Tag Archives: walkable

The Problem of Gigantism

By Dom Nozzi

January 13, 2017

Gigantism, in my opinion, is a HUUUUUGE problem in America.

Enormous roads, enormous setbacks, enormous (and improperly located) parking lots, enormous (and improperly located) stormwater basins, enormous distances between destinations, enormous road intersections, enormous subdivisions, enormously tall street lights, enormous signs, enormous retail areas.Monster road intersection

The enormity of the American land use pattern is obvious when one walks the historic center of so many European cities and towns. My recent visit to Tuscany with my significant other was, once again, so saddening and maddening because the streets we walked were so stunningly lovable, charming, and romantic. Americans have thrown all of that charm away in our car-happy world.

Not only is it impossible to love most all of urban America. It is also, as Charles Marohn points out so well, impossible to afford to maintain. A double whammy of unsustainability. And extreme frustration in my career as a town planner who toiling for decades to try to nudge our society toward slowing down our ruinous love affair with making the world wonderful for car travel. And finding that even most smart people in America strongly oppose going back to the timeless way of building for people instead of cars.

It is said that dinosaurs went extinct due in large part to gigantism. I believe the same fate is likely for America, unless our society wakes up and realizes we are way better off in so many ways if we get back to building our world at the (walkable) human scale.

A friend asked me recently what I would do if I were in charge, had a blank slate, and could design a community any way I desired.

If I had such an opportunity, my community would be much more compact and human-scaled. One can walk historic town centers in Europe for models of what I speak of here.

WAY less “open space” for cars is essential.

I would ratchet down our extreme (and artificial) auto-centric value system by making roads and parking and gasoline purchases and car buying directly paid for much more based on USER FEES rather than having all of society pay for happy cars via such things as sales taxes, property taxes, and income taxes.

In other words, making our world much more fair and equitable.

We have over-used and over-provided for car travel and car housing in large part because the cost to do so is mostly externalized to society rather than directly paid for via user fees. Eventually — maybe not in our lifetimes? — car travel will be mostly paid for via user fees and externalized costs will be more internalized. Car travel will therefore become much more expensive, signaling us to cut down on our over-reliance on it.

When that happens, we will inevitably see the re-emergence of the lovable, human-scaled world we once had. Fortunately, we are starting to see car travel becoming much more expensive and unaffordable — even though it continues to fail to be user-fee based.

And we are seeing the Millennial generation showing much more interest in compact town center living and much less interest in being car happy.

It is way past time for our society to a people-happy rather than car-happy world.

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Filed under Road Diet, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

A Quality Future for Boulder CO Means Something Vastly Different from What No-Growthers Seek

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 8, 2017

The great irony of those in Boulder, Colorado who seek to protect the low-density character of neighborhoods (and to allegedly protect the “small town charm” of Boulder) is that by following the tactics recommended by too many “no-growthers,” Boulder will continue to take the Anywhere USA path that so many other American cities have taken (and continue to take).

Fighting against compact development is a recipe for keeping this city from becoming more walkable, charming, and human scaled. Such a fight will make it more likely that our future will be more car-dependent, more isolated, less walkable, more filled with surface parking lots, and less affordable (due to a growing lack of travel choices). Much of Boulder was built in an era of failed community design ideas that are unsustainable. Many of those who seek to “protect” neighborhoods are those who like the privatopia of suburbs and don’t like cities, and therefore don’t understand or appreciate those elements that make for healthy cities: slow speeds, human scale, compact development, agglomeration economies, diversity, conviviality, and choices.

Such advocates, instead, ruinously seem to believe that free-flowing and high speed traffic and easy car parking are the keys to quality of life. Actually, such objectives are toxic to a 51df393d218c6-imagehealthy city because they undermine the elements I list above.

The lifestyle of those who live in low-density Boulder neighborhoods compels them to fight for a halt to population growth, fight to minimize density and building heights, fight to oppose traffic calming and modest street and parking allocations, and fight to oppose mixed use.

Why?

Because fighting for those things helps protect their ability to travel easily by car. Because their neighborhood design obligates them to make most or all trips by car, they must fight for these things to protect their suburban lifestyle. Car travel becomes highly inconvenient when a community is more compact and slow speed. Densities over 2 or 3 units per acre make car travel much more inconvenient.

