtown.  In addition, residences within 2,000 feet of a transit stop demand much higher amounts of transit than residences further from the stop.  It is therefore important to cluster higher residential densities near downtown and transit stops.

But more so than clustering residences to promote transit use, it is important to cluster shopping centers or business districts.

Another way to promote transit use is to avoid allowing transit-supporting land uses such as offices and multi-family housing from dispersing into low-density areas.

Form-Based vs Use-Based Land Development Codes

Since the dawn of American planning over 100 years ago, the approach to regulation of land has been to use zoning to control the use of a property (uses such as housing, a store, an office, etc.). The imperative of “use-based codes” in America has been, to the extent possible, to separate and segregate “different” uses from each other (i.e., keep houses far away from industries, shops, offices, and only allow “like” uses to be near each other — houses only near other houses, shops only near other shops, offices only near other offices).

This was perfectly understandable and necessary 100 years ago. After all, industries/jobs tended to be emitting lots of noise and pollution, and no one wanted to live near such uses.

But today, uses such as many industries tend to be much cleaner and quieter. Now, the compelling need to separate uses is much less. Unfortunately, we retain the tradition of separating uses with our use-based zoning codes. And what that has done has been to obligate us to make every trip by car. We are extremely dependent on cars for all of our travel, in large part because uses are too far from each other to travel any other way. And extreme auto dependence is very, very costly for households, governments, and the environment. It is a powerful engine promoting costly sprawl. It destroys a sense of community. We lose any sense of human scale. The quality of life for motor vehicles has become our imperative. The result is a downward spiral in the quality of life for people.

“Form-based codes” would return us to the tradition of designing communities that promote quality of life for people. Such codes take the approach that the design and location of buildings, parking lots, and streets are profoundly more important to quality of life than the uses that occur within buildings. Indeed, if the buildings, parking, and streets are designed well, it is nearly irrelevant what uses occur inside the building.

Part of the advantage of form-based codes is that they are very amenable to change. Most or all future uses can go inside well-designed buildings. No need to predict what future uses might go there. By stark contrast, use-based codes don’t care much about how the building is designed. They mostly care about what goes inside the building. That leads to a lot of inflexibility in terms of what uses can go inside a building in the future.

A crucial advantage of form-based coding is that the distance between houses, shops, offices, etc. can be shrunk dramatically. In other words, the community moves toward being more compact, modest, and human-scaled, and less car-scaled. Only by moving away from the use-based codes can we return to the walkable neighborhood containing corner grocery stores, home offices, etc. By doing so, we can dramatically reduce auto dependence, not to mention a reduction in the pressure for urban sprawl, and the improvement in urban/neighborhood vibrancy. Our quality of life improves as well, as a result of a human-scaled approach.

Form-based codes focus on things like the height of the building, location and amount of parking, setbacks, the width of streets, building articulation/ornamentation, front porches, and building orientation. When such things are done right, they are much more likely to create a high quality of life for the community than the conventional use-based codes.

Connected Streets

“One of the most important — but least understood — aspects of architecture and urban design is the extent to which the design and layout of residential streets determines the character and quality of communities — both urban and suburban, new and old.  Some patterns create a sense of neighborhood and community, while others foster feelings of separateness and isolation.  Some nurture social activity and children’s play, while others lead to heavy traffic and degradation of the environment.”

Connected streets make walking, bicycling, and using the bus more feasible by significantly reducing trip distances and increasing the number of safe and pleasant routes for such travelers.  They provide motorists and emergency service vehicles with more “real time” route choices.  A route that is impeded or blocked can be avoided in favor of a clear route, which is not possible on a cul-de-sac.  In combination with the fact that connected streets distribute vehicle trips more evenly, real time route choices on connected streets reduce congestion on collector or arterial roads.  As a result of this distribution, there is little or no need for neighborhood-hostile collectors or arterials, which, because of the volume and speed of vehicle trips they carry, are unpleasant for the location of residences.

Compared to connected street networks, cul-de-sac street networks create: (1) travel barriers for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders (connected streets have small, walkable blocks and numerous connections); (2) a reduction in “real-time” trip route choices for motorists and emergency vehicles; (3) higher average vehicle speeds, but longer average trip time; (4) a concentration of vehicle trips on major roads, causing more street and intersection congestion (connected streets reduce use of major roads by 75 to 85 percent); (5) increased service costs for postal delivery, garbage pick-up, and the school bus, which leads to higher fees and higher taxes; (6) a 50-percent increase in vehicle miles traveled; (7) social isolation for children, seniors, disabled, and the low income; (8) an overemphasis on the private realm, which reduces neighborliness and promotes neglect and deterioration of the public realm; and (9) increased levels of confusion and disorientation about the direction one is heading.

Street Lighting

Street lighting is an important component in creating a pleasant urban environment.  Lighting that is designed for high-speed vehicle traffic is often too high on the light structure, thereby creating a highway atmosphere rather than a pleasant neighborhood atmosphere.  Lighting can also be a problem when it is too diffuse or intense (the resulting glare can be both unpleasant to pedestrians and people inside their homes, as well as a danger to blinded motorists), and should therefore be directed down toward the street and sidewalk where it is needed.

Lighting can often detract from the intimate, pleasant, romantic character the city seeks to promote in the central portions of the city.  In addition, poorly located and excessive lighting can present a poor, bleached out atmosphere as an area is viewed from afar, and can hide the nighttime sky completely.

Greenville must discourage the emerging trend of businesses using lighting so that the building becomes a sign — in other words, the lighting is used to draw attention to the building rather than to simply provide for nighttime safety and security.

In general, town center street lights should be no taller than 12 feet. Highway/high-speed lighting such as “cobra” style lighting should not be used in the town center.

24-hour Activity in Town Centers

It is important to establish a rich mix of uses in important commercial core areas such as a town center in order to create an area that remains alive 18 to 24 hours a day.  Such around-the-clock activity creates vital and active streets that always seem fun, interesting, and enjoyable to visit or hang out in.  Extending the life of an area beyond normal work hours encourages the use of such areas by students in school and employees around the city who work an 8 to 5 job.

In addition, extending the hours of commercial operation can dramatically improve the perception of safety in a downtown area, since more “defensible space” is created and less space is abandoned to gang activity. Incorporating an ample quantity of residences in a town center is another effective way to create more of a 24-hour city.

Auto-Intensive Uses Discouraged

Land uses that attract a large number of motor vehicles, cater exclusively to cars, or engage in major car repair services –uses known as “auto-intensive” — tend to create a number of undesirable impacts.  Such uses tend to create an unsafe, unpleasant, and inconvenient atmosphere for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users.  They tend to create visual blight due to sign clutter and light pollution, and higher levels of noise pollution.  Because infrastructure tends to be scaled for motor vehicles instead of people, building details are found less often in such areas, which makes them less interesting.

Because of these problems, it is common for cities to restrict or prohibit auto-intensive uses from town centers, transit areas, and residential neighborhoods.

Many of the problems of auto-intensive uses can be mitigated, however, by requiring a modest scale and quality design.


By ignoring the needs of pedestrians over the past several decades, our public realm — the streets, parks, sidewalks, and plazas — have become dangerous, uninviting, undesirable places.  Pedestrians become little more than motorist inconveniences in such a community.

Jane Jacobs notes that “lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow.”  Yet many new residential and commercial developments fail to install a sidewalk along the street.  In other instances, the sidewalk is in place, but is too narrow — either because of the design width, or because obstacles such as utility poles have been installed in the sidewalk.  At least five feet of width is necessary for pedestrians to comfortably walk side-by-side.

Walking distances should be kept as short as possible — which generally means straight sidewalk alignments parallel to streets, or on diagonal shortcuts.  Horizontally meandering or vertically undulating designs should be avoided if possible.   Note also that a successful bus system depends heavily upon a pleasant, safe, and convenient pedestrian environment, since bus riders must walk to and from a bus stop.

Portland, Oregon has established a “pedestrian friendliness” index.  The index measures the quality of the pedestrian environment based on the following criteria: (1) ease of street crossing; (2) sidewalk continuity; (3) street characteristics (grid being better than cul-de-sac).   The City has been restricting or removing vehicle parking downtown (a permanent cap on such parking was imposed in 1972), has stopped widening downtown streets, has converted about one mile of streets into people-oriented transit areas, widened sidewalks, and prohibits large blank walls along sidewalks.  The downtown is now widely recognized for being economically healthy, vibrant, and livable.  Carbon monoxide violations have dropped from 100 per year to zero.

Sidewalks, when properly dimensioned and maintained, can provide the pedestrian with a pleasant, safe, and convenient place to walk.  Sidewalks that are too narrow are inconvenient, especially in areas with large volumes of pedestrians and for people using wheelchairs.  In addition, sidewalks that must wrap around large block faces are a serious impediment to pedestrian convenience. Smaller block sizes and cross-access easements can reduce this inconvenience.

Reform Traffic Law Enforcement

I have long been strongly supportive of having my state or community adopt the “Idaho Law,” which allows cyclists to treat red signal lights as stop signs and stop signs as yield signs. Doing this acknowledges that intersection rules for cycling should be far different from rules for motoring due to such factors as size, speed, visibility, auditory, momentum, and weight differences between bicycles and motor vehicles.

Nearly all cyclists already engage in “Idaho Law” behavior, which means that adopting this law would simply legalize what cyclists have already been safely doing for the past century.

The law is also an example of deploying the important, incentivizing tactic of making cycling “advantageous.”

The link below responds to the common concern that the “Idaho Law” is dangerous by citing a study that debunks the safety concern.

