Tag Archives: walking

Lessons From Europe

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 16, 2004

Is Europe on the road to ruin, due to increased auto ownership?  To what extent?

As traditional neighborhood architects would say, Europe has “good bones.” That is, many European communities are extremely fortunate in comparison to most American communities in the sense that they were largely built BEFORE the emergence of the ruinous shift to “car cparis narrow sidewalkraze” travel patterns. As a result, these European communities were built for transit, walking and bicycling. That is, their traditional, in-town areas are compact, mixed-use (residential mixed with shops and offices), multi-story, and modest in the provision of surface parking and street size.

This explains why these European communities remain such fantastic places (that millions of non-Europeans love to visit as tourists). They were built using timeless principles – principles that will never go out of style. The design was intended to make people happy, instead of cars.

What this all means is that increased auto ownership in Europe is troublesome but not necessarily fatal to what they have. In their urban areas, car ownership will be obligated to struggle to fit in. For the foreseeable future, it will remain inconvenient and costly to own and use a car in these European places. The danger is that European leaders may incrementally allow suburbanizing, car-friendly changes to the design of their communities — if they do not have sufficient pride in what they have, or leadership.

An enormous obstacle to undesirable suburbanization Europe is that it may be cost-prohibitive to retrofit the space-intensive needs of cars in communities that are now modest in size.

Can the US learn any lessons from European cities, which have within walking distance everything Americans in most cities must drive to reach?

The lessons that can be learned in the US are that traditional community design patterns that we have largely abandoned and forgotten about since approximately WWII are timeless. They remain wonderful, envied places centuries after they were first built. Those traditional principles — mixed use, higher density, walkable compactness, multiple stories, modest parking and street sizes — are an essential component for all communities. They must remain a lifestyle choice in all communities — a choice that is rapidly vanishing in the US. There will always be citizens who wish to enjoy the merits of the traditional, sociable lifestyle. And in the future, the number of citizens who seek such a lifestyle will grow as the auto-dependent lifestyle becomes increasingly unsustainable, unaffordable, and unrewarding.

Why is it that many in the US are stunned when they learn that a large number of European citizens live quite comfortably in cities such as Barcelona without a personal car?

Roughly since WWII, Americans have built their communities to make cars happy. Among other things, this has led to a substantial number of citizens fleeing the downwardly spiraling quality of life in town centers. This flight from the center is in large part due to the fact that car-friendly design in centers almost inevitably worsens the quality of life for people. They flee due to the decline in quality of life AND the fact that they were now able to do so because travel by car means that jobs and other daily needs no longer need to be close to each other. The result of the growing irrelevancy of distance is that we have low-density land use dispersal. Most homes are now quite remote from all daily destinations: work, retail, culture, entertainment, civic, etc. It should therefore not at all surprise us that we find ourselves forced to make nearly all trips by car. The dispersal locks us into extreme car dependency. It naturally seems impossible to nearly all of us that life could be at all possible without continuous access to a car (or someone who can give us a ride). Most of the Baby Boom and more recent generations have never experienced life in a place that is not designed for car dependency. We have lost the cultural memory of the tradition we have left — a tradition rich in travel choices.

Sadly, it is now nearly impossible to a fulfilling live life in America without a car. Too many sacrifices need to be made. Loss of independence. Loss of time. Loss of ability to go to certain places, buy certain things, or work in certain places. Without a car in America today, one is looked upon as a weirdo. A bizarre anachronism.

But as Paul Bedford, the Toronto planning director has pointed out, the sign of a quality city is that it is possible to live an enjoyable life without owning a car.

 

 

 

Advertisements

1 Comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Advice to a Friend About Finding a New Dance Venue

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 10, 2004

I have enjoyed “contra” dancing for over 25 years. Contra is an “old-tyme” form of dancing. It is a folk dance made up of long lines of couples. It has mixed origins from English country dance, Scottish, French dance styles in the 17th century, with strong African influence from Appalachia. Sometimes described as New England folk dance or Appalachian folk dance, contra dances can be found around the world and have much

Contra dance, Gainesville FL April 2007

popularity in North America and the United Kingdom where weekly or monthly dances and annual dance weekends are common. The dance is guided by a “caller” and tends to get its music from a live fiddle band.