Conversely, densities below 3 or 4 units per acre make walking, bicycling, and transit nearly impossible.

It is therefore easy to understand why so many in suburban Boulder have concluded that easy driving and parking are equivalent to quality of life. Tragically, easy driving and parking are enemies of a quality city.

It is important to note, despite the unfair, inflammatory falsehoods we often have thrown at us urbanists, that this is NOT a call to make all neighborhoods in Boulder more compact. It IS a plea to recognize that for too much of Boulder’s history, the only acceptable form of development is high speed, car-happy suburban.

And that it is NEVER acceptable for there to be slow speed, compact walkable development.

Anywhere.

The result is a vast oversupply of drivable suburban development — which has no future, by the way — and a substantial undersupply of compact walkable development. Indeed, I would be hard-pressed to point to ANY compact development in Boulder. Because there is a big and growing demand for a walkable lifestyle — particularly among the younger generations — the price of such housing is skyrocketing (there are other reasons, but this one is substantial).

Boulder must do what it can to provide a larger supply of walkable housing — in appropriate locations.

Not doing so will lead to a grim, more costly future for Boulder.

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Filed under Politics, Transportation, Urban Design

Managing Parking at the Trailhead Development in Boulder, Colorado

By Dom Nozzi

January 1, 2014

There is a new neighborhood being built at the western side of Boulder (just east of the Sanitas Trail System) called “Trailhead.”

For Trailhead to be a great neighborhood, it needs to incorporate some or all of the following parking-related ideas. As far as I know, sadly, these design features are not being incorporated.

Parking meters should be installed on Trailhead streets to reduce spillover parking to nearby neighborhoods, ensure that sufficient parking is available in Trailhead, and provide revenue for enhancements and upkeep of street and sidewalk infrastructure in Trailhead. I think that spillover parking from Trailhead will be almost unnoticeable in this neighborhood. If there IS significant spillover, parking permits or parking meters (that homeowners can be exempt from paying) would solve the issue.

I don’t like the idea that the Trailhead developer has to pay – up front – to provide “free” parking to residents of the development. Such parking requirements convert a cost drivers should pay at the end of their trips (the cost of parking) into one developers must pay at the start of their projects (and then pass on to homebuyers). Having developers pay up front is also problematic because it is unfair to those in the development who have relatively few or no cars. The price of parking should be unbundled from the price of housing at Trailhead so that a buyer has the option of paying less for a home by not opting to have parking provided.

I don’t at all like the idea of having the developer of Trailhead have to install a LOT more asphalt on the development site to provide “affordable housing for cars.” I much prefer the provision of less parking at Trailhead so that there is less asphalt for storing cars at Trailhead.

Studies throughout the nation over the past several decades show that the more parking provided at a development like Trailhead, the more cars will be owned per household, asphaltwhich increases the miles driven per household. I prefer less cars owned per household, and less per household miles driven.

I prefer more demand for transit by Boulder residents. Providing more parking at Trailhead reduces transit demand by those living at Trailhead.

I support community-wide eco-passes (a pass that allows the pass-holder to ride the bus system in the region for free), but only when Boulder properly manages parking in the city. Providing more parking at Trailhead makes community-wide eco-passes less likely, because there will be less demand for such passes.

I prefer compact, walkable, charming design at Trailhead. The more parking that Trailhead provides, the less walkable, compact and charming it will be.

Providing more parking at Trailhead makes that development more suburban. Making it more suburban means it will fit in less with the walkable character of the adjacent, historic Mapleton Hill neighborhood.

 

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Filed under Economics, Sprawl, Suburbia, Urban Design

Can We Fix Sprawl by Making It Cleaner and Prettier?

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 2, 2001

A friend recently created a “Worst Streets” list. Overall, I think the Worst Streets list is a fantastic idea.

One thing I’d hate to have happen with the Worst Streets list, but nevertheless expect, is that a number of folks might think that the nastiest thing about auto-oriented sprawl is how ugly it is, and think that all we need to do is Keep America Beautiful litter campaigns and sign control along our ugly streets and everything will be peachy keen.

This is not even remotely accurate.

In fact, one could argue that one of the things that sprawl is good at is making things look pretty and clean (compared to those “grimy, ugly” inner cities).