I need to point out here that I believe it is extremely important for cycling advocacy groups to advocate that their city train its police officers about cycling. In my life as a bicycle commuter, I’ve had a number of unpleasant, patronizing encounters with police officers who – due to a lack of awareness of cycling – have stopped me and issued warnings about my cycling behavior (or have ticketed me). These warnings (and infraction tickets/fines) are much more likely to be issued to cyclists rather than motorists, even though motorists are far more of a threat to public safety than cyclists. Studies show, BTW, that motorists tend to violate traffic laws much more commonly than cyclists, despite the conventional wisdom. Despite this, I have never in my life had a friend – when I asked them – tell me they had been pulled over by a police officer while driving a motor vehicle. To reduce this common police officer harassment and patronization of cyclists, police officers need to be obligated to become better educated on cycling – particularly how cycling should be treated significantly differently than motoring. One powerful way to help educate officers is to have the city adopt a “Cops on Bicycles” program. Another is classroom instruction with cycling experts.

Aligned Building Facades

People find defined spaces enjoyable because they create the feeling of a cozy “outdoor room” that humans across cultures and throughout history find exceptionally pleasant.  Defined spaces make the public realm seem less chaotic.  A person in such a location feels less exposed, and like they are “in a place.”

Pleasant public spaces (outdoor rooms) are free to create.  It does not cost anything to provide it.  Just the proper placement of buildings.

Transit Links and Transit-Oriented Developments

The Oregon Transportation Planning Rule, adopted in 1991 to reduce auto dependence, requires cities to reduce vehicle miles traveled by 10 percent over the next 20 years and 20 percent within 30 years.  All land use design, densities, and design standards must be analyzed to determine if they support bicycling, walking, and transit.  Codes must be amended to allow higher residential density near transit lines and in new office and retail developments.  Land zoned for neighborhood shopping must be easily accessible by foot or bike.  New multi-family and commercial building entrances must be within 100 feet of a transit route.

One researcher notes that to achieve high transit ridership, the bus must provide frequent service between home, shopping, and work; the bus stop must be no more than three blocks from the trip origin or trip destination; and the community must have sufficiently high residential densities.

The highest rates of bicycling and walking occur when town centers have a jobs/housing balance.   Cervero (1989) states that a balance of jobs-to-housing units in a town center should range from 0.75 to 1.50.  High employment densities alone do not promote reductions in motor vehicle travel.   Adding retail to office-oriented areas, on the other hand, promotes walking, bicycling, ridesharing, and transit.

When a neighborhood contains — or is near — safe, pleasant, and convenient bus stops, a larger number of trips are made by bus, which reduces excessive trips to and from the neighborhood by car.  This provides more transportation choice, enhances neighborliness, and reduces household transportation costs (every car a household can shed saves the household $51,000 per year).

The need to place buildings near the bus stop is significant, as was shown by a survey finding that the average walking distance between bus stops and buildings is four times greater than the walk of the average parking motorist.

To help create “transit villages,” California Gov. Pete Wilson signed a bill allowing higher zoning around transit stations and the use of redevelopment funds for nearby housing.  Similarly, Portland, Maine, has adopted a plan calling for higher densities and mixed-use development in areas served by transit.

It is helpful to make transit stops mixed-use, since it is a handy convenience to be able to take advantage of retail and services at the stops.  It helps save time, since such errands can be taken care of on the way home from work.

TODs (“transit-oriented development” — another name for transit villages) incorporate the features of traffic calming, mixed-use development, and traditional neighborhood design, but go further by making transit stations and transit stops a key element in the design of the TOD community.  TODs strive to make pedestrian, bicycle, and drop-off trips to a transit stop convenient, safe, and enjoyable.  A critical mass of commercial, civic, residential, recreational, and school development is placed within walking distance (1/4-mile radius) of the transit stop.  To promote this critical mass, communities developing TODs are increasing residential and commercial densities near transit stops (San Diego is striving to locate 50 percent of the region’s housing within 1/4 mile of a transit route and 80 percent within 1/2 mile), reducing setback and parking requirements in the TOD, and allowing density bonuses.  The average density for TODs served by light rail is approximately 9 dwelling units per acre (Portland, Oregon strives for 15 per acre).  The TOD design often includes street-front commercial buildings immediately adjacent to the transit stop, nearby housing for seniors, an open plaza, and other strategies which aim to create a 24-hour-a-day presence and a sense of place at the transit stop. 

Calthorpe has prepared a set of principles for creating Transit-Oriented Development:

  • Organize growth on a regional level to be compact and transit-supportive.
  • Place commercial, housing, jobs, parks and civic uses within walking distance of transit stops.
  • Create pedestrian-friendly street networks that directly connect local destinations.
  • Provide a mix of housing types, densities, and costs.
  • Preserve sensitive habitat, riparian zones, and high-quality open space.
  • Make public spaces the focus of building orientation and neighborhood activity.
  • Encourage infill and redevelopment along transit corridors within existing neighborhoods.

It is important that the human scale — the walkable ambiance — not be lost at TODs or park-n-rides.  A key way to design for human scale at these sites is to avoid interrupting the connections between people, transit, and nearby mixed uses by creating large expanses of poorly located asphalt parking.

A Portland, Oregon, study found that compared to building a highway beltway, a TOD community would see 22 percent fewer home-based motor vehicle trips.  The study also found that 20 percent of the workers in a TOD would use transit (compared to 9 percent in a conventional development), and the number of cars per household would be 11 percent lower.   A relatively large number of TOD workers would also walk or carpool.

Floor Area Ratio (FAR) to Support Transit

Higher densities make it possible for people to walk, bicycle, or use the bus.  One important way to increase development densities is to increase the allowable “floor area ratio” (FAR).  FAR is a measure of how much square footage can be built on a given piece of land.  A FAR of 1.0, for example, would allow construction of a one-story building to cover the entire site, or for a two-story building to cover half of the site.  In commercial areas, FAR should be at least 1.0.  In office/industrial and mixed-use areas, it should be at least 1.25 (Snohomish).  Richard Untermann, a well-known urban designer, calls for FARs of 2.0-3.0 in town centers, and 3.0 for office areas.  San Diego requires at least 0.5 FAR near bus stations.  To increase employment densities, Orlando requires both a minimum and maximum FAR for most commercial zoning. Every 20 percent increase in floor space in commercial centers developed as non-office uses is associated with a 4.5 percent increase in ride-sharing and transit use.

Requirements for landscaping, parking, and setbacks reduce the theoretical amount of floor area coverage that is possible on a site, even if allowable FAR is high. This means that a typical town center can benefit from relaxed requirements (or full exemption) for landscaping, parking, and setbacks.  In addition, setting a cap on the allowable FAR encourages greater dependence on travel by motor vehicle.

Mixed Housing Types and Incomes

Accessory dwelling units and apartments (also called “ancillary units,” “granny flats,” “carriage houses,” or “outbuildings”) are both effective ways to encourage pedestrian and bus trips, and also provide affordable housing — especially for students and senior citizens.   Regarding security, people living in the primary home naturally police the activity in the outbuilding.

Mixed housing types provide the neighborhood with a mixed-income environment, since the mixed types provide a range of housing affordability.  Mixed-income neighborhoods reduce traffic problems because citizens employed in lower-skilled jobs can live close enough to nearby jobs to avoid the need to commute by motor vehicle to the job.

Modest Front Yards

Large front yard setbacks create travel barriers for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders due to the distance between the building entrance and the road — a distance that is acceptable for a motorist, but inconvenient and unsafe for pedestrians, bicyclists, and bus riders. One of the primary reasons for excessive front setbacks is the increasingly common practice of citing parking in front of buildings. Parking lots must not be allowed in front of residences, shops, or offices. Large setbacks also tend to encourage higher vehicle speeds on roads fronting the building, since the road corridor has a more “open, race track” feel.  In addition, larger setbacks encourage the building owner to install large, obtrusive signage in order to make the signs visible from the distant road.  In contrast, smaller setbacks are able to create “public rooms” between buildings, which enhances comfort and enjoyment for pedestrians and bicyclists.  The short distance from the sidewalk to the front porch also enables passersby to greet their neighbors, and helps deter crime by encouraging more “eyes on the street.”

Overly large setbacks prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building.  In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.”  Buildings pulled up to the street sidewalk have more of a human scale.   The intent of a build-to line is to pull the building facade up to the street to abut the streetside sidewalk.  By doing so, building facades along a block face will be aligned to form a street wall that frames the public realm, while retaining sufficient width for people to walk, and sufficient space to provide a formal landscape created by the shade of street trees.  The street wall shapes the public realm to provide a sense of comfort and security for the public space.

According to David Sucher, “…this relationship of the building to the sidewalk is one of the key architectural decisions in city planning for cohesive neighborhoods.  This relationship is significant in residential areas but is of supreme importance in a town center.  Indeed, it is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk which makes a city.  The good news is that the relationship is a very simple one: place the building at the sidewalk.  That’s it.  Don’t make it complicated.”

Gateway Streets

Gateway streets are those streets which are the major visual entryways to Greenville, and are therefore critical in conveying a message to newcomers and existing residents as to the image and objectives of the city. 

It is essential that “gateways” to Greenville — and special areas within the city — convey a sense of arrival and departure.

The view of a city from these important streets conveys a visual image and overall impression of the city for residents and visitors.  It is therefore important that such street sections be enhanced so that the city conveys a positive impression of itself.

In the case of gateways to the Greenville town center, design must signal to the visitor that they are entering a low-speed, human-scaled, proud, beautiful community.