A contra dance friend of mine in Florida – Tara – contacted me in 2004 to ask for advice about the local contra community seeking to buy a new venue building for contra dancing. Here is what I offered.

Hi Tara,

I’m flattered that you have contacted me to ask me about this. I have been seeing the email postings about this exciting proposal for a few days now and, coincidentally, was going to email you about it today.

First, I think it would be a very good idea for the dance community to own and have control over its own facility. Having full control over the scheduling of the building would be an enormous advantage over the current venue.

I don’t mean to rain on this encouraging parade, Tara, but I have very serious concerns about the Moose Lodge location on 23rd Ave. As a long-range city planner, it is my opinion that community-serving “social condensers” (of which the local dance community is one) should not be located away from a downtown location — a location that is essentially inaccessible by foot, transit or bicycle. In particular, inaccessible to the downtown residences.

There are a number of reasons why I believe community-serving “social condensers” should be downtown:

  1. They are an essential building block toward creating a “sense of community.” Like most cities, the town center is about the only place where a sense of community can be experienced, because the center is where residents gather for cultural, civic, political and entertainment purposes. When community-serving activities leave the town center, the sense of community declines.
  1. In the town center, there are “spillover” benefits. At the current location of the dance hall, it is easy for folks to walk to the hall from other town center locations, or to walk from the hall to various town center destinations. Due to the flight of such activities from town centers throughout the nation, there is “no there there” in the town centers of much of America.
  1. In my opinion, an essential ingredient in the creation and maintenance of a quality city, as the Toronto Planning Director once said, is that there is at least one place where people can choose to live without being forced to use a car to get to important, regular activities in life. Despite the erosion of town centers due to flight from them, many centers continue to serve the purpose of providing a car-free lifestyle choice to some extent. Folks who choose to live in the town center (thereby being able to take advantage of a less car-dependent lifestyle) would not be able to walk or bicycle to NE 23rd Ave, and find it more difficult to use a bus to get there.

Given the above, while I am thrilled about the idea of the dance community owning its own dance venue, a location on NE 23rd Ave would mean that (a) Our town would, overall, offer a lower quality of life for those opting for a car-free lifetyle; and (b) Spillover benefits to the town center associated with dancing would decline.

Finally, as one of those “weirdoes” who strives to live a less car-dependent lifestyle, I would sadly need to end my roughly 15 years of attending contra dances in town if the venue was moved to a place that was largely inaccessible to a person wanting to walk, bicycle, or take transit to dances.

Again, thanks for contacting me about this.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design

Vested Interests in Drivable Suburbia or Compact Development

By Dom Nozzi

July 10, 2015

Because walking, bicycling and transit need short distances to be practical, enjoyable, and safe ways to travel, those who walk, bicycle or use transit have a strong vested interest in compact development. Such travelers, in other words, have a vested interest in mixed use, taller buildings and higher densities (above 5 dwelling units per acre) because of the substantially reduce travel distances these development patterns deliver.

Research shows that below four or five dwelling units per acre, walking, bicycling and transit are largely impractical due to excessive distances to destinations and the small number of people in such settings. At such low densities, it is only practical, for most all, to travel by car. Much (nearly all?) opposition to higher density, compact development in Boulder, Colorado (as well as opposition to taller buildings) is driven by the fact that most Boulder residents live in these very low-density residential neighborhoods where it is nearly impossible to travel without a car. For such residents, there is therefore a very strong vested interest in maintaining low densities and short buildings. Traveling by car is enormously difficult and costly when densities are above 5 dwelling units per acre, as well as when there are mixed use patterns and taller buildings. This is because cars consume an enormous amount of space (17 to 100 times as much space as a person sitting in a chair, depending on whether the car is stationary or moving).

Christopher Leinberger, in The Option of Urbanism, points out that given the above, for those living in compact neighborhoods, “more is better,” because more houses, retail, and jobs compactly added to the neighborhood enhance the quality of their walking, bicycling, or transit lifestyle. By contrast, for those living in more dispersed, drivable suburbs with relatively low densities, “more is less,” because more houses, retail, and jobs added to the neighborhood degrades the quality of their drivable lifestyle. Why? Because it is more difficult and costly to drive a car when new development is added to the neighborhood.