The attractiveness of a street is comparatively trivial to the key issues of buildings and street trees being close to the street, designing for transportation choice, no more than three lanes, no double-left turn lanes, and low design speed. If we get those elements right, the street will inevitably be attractive and free of such horrors as screaming signage, and no transportation choice.

If we don’t, we’re not doing anything sustainable or effective to fix the street.

So while I think the “best” and “worst” street list would be great for communities, we need to strive to get the publicity for the lists focused on what REALLY matters. As Ed downloadAbbey once said, it’s not the beer cans I mind – it’s the roads.

Following some media publicity about the worst streets, some have disagreed with the ranking of their street. One said that “Sprawl and auto dependence is not bad. We don’t think the street is ‘dirty’ or ‘ugly.'”

Such comments are missing the point, as I note above. In fact, sprawl and strip commercial is usually more attractive (to a motorist, at least) and clean than places which boast quality urbanism. Again, we need the ranking of worst streets to focus on function problems, not visual problems, so that citizens do not get confused about what we mean by “worst.”

The worst streets are those with large building setbacks, a large number of roadway lanes, lack of street trees, lack of transportation choice, etc.

Let’s avoid the Martha Stewart solutions and concerns. We don’t want to mislead people into thinking that sign control or litter control are the problems that will fix a bad street. To me, those are mostly the unpleasant secondary outcomes of a street with poor functional design. Get the underlying functional problems corrected, and the secondary litter, signage, and franchise architecture schlock will start fading away on its own.

Ultimately, it comes down to having street designers respected by citizens. We have the citizens agree that a street is bad. The citizens then turn to their trusty professional designers and say: “Tell us how to fix the street so it is good.” We certainly do not want them (or conventional traffic engineers or most elected officials) to come up with solutions that don’t get at the root of the problem.

The street is not bad primarily because of litter or sign pollution.

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

Alienation from Walkability

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 1, 2001

I’m making the point in my upcoming book that some of the biggest opponents these days to compact, walkable development are often those who should know better and be our allies because they care about the common good.

An important problem we face is that because developers have largely designed for happy car travel since WWII, citizens are understandably fearful of their proposed projects. Not only do they not trust developers anymore. Because of this abysmal track record, they also tend to distrust professional government staff and elected officials.

Guilt by association?

The problems we face are greatly confounded because, given this state of distrust and hostility, even developers, staff, consultants, and elected officials who are well-intentioned, have the best interests of the community at heart, and are promoting pedestrian-oriented (instead of car-oriented) projects are vigorously attacked by these crusaders.

The origins of our distrusting, angry, NIMBY epidemic is designing for cars, yet crusaders saintreportpicture3are so angry that they lump the car advocates with the walkability advocates. ALL are evil, even if some have the remedy we need. It leads to gloom when one thinks about our prospects.

What this brings us to is this: ALL change is now feared. Even the changes our relatively enlightened leaders are convinced are good. It is feared because we cannot TRUST anyone anymore.

At last night’s Gainesville FL city commission meeting, the commission considered adoption of a future land use section I authored for the Gainesville long-range comprehensive plan. I wrote that land use section to be strongly influenced by my “the pedestrian is the design imperative” urban design philosophy. Here are some of the Gainesville citizen comments about the element that exemplify how foreign and feared walkable, compact development has become.

“We should not be so strongly promoting pedestrian travel because it is not safe for women to walk at night in Gainesville.”

“We should not require buildings close to the street/sidewalk because it is dangerous for women to use parking lots behind buildings. Same for alleys and cross-access mid-block crossings.”

“We should realize that Gainesville has a hot climate, which means that few will want to walk in this town.”

“If we allow the walkable “traditional neighborhood development” ordinance “by right” in our single family neighborhoods, the allowed mixed uses will destroy our neighborhoods.”

“Promoting bicycling and walking is not a good idea because people will be hot, smelly, and sweaty when they arrive at work.”

“The policies in your plan are “punishing” car use.”

“Infill and higher densities will “destroy” our neighborhoods.”

“You’re rushing this plan through adoption and not giving us enough time to understand it or comment on it. (This comment was submitted despite the fact that I had held at least 12 heavily-advertised public workshops on the land use plan throughout the city over the past few years.”

An enormous irony: These comments came primarily from local environmentalists and growth management advocates…

 

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

Flawed Design Gives Compact Development a Black Eye

By Dom Nozzi

March 25, 2002

What stuns and scares me about so much of the recommended policies we hear from citizens these days is that so much of it is precisely OPPOSITE of what we should be doing to avoid a sprawling, auto-dependent, low-quality -of-life hell.

Such policies allegedly seek to avoid such a fate, yet call for strategies such as lowest possible densities (especially if it involves students), almost no infill, HUGE setbacks, HUGE parking lots, wide roads, aggressive regulatory protection of the most trivial, degraded wooded areas, NO mixed use. And on and on.

Excuse me, but such strategies will ENSURE that our quality of life in our neighborhoods will be ruined, our per capita car use will be extremely high, our taxes will be sky-high, our families will be financially struggling, and our cops will be overburdened.  These are EXACTLY the sorts of “solutions” that Atlanta, Miami, Orlando, Houston, LA, Phoenix, and Detroit tried. Is there some reason why it destroyed those cities but will help ours? Am I missing something here? Oh, I forgot. “We’re different than them.”

Yes, let’s be irrational about this…

Tragically, it is common that a many proposed, higher density residential projects with conventional, car-dependent design are looked upon by many of NIMBY groups as a “model” of infill, walkable density, connectivity, mixed use, and new urbanism when, in Phoenix-Gated-Communityfact, such projects are nothing of the kind. The NIMBYs point to such projects and say, “See, those ideas don’t work!”

Flawed higher density projects that strive to make cars happy too often end up giving compact development a black eye because they build an in-town project in a very suburban, auto-oriented way, and use NONE of the quality urban design ideas, except being in-town instead of in sprawlsville.

We desperately need high-quality, on-the-ground models so that people can see, with their own eyes, that quality urban design delivers a pleasant outcome.

What really annoys me these days is the disingenuous, absurd argument that the walkable urbanist design tools I recommend will “chase people from the city and therefore promote sprawl.” If that is true, why do millions happily vacation in Charleston, Savannah, European cities, and other walkable towns, and growing millions across the nation seek to flee suburbia — a suburbia which contains the elements our NIMBYs seek: Big roads, big parking lots, big setbacks, low densities, no mixed use, no transit, no neighborhood sociability, no nightlife, no sidewalks, no bike paths?

Is Atlanta the model our NIMBYs aspire to, or is it Charleston? How many of our NIMBYs vacation in Atlanta to enjoy the walkable urbanism of that city?

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Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

The European Dream

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 17, 2002

Americans have grown up to believe in the desirability of The American Dream. How it is so desirable that living in America is believed by people around the world to be the best place to enjoy the highest quality of life.

But when it comes to quality of life, there is a fundamental, crucial difference between America and Europe. In America, we seek quality of life by working long, stressful hours in a high-paying job. We then purchase a lot of “stuff,” such as luxury homes (“McMansions”) and luxury cars filled with high-tech gadgets.

Yet we spend enormous amounts of time in our shiny metal boxes — our expensive BMWs and SUVs — stuck in traffic congestion on our gold-plated highways as we angrily battle with our fellow citizens to rush back to our remote, sprawlsville homes after a long day at the office, where we collapse in our moated, cul-de-sac’d cocoons.

By striking contrast, the public realm in America — the streets, the sidewalks, the spaces between buildings, the public parks — are the most miserable and empty in the developed world.

What I found in Europe on a recent (and first) visit is starkly different.

The inside of homes and hotels are mediocre at best. People have “siestas” during the workday. The European car is quite modest in size and interior gadgets.

Yet the public realm in Europe — available to all, regardless of economic status or ranking — is stupendous, lively, sociable, picturesque, romantic, and memorable. The streets, sidewalks, and squares are very quaint and human-scaled. You feel wonderfully alive as Catania Italy walkableyou walk amongst the large number of friendly residents who are happily outside enjoying their compact, walkable community — a community surrounded by forests and farms, instead of sprawling residential subdivisions and Big Box retail strips.

The citizens of European cities enjoy interaction with their community and their fellow citizens, instead of being isolated and cooped up with expensive entertainment equipment inside luxury homes. They enjoy longer, more relaxed, more fun, and more enjoyable breakfasts, lunches and dinners at their countless outdoor cafes that are found throughout their cities.

When it comes to quality of life, the Europeans do it right. The standard of living in America may be higher.

But the quality of life in Europe is unmatched.

 

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Filed under Urban Design