Improve Public Engagement by Using a Stylebook for Communication

Adopt an Unbiased and Plain English Stylebook for Greenville staff to use for written and oral communication. This is necessary because the City of Greenville regularly uses highly biased language, and confusing jargon that is very difficult for citizens to understand. And that is highly detrimental to public engagement in Greenville.

Street Furniture

To encourage walking, it is important to provide features which enhance the convenience and comfort that can be experienced on the sidewalk.  Features include seating, bus shelters, drinking fountains, trash receptacles, people-scaled lighting and signs, awnings, and street trees.  The “furniture” location is important and the design needs to be tailored to fit various locations.  People like to sit and watch other people go by.  Most like to sit where the most people are and where the most “action” is, such as major destination points, outdoor cafes, and entries to retail establishments.  Seating should not be too high or low, should not be too exposed to harsh weather, and should fit the human contour.

Street furniture should be low maintenance and high durability.  Care needs to be taken not to provide an excessive amount of furniture, since this can result in clutter, and obstruct pedestrian circulation.  The furniture should use a unified design theme and be compatible with the character of the area.

Building Faces Street

A successful town center is designed to provide convenience for customers by minimizing walking distances from public sidewalks and nearby buildings.  Rear or side entrances, or entrances oriented toward a parking lot, make travel highly inconvenient for pedestrians and transit users.  Such a design also cuts the building off from street life.  In addition, a building with its main entrance directed away from the primary sidewalk and street “turns its back” to the public realm, reduces urban vibrancy, and is harmful to promoting street life.

Width Between Buildings and Building Height Frames Public Realm

“Low-slung” one-story buildings are more appropriate in low-density residential areas designed for motor vehicle travel. They reduce the density and intensity needed to make transit, walking, and bicycling viable, and typically are too low in profile to form a desirable, intimate, comfortable public realm with facing buildings across the street.  They also reduce the opportunity to create mixed-use buildings containing, typically, both commercial and residential uses.  Low-rise multi-story buildings two to five stories in height are an important component of the compact, walkable city.  The building profile forms the desired street wall and the additional stories allow the establishment of the number of residents needed for a viable urban neighborhood.

The street edge formed by building facades, street trees, and screening walls shapes the public realm to provide a sense of comfort and security for the public space.  With open skies above, people begin to look horizontally for clues; the further the walls are apart, the less comfortable people will feel within a space.

A build-to line prevents overly large setbacks.  Overly large setbacks are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians.  They increase walking distances from the public sidewalk.  They prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying building details and activity within the building.  Similarly, overly large setbacks contribute to sign proliferation and visual blight because a building set back a large distance often needs to “shout”, with signs, at passing motorists and transit users, bicyclists, and pedestrians in order to be noticed.  Buildings pulled up to the street sidewalk have more of a human scale, and allow for the construction of canopies that create shade and shield the pedestrian from wet weather.

In general, the goal of a commercial build-to line should be that the width of the street corridor (as measured by opposing building facades) and the height of the buildings shall be at least a ratio of 1:1 to 3:1. (The width should be no more than three times the height.)  When the building across the street is not properly pulled up to the street, the desired ratio is 1.5:1 as measured from the street centerline.

Narrow, Smaller Lots

Narrow, smaller lots provide a more compact, interesting, walkable arrangement of houses.  They provide a more pleasing alignment of houses along the streetside sidewalk, which enhances civic pride in the neighborhood and makes the residential street seem more “cozy.”  Houses appear to be associated in a neighborly way, instead of isolated and cocooned from the neighborhood.  Smaller lots also make home ownership in such a subdivision more affordable.  In addition, the higher, yet livable, density that smaller lots provide makes transit more viable.

“When buildings are narrow, the street length is shortened, the walking distances are reduced, and street life is enhanced…Narrow street frontages mean short distances between entrances — and entrances are where the majority of events nearly always take place.”

Wider lots reduce the sense of street enclosure and add to a less inviting pedestrian environment.

Articulated Instead of Blank Walls

All buildings – particularly in the town center – should be designed to provide interest for pedestrians. Long expanses of blank walls tend to be boring and unattractive for the pedestrian.  In addition, windows attract pedestrians, which act as a security system for the business.  Buildings without such relief and interest tend to create a “massive scale”, and make the public realm impersonal.  Such an appearance is inconsistent with the “human-scaled” and pedestrian-oriented character needed to create a healthy town center, and inconsistent with Greenville’s intent to protect or restore such character. One effective way to avoid lifeless blank walls in the town center is to require ample window glazing on the building façade facing the public sidewalk.

Buildings with windows and interesting interiors are another example of a design that makes walking more advantageous than driving.

Development Scaled for People

The scale of the components of a developed area shows what the components were primarily designed for.  Large billboard signs, for example, are scaled to be read by motorists traveling at high speeds.  Large city blocks, large parking lots, wide roads, low density and single-use land use patterns, tall street lighting, large turning radii, and enormous landscaped front setbacks are all scaled and designed for the convenience and pleasure of the driver.  In many cases, they are designed to catch the attention of the high-speed motorist, which tends to mean that design loses fine-grained detail and uses only broad-brushed, grossly scaled features.  Each of these motorist-scaled features is scaled in such a way that the pedestrian, bicyclist, and transit user (a human scale) feel overwhelmed, inconvenienced, unsafe, dehumanized, exposed, and unpleasant.

Human-scaled design is created by keeping single-use properties relatively small; interspersing different types of housing with parks, offices, and shops; keeping streets narrow and parking lots small; keeping building front setbacks modest so they are pulled up to the street; ensuring that buildings face the street with a streetside entrance; keeping street blocks short; creating connected street networks; installing street trees; requiring small and infrequent signage; and keeping street light poles relatively short.

Designing with a human scale inherently means the use of finely-grained design, which adds interest and character to the street, not to mention pride in workmanship.  It helps retain a unique city character (instead of an “anywhere USA” strip commercial character), and reduces the use of glaring, shouting signs and lights — all of which are striving to catch the attention of the high-speed motorist. As a result, when we design at the scale of people, a number of desirable design features fall into place.

Tree-Lined Streets and Shading

Often, street trees are a necessary retrofit to correct livability problems such as a street being too wide, buildings being set back too far from the street, or buildings being too low.  Each of these can be a problem because they are typically the reason for the street to be unable to create the feeling of a pleasantly enclosed, human-scaled space.

Landscaping with street trees should be used both to soften the “hardness” of the urban area for the pedestrian, and make the pedestrian feel more comfortable by providing cooling, reducing glare, and helping to form public spaces, “outdoor rooms,” and street corridor edges by “necking down” the apparent width of the street, or forming “walls” for an outdoor room.  Such formality of landscaping adds dignity to the City and its neighborhoods, instead of a chaotic one, thereby inspiring a sense of civic pride.

An important way to form such “outdoor rooms” is to formally align the trees along the street and sidewalk so that they form a disciplined edge, which is necessary to define space.  It is also helpful, in striving to discipline the trees in this way, that the trees be of the same species.  A concern, however, may be that this would make the city tree canopy vulnerable to the spread of disease that affects the monoculture tree species chosen.  But this can be overcome if the installation is only for a particular street block.  In cases where species diversity is needed, it is preferable to at least choose trees of the same general shape and size.

Street trees are important for providing pedestrian comfort — particularly to provide shade.  They are also important in reducing energy consumption, since they cool the asphalt streets within Greenville.

Main Street in town center Greenville provides an excellent example of how street trees provide the many benefits listed above.

Revise the Timing of Synchronized Traffic Signals

Synchronized traffic signals in the town center shall be timed for the speed of buses and bicyclists, not motor vehicles. This is another example of a program that makes bicycling and transit more advantageous than driving.

Modest Signs and Traffic Signals

When not properly controlled, a proliferation of signs can be harmful to the character, aesthetic quality, and property values of Greenville.  Often, signs “shout” with the use of large size, bright colors, or lights as a way to attract the attention of motorists.  Sign clutter and chaotic blight can result as business owners compete with each other to construct the biggest, most attention-grabbing signs.  The result can be a form of “information overload” that can hide the messages the signs are trying to convey.

The regulation of signs can protect the unique character, ambiance, and scenic beauty of the city.  They can enhance the retail health of the city, since an attractive commercial area can more successfully draw customers.

Signs in the Greenville town center must be human-scaled to promote safer speeds and visual quality. Signs should therefore not exceed 10 feet in height.

Similarly, overly elevated or highway-oriented traffic signals convey the message to motorists that they are in a high-speed environment. By placing traffic signals far above the street, motorists are encouraged to drive at higher, more dangerous, and louder speeds — speeds that are more appropriate for highways than a town center.

After all, highway-oriented mast-arm signals are much easier to see at high speeds than a more human-scaled, traditional post-mounted signal light.

The relatively tall height above the street of mast arm signals or signals hanging from a wire contribute to an unpleasant, Anywhere USA, strip commercial ambiance.

Quality Walls and Fencing

The design of fencing, and the materials used to construct fencing, can play an important role in the appearance of the city.  Materials such as brick, fieldstone, stucco, or wrought-iron, are typically highly appealing.  They usually blend in well with the city and neighborhood character, and are highly durable.  By contrast, materials such as chain-link convey a very industrial appearance that can be detrimental to the appearance of the area.  Other materials, such as wood, work well in residential applications and outlying areas, but do poorly in an urban setting and for non-residential applications, because they do not hold up well to vandalism or weather.

Greenville should incrementally see that existing chain link fencing – particularly the highly offensive razor-wire fencing – be replaced in the town center.