“More is Better”? Or “More is Worse”? The question tends to be answered, therefore, based on where you live in the community.

The above explains why many in Boulder oppose higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings. Because nearly all residents in Boulder live in places where car travel is the only practical way to travel, higher density, compact, mixed use development, as well as taller buildings are vigorously opposed, because prohibiting such development is an essential way to retain the ability to travel relatively easily by car.

Travel lane removal proposed for a street in Boulder in 2015 led to an avalanche of letters to the editor opposing the idea, despite Boulder’s reputation as being “green” and pro-bike, pro-walking, and pro-transit. Why? Partly it is due to the extremely high level of entitlement felt in Boulder (“I’m entitled to live in a place without parking or traffic road diet before and aftercongestion!). But mostly because most residents in Boulder live in neighborhoods that are very low in density and consist of “single-use” land use patterns. Only housing is found in the neighborhoods. Jobs, services, shopping, culture, and recreation tend to be several miles away, and often reachable only on high-speed, dangerous roads. This state of affairs means that for nearly all Boulder residents, it is impractical to travel by any means other than car. Given that, most all Boulder residents see travel lane removal as severely restricting their ability to travel.

I spent 20 years implementing the “adequate facilities” law (called “growth management concurrency” in Florida) in Gainesville FL. Cities were required to adopt “level of service” standards (for example, at least 5 acres of parks per 1,000 people or 5,000 cubic feet of landfill space per 1,000 people). New development, to be “concurrent,” needed to demonstrate that they were not degrading the adopted levels of service. There were15-20 features or services that had adopted levels of service. At the end of the day, however, Gainesville’s citizens and elected officials (and nearly all of the other cities and counties in FL) only cared about ROAD level of service. This was the only standard were developers were required to be “concurrent.” The only standard that was important enough to prohibit the development if the project was not “concurrent.” None of the many other level of service standards mattered at all. “Concurrency” was therefore code language for “road concurrency.”

Why is road level of service the only standard that “matters”? Because in nearly all communities – including Boulder – quality of life is ruinously equated with maintaining free-flowing traffic and retaining abundant free parking. Lip service is paid to other quality of life measures (as I list below), but the issue that significantly bothers most all Americans every day is traffic congestion and parking woes. It is a daily reminder on our drive to work or to run errands that (1) the roads are not wide enough; (2) there is not enough parking; and (3) growth is too rapid (“out of control”) because local government is too lax in stopping growth and too willing to allow high density development. It seems like common sense to even a child that if we widened roads and intersections, added more free parking, and kept residential densities very low that we would not have these daily traffic and parking headaches. Right?

If Boulder adopts an adequate facilities law, I am nearly certain that it will substantially increase the likelihood that roads and intersections will be widened, free parking will be expanded, and new development will face elevated obstacles to developing anything other than tiny rural-like housing densities. All of this increased asphalt and increased car speed will substantially degrade Boulder’s quality of life and “small town ambience,” and fuel an increase in the rate of residential growth in outlying towns (because the ability to live in a less expensive home outside of Boulder will now be more practical due to the increased road and parking capacity in Boulder).

Adequate Facilities (concurrency) laws, to be objective and quantifiable (necessary to be legally enforceable in a court of law) end up being little more than a bean counting exercise. Planners in Florida spend enormous amounts of time listing and counting and manipulating numbers for roads and water and park acreage. But in the end, bean counting has almost nothing to do with maintaining or improving community quality of life or quality urban design. All of the numbers can be “adequate” or “concurrent,” and the community can still be utterly awful in quality.

What are the categories and attributes of quality of life and civic pride in Boulder? Pearl Street Mall and the Boulderado Hotel; low crime rate; proximity to the scenic Flatirons, the Foothills, Skiing, Hiking, and Rocky Mountain National Park; desirable climate and air quality; transportation choice and reduced car use; seniors and children feel relatively safe and independent; the Boulder greenbelt open space; culture and quality restaurants; small town ambience; highly-educated creative class population; quality jobs; quality schools; housing choices; and low levels of noise pollution. An adequate facilities law has either no impact on these quality of life features, or has a negative impact on such features.