Eyes on the Street and Citizen Surveillance

Historically, buildings were designed in such a way that citizens were able to “watch over their collective security.”  They were able to sit on their front porches or watch the street and sidewalk from their windows, due to both the design of porches and windows, and the proximity of the building to the street and sidewalk.  As a result, neighbors often served as proxy parents when children were out of sight of their real parents.  Also, criminal activity was discouraged since criminals were deterred by the many “eyes on the street.”

In retail areas, windows on a shopfront attract pedestrians, who act as a security system for the business.

Unfortunately, this natural “citizen surveillance” is increasingly lost because buildings are being moved further and further away from the street and sidewalk.  In addition, there is a trend in which buildings reduce the building wall area covered with windows.

Icon Architecture Minimized

“Icon architecture” (also known as “cookie cutter” architecture) is a form of building architecture that immediately conveys to the passerby the corporate image of the business.  For McDonald’s, it is the “golden arches.”  For Kentucky Fried Chicken, it is the trademark red and white stripes, the “KFC” acronym, and the drawing of the head of “Colonel Sanders.”  Gas stations simply use a tall canopy with bright lights beneath it over the gas pumps as a way to shout out the message that they are a gas station.  In all of the cases of icon architecture — especially at night with bright building lights — the building becomes a de-facto sign because the passerby simply needs to glance at the building from a large distance in order to know what the building contains.

One of the most detrimental aspects of icon architecture is that it detracts from the unique character and community identity of the city.  The city becomes “anywhere USA” when a proliferation of homogenized, banal icon architecture occurs, and creates what Jim Kunstler calls the “geography of nowhere.”  The streetscapes of the city look indistinguishable from the streetscapes of any other city.  This can lead to an important decline in civic pride.


Alleys allow the developer to place garages, driveways, waste receptacles, overhead utilities, and utility poles in a less conspicuous location away from the public street and therefore less likely to detract from the pedestrian ambiance of the neighborhood.  Alleys also provide an additional location for emergency vehicles to gain access to a building, and a relatively safe place for children to play.  They eliminate the need for front yard driveways (which reduces the number of curb cuts and cars crossing the streetside sidewalk), provide more space for on-street parking, and decrease the cost of the lot through the opportunity for narrower lots.

Hidden Trash Containers

Trash and recycling receptacles, dumpsters, and loading docks typically provide an unsightly appearance and an odor problem for pedestrians.  In addition, improperly located and improperly screened receptacles and docks can cause noise problems for nearby land uses when the receptacles and packages are being loaded or unloaded.  Therefore, they should be located as far from public sidewalks as possible and screened from view.

One-Quarter Mile Walking Distance

It is now generally agreed by almost all pedestrian and transit planners that a comfortable walking distance is one-quarter mile, which represents 1,320 feet, or the distance that can be comfortably walked in five minutes at the typical walking speed of 2.5 miles per hour.   Most people tend not to walk if the destination exceeds this distance.

It is therefore important to locate as many residential units as possible within one-quarter mile of destinations we would like people to walk to, such as parks, schools, transit stops, stores, civic and cultural buildings, and low-intensity employment uses.

Discourage Excessive Provision of Parking for Cars with Taxation

Tax business parking spaces to create a financial incentive for businesses to minimize parking and promote non-car commuting by employees.

Establish an On-going Transportation Speaker Series

To provide much-needed transportation education to Greenville citizens, staff, and elected officials, Greenville should sponsor a transportation speaker series.

Speakers I would suggest (links show each of these speakers making a sample presentation):

Chuck Marohn http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6XRjatW_N9M

Ian Lockwood http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6YmuUq0gt-Q

Dan Burden http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pNlTdoFV9bQ

Michael Ronkin http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N0lzUZsXDiM&list=PLE6A0FA22839E89CA

Todd Litman http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cxRVCcQrrQ0

Jeff Kenworthy http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4-OFRNSeEow

Donald Shoup http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uVteHncimV0

Janette Sadik-Khan http://www.ted.com/talks/janette_sadik_khan_new_york_s_streets_not_so_mean_any_more.html?utm_source=newsletter_weekly_2013-10-12&utm_campaign=newsletter_weekly&utm_medium=email&utm_content=talk_of_the_week_image

Jeff Speck http://www.ted.com/talks/jeff_speck_the_walkable_city.html

Bicycle Parking Design

Inverted-U should be the only allowable bike parking design (or minor variations), and specify required spacing as well as required height for such parking. Bicycle parking must be located as close to the main building entry door as possible, thereby leveraging bicyclist convenience and adding to the ways in which bicycling can be made more advantageous than driving. Incrementally replace non-inverted-U bicycle parking in Greenville with inverted-U.

Recessed, Subordinate Garages

Recessed garages enhance the neighborhood walking environment for the pedestrian.  Such houses appear people-oriented, instead of sending a strong message that “a car lives here,” or that the structure is a “garage with an attached house.” Or is a “snout house.”

When the garage is architecturally subordinate, the visually interesting features of the house are able to dominate the streetscape.

Garages should be recessed at least 20 feet from the house facade because it is very common for a person to park the car in front of the garage instead of within it.  The recessed garage pulls the parked car to the garage so that it does not stick out in front of the building facade.  It is critical that for a pleasant streetscape, cars not stick out and dominate the streetscape view.  In addition, garage doors should be hidden from view since they harm the streetscape.

Permeable Neighborhoods Instead of Gated Subdivisions

Gated subdivisions are residential areas with restricted access designed to privatize normally public spaces.  Since the late 1980s, gated subdivisions have grown enormously, and represent a new form of refuge and isolation from the problems of the city.  Such developments are emblematic of the American “fortress mentality” and desire for separation by income, race, economic opportunity, and separation of land uses.  However, gated residential areas are primarily being driven by fear of crime.

Other problems attributed to gated communities are the fact that they typically are less conducive to trips by bicycle, transit, or foot, since the gate/wall can substantially increase trip distances. 

In addition, those living within them often pay for some of their own services such as security and garbage collection, which can reduce their desire to support community efforts to find solutions to community problems or otherwise find revenues to pay for overall community services.  This can reduce the desire to engage in the responsibilities of citizenship and community.

One way to avoid gated streets is to have a code provision that strictly forbids such streets.  A more indirect approach is to require all streets to be publicly dedicated (except those serving limited “commercial only” areas).  By default, gated streets would not be allowed, since it is not possible to gate public streets.

Permeable neighborhoods represent our traditional American neighborhood pattern.  Such neighborhoods contain residents friendly towards others in the community, they are accessible, they are easy to walk or bicycle into and out of, and their residents share a desire to participate in community-wide civic responsibilities.


Improving walkability (and civic pride, comfort, convenience and sociability) means scaling down spaces in places we intend to be walkable. This “human-scaled” need acknowledges that in American cities, our walkability problem is that we have TOO MUCH space. Too much distance. 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 lanes. Too much distance between the home and the corner store.

Our first and most important task for creating the walkability that people the world over love in places like Siena, Paris, and Venice, is to create human-scaled city spaces. A large number of roads need to be put on a “road diet” by removing travel lanes and calming down (slowing) the speed of cars so that streets are welcoming, safe and sociable. Buildings need to be pulled up to the streetside sidewalk. Parking lots need to be shrunk in size—preferably by replacing some of them with active buildings, and moving more of them to on-street parking spaces. Streets need to be gracefully enveloped by street trees. Houses need to be mixed with shops and offices.

We face at least three enormous societal problems related to the above.

1.       Traffic Safety. For the past 100 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. Most cities and states in the United States likewise are suffering from extreme financial shortfalls.

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.

By adhering to the design guidelines I recommend above, our community will be dramatically safer, more pleasant, more instilled with civic pride, more physically fit, more resilient to future pandemics, more sustainable, more equitable, more affordable and more prosperous.

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On Being a YIMBY


By Dom Nozzi

In a discussion on a neighborhood email list, a person advocated more density in the neighborhood. Someone responded with a snarky comment about how this does not live near the place where the higher density is recommended.

I responded as follows.

I’m a YIMBY (yes in my backyard). I want higher density as close to where I live as possible (preferably across the street from me and in my backyard. More density means I have additional desirable things that enhance the walkable lifestyle I seek: More neighbors and potential friends, more people walking and cycling and using transit, and a higher likelihood that new, small scale retail and grocery and restaurants will be built near me.

This quote from Chris Leinberger (author of The Option of Urbanism) strongly resonates with me: “…walkable urbanity is entirely different than drivable suburbanism. The underlying financial and market principle of drivable development, aka sprawl, is that ‘more is less;’ more development reduces the quality of life and financial returns, leading developers and their customers to perpetually go further and further to the fringe in a fruitless search for very things (open space, drivable convenience, perceived safety, etc.) this development promises. It is a downward spiral. Walkable urbanity works under financial and market principles that “more is better”; as more dense development takes place with mixed-uses within walking distance and multiple transportation options to get there, the place gets better. Hence the environmental, fiscal (government tax base), community building AND project financial elements all become better. It is an upward spiral.”


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Thinking Like a Motorist is Ruinous

By Dom Nozzi


We have a love/hate relationship with walkable design.

Consider these comparison photos…

Orlando Phoenix Boulder Junction Copenhagen Amsterdam

Big city vs small town ambiance

Most all of us love the idea of walking in places such as the images on the left in the first photo above, and the images on the right in the second photo. But in the back of our minds, when we think about how frustrating it would be to DRIVE in those places, we end up furiously opposing building new versions of those places – including the places that we all know are the most loved places in Boulder: the Mapleton Hill neighborhood, the Boulderado Hotel, and Pearl Street Mall.