Road, intersection and parking expansions for motorists are a zero-sum game, as such changes inevitably reduce travel by walking, bicycling, and transit, and degrade both safety, finances, and overall community quality of life. Such expansions are also a lose-lose proposition because motorists also experience harm. For example, by increasing travel by car, such changes mean less road space and parking space for existing motorists, and motorists also suffer from increased car crashes, more stress, more noise pollution, higher taxes, and an overall decline in quality of life. Improvements and expansions for walking, bicycling and transit, by contrast, are win-win tactics because not only do pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users benefit, but motorists also enjoy more parking, less congested roads, and the many quality of life benefits.

Adequate facilities laws will enshrine and elevate the importance of car travel in Boulder, and increase the counterproductive yet widespread belief that free-flowing traffic and easy, free parking is the key to quality of life.

Adequate facilities laws (concurrency) promote larger, more wealthy businesses who can afford the studies and the mitigation. It reduces the viability of smaller, less wealthy businesses.

Leave a comment

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

In Town Centers the Pedestrian is the Imperative, NOT Bicyclists or Cars or Transit or the Disabled

 

By Dom Nozzi

January 6, 2009

I applaud the desire to provide for all forms of travel. This is particularly important in (what should be) a low-speed town center environment.

For a town center to be healthy for retail and all forms of travel, low-speed car travel is essential, and a “park once” environment must be created. Here, the pedestrian, not the bicyclist or car or transit, must be the design imperative. If we “get it right” for the pedestrian in the town center, every stakeholder tends to benefit: not just Céret,_France,_main_street_2pedestrians, but bicyclists, transit, retail, residential, children, seniors, well-behaved motorists, the disabled and everyone else.

However, if we suboptimize bicycling, transit or cars to the detriment of other community objectives, the unintended consequence is that most everyone loses.

Too often, eager bicycling advocates loudly proclaim that a town center needs bike lanes and a removal of on-street car parking. But I believe that bike lanes and the removal of on-street parking in a town center serve to suboptimize bicycling — and I speak as a bicycle commuter.

How do we make the pedestrian the design imperative in a town center? Some of the more important tactics include reducing dimensions (such as street widths, building setbacks and the size of parking), increasing commercial and residential compactness, and obligating slow, attentive speeds by motorists.

Probably the most powerful, affordable way to achieve the above-mentioned tactics is on-street parking. Such parking effectively slows cars and obligates attentiveness by adding friction to the street. Such parking is also essential for healthy town center retail. And such parking sometimes dramatically improves pedestrian safety by reducing the street crossing distance.

In a town center, bike lanes tend to undercut each of those design objectives.

Shoup’s “The High Cost of Free Parking” is perhaps the best book I’ve ever read in the field of planning/transportation (a must-read for all planners, designers and elected folks). In that book, Shoup identifies excessive parking as an enormous problem in nearly all American communities.

However, he points out that it is subsidized, underpriced OFF-STREET parking, required in excess by nearly all local governments, that is one of the most important problems in American cities. Shoup is a strong advocate of on-street parking (especially when it is properly priced and therefore efficiently used). I believe he would agree with me that for nearly all cities (even those with too much parking), an extremely important objective is to substantially INCREASE the amount of on-street parking and substantially reduce the amount of off-street parking. And that as much town center street frontage as possible be lined with on-street parking.

In a properly designed town center, car speeds are low enough that it is not only safe and pleasant for pedestrians and retailers and residences. Car speeds are also low enough to permit safe and pleasant sharing of the travel lane by bicyclists. And in a town center, for those bicyclists who are uncomfortable sharing even a slow-speed travel lane with cars, there tends to be nearby parallel lanes off the main street for the bicyclist.

Important downsides for removing town center on-street parking:

*Smaller retailers tend to suffer so much that empty storefronts result and retailers flee to more remote locations that are inconvenient/unsafe to walk or bicycle or bus to. In other words, bicyclists should be strong supporters of a healthy town center retail/residential environment, in part because it promotes a compact community with short travel distances.

*Unless travel lane width is dramatically reduced, bike lanes tend to add asphalt width to the main street. That can mean longer, more dangerous crossing distances for pedestrians, and higher speed and less attentive (and therefore more dangerous) car travel.

Again, town center designers must be careful not to suboptimize bicycle, transit or car travel in the town center, since doing so tends to be detrimental to the pedestrian, which is the town center design imperative. The irony for bicyclists calling for the removal of on-street parking in a town center is not only that it is detrimental to bicycling. On-street parking removal in a town center was (and still is) most loudly called for by the motorist lobby (which fought to increase town center street widths and car speeds beginning about 85 years ago).

And for the record, I am a strong advocate of in-street bicycle lanes on most all major streets in a city. I believe, however, that they tend to be incompatible with a low-speed, human-scaled ped-friendly town center.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design, Walking

How Useful are Bicycle Lanes and Sidewalks in Inducing New Biking and Walking Trips?

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 20, 2009

When it comes to utilitarian/commute walking and bicycling (and not recreational cycling), sidewalks and bike lanes don’t seem to induce a meaningful number of trips by pedestrians or bicyclists by those who are currently driving a car — particularly in suburbia.

In my opinion, it is irrational and therefore extremely unlikely that people will opt to walk or bike (even on bike lanes or sidewalks) instead of drive a car, for trips to work or a store or other utilitarian trips. Particularly because, as Donald Shoup so convincingly points out, the free parking spaces that Americans find on nearly all of their car trips are begging people to drive a car.

Another very important factor that make bike lanes and sidewalks unlikely to induce huge turn radius for roadnew utilitarian bike and pedestrian trips are the enormous distances one finds in low-density, single-use suburban settings.

Gainesville, Florida, where I was a planner for 20 years, had sidewalks and bike lanes everywhere, yet it was VERY rare for me to ever see or hear of someone walking or bicycling for utilitarian purposes (even though we had an enormous number of college students there). I almost always felt that I was one of 3 or 4 bicycle commuters in all of allegedly bike-friendly Gainesville (where bike lanes and paths are all over the community).

In stark contrast, I have been to communities in both America and Europe (Charleston, Copenhagen, Rome, etc.) where there is an enormous amount of biking and walking. And quite frequently, such places have rather inadequate sidewalks or bike lanes. In my opinion, those places have lots of bicyclists and pedestrians because of such things as their compact town centers, mixed uses, scarce and expensive parking, and short travel distances.

Other examples: Many have observed that in a number of “new urbanist” towns, many continue to drive despite sidewalks and short distances. Or notice that most everyone drives even though their trip is only a few hundred feet in length. Again, in my opinion, that is largely explained by the abundance of free parking that awaits at the destination.

Too often, I’ve seen elected officials unjustifiably pat themselves on the back for creating a bike-friendly community because they required installation of bike lanes or bike parking. But it was mostly window dressing, because in places like Gainesville, most everyone continued to drive for the reasons I mention above. Politicians are typically unwilling to show the leadership needed to use effective tactics like more compact development, mixed use, and efficient car parking. Instead, they engage in easy-way-out lip service that buys them votes but doesn’t meaningfully change the community.

In sum, the suburbs are in deep trouble when gas prices go way up again. Their low densities, single-use patterns, and long travel distances means that even with bike lanes and sidewalks, most people will feel obligated to pay a lot more money to buy gas, because the distances are too daunting to walk or bike. Suburbs, to have a future, need to be more compact or at least create new town centers.

I am in full agreement, despite what I’ve said above, that communities should ALWAYS require new development to install bike lanes (particularly in suburbia) and sidewalks (particularly in town centers). In fact, I enthusiastically wrote ordinances that Gainesville adopted which required sidewalks for all new development. I fully agree that people should not be expected to walk on a road due to lack of sidewalks (except, perhaps, in very low-density, low-speed or rural conditions), or be expected to bike without bike lanes (except in low-speed town centers). If nothing else, such facilities show the community is bike- and pedestrian-friendly.