As I often point out, cars and people have opposite needs. Cars need very low densities to avoid crowded roads and parking. They need bright lights. They need oversized, car-scaled roads and intersections to travel at high speeds. They need large signs and billboards. They need loud sounds to hear each other. They need buildings fronted by huge surface parking lots for ease of parking

By striking contrast, people not in cars mostly enjoy the walkable and charming convenience of compact development. They dislike glaring light pollution. They prefer slower, human-scaled streets and intersections for charming place-making. They like smaller signs and no billboards. They enjoy peace and quiet. And they like buildings close to the sidewalk for ease of walking, the sense of place created by the enclosure that sidewalk buildings create (as in Pearl Street Mall), and are repelled by the prospect of needing to walk across a large asphalt parking lot.

Therefore, when we think like a motorist – which we are compelled to do because our community is designed not for a pedestrian but for car travel, which obligates us to make pretty much all of our trips by car – we are compelled to OPPOSE the creation of a higher density, compact neighborhood with relatively small yards, such as Mapleton Hill. We fight like the dickens against buildings as tall as the Boulderado. And we furiously oppose the creation of a new Pearl Street Mall (via such things as right-sizing). When we are obligated to angrily oppose the most loved elements of our community, then, we find that thinking like a motorist makes us our own worst enemy.

We start hearing the slogans that Boulder is notorious for:

“Does Dense Make Sense???” (NO! As motorists, we hate density)

“Don’t Be Dense, Boulder!!”

“Greedy Developers Want to Develop Every Square Inch of Their Property!” (An odd expression, since the most loved neighborhood – Mapleton Hill – has more “inches” developed than any other Boulder neighborhood)

“Get rid of parking minimums? It’s delusional to think nobody will need a place to park in this neighborhood!” (this despite the fact that eliminating required parking is a powerful way to create affordable housing)

“More development here would create intolerable gridlock. People aren’t just going to stop driving cars!”

“We’re not just going to turn Boulder into Amsterdam!” (this despite the fact that Amsterdam was very car-oriented in the 1960s, and Americans tend to love visiting Amsterdam)


Because we have created car-oriented communities that require us to make all of our trips by car, we are trapped in car dependency for many decades into the future, and are therefore trapped into being our own worst enemies.

Indeed, who needs enemies when we have ourselves?


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Compact Development Avoids Congestion. It Does Not Reduce It

By Dom Nozzi

January 3, 2019

Compact, walkable, transit-oriented development patterns do not stop the emergence of traffic congestion – or reduce it once it occurs. Because cars consume so much space (see my photo set below), any attractive, well-designed city worth its salt will have traffic congestion (all the great cities we love have parking and traffic problems — again, because cars consume an enormous amount of space).40 people (2)

No, what compact, walkable cities do that dispersed, low-density, single-use, disconnected cities cannot do is to offer residents the ability to AVOID the inevitable congestion (or at least many of the negative effects of congestion). Residents of compact cities, for example, have much more of a choice to bike or walk or use transit (each of which are congestion-avoidance tactics). Such cities also provide more choices to live closer to their destinations (another avoidance tactic).

The “addiction” to cars (as is often noted by friends of mine) is largely due to the fact that we have, over the past century, built a car-oriented world that makes non-car travel very difficult or impractical.

We have much work to do to reform our communities so that this is not the case. Sustainability requires that we provide transportation and housing choices.

Drivable suburbia provides only one choice: live in an isolated, sterile, anti-neighborly home that requires that nearly every trip is by car. Such a lifestyle is incapable of adapting to the inevitable future changes we will face, which makes for a grim, expensive, painful, and thereby unsustainable future.

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Making a Town Center Vibrant vs Making an Individual Development Vibrant

By Dom Nozzi

July 30, 1998

Often we hear a big pitch for more parking downtown.

Today, I was giving some thought to a principle that I read about in an urban design book recently:

[this is a paraphrase]

“The further you park from your destination or front door of your house, the more vibrant the place (or your neighborhood) is. This is because when you park too near your destination or front door, there is little or no time for serendipitous meetings/greetings with friends, strangers or neighbors.

“By contrast, when you have to walk (from an on-street spot, a lot a block or so away, etc.), there is more time and opportunity for you to socialize — thereby lending a more vibrant character to the area.”cropped-cafenite

What often happens in a downtown is that the developers of a downtown project who are calling for more downtown parking are striving to make their project the exciting destination, whereas the community is striving (or at least SHOULD be striving) to make the entire downtown the exciting destination.

Unfortunately, these objectives can conflict. In a sense, by implementing such an objective, the developer is making their project an internalized shopping mall that turns its backs on — and ignores — the downtown.

And that is detrimental to the overall vision for downtown health. By striving to make the entire downtown our exciting destination, we can focus our design efforts on making the public realm — the sidewalks, the plazas, the outdoor cafes, the streets, etc. — wonderful, vibrant, safe, convenient places.

And by doing that, every downtown business benefits. It’s synergistic, and in the public interest.

And probably in the best interests of downtown developers, since I don’t believe they can make it on their own without a healthy downtown.


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Incorporating Drive Throughs in a Walkable Neighborhood

By Dom Nozzi

May 5, 1998

I am torn about allowing drive-throughs at businesses in a neighborhood intended to be walkable (such as a “traditional neighborhood development,” or “TND”). I’ve considered drive-throughs to be the Great Satan for a number of years, and have wanted to do what I can to prohibit them in pedestrian-oriented areas.dr

In the past, such an effort was clearly admirable, in my opinion, since all we would lose by stopping them are stand-alone banks or fast food restaurants. We could live without those, I believe.

But now, as we edge toward quality urbanism in certain American cities, we must decide if we are willing to accept them in exchange for something wonderful — something that might allow us to reach the much-sought-after critical mass of urbanism.

I have reached the point where I can be comfortable with a drive-through if, on balance, it is a net positive for pedestrians and urbanism. As a result, I am willing to accept a drive- through at a newly proposed compact, walkable TND neighborhood — especially if accepting the drive-through is the only way to get such fabulous projects built. And I’ve become convinced that this is true for many proposed TNDs in America.

I agree that we must crawl before we walk. But I think we need to be careful for a couple of reasons:

  1. We could get black hat developers who have no interest in quality neighborhoods or quality urbanism proposing to install a drive-through not because it is necessary for making the project feasible, but because they want to dramatically increase their profits at the expense of our quality of life. They might see that the community likes New Urbanism and give us some token “window dressing” urbanism like some picket fences or front porches, and fool us into thinking this wonderful New Urbanism will compensate for the ills of the drive-through. Then we find out later that it was a bait and switch, and what we end up with is pseudo New Urbanism.

So I guess we would need to protect ourselves from this is an informed staff, informed elected officials, and good New Urbanist ordinances to protect us from this potential negative.

  1. I think we need to be careful that we don’t end up with too much suburbanization. I’m not as concerned about the outlying single-family residential subdivisions in American cities because I think a lot of it is The Lost Land and is too far gone to be threatened with more suburbanization. But at some point, our downtown might reach the point of no return — a point where no one would ever want to live downtown, shop downtown, work downtown, or recreate downtown because it has become an auto slum. I think we nearly reached that point of no return in many American cities in the later decades of the 20th Century, and we are starting to turn it around. I’d hate for us to lose the momentum of getting more residential and pedestrian-oriented commercial downtown by going too far with parking or drive-throughs downtown.

But again, I agree with you that we must be pragmatic and guard against being purists who oppose anything that is not perfect New Urbanism. I’m very excited about proposed new TNDs in American cities and believe it will be an important turning point for urbanism in such cities.


It has been noted by urbanists such as Andres Duany that it is best to designate a select number of streets that will be designated for high-quality urban design (called “A” streets), and allow suburban design on less important streets (called “B” streets). Striving for high-quality urban design on all streets leads to mediocrity on all streets.

On the issue of only allowing drive-throughs on “B” streets, I like the idea in theory, but wonder how difficult it would implement. Does the community have the political will to decide which are the “A” and “B” streets? And wouldn’t it be a moving target? Would we want to designate all of them up front, or do it in an ad hoc way as the need arose?

In the case of a local government TND ordinance, it is probably wise to craft that ordinance so that instead of a drive-through prohibition, the ordinance just requires them to only be allowed if not on an “A” street.

I’d also like to consider other conditions if a city is going to allow drive-throughs in a walkable location. I do not believe that a city can design a stand-alone establishment in such a way that the drive-through is benign. For example, I do not think it is just a matter of hiding the drive-through from view or providing more landscaping, or providing pedestrian street lights. None of that would give us a net positive — and one essential goal for me is to at least avoid making things worse. I’d want us to say something like “Drive-throughs are allowed if the following conditions are met:

  1. It is not on an “A” street; and
  2. It has no more than one drive-through lane.

And at least one of the following:

  1. It is part of a mixed use (including residential) project; or 2. It is part of a project that conforms to the city TND ordinance.”

Let us continue the important quest to reach a critical mass in creating urbanism in American cities.


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Should We Stop Growth or Promote Quality Development in Boulder?

By Dom Nozzi

September 10, 2017

In Boulder, Colorado, it is quite common to hear the suggestion that we must stop growth in our community to protect our quality of life.

In response, I point out that there are no realistic, humane, ethical, or constitutional ways to “stop growth.”

Given that, the key to our avoiding wasting time and energy is to ensure that the growth that does come to our community is quality growth. Growth that is sustainable and promotes human happiness.

As an aside, it needs to be pointed out that in very expensive cities such as Boulder, Colorado, there has long been an effective way to slow population growth. Slow growth in expensive cities occurs because of the extreme expense of living in the expensive city. Many cannot move to the expensive city because they cannot afford to.