A very important message to send. It shows that the community respects such people.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Bicycling, Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation

Why Are American Cities Not Able to Encourage Large Numbers to Walk?

 

By Dom Nozzi

May 28, 2009

The conventional wisdom says that we can encourage large numbers of people to walk if we just provided a lot of well-designed sidewalks.

But after over 20 years, I’m still waiting for American cities to show this will happen. The city I worked for as a town planner had nearly 100 percent coverage of neighborhoods by sidewalks, but only a vanishingly small number of citizens walked – even though our population contained a large number of relatively healthy, young strip commercial sidewalkstudents.

Why are more not walking? Is there something we could do to sidewalks to make them more “enjoyable, comfortable, and safe”?

Could it maybe be that people prefer driving when all that free and abundant parking that awaits them everywhere, rather than walking 5 miles?

I’m still waiting for ONE example of a community in the US which has successfully employed the strategy of widespread sidewalk provision to encourage a lot of walking.

I know of none.

Even if there was a community which could afford the astronomical costs, sidewalks (and bike lanes and bike paths) are not likely to induce regular commuting or shopping trips by mom, kids and seniors (and healthy young people) when the distances are extreme, as they are in almost all of suburbia.

Fortunately for those of us who urge effective tactics, it doesn’t really matter if we have no elected officials who are willing to do what is necessary to effectively induce non-motorized travel (such as a big sales tax increase, or more compact development).

No matter how much most Americans love suburbia and car dependency, they will not be able to vote to escape the inevitable and substantial increase in gasoline prices, and other inevitably rising prices associated with car travel.

There will be a lot of pain, agony, wailing and gnashing of teeth when this happens — particularly in suburbia, where so many have thought that they were forever entitled to $2/gallon gas.

Once this inevitable increase sends gas over $10/gallon, Jim Kunstler and I (who discussed this yesterday at a cafe) are certain that there will be a miraculous “enlightenment.” Suddenly, even committed suburbanites will want transit, compact development, scarce and priced parking, mixed use, buildings at the sidewalk, and road diets. Such community features will become wildly popular (rather than there being vigorously opposed as they are today).

The problem, of course, is that if we’ve not installed quality transit, compact development, scarce and priced parking, mixed use, buildings at the sidewalk, and road diets in advance of the big rise in gas costs (because we are, as Jim Kunstler likes to say, wicked, fat, stupid, lazy, overfed clowns), there will be a lot of pain and violence.

Widening streets will not be possible in the future. We won’t have the money. And even today’s car cheerleaders and sprawl promoters will see that 8-lane roads don’t make sense when gas costs $15/gallon.

As for kids playing in the streets, I recommend reading Fighting Traffic (Norton). One hundred years ago, parents, teachers, and police officers insisted that kids had the right to freely play in the streets. Those days will return when gas prices skyrocket.

As a side note, even though NO ONE thought that university students in my Florida community would EVER ride the bus when I was a planner there in the 1980s, that city saw a HUGE numbers using the bus starting in the late 1990s.

Was it because we used the carrots of enjoyable, comfortable, and safe buses?

Nope.

It was because we used effective tactics that I also recommend for biking and walking: Parking at the university campus is scarce and priced (and a big pain in the ass).

I am fully and sadly aware that the effective tactics I recommend are extremely difficult, if not impossible to achieve in most of the US, politically. But opting for other more feasible tactics (bike lanes, bike parking, bike showers, sidewalks) doesn’t make them effective simply because we can achieve them more easily.

Let’s be honest: Most American communities are doomed because we have spent several decades building communities that have no future because it is nearly impossible to retrofit them for transportation choice and other forms of sustainability.

I’m building a bomb shelter for the coming empire collapse…

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Sprawl, Suburbia, Transportation, Urban Design

Promoting Bicycling, Walking or Transit Will Not Reduce Congestion

 

By Dom Nozzi

April 3, 2010

In my opinion, it is a tactical mistake for those promoting “active (generally non-motorized) transportation” to seek to demonstrate (or otherwise argue) that promoting bicycling, walking, or transit will result in congestion reduction, as my book (The Car is the Enemy of the City) points out.