The problem is the form of growth we allow, not the growth itself.

The car-oriented growth so many American cities have mandated in our land use plans, zoning regulations, and transportation spending for the past century cannot sustain growth and strongly undermines a quality human habitat.

Boulder, were I live, can accommodate more development, but Boulder’s plans and regulations are not crafted to ensure that future growth be done in a way that is sustainable or in a way that promotes quality community design (in part because there has been too much focus on trying to stop the growth rather than ensure that it is done well).

And in part because too much of what Boulder’s plans and regulations strive to achieve is happy motoring, rather than happy people. Big city vs small town ambiance


In most instances, the perception that places such as Boulder have “too much growth” is based on a motorist perception that the roads or parking lots are too crowded. The ruinous solution for too many has been to almost single-mindedly fight to stop growth, and to fight for “sufficient” road and parking capacity. In other words, free-flowing car traffic and easy parking have tragically been equated with much of our quality of life.

In my opinion and that of many of my colleagues, happy car design is a recipe for destroying quality of life and sustainability. This is in large part due to the fact that happy car design leads to a problem experienced by all US cities over the past century: the problem of gigantism: roads and intersections and parking lots and commercial buildings too big, and communities and neighborhoods and destinations too dispersed.

We must instead return to the timeless tradition of designing for walkable, human scaled dimensions. Boulder (and other American communities) must end its decades-long fight to promote happy car design in its roads, intersections and parking if it expects to stop being its own worst enemy, and instead have a quality, sustainable future.

A future of happy people rather than happy cars.


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Boulder Junction compared to Amsterdam

By Dom Nozzi

June 5, 2017


A comparison of Boulder Junction in Boulder CO (image on left) and a street we stumbled upon during our recent trip to Amsterdam (right).Amsterdam, May 8, 2017 compared to Bldr Junction

Note the walkable, comfortable, human-scaled, romantic character of the Amsterdam street compared to the new street in Boulder. Boulder Junction is a new town center in Boulder intended to be compact and walkable, but the center fails to provide a comfortable, enclosed, walkable human scale.

Open space that is too vast, setbacks that are too large, and streets that are too wide.

If we can generalize the Boulder design experience with that of much of America – and I think we can fairly do so — this comparison clearly shows that Americans have failed to learn how to build walkable places in recent decades. Or find the political will to do so, since much of the unwalkable design was requested by citizens who do not know the ingredients of quality urbanism and quality streets. Citizens tend to request large building setbacks, low densities, oversized roadways, and excessive open spaces.

In part, this is done to seek to retain or restore convenient, comfortable car travel. Failing to create quality urbanism, then, is a signal that Boulder is much more of a car culture than a walking (or transit or bike) culture.

Efforts to promote happy car travel, ironically, worsens car travel as such efforts result in increased per capita car travel, which crowds roads and parking lots. And worsens the quality of life (and safety) for people — particularly people not in cars.

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Modernist Architecture is a Failed Paradigm Ruining Our World

By Dom Nozzi

April 19, 2017

Nothing is more dated than yesterday’s vision of tomorrow.  – Unknown

 Modern architects recognize 300 masterpieces but ignore the other 30 million [modernist] buildings that have ruined the world. – Andres Duany

 Recently, a Boulder CO online newsletter published an essay I had written describing my vision for the redevelopment of the Boulder Community Hospital site (also known as Alpine-Balsam) that the City of Boulder had purchased and was planning to redevelop. Two Boulder friends of mine, who admirably tend to express support for compact, walkable urban design, noted as well to me their support for modernist architectural design in the redevelopment.

It was very disheartening for me to hear of their support for modernism. I believe that modernism would greatly contribute to undermining the potential success of this redevelopment – success that could serve as a model for future development in Boulder.

I prefer traditional design over modernist design.


Some Merits of Traditional Design

Traditional architectural design tends to be much more readily loved by most people. This makes a great deal of sense, since by definition, traditional design has stood the test of time. Not surprisingly, there is a fair amount of research suggesting that traditional architecture, such as Georgian and Victorian terraces and mansion blocks, contributes to our wellbeing. Beauty makes people happy.[1] By contrast, modernist architecture tends to be shocking or repellent to most. Visual preference surveys by Tony Nelessen conducted throughout the nation consistently shows this to be the case.

Traditional design tends to be more kind and interesting to pedestrians due to the use of ground floor windows, front-facing entryways, and building ornamentation. By contrast, modernist design has a bad habit of offering sterility and lack of place-making at the ground level.

Throwing Away Timelessness

The Modernist paradigm makes “innovation” the design imperative, which arrogantly assumes that there is no reason a new, untested design cannot reliably achieve admiration and greatness.

Modernists throw away design rules that have stood the test of time in creating buildings that are pleasing and comprehensible to most. Throwing away rules is a recipe for creating incomprehensible, unappealing, unsustainable garbage in the vast majority of cases. It is akin to handing a typewriter to a monkey and expecting the monkey to type out the works of Shakespeare.

Consider this example of a written paragraph, where rules of grammar, spelling, punctuation, consistency in font, and other writing conventions are ignored:

red moss teeaere         eeaapoiere   STRAIGHT method.   Tether: highlight. totalitarian doctrines. Fight, Might.  BreaD    Moss tree  Goofballs. Magnet; Tennis   Jodding. Running_____ Break. Slow! Aspirin. Hockey hockey hockey hockey. Shoes and purple.   WHISPER###  ****&&&&&&@@@@@

An “innovative” paragraph, perhaps, but incomprehensible, utterly ugly, and chaotic.

Note that I do not intend to suggest that architects are as uneducated as monkeys. To the contrary, architects tend to be highly intelligent. But by throwing out time-tested design rules, architects voluntarily blind themselves to design intelligence.

To me, it is exceptionally tragic that modernists are doing to our communities what the above paragraph does to writing. To abandon writing rules, and to abandon the timeless rules of neighborhood design, we abandon what should be (and has been throughout history) the beauty and elegance of the written word, and the beauty and elegance displayed by so many of our historic neighborhoods.

Modernism throws away timeless design in several ways at the neighborhood level. Emily Talen, in her book Neighborhood (2019), notes that the highly influential Congress International Architecture Modern (CIAM) successfully influenced — for decades and to this day — the design of neighborhoods throughout the world so that they included the highly dysfunctional features of separating homes from offices, retail, civic, and manufacturing; prioritizing the car over the pedestrian; rejecting the street as public space; creating superblocks that promote insularity; treating buildings as isolated objects in space rather than as part of a larger interconnected urban fabric; rejecting traditional elements such as squares and plazas; demolishing large areas of the city to make unfettered places for new built forms; and creating enclosed malls and sunken plazas that deaden public space. I would also note that these modernist designers also brought dysfunctional, disconnected, disorienting, curvilinear roads to neighborhoods.

Look the Other Way with Greenwashing

It is quite common for a modernist architect to “green” the design of his or her building by covering much of it with vegetation. Modernists do this to soften the otherwise brutal, sterile nature of their “innovative” designs. By doing so, they leverage the human tendency to love nature and vegetation. “Maybe if I hide my unlovable design behind ivy and shrubs, people will like the appearance of my otherwise distasteful structure!”

High-tech conservation and solar energy methods, similarly, are often used by modernists to gain favor and have people look the other way with regard to the unfortunate, unpleasant building design. “Are you not impressed by my triple platinum LEED-certified building that conserves so much energy?” Pay no attention to the fact that the building looks like Soviet-era brutality.

The Conservation Benefits of Traditional Design

Despite the conventional wisdom that contemporary buildings perform far better than older, traditional buildings when it comes to energy conservation and overall environmental sustainability, it turns out that traditional, older buildings tend to be inherently much more “green” environmentally than modernist building design.


One reason is that traditional design tends to more often deploy passive conservation methods such as overhanging pitched roofs. Such roofs are much more effective than modernist flat roofs in shedding  snow and rain. The traditional pitched roof much more effectively avoids costly moisture leaks from pooled water, or collapse from excessive snow weight. The roof overhang provides shade from a hot sun. Traditional buildings tend to be more appropriately oriented to take advantage of the cooling and heating cycles of the sun throughout the day and in various seasons. Modernist buildings tend to “innovatively” disregard such passive strategies.

Traditional building design also tends to use more durable building materials (such as brick, masonry, and wood), and use locally-sourced materials. This reduces the energy costs of initial cost, maintenance, repair, and replacement. By contrast, modernist buildings tend to use more exotic, difficult to maintain materials such as vast amounts of glass or polished steel.

Because traditional building design is more likely to be loved than modernist design, the building is more sustainable and environmentally friendly simply by the fact that by being lovable, citizens are more likely to want to protect and repair the building, rather than tear it down. The prolific tearing down of modernist buildings we have already seen in great numbers (due in part to their unlovable nature) is extremely costly in terms of energy conservation and environmental conservation. This frequent demolition of modernist buildings is certain to continue in the future.

Modernist Non Sequiturs

To win political and societal support for modernist design, modernist architects frequently use non sequiturs. Modernist buildings are praised for being “progressive” or “optimistic about the future.” Such buildings are called “democratic” or “egalitarian.” By Officescontrast, traditional buildings are disparaged as being “authoritarian” or “regressive” or “pessimistic.” Traditional buildings are often ridiculed as being “nostalgic” (implying an effort to create a fake historical appearance), or “not forward looking.”


It is entirely inappropriate to associate political or ethical values with building style or design.