First, cars consume an enormous amount of space (a person in a car consumes 17 times more space than a person in a chair). That means that only a tiny handful of motorists are needed to congest a street. Which means that nearly all cities worth their salt have a “congestion problem.” And those cities which don’t have such a problem are showing a sign of being sick or otherwise dying, or at least losing attractiveness.

It has been shown over and over again by researchers such as Anthony Downs and Todd Litman that (in any city that is not in decline) we see space freed up when motorists become non-motorists. This freed up space is almost immediately taken by newly-recruited motorists who had previously been diverted by the congestion (via induced demand, or as Downs would say, the “triple convergence”).

And when the congestion fails to decline despite lots of time and money spent on non-car travel, the pro-car/pro-sprawl advocates quickly point out that these non-car efforts are a naïve waste of time and money. And that we should get serious and opt for the default solution: road widening.

Given all of the above, it seems to me that the progressive tactic is not to claim that promotion of non-car travel will REDUCE congestion. No, I believe it is much better, tactically, to point out that we need to establish ALTERNATIVES for those who wish to escape the congestion: rail trails, connected streets, compact and higher-density housing near jobs, HOT lanes, flex-time work schedules, etc.

The Car is the Enemy of the City also describes the many benefits of congestion for cities (benefits that are undercut when we fight to reduce congestion via the traditional tactics of widenings or signal timing, etc.). But I’ll not get into that now.

…Induced traffic and the triple convergence informs us that many travelers opt not to travel certain routes, opt not to travel at rush hour, or opt not to drive a car IF a route is congested. If the route is less congested (widening or mode shift, for example), those discouraged travelers “converge” back on the route, on rush hour and on car travel. The road congests again. And rather quickly. Unless the community is losing population.

Another way of putting this is that in our world, there will pretty much always be a latent demand for more driving. Much of that demand is discouraged or diverted by congestion. Much of the discouragement goes away when the road is less congested. Roads are not like pipes carrying water. They are more like pipes carrying gas. Expand the pipe and the gas expands to fill the larger pipe. We cannot loosen our belts to traffic congestionavoid obesity. We cannot widen our way (or shift modes) out of congestion.

As to the question of reducing emissions (a commonly cited benefit of reducing congestion), Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman convincingly showed about 20 years ago that congestion REDUCES emissions and gas consumption, despite what we’ve always believed (one of the great many benefits of urban congestion). Why? Because as implied above, congestion imposes what Ian Lockwood calls a “time tax.” And “low-value” car trips (driving across town to rent a video at rush hour on a major arterial, for example) decline.

Again, the key is not to REDUCE congestion. Congestion is a sign of city vitality. A healthy city cannot (nor should it) reduce congestion. A healthy city must provide ALTERNATIVES to congestion: convenient bicycling, walking, and transit, compact development, pricing roads and parking, etc. And all of these healthy alternatives are much more likely, politically, when there is a lot of congestion. It is no coincidence that those cities with the worst congestion have the best transit.

Congestion, in cities, is our friend. When we make it our “enemy,” we unintentionally join forces with the sprawl/road/car lobby, since the default solution for reducing congestion (the only one that works in the short run) is road widening.

One reason that congestion in cities is our friend is that, as Michael Ronkin notes, the most essential and effective way to reduce excessive car dependence (and promote walking/bicycling/transit) is to inconvenience cars. The most feasible way to inconvenience cars is to “let it be” when it comes to congestion. To NOT bankrupt ourselves and destroy our communities by widening roads/parking lots to reduce traffic/parking congestion.

Increasing the number of trips made by bicycling, walking, or transit not only will not reduce congestion. Such claims that increasing bicycling, walking, or transit will reduce congestion also perpetuates the downwardly spiraling, counterproductive EFFORTS to try to reduce congestion.

Those seeking a better community must end their (unintended) alliance with the sprawl lobby. Doing that means letting go of efforts to promote “congestion reduction.” And embracing efforts to provide ways to avoid the (inevitable) congestion.

 

 

1 Comment

Filed under Transportation, Urban Design