Giving Compact Development a Black Eye

Boulder residents have a long, unfortunate history of counterproductively opposing higher-density development with the justification that such development harms Boulder’s small town character, is environmentally destructive, or creates traffic and parking congestion.

Ironically, it is low-density development that is more responsible for such problems.

The essential need to shift Boulder’s politics toward support for more compact development shows why it is extremely important that compact, walkable, higher-density buildings be lovable in design. Using more lovable traditional design is a powerful way to gain more acceptance of compact design in Boulder. A great many people in Boulder dislike compact development because it is associated with “boxy” or “monolithic” or “sterile” buildings. The last thing Boulder needs is for ugly buildings to give compact development a black eye. Modernist buildings are also infamous for not fitting in with the context of their location (an inherent problem when “innovation” is the key design objective). Each of these traits are typical of a modernist building, whereas a traditional building is more likely to feel friendly or compatible in or near existing neighborhoods.

Traditionally designed neighborhoods tend to be unified in style and follow a design pattern. By being more compatible and lovable, traditional buildings are much better able to gain neighborhood and community acceptance when the project is more dense or compact. By contrast, modernist design theory, again, tends to celebrate “eclectic” and “innovative” design. Such design ignores context and tends to feel disconcertingly chaotic, incompatible, and bizarre. This is a surefire recipe for amplifying neighborhood opposition. “There are…reasons that more British cities are not beautiful. Firstly, there are the architects themselves, who tend to prefer innovative buildings over traditional ones.”[2]

The Absence of Mimicking Modernism

It is quite telling that in Boulder, as elsewhere, there are zero neighborhoods which people look upon with affection that are mostly or entirely modernist (similarly, I know of no predominantly modernist towns or neighborhoods that are tourist destinations). As John Torti, principal of Torti Gallas & Partners, has stated, “…could you imagine an entire city made out of Frank Gehry buildings? There’s a notion of the monument versus the fabric. Michael Dennis called it hero buildings versus soldier buildings. In most New Urbanist practices we create the soldier buildings, the fabric buildings that make cities.”[3]

Modernism vs Traditional in Boulder, April 2017

But there are many examples of admired neighborhoods in Boulder that are primarily traditional: Mapleton Hill, Iris Hollow, Dakota Ridge, Washington Square, and Holiday.

The Rejection of Context

The modernist paradigm is focused on creating individualistic “statement” buildings that have no relation to their neighbors. Context, pattern, time-tested design, rules, and fabric are tossed into the waste can. Instead, the focus is on innovation, which tends to result in odious, unlovable buildings that almost never draw affection – particularly when modernist buildings are grouped together in a neighborhood (is it even possible to group together “statement” buildings into a coherent whole?)  Instead, modernist buildings are parasitically, invasively, and incrementally added into an existing traditional neighborhood, allowing the modernist building to piggyback on the affection for the traditional neighborhood.

Torti notes that:

“The notion of understanding and respecting the traditional city—rather than showing off a particular site or building—is the essential difference. Christopher Alexander, the great planning and architectural theorist, says it in a very poignant way. When you come to a place, a city, or a site, you must look and try to understand the whole place. It sums up what I think new urbanists are all about, which is being humble enough when we work on buildings to let the city take preference.”[4]

Similarly, Stefanos Polyzoides, principal of Moule & Polyzoides, Architects and Urbanists, says that

“…the prime ingredient of urbanism is really public space and the public realm. So the urban plan comes first and the building second. It becomes an issue of whether the building is a monument or a piece of fabric. Then does this building dominate what’s in place or does this building add to it or transform it? New urbanists essentially believe in compatibility between building and place, in the sense that buildings having specific intentions when placed in a particular location in the urban fabric.”[5]

Incrementally Destroying Affection

Tragically, over time, this incremental invasion by modernist buildings erodes the affection felt for the traditional neighborhood as it slowly loses its charm to the invader buildings. Each modernist building added to a traditional neighborhood is a new blight on the neighborhood, and the neighborhood takes another step toward being unloved.

Modernist buildings, by design, stick out like a sore thumb. They take pride in the amount of shock value they induce. They thumb their nose at conventions and timeless design and fitting into a context. A modernist building tends to call attention to itself, Homeswhich is most unfortunate for the neighborhood, as the modernist design is so commonly wretched.

There is a reason that modernists fear and oppose visual preference surveys. Their modernist designs always fail to gain support. The modernist excuse for this? “Citizens are too stupid or lacking in architectural knowledge to realize that the modernism was brilliant and beautiful!”


I wrote this blog on the unpopularity of modernism.

Repetition and Making Lovable, Compatible Design Illegal

It is said, rightly, that imitation is the highest form of flattery. When a building design stands the test of time and is loved for many generations, it is natural and desirable that it be mimicked by new buildings. Traditional buildings, by definition, have long been 3718677272_880f14ecdc_bloved and should therefore become a pattern that should be followed by new buildings. Tellingly, the chaotic, no-rules modernist building tends to NEVER be replicated. I know of no examples.

One of the things we tend to love is a city that shows order, repetition, balance, and symmetry. Without an emphasis on repetition, it seems chaotic, like no one is in charge, which is disconcerting. Diversity and variety should be introduced gently so as not to take away from an overall design pattern (such as building height or shape). Variety might be introduced through differences in fencing style, color, or cornice, for example.

Much of Pearl Street Mall is a good example of lovable repetition with a dash of variety.

Given all of this, it is an atrocity that in America, communities have been saddled for several decades by federal historic preservation guidelines that REVERSE this time-honored method I have just summarized. In historic neighborhoods full of lovable, charming historic buildings, the federal historic preservation guidelines PROHIBIT additions to existing traditional buildings that mimic or are even compatible with the existing traditional building style. Instead – insanely – the federal guidelines REQUIRE that the addition to an existing historic and traditional building be “of its time.” Today, since “of its time” buildings happen to be unlovable modernist buildings, federal historic preservation rules make it mandatory that lovable historic buildings be degraded in all their charm and glory by being appended by a hideous modernist abomination.


Most modernist architects proudly – triumphantly – design “of its time” modernist buildings when new buildings are to be built in a traditional historic neighborhood.

Who needs enemies when we have ourselves?

What does it say about a society when it requires new construction to only use a failed, unlovable building design? Modernist architecture is, after all, a failed paradigm. We are now obligated to keep adding more and more failure to our neighborhoods so that the construction is “of its (failed) time.”

Today, it tends to be that only arrogant, elitist, pompous modernist architects who have “drank the Kool Aid” admire modernist buildings. The rest of us are too stupid to realize the brilliance of modernist buildings.

Unfortunately for me, it would seem that nearly all architects who design buildings in Boulder prefer modernist design, which makes it extremely likely that modernist design will once again be the dominant (exclusive?) design at the hospital site being redeveloped.

I believe that more modernist building design is likely to meet with strong citizen opposition to the redevelopment of the hospital site, thereby undermining this golden opportunity to have the City show how compact development is properly and popularly done.

Affordability and Jobs?

Having said all of this, there are one or two advantages to modernist buildings. First, they are so strongly disliked by so many people that they will therefore not see a significant increase in price over time. They will not retain their value. Or, if there is an appreciation in housing value in the community, the appreciation for modernist homes will be lower than the appreciation that traditional buildings will see. Very few people will be interested in buying a home that seems so dated and so bizarre, which will put downward pressure on the price of the home. Because modernist homes will be so difficult for an owner to sell, such homes will be relatively affordable to lower income people who don’t have much choice about how attractive their homes might be.

A study from the Netherlands showed that ‘even controlling for a wide range of features, fully neo-traditional houses sell for 15 per cent more than fully non-traditional houses…London terraced houses built before the First World war went up in value by 465 per cent between 1983 and 2013, compared to 255 per cent for post-war property of the same type. Beauty sells, but because it’s rare, it’s exclusive.[6]

So providing more affordable housing in an expensive housing market is one benefit.

Another benefit is that because modernist buildings tend to be so unlovable to the vast majority of people, modernist buildings will provide more jobs in future years because they will be more frequently demolished and in need of reconstruction to other buildings.

Time to Sunset Modernism

It is far past time that America end its failed architectural experiment of modernism. The modernist paradigm has destroyed lovability throughout the nation, and has bred widespread cynicism about our ability to create buildings worthy of our affection.


Our quality of life and any hope of civic pride depends on our returning to the tradition of using time-tested building design.

Don’t miss this critique of contemporary building design:  “…for thousands of years, nearly every buildings humans made was beautiful. It is simply a matter of recovering old habits. We should ask ourselves: why is it that we can’t build another Prague or Florence? Why can’t we build like the ancient mosques in Persia or the temples in India? Well, there’s no reason why we can’t…”


Other Blogs I Have Written Regarding Modernist Architecture

The Failure of Modernist Architectural Design

The Failure and Unpopularity of Modernist Architecture

Modernist Cult of Innovation is Destroying Our Cities

Opposition to More Housing

Moses and Modernism and Motor Vehicles

Indirect Opposition to Affordable Housing


[1] West, Ed. “Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it?”, The Spectator. March 15, 2017.

[2] West, Ed. “Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it?”, The Spectator. March 15, 2017.

[3] https://www.cnu.org/publicsquare/2017/03/09/great-idea-architecture-puts-city-first

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] West, Ed. “Classical architecture makes us happy. So why not build more of it?”, The Spectator. March 15, 2017.


Filed under Urban Design

Redeveloping the Boulder Community Hospital Site in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

January 27, 2017

The most important task of the urbanist is controlling size. – David Mohney

As owners of the Boulder Community Hospital (BCH) site bounded by Broadway, Alpine, 9th Street, and Balsam, the City of Boulder has a golden opportunity to demonstrate the preferred vision for creating compact, walkable development in appropriate locations within Boulder.

For too long, citizens have rightly attacked many new projects in Boulder. We now have a chance to show how to do it right.

The following is one man’s opinion about how we can do it right at the BCH site.

First Determine the Context

Our very first task in establishing a “How to Do It Right” vision is to determine the “context” of the site. Where is it located in the community? Is it a walkable town center? A drivable suburb? A farmable rural area? Only when we answer that question are we able to know which design tactics are appropriate and which are inappropriate. For example, if we are in a suburban context, it is inappropriate to insert shops and offices within the neighborhood, or use small building setbacks. However, if we are in a town center context, those design tactics are entirely appropriate and desirable.


In the case of the BCH site, it is generally agreed by the City that the context is walkable town center (what is called “Urban Center Zone” in the above figure). It is now important, given that, to ensure that the design of the site is compatible with that vision.

How do we do that?

A Form-Based Code

Perhaps the most effective way to do that is to establish what is called a “form-based code (FBC)” or a “subcommunity overlay plan,” which was successfully used to guide the development of the Holiday neighborhood in North Boulder.

The FBC or plan emphasizes the importance of “form” by specifying the appropriate and desirable building placements, street dimensions, and building materials. This differs from the conventional “use-based” zoning codes, which over-emphasize the importance of uses within a building, and only specify designs and dimensions that are prohibited, rather than specifying what is desired by the community.

As Andres Duany notes[1]

…A FBC protects us from the tendency of modern designers to disregard timeless design principles in favor of “anything goes.” An “anything goes” ideology too often leads to “kitschy” buildings, unwalkable streets, and other aspects of low-quality urban design.

…A FBC protects us from the whims of boards and committees.

…A FBC is necessary so that the “various professions that affect urbanism will act with unity of purpose.” Without integrated codes, architects, civil engineers and landscape architects can undermine each others’ intentions by suboptimizing.

…A FBC is necessary because without it, buildings and streets are “shaped not by urban designers but by fire marshals, civil engineers, poverty advocates, market experts, accessibility standards, materials suppliers and liability attorneys” – none of whom tend to know or care about urban design.

…A FBC is necessary because “unguided neighborhood design tends, not to vitality, but to socioeconomic monocultures.” The wealthy, the middle-class, and the poor segregate from each other, as do shops and restaurants, offices, and manufacturing. A FBC can ensure a level of diversity without which walkability wilts.

…A FBC is necessary to reign in the tendency of contemporary architects to design “look at me” buildings that disrupt the urban fabric.

…A FBC is necessary to ensure that locally appropriate, traditional design is employed, rather than “Anywhere USA” design.

…A FBC is needed to protect against the tendency to suburbanize places that are intended to provide compact, walkable urbanism.

…A FBC is necessary to protect against the tendency to over-use greenery in inappropriate places such as walkable town centers. In particular, grass areas tend to be inappropriate in walkable centers. Over-using greenery is a common mistake that tends to undermine walkability.

…A FBC is needed because codes “can compensate for deficient professional training. Because schools continue to educate architects towards self-expression rather than towards context, to individual building rather than to the whole.”

We can craft a FBC in hands-on workshops driven by citizens and urban designers. When crafting a FBC, such workshops are called “charrettes,” where professional urban designers provide attendees with a one- or multi-day training course in the time-tested design principles of creating a successful town center, suburb, or rural area. Armed with such knowledge, citizens and designers craft a FBC that is appropriate for the context and community values.

Designing the BCH Site

The following are my own individual suggestions for a FBC that would employ time-tested principles for creating a successful walkable, lovable, charming town center.

The overall layout is compact and walkable. For example, building setbacks are human-scaled and quite modest. Private front and backyards are similarly small in size. Public parks are smaller pocket parks rather than larger, suburban, fields of grass (note that abundant grass and athletic fields are provided adjacent to the west of the BCH site). Some of these parks are relatively small public squares formed by buildings that face the square on all four sides. If surface parking is unavoidable at the site (and I would very strongly urge against such parking), the parking should be designed as a public square that occasionally accommodates parked cars. Block sizes are relatively small, based on a street grid, and include many intersections. Internal streets and alleys are plentiful and narrow enough to obligate slower speed, more attentive driving. Give-way streets, slow streets, woonerfs, and walking streets are all appropriate and desirable.

Internal streets should have a spacing of at least one-to-one (or two-to-one or one-to-two) ratio of flanking building height to street width. (Pearl Street Mall has a ratio that fall within the ranges below).


To promote vibrancy and safety, the City should encourage 24/7 activity by discouraging weekday businesses, such as offices, that close after 5. Businesses that close after 5 create night-time dead zones.

Service vehicles that may use streets, such as buses, delivery vehicles, or fire trucks should be small enough that they do not obligate the establishment of overly large streets or intersections. When such vehicles cannot be relatively small, it is appropriate for such vehicles to be obligated to move more slowly and carefully. Dimensions, in other words, should be human-scaled, not tractor-trailer-scaled.

If feasible, Goose Creek under the BCH site should be daylighted. It would be appropriate to create a bustling, miniature version of the San Antonio Riverwalk, with homes and shops lining the creek. At a minimum, a daylighted creek needs to be relatively permeable with several pedestrian crossings along the way to promote walkability. Since the BCH site is in a compact, walkable zone, wide suburban greenspaces flanking the creek would not be appropriate.

Alignments are more formal and rectilinear. Internal streets, sidewalks and alleys have a straight rather than curvilinear (suburban) trajectory. Street trees along a block face are of the same species (or at least have similar size and shape), have a large enough canopy to shade streets, and should be formally aligned in picturesque straight lines rather than suburban clumps. Building placement is square to streets and squares rather than rotated (to avoid “train wreck” alignment more appropriate for suburbs). Buildings that are rotated rather than parallel to streets and squares are unable to form comfortable spaces.

Streets deploy square curbs and gutters. Stormwater requirements should be relaxed at the site to prevent unwalkable oversizing of facilities. Streets are flanked by sidewalks. Signs used by businesses are kept relatively small in size. For human scale, visual appeal, and protection from weather, shops along the street are encouraged to use canopies, colonnades, arcades, and balconies. When feasible, civic buildings or other structures with strong verticality are used to terminate street vistas.

Turn lanes and slip lanes in streets are not allowed on the site.

Street lights are relatively short in height to create a romantic pedestrian ambiance and signal to motorists that they are in a slow-speed environment. They are full cut-off to avoid light pollution.

Buildings are clad in context-appropriate brick, stone, and wood. Matching the timeless traditional styles of the nearby Mapleton Hill neighborhood is desirable. Building height limit regulations exempt pitched roofs above the top floor of buildings to encourage pitched roof form and discourage the blocky nature of flat roofs. Obelisks and clock towers are also exempt from height limits.

Buildings taller than five stories should be discouraged for a number of reasons. First, they tend to be overwhelming to pedestrian/human scale. Second, they tend to induce excessive amounts of car parking. Finally, if we assume that the demand for floor space is finite at the BCH site, it is much preferable from the standpoint of walkability for there to be, say, 10 buildings that are 5 stories in height rather than 5 buildings that are 10 stories in height.

Floor-area-ratio (FAR) is a measure of how much square footage can be built on a given piece of land. A relatively high FAR is supportive of walking, transit, and bicycling. In commercial areas, FAR should be at least 1.0.[2]  Richard Untermann, a well-known urban designer, calls for FARs of 2.0-3.0 in town centers.[3]


Buildings along the street are often graced with front porches to promote sociability, citizen surveillance, and visual desirability.

Relatively small offices and retail shops are sensitively interspersed within the neighborhood. For additional walkable access to shops and services, Broadway to the west of the BCH site should incorporate designs which make the crossing more safe and permeable. Narrowing crossing distances and various slow-speed treatments can effectively achieve increased permeability.

First floors of buildings along sidewalks provide ample windows. First floors of buildings are not appropriate places for the parking of cars.

Given the affordable housing crisis in Boulder, ample affordable housing must be provided. Residences above shops are desirable, as are accessory dwelling units and co-ops. An important element in providing affordable housing will be the fact that the inclusion of shops, services and offices within the neighborhood, residences will be able to allocate larger proportions of household money to their homes and less to car ownership and maintenance (since the household would be able to shed cars by owning, say, one car instead of two, or two instead of three).

An important way to make housing more affordable is to unbundle the price of parking for residences from the price of housing. Available parking is modest in quantity and hidden away from the street. Parking is space efficient because shared parking is emphasized and tends to be either on-street or within stacked parking garages. No parking is allowed to abut streets, unless the parking is on-street, or in a stacked garage wrapped with retail and services along the street.

The BCH site is exempted from required parking, and is also exempt from landscaping requirements.

Unbundling the price of parking and reducing the land devoted to parking are both important ways to create more affordable housing.

The Washington Village neighborhood project a few blocks to the north on Broadway and Cedar is a good model for appropriately compact and walkable spacing at the BCH site.

Let’s not squander this important opportunity. Let’s insist that we build a neighborhood that fits the pattern of walkable Siena, Italy, not drivable Phoenix Arizona.




[1] “Why We Code,” Sky Studio. http://www.studiosky.co/blog/why-we-code.html?utm_content=bufferdde8c&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer

[2] SNO-TRAN. Creating Transportation Choices Through Zoning: A Guide for Snohomish County Communities. Washington State (October 1994)

[3] Untermann, Richard. (1984). Accomodating the Pedestrian, pg190.

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Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking