Whose Roads?

Defining Bicyclists’ and Pedestrians’ Right to Use Public Roadways

by

Todd Litman

Victoria Transport Policy Institute

30 November, 2004

Victoria Transport Policy Institute

www.vtpi.org info@vtpi.org

Phone & Fax 250-360-1560

© 1995-2004

Todd Alexander Litman

All Rights Reserved

 

ABSTRACT

Many people believe that nonmotorized modes (walking, cycling, and their

variations) have an inferior right to use public roads compared with motor

vehicles. This reflects the belief that motor vehicles are more important to society

than nonmotorized modes, and that roads are funded by motorists. This paper

investigates these assumptions. It finds that nonmotorized modes have the legal

right to use public roads, that nonmotorized modes provide significant

transportation benefits, and pedestrians and cyclists pay a significant share of

roadway costs. Although motorist user fees (fuel taxes and vehicle registration

fees) fund most highway expenses, funding for local roads (the roads

pedestrians and cyclists use most) originates mainly from general taxes. Since

bicycling and walking impose lower roadway costs than motorized modes,

people who rely primarily on nonmotorized modes tend to overpay their fair

share of roadway costs and subsidize motorists.

Whose Roads?

 

Introduction

Motorists often assume that public roads are intended primarily for their use, and

nonmotorized modes (cyclists, pedestrians, and variants such as wheelchairs and skates) should be treated as inferiors or excluded altogether. Nonmotorized mode users are sometimes accused of paying less than their share of roadway costs, or simply told to “Get the #$%^@ off the road!” Pedestrians and cyclists are sometimes forbidden from using a particular public road to avoid delaying motorized traffic.

Lack of respect for nonmotorized travel often justifies policies that favor motorized over nonmotorized travel, including minimal investments in walking and cycling facilities, roadway design and management that creates barriers to nonmotorized travel, development policies that result in more dispersed land use patterns, and traffic safety programs that give nonmotorized issues little attention and place the onus for reducing risk on pedestrians and cyclists.

Are these assumptions justified? What rights do non-motorized modes have to use public roadways? Do nonmotorized modes receive a fair share of roadway resources? Do motorists really subsidize walking and cycling? This report explores these questions.

Legal Rights

Bicyclists have legal rights and responsibilities that vary from one jurisdiction to another. These usually include the following features (BikeMass, 2004; LawGuru, 2004).

• The right to ride a bicycle on any public road, street, or bikeway except where

specifically prohibited, such as on limited access highways.

• The responsibility to obey all relevant traffic laws and regulations.

• The responsibility to use hand signals to let people know you plan stop or turn.

• The responsibility to ride single file unless passing.

• The responsibility to have a white headlight and a read tail-light on if riding between from 1/2 hour after sunset until 1/2 hour before sunrise.

• The responsibility to have adequate brakes.

Most jurisdictions require drivers to yield to pedestrians using long canes or dog guides. Some jurisdictions have laws requiring bicyclists to wear helmets (some of which only apply to children), or placing other special responsibilities on cyclists.

The Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC, the basis for most traffic laws) states, “Every person propelling a vehicle by human power or riding a bicycle shall have all the rights and all the duties applicable to the driver of any other vehicle” (ITE, 1992; SWCP, 2004). Most traffic laws do not differentiate between bicycles and other vehicles (Paul Hill, 1986).

Some states require bicyclists to use an adjacent pathway if available, but these are increasingly being abolished to give bicyclists the choice of whether to ride on a path or the road (LAW, 1995).

Because motor vehicles impose significant risk on cyclists and pedestrians, the UVC gives drivers the responsibility to “avoid colliding with any pedestrian or any person propelling a human powered vehicle and…exercise proper precaution upon  observing any child or any obviously confused, incapacitated or intoxicated person” (ITE, 1992), although this responsibility is often poorly enforced (Kenneth Todd, 1992).

The AASHTO “Green Book” also indicates that transportation officials recognize society’s responsibility to accommodate pedestrians, stating, Pedestrians are a part of every roadway environment, and attention must be paid to their presence in rural as well as urban areas…Because of the demands of vehicular traffic in congested urban areas, it is often extremely difficult to make adequate provisions for pedestrians. Yet this must be done, because pedestrians are the lifeblood of our urban areas, especially in the downtown and other retail areas. (AASHTO, 1994)

Importance of Nonmotorized Transportation

Conventional planning practices often consider walking and cycling as minor transport

modes, but this reflects planning bias (Litman, 2004a). Conventional travel surveys

generally find that nonmotorized travel represents just 2-5% of person-trips and less than 1% of total person-miles, but this reflects their tendency to overlook or undercount shorter trips, non-work trips, off-peak trips, nonmotorized links of motorized trips, travel by children, and recreational travel (Litman, 2003). Walking and cycling trips to access motorized modes are not counted, even if they involve travel on public facilities. If instead of asking, “What portion of trips only involve walking,” we ask, “What portion of trips involve some walking,” walking would be recognized as a common and important mode. For example, although only 7% of Canadian urban commute trips are entirely by walking, about three times as many involve a walking link, as indicated in Table 1.

Table 1 Commute Trips By Mode (Statistics Canada, 1992)

Car Only Walking All or Part Transit All or Part

Winnipeg 73% 16% 15%

Vancouver 72% 20% 12%

Calgary 72% 21% 12%

Canada 69% 22% 10%

Toronto 61% 24% 20%

Ottawa 60% 33% 16%

Average 68% 23% 14%

Although only about 7% of urban commutes are entirely by walking, about 23% involve some

walking on public facilities.

Some newer travel surveys attempt to count all nonmotorized trips (although participants

often have trouble recording short walking trips so they still tend to be undercounted).

The 2001 National Household Travel Survey (BTS, 2001) found that walking represents

8.6% of personal trips, about 50% more than reported in the 1995 National Personal

Travel Survey (NPTS), which used more conventional survey methods. In 2000, the

Southern California Metropolitan Transportation Authority increased the portion of travel

involving nonmotorized modes assumed for transport planning purposes from about 2%

of regional trips (based on conventional travel surveys) up to about 10%, based on more

comprehensive data from the 1995 NPTS. According to a U.K. survey, walking

represents 2.8% of total mileage, 17.7% of total travel time, and 24.7% of total trips

(Litman, 2004a). Rietveld (2000) finds that conventional surveys count only about onesixth

of total nonmotorized trips.

Walking and bicycling provide basic mobility, that is, they allow people to access goods,

services and activities society considers high value (also called essential or lifeline),

including people who have few travel alternatives. Accommodating nonmotorized travel

therefore deserves additional priority than indicated by simply considering its share of

total travel activity.

Whose Roads?

4

Benefits of Nonmotorized Transportation

Some experts believe that walking and cycling can do little to solve transportation

problems because they only consider motorized trips that shift completely to

nonmotorized modes, ignoring the important role walking and cycling play in an efficient

transport system (Litman, 2004a). Walking and cycling often substitute for local errand

trips, support use of transit and ridesharing, and help create more accessible land use

patterns (Litman, 2004b). One study found that residents in a pedestrian friendly

community walked, bicycled, or rode transit for 49% of work trips and 15% of their nonwork

trips, 18- and 11-percentage points more than residents of a comparable automobile

oriented community (Cervero and Radisch, 1995). Litman (2004b) found that a mile of

nonmotorized travel tends to leverage about seven miles of reduced automobile travel.

According to some studies, 5-10% of urban automobile trips can reasonably shift to

nonmotorized transport (ADONIS, 1999; Litman, 2004b; “Nonmotorized Transportation

Planning,” VTPI, 2004).

Conventional transport planning tends to consider a narrow range of planning objectives

and so undervalues strategies that provide modest but multiple benefits, such as

incentives to shifts from motorized to nonmotorized travel. Although such strategies are

not usually considered the most cost effective way of reducing traffic congestion, road

and parking facility costs, consumer costs, accidents, pollution, or improving mobility for

non-drivers, they provide all of these benefits and more. The potential benefits of

increased walking and cycling can be particularly large because the greatest impacts tend

to occur in urban areas where traffic congestion, facility costs, crash risk and pollution

problems are worst. As a result, a modest reduction in total regional vehicle mileage that

is concentrated in congested urban areas may provide significant benefits.

Conventional planning tends to value motorized travel more than nonmotorized travel. A motor

vehicle trip to a health club is counted, but a recreational walk or cycling trip is often ignored.

Conventional planning undervalues nonmotorized transportation benefits by separating

transportation and recreation objectives. Recreational walking and cycling provide health

benefits, user enjoyment and tourist business, but these benefits are often ignored. From a

conventional transport planning perspective, a vehicle trip to a gym is important, but

recreational walking or cycling is not.

Whose Roads?

5

Biased Language in Transportation Planning (Litman, 2003)

Transportation planning practices are often unintentionally biased toward motorized travel. For

example, projects that increase road or parking capacity are often called “improvements,”

although from many perspectives they are harmful. Wider roads and larger parking facilities can

degrade the local environment, and projects that increase vehicle traffic volumes and speeds can

reduce the safety and mobility of nonmotorized travel. Calling such changes “improvements”

indicates a bias in favor of one activity and group over others. Objective language uses more

specific and neutral terms, such as “added capacity,” “additional lanes,” “modifications,” or

“changes.”

The terms “traffic” and “trip” often refer only to motor vehicle travel. Travel surveys and traffic

counts usually under-record nonmotorized trips, because they ignore or undercount short trips,

non-work travel, travel by children, recreational travel, and nonmotorized links. Although most

automobile and transit trips begin and end with a pedestrian or cycling link, they are usually

classified simply as “auto” or “transit” trips. This undervalues nonmotorized transport.

The term “efficient” is frequently used to mean increased vehicle traffic speeds. This assumes

that increasing motor vehicles speeds increases overall efficiency. This assumption is debatable.

High vehicle speeds can reduce total traffic capacity, increase resource consumption, increase

costs, and increase automobile dependency, reducing overall economic efficiency.

Level of service (LOS) is a qualitative measure describing operational conditions for a particular

user group (motorists, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.). Transportation professionals often assume that,

unless specified otherwise, level of service applies only to motor vehicles. It is important to

indicate which users are considered when level of service values are reported.

Biased Terms Objective Terms

Traffic Motor vehicle traffic, pedestrian/bike traffic

Trips Motor vehicle trips, person trips

Improve Change, modify, expand, widen

Enhance Change, increase traffic speeds

Deteriorate Change, reduce traffic speeds

Upgrade Change, expand, widen, replace

Efficient Faster, increased vehicle capacity

Level of service Level of service for…

Examples:

Biased: Level of service at this intersection is rated “D.” The proposed improvement will cost

$100,000. This upgrade will make our transportation system more efficient by enhancing

capacity, preventing deterioration of traffic conditions.

Objective: Level of service at this intersection is rated “D” for motorists and “E” for pedestrians.

A right turn channel would cost $100,000. This road widening project will increase motor

vehicle traffic speeds and capacity but may reduce safety and convenience to pedestrian travel.

Whose Roads?

6

Roadway Funding

Economic efficiency and equity require that consumers should bear their share of costs

for the goods and services they use, unless a subsidy is specifically justified (“Market

Principles,” VTPI, 2004). Many people assume that pedestrians and cyclists contribute

less than their fair share toward roadway costs because they do not pay vehicle user fees

(fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, and road tolls), and so argue that pedestrians and

cyclists deserve less right to use roadway facilities. However, this assumption is wrong.

Although user fees fund most highway expenses, local roads are mainly funded through

general taxes that residents pay regardless of how they travel. The majority (probably

more than 90%) of walking and bicycling occurs on locally funded roads, since most

highways are unsuited to walking and bicycling. Table 2 shows that in 2002, $27.9 billion

were spent on U.S. local roads, of which only $3.1 billion was from user fees. General tax

funding averaged about 5.6¢ per motor vehicle mile of travel on local roads. Roadway

user charges fund only about 70% of roadway expenditures (only 60% excluding bond

revenues), indicating that fuel taxes would need to increase more than 45% to fully cover

these costs. Canadian local roads are also funded primarily by general taxes.

Table 2 Roadway Revenues and Expenditures (2002 Dollars) (FHWA, 2003)

Source Federal State Local Total

User Fees (fuel and vehicle taxes) (millions) Table HF-10 $26,842 $49,689 $3,106 $79,637

Other Funds (general taxes) (millions) ” $1,719 $7,864 $24,770 $34,353

Total Roadway Funding (millions) ” $28,561 $57,553 $27,876 $113,990

Portion Other Funds (millions) ” 6.0% 13.7% 88.9% 30.1%

Roadway Mileage Table HM-10 120,570 773,289 3,072,647 3,966,506

Vehicle Mileage (millions) VM-3 2,415,413 440,343 2,855,756

User Fee Funding (cents/vehicle-mile) Calculated 1.1¢ 2.0¢ 0.7¢ 3.8¢

Other Funding (cents/vehicle-mile) ” 0.0¢ 0.3¢ 5.6¢ 1.2¢

Local roads are funded primarily by local taxes, resulting in a subsidy to driving.

The portion of roadway expenses funded by user fees is declining because legislators are

reluctant to increase fuel taxes and registration fees (Puentes and Prince, 2003). Funding

for roadway improvements and even maintenance increasingly comes from general taxes,

primarily sales taxes. Wach (2003) found that between 1995 and 1999 local general tax

revenues spent on highways grew three times as fast as user fee revenues.

It is difficult to know exactly what portion of transport funds are devoted to nonmotorized

facilities (Litman, 2004a). Local governments devote perhaps 5-15% of transportation

agency budgets, but other levels of government provide far less support. For example, the

state of Oregon is considered a leader in nonmotorized planning because it devotes 2% of

state transport funds to nonmotorized facilities. Most states probably spend less than 1%.

The costs of separated nonmotorized facilities should not necessarily be charged to

pedestrians and cyclists, since they are needed due to the risk and discomfort imposed by

motor vehicle traffic. Areas with minimal motor vehicle traffic do not usually require

separate facilities.

Whose Roads?

7

Figure 1 Transportation Funding Sources (Puentes and Prince, 2003)

General Funds

15.3%

Tolls

4.4%

Fuel Taxes

34.8%

Bonds

9.5%

Investment Income

and Other Reciepts

5.8%

Other Taxes and Fees

5.6%

Property Taxes

Vehicle Taxes 4.8%

19.7%

About 40% of highway funding is from general taxes and bonds. User funding is declining

because legislators are reluctant to raise fuel taxes and vehicle fees.

General tax funds are also spent on various traffic services, such as policing, emergency

services, and subsidized parking facilities. A typical household pays several hundred

dollars annually in general taxes to fund roads and traffic services, as indicated in the

studies summarized below.

• Traffic services (besides roadway facility costs) are estimated to average 2.8¢ per urban

vehicle mile in 1992 dollars, or about 3.8¢ in 2004 dollars (Small, 1992).

• Local governments in the Chicago region spend an average of $130 per registered motor

vehicle in general taxes devoted to roads and traffic services (Urbanczyk and Korlett, 1995).

• Public expenditures on highways, roads, streets and traffic services average $413 annually

per capita in the Puget Sound region (PSRC, 1996).

• The city of Edmonton spends an average of $291 annually per resident on roads and traffic

services (KPMG, 1996).

• Local governments in Wisconsin spent $585 annually per household on local roads and

traffic services, only 14% of which originated from user fees (DeCicco and Morris, 1998).

Overall, roadway costs average about 5¢ per vehicle-mile for facilities and about 1¢ per

vehicle-mile for traffic services. Larger, faster and heavier vehicles tend to impose higher

costs because they require more road space, more complex intersections, more parking

space, more maintenance, and more sophisticated traffic management (Urban Institute,

1990; Jones and Nix, 1995; FHWA, 1997; Litman, 2004c). A road system used just for

walking and cycling costs far less than what is needed to accommodate motorized traffic.

Whose Roads?

8

In addition to road and traffic service costs, motor vehicle travel imposes other external

costs (costs not borne directly by individual users), including parking subsidies,

congestion delays and crash risk imposed on other road users, environmental damages,

and the opportunity cost of land devoted to roads (Litman, 2004c). Motorists benefit from

various indirect and hidden subsidies. For example, most zoning codes require the

provision of off-street parking for motorists, yet non-drivers receive no comparable

benefit. These external costs reflect an economically inefficient and unfair subsidy of

driving relative to nonmotorized travel (“Market Principles,” VTPI, 2004). Table 3

summarizes estimates of these costs, which indicates that automobile use has external

costs averaging about 28¢, while cycling costs average about 1¢, and walking averages

just 0.2¢ per mile.

Table 3 External Costs (Cents per Mile) (“Transportation Costs,” VTPI, 2004)

Cost Automobile Bicycle Walk

Parking Subsidies 10¢ 0.2 0

Traffic Congestion 4¢ 0 0

Crashes 8¢ 0.2 0.2

Environmental Costs 4¢ 0 0

Roadway Land Value 2¢ 0.6 0

Totals 28¢ 1¢ 0.2¢

This table summarizes estimates of various external costs of transportation.

It could be considered equitable to allocate funds to each mode based on its level of use

(Litman, 2004a). Funding should be based on person trips rather than person miles so

higher speed modes are not subsidized at the expense of lower-speed modes. For

example, there is no particular reason that society should subsidize a 50-mile commute

trip at a greater rate than a 1-mile commute trip if both get employees to work. Funding

based on trips allows pedestrians and cyclist to receive a fair share of public support. As

described earlier, nonmotorized travel is much more common than conventional travel

surveys indicate and plays a more important role in an efficient transportation system,

suggesting that a far greater portion of funding should be devoted to walking and cycling.

Additional funding for nonmotorized transportation improvements can be justified on the

grounds that such projects have been underfunded in the past and so additional

investments in the future, and because nonmotorized improvements provide multiple

benefits. For example, nonmotorized investments can be funded from accounts devoted to

improving mobility, reducing congestion, energy conservation and emission reductions,

providing basic mobility for non-drivers, improving public health, and supporting urban

redevelopment. Because walking and cycling provide both transportation and recreation

benefits, expenditures on pedestrian and bicycling improvements can be justified from

both transportation accounts and recreation accounts.

Whose Roads?

9

Summary of User Costs and Payments

On average, local and regional governments spend $300-500 annually per automobile in

general taxes on local roads and traffic services, averaging more than 6¢ per mile driven

on local roads. Only 0.7¢ of this is paid through vehicle user charges, meaning that

driving is subsidized through general taxes by about 5.6¢ per mile on local roads.

Automobiles also impose other external costs, including parking subsidies, congestion

and crash risk imposed on other road users, and environmental damages. Pedestrians and

cyclists tend to impose lower costs than motor vehicles and bear an excessive share of

these costs, particularly crash risks, because they are relatively unprotected. A shift from

driving to bicycling and walking reduces external costs, providing benefits to society,

such as road and parking facility savings, reduced crash risk and congestion delay

imposed on other road users, and reduced environmental impacts (Litman, 2004b). This

indicates that non-drivers pay more than their share of transportation costs.

For an average household, the costs imposed approximately equals the costs they bear,

but people who drive less than average and use nonmotorized modes tend to overpay their

share of costs, while those who drive more than average underpay.

The automobile industry has published reports claiming that motorists pay more than

their share of costs (Dougher, 1995; Spindler, 1997). However, these studies violate

standard cost allocation principles by including all vehicle taxes, including general sales

taxes, rather than just user charges, and by considering only highway expenditures,

ignoring local roadway costs and other external costs associated with motor vehicle use

(“Evaluating Criticism of TDM,” VTPI, 2000). Virtually all studies that use appropriate

analysis procedures conclude that motorists significantly underpay the costs they impose

on society (FHWA, 1997; Delucchi, 1998; Litman, 2004a).

Example:

Two neighbors each pay $300 annually in local taxes that fund roads and traffic services.

Mike Motorist drives 10,000 miles annually on local roads, while Frances Footpower

bicycles 3,000 miles. The table below compares the costs they impose with what they pay

in taxes.

Table 4 Local Roadway Payments Versus Costs

Mike Frances

A. Annual local mileage 10,000 3,000

B. Household’s general taxes used for road related services. $300 $300

C. Motorist user fees spent on local road (0.2¢ per mile). $24 $0

D. Total road system contribution (B + C) $324 $300

E. Tax payment per mile of travel (B/A). 3.2¢ 10¢

F. Roadway costs (cars = 5.6¢/ml, bicycles = 0.2¢/ml) $560 $48

Net (D – F) Underpays $236 Overpays $252

Non-drivers pay almost the same as motorists for local roads but impose lower costs. As a result,

they tend to overpay their share of roadway costs.

Whose Roads?

10

Other Equity Issues

Walking and bicycling provide basic mobility for people who are transportation

disadvantaged (“Basic Access,” VTPI, 2004). Accommodating nonmotorized travel

therefore deserves a higher priority than indicated by simply considering its share of total

travel activity.

It is sometimes argued that automobile travel also provides basic mobility, so the costs of

roads and traffic services should not be charged to individual users. Even residents who

never drive rely on roads for service vehicles, for utility access, and for walking and

bicycling. But basic access can be provided by a far cheaper road system than what is

needed in automobile dependent areas. Since most current roadway expenditures result

from the need to accommodate additional automobile traffic and the wear imposed by

motor vehicles, it makes sense to allocate most roadway costs to vehicle users.

Critics of using transportation funds for pedestrian and cycling improvements tend to

ignore the direct and indirect benefits that motorists can receive from nonmotorized

improvements. Motorists can benefit from reduced traffic and parking congestion, tax

savings, reduced crash risk and air pollution, reduced need to chauffer non-driving family

and friends, more efficient land use, and increased travel options that they may value in

the future (“Evaluating Transportation System Diversity,” VTPI, 2004).

Basic fairness suggests that everybody should be able to use public roads without

unnecessary restriction or excessive risk, since roads are a valuable public resource and

basic mobility is an essential activity. Prohibiting a particular mode from using public

roads can be considered as inequitable as excluding a particular racial or ethnic group

from using public parks or public restrooms. Similarly, it is unfair to allow ignore the

pedestrian and cyclists’ needs in facility design and management, resulting in greater

travel barriers or risk than other travelers face.

There is inherent inequity in the distribution of crash costs. Although any road user can

make a mistake that contributes to an accident, pedestrians and bicyclists are more likely

to be injured or killed when a collision occurs. In other words, non-motorized travelers

bear a greater share of crash costs than they impose, regardless of who causes a particular

crash. This not only causes injuries to pedestrians and cyclists, it also imposes protective

costs, such as longer trips or travel foregone. This inequity tends to increase as drivers

feel safer due to improved safety features (seat belts, air bags, etc.), resulting in greater

risk imposed on vulnerable road users (Chirinko and Harper, 1993; “Takeback Effects,”

VTPI, 2004).

Highways and motor vehicle traffic by their nature create barriers to walking and

bicycling. This is called “community severance” or the “barrier effect.” (Litman, 2004c).

This occurs because highways are large structures that tend to be difficult for pedestrians

and cyclists to cross, particularly when highways carry heavy, high-speed vehicle traffic.

Although these impacts can be mitigated by pedestrian crossings, bridges and tunnels,

there is usually still a significant increase in crossing time, reduced mobility for nondrivers,

and a degradation of the pedestrian and cycling environment.

Whose Roads?

11

Bicycles are sometimes considered to cause traffic delays, implying that programs to

encourage cycling contradict, rather than support, congestion reduction objectives. But

bicycles usually cause less congestion than automobiles (Litman, 2004b). Only on

congested roads with narrow lanes, high-speed traffic and no suitable alternative routes

are cyclists likely to increase traffic delay, and most cyclists avoid riding in these

conditions because it is unpleasant. Conflicts over road space can be considered primarily

the fault of motorists, since bicycles require less space than motor vehicles. Of course,

other types of vehicles also delay traffic. Trucks, delivery vehicles, farm equipment, and

vehicles with elderly drivers probably cause more traffic delays than bicycles. If

occasional delay justifies prohibiting cycles, these vehicles should also be banned.

Improved traffic laws enforcement can minimize congestion delays. Slower vehicles

(including bicycles) are required to stay to the right side of the roadway, and must get off

the roadway, when safe to do so, if they delay five or more vehicles, to let faster vehicles

pass. Excessive delay by cyclists therefore indicates that traffic laws are inadequately

promoted and enforced, or facility improvements are needed to reduce conflicts.

It is sometimes argued that nonmotorized travel is dangerous and should be discouraged

(or at least, should not be encouraged). Walking and cycling tend to have higher fatality

rates per mile than motorized travel, but this tends to be offset by the following factors

(Litman, 2004b):

• Non-motorized travel imposes minimal risk to other road users.

• Non-drivers tend to travel less than motorists. A short walking or cycling trip often

substitutes for a longer motorized trip. A typical motorist drives 5 to 10 times as far each

year as a typical non-driver walks and cycles.

• Pedestrian and cyclist risk can be significantly reduced (Pucher and Dijkstra, 2000). Many

nonmotorized crashes result, in part, from inexperience or carelessness on the part of

pedestrians and cyclists. A responsible and cautious pedestrian or cyclist has significantly

lower risk than the overall average.

• Walking and cycling provide significant health benefits that can offset crash risks.

Taking these factors into account, a responsible adult cyclist or pedestrian who follows

traffic rules and wears a helmet is estimated here to have a per-trip crash fatality rate that

is comparable to that of automobile travel, imposes minimal crash risk on other road

users, and significantly increases aerobic health. Per capita pedestrian and cycling

accidents tend to decline as nonmotorized travel increases in a community. There is no

evidence that walking and cycling by responsible adults increases overall road fatalities or

health risk.

Whose Roads?

12

Summary

This paper shows that bicyclists and pedestrians have legal, practical and moral rights to

use public roads. Nonmotorized travel plays an important role in the transportation

system, and provides many benefits to society, including benefits to users, motorists and

residents. Nonmotorized modes provides basic mobility for people who are physically,

economically and socially disadvantaged. Conventional transportation planning tends to

overlook and undervalue nonmotorized transportation.

Pedestrians and cyclists pay more than their fair share of roadway costs. Although most

highway expenses are funded through motor vehicle user fees, local roads and traffic

services are funded primarily through general taxes that residents pay regardless of their

travel habits. Motor vehicle use also imposes a variety of external costs, including

parking subsidies, congestion, uncompensated crash damages, and environmental

impacts. Pedestrians and cyclists impose much less external costs, due to lower costs per

mile, and because they tend to travel fewer miles per year. In general, people who drive

less than average overpay their true share of transportation costs, while those who drive

more than average underpay. As a result, pedestrians and bicyclists tend to subsidize

motorists.

Current transportation investment and management policies tend to favor motor vehicle

use at the expense of non-motorized modes. Policy changes to better protect pedestrians

and cyclists, and increase non-drivers’ mobility tend to increase equity.

Whose Roads?

13

References

AASHTO, Policy on Geometric Design of Highways and Streets, American Association of State

Highway and Transportation Officials (www.aashto.org), 1994.

ADONIS, Best Practice to Promote Cycling and Walking and How to Substitute Short Car Trips

by Cycling and Walking, ADONIS Transport RTD Program, European Union

(www.cordis.lu/transport/src/adonisrep.htm), 1999.

Robert Cervero and Carolyn Radisch, Travel Choices in Pedestrian Versus Automobile Oriented

Neighborhoods, UC Transportation Center, UCTC 281 (www.uctc.net), 1995.

Robert Chirinko and Edward Harper, Jr., “Buckle Up or Slow Down? New Estimates of

Offsetting Behavior and their Implications for Automobile Safety Regulation,” Journal of Policy

Analysis and Management, Vol. 12, No. 2, 1993, pp. 270-296.

The Cornell Law Website (www.law.cornell.edu/topics/state_statutes.html) has U.S. traffic laws.

John DeCicco and Hugh Morris, The Costs of Transportation in Southeastern Wisconsin,

American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (www.aceee.org), 1998.

Mark Delucchi, Annualized Social Cost of Motor-Vehicle Use in the U.S., 1990-1991; Report #7,

Institute of Transportation Studies (www.uctc.net), 1998;

Royola Dougher, Estimates of the Annual U.S. Road User Payments Versus Annual Road

Expenditures, American Petroleum Institute (Washington DC), 1995.

FHWA, Highway Statistics 2002, Federal Highway Administration (www.fhwa.dot.gov), 2003.

FHWA, 1997 Federal Highway Cost Allocation Study, USDOT

(www.ota.fhwa.dot.gov/hcas/final), 1997.

Paul Hill, Bicycle Law and Practice, Bicycle Law Books (Falls Church), 1986.

ITE, Uniform Vehicle Code, ITE (www.ite.org), 1992.

Joseph Jones and Fred Nix, Survey of the Use of Highway Cost Allocation in Road Pricing

Decisions, Transportation Association of Canada (www.tac-atc.ca), August 1995.

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LawGuru, Internet Law Library (www.lawguru.com/ilawlib/17.htm), 2004.

LAW, How to Repeal a Mandatory Sidepath Law, League of American Bicyclists

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Todd Litman, “Measuring Transportation: Traffic, Mobility and Accessibility,” ITE Journal

(www.ite.org), Vol. 73, No. 10, October 2003, pp. 28-32, available at http://www.vtpi.org.

Whose Roads?

14

Todd Litman, Economic Value of Walkability, VTPI (www.vtpi.org), 2004a.

Todd Litman, Quantifying the Benefits of Nonmotorized Transport for Achieving Mobility

Management Objectives, VTPI (www.vtpi.org), 2004b, previously “Bicycling and Transportation

Demand Management,” Transportation Research Record 1441, 1994, pp. 134-140.

Todd Litman, Transportation Cost and Benefit Analysis Guidebook, VTPI (www.vtpi.org),

2004c. Also see “Transportation Costs” in the VTPI Online TDM Encyclopedia (www.vtpi.org).

MassBike, Laws Pertaining to Bicyclists, Bike, MassBike

(www.massbike.org/bikelaw/bikelaw.htm), 2004.

PSRC, The Costs of Transportation; Expenditures on Surface Transportation in the Central

Puget Sound Region for 1995, Puget Sound Regional Council (www.psrc.org/costs.pdf), 1996.

John Pucher and Lewis Dijkstra, “Making Walking and Cycling Safer: Lessons from Europe,”

Transportation Quarterly, Vol. 54, No. 3, Summer 2000, available at http://www.vtpi.org.

Robert Puentes and Ryan Prince, Fueling Transportation Finance: A Primer on the Gas Tax, Center

on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, Brookings Institute (www.brookings.edu/es/urban), 2003.

Piet Rietveld, “Nonmotorized Modes in Transport Systems: A Multimodal Chain Perspective for

The Netherlands,” Transportation Research D, Vo. 5, No. 1, Jan. 2000, pp. 31-36.

Ken Small, Urban Transportation Economics, Harwood (Chur), 1992.

SWCP, Uniform Vehicle Code Section Pertaining to Bicycling: CHAPTER 11 – UVC: Rules of

the Road – Pt. 3, Southwest Cyberport (www.swcp.com/~nmts/laws/UVCBicycles.htm), 2004.

Z. A. Spindler, Automobiles in Canada; A Reality Check, Canadian Automobile Association.

(www.caa.ca), 1997.

Kenneth Todd, “Pedestrian Regulations in the United States: A Critical Review,” Transportation

Quarterly, Vol. 45, No. 4, October 1992.

Urban Institute, Rationalization of Procedures for Highway Cost Allocation, Trucking Research

Institute (Washington DC), 1990.

David Urbanczyk and Jeanette Corlett, The Cost of Driving in the Chicago Metropolitan Region,

Metropolitan Planning Council (Chicago), Working Paper No. 2, 1995.

VTPI, Online TDM Encyclopedia, VTPI (www.vtpi.org), 2000.

Martin Wachs, Improving Efficiency and Equity in Transportation Finance, The Brookings

Institute (www.brook.edu), 2003.

Michael Wright, “Transportation Language Policy”, memo, West Palm Beach, Florida, 14

November 1996.

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Transportation is Destiny: Design for Happy People, Not Happy Cars

by Dom Nozzi

The following is a summary of a talk I was invited to give at a PLAN-Boulder County forum on Friday, January 24. As a town and transportation planner, I cautioned Boulder not to put too much emphasis on easing car traffic flows—particularly by such conventional methods as adding a second turn lane at intersections or requiring a developer to provide too much car parking. I described the ingredients of a healthy, vibrant city, summarized how a seemingly beneficial city objective of reducing traffic congestion can often undermine important Boulder objectives, and offered a number of strategies that would help Boulder both properly manage transportation and promote its long-range goals.

A great city is compact, human scaled, has a slow speed center, and promotes gatherings of citizens that catalyze “synergistic interaction” (brilliant ideas and innovations, as the sum becomes greater than its parts). Most importantly, a quality city does exceptionally well in promoting “exchanges” of goods, services, and ideas, which is the most important role of a city, and is best promoted by the interaction that occurs through compact community design.

About 100 years ago, automakers, home builders, and oil companies (“the Sprawl Lobby”) started realizing that they could make lots of money by creating what has since become a self-perpetuating vicious cycle in communities. If communities could be convinced to ease the flow of car traffic by building enormous highways and parking lots (and subsidizing car travel by having everyone—not just motorists—pay for such roads, parking, and gasoline), huge amounts of money could be made selling cars, homes and gasoline. The process eventually was feeding on itself in a growing, self-perpetuating way, because the highways, parking and subsidies were forcing and otherwise encouraging a growing number of Americans to buy more and more cars, use more and more gasoline, and buy sprawling homes that were further and further from the town center. Why? Because the subsidized highways and gasoline were powerfully promoting community dispersal, high speeds, isolation, and an insatiable demand for larger highways and parking lots. Each of these factors were toxic to a city, led to government and household financial difficulties, destroyed in-town quality of life (which added to the desire to live in sprawl locations), and made travel by transit, bicycle or walking increasingly difficult and unlikely (an added inducement to buy more cars).

The inevitable result of the Sprawl Lobby efforts has been that cities throughout America are dying from the “Gigantism” disease.

The “Gigantism” Disease

One of the most important problems we face is that cars consume enormous amounts of space. On average, a person in a parked car takes up about 17 times more space than a person in a chair. And when moving, a motorist can take up to 100 times as much space as a person in a chair. Cities are Untitledseverely diminished by this level of wasteful use of land by cars—particularly in town centers (where space is so dear), and especially in communities such as Boulder, where land is so expensive.

Overemphasis on car travel breeds and spreads the gigantism “infection,” and promotes ruinously higher travel speeds. What happens when we combine the gigantism and high speeds with the “travel time budget” (humans tend to have a budget of about 1.1 hours of round-trip commuting travel each day)?

People demand larger highways and parking lots. Gigantic highways, overpasses, and asphalt seas of parking are necessary to accommodate the space-hogging, high-speed needs of the growing number of cars. This process dramatically increases the “habitat” for cars, and because such places are so utterly inhospitable to people, substantially shrinks the habitat for people.

Because it is so dangerous, unpleasant, and infeasible to travel on these monster highways by bicycle, walking, or transit (what economists call “The Barrier Effect”), an endlessly growing army of motorists and sprawl residents is thereby created, which, of course, is a financial bonanza for the Sprawl Lobby.

It is surprising and disappointing that Boulder has, on numerous occasions, shown symptoms of the gigantism disease (surprising because citizens and city staff are relatively well-informed on transportation issues). A leading concern in Boulder is the many intersections that have been expanded by installing double left turn lanes. Installing a single left turn lane historically resulted in a fair improvement in traffic flow, but when a second left turn lane is installed, intersections typically suffer from severely diminished returns. There is only a tiny increase in traffic accommodated (and often, this increase is short-lived) and this small benefit is offset by a huge required increase in walk time for crosswalks that are now very lengthy to cross on foot (which necessitates a very long “walk” phase for the crosswalk). Indeed, some traffic engineers or elected officials are so intolerant of the time-consuming long walk phase that many double-left turn intersections actually PROHIBIT pedestrian crossings by law.

These monster double left turn intersections destroy human scale and sense of place. They create a place-less, car-only intersection where walking and bicycling (and, indirectly, transit) trips are so difficult and unpleasant that more trips in the community are now by car, and less by walking, bicycling and transit. And those newly-induced car trips, despite the conventional wisdom, actually INCREASE greenhouse gas emissions (due to the induced increase in car trips).

Double left turn lanes (like big parking lots and five- or seven-lane highways) disperse housing, jobs, and shops in the community, as the intersection—at least briefly—is able to accommodate more regional car trips. Because the intersection has become so inhospitable, placeless and lacking in human scale, the double left turn repels any residences, shops, or offices from being located anywhere near the intersection, and thereby effectively prevents the intersection from ever evolving into a more walkable, compact, village-like setting.

The following chart shows that, because of the enormous space consumption caused by higher-speed car travel, land consumption rate increases are far out-pacing growth in community populations. For chartexample, from 1950 to 1990, the St. Louis population grew by 35 percent. Yet land consumption in St. Louis grew by 354 percent during that same period.

Given all of this, a centerpiece objective of the Boulder Transportation Master Plan (no more than 20 percent of road mileage is allowed to be congested) may not only be counterproductive in achieving many Boulder objectives, but may actually result in Boulder joining hands with the Sprawl Lobby.

The congestion reduction objective has a number of unintended, undesirable consequences. The objective tells Boulder that the highly desirable tactic of “road diets” (where travel lanes are removed to create a safer, more human-scaled street that can now install bike lanes, on-street parking, and wider sidewalks) are actually undesirable because they can increase congestion. The objective provides justification for looking upon a wider road, a bigger intersection, or a bigger parking lot as desirable, despite the well-documented fact that such gigantic facilities promote sprawl, car emissions, financial difficulties, higher taxes, and lower quality of life, among other detriments.

The objective also tells us that smaller, more affordable infill housing is undesirable—again because such housing can increase congestion.

The Shocking Revolution

The growing awareness of the problems associated with easing car travel (via such things as a congestion reduction objective) is leading to a shocking revolution across the nation. Florida, for example, now realizes that if new development is only allowed if “adequate” road capacity is available for the new development (which is based on “concurrency” rules in Florida’s Growth Management law), the state is powerfully promoting sprawl. Why? Because the available road capacity tends to only be found in sprawl locations. In-town locations, where new development tends to be much more desirable, is strongly discouraged by this Florida concurrency rule because in-town locations tend to have no available road capacity (due to existing, more dense development in town).

As an aside, “concurrency” is a rule that says new development is not allowed if it will lower service level standards adopted by the community. For example, standards might state that there must be at least 10 acres of parkland provided for every 1,000 residents. While concurrency is clearly a good idea for such things as parks and water supply and schools, it is counterproductive for roads.

The shocking revolution in Florida, then, is that the state is now allowing local governments to create “exception areas” for road congestion. If the community can show that it is providing adequate bicycle, pedestrian and transit facilities, the state will grant the local government the ability to create road exceptions so that the road congestion avoidance strategy brought by Florida’s road concurrency rule does not significantly encourage new sprawl and discourage in-town, infill development.

Similarly, California is now acknowledging the unintended, undesirable effects of past efforts to ensure that roads are “free-flowing” for car traffic. “Free flowing” car traffic tends to be measured with “level of service” (LOS) measures. Road LOS is a measure of traffic delay. An intersection (or road) where a car must wait for, say, three cycles of a traffic signal to be able to proceed through the intersection might be given an LOS rating of “F.” An intersection where a car can proceed through an intersection without such delay is given an LOS rating of “A.”

California now realizes that too often, building wider highways or stopping new development as a way to maintain free-flowing car traffic (LOS “A”) is substantially counterproductive. The state now realizes that maintaining or requiring easy, free-flowing car traffic increases greenhouse gas emissions (shocking, since the opposite was formerly believed), increases the number of car trips, and decreases the number of walking, bicycling and transit trips. Free-flowing road “LOS” measures are therefore now being phased out in California.

The “congestion reduction” objective in Boulder’s transportation plan is, in effect, a “happy cars” objective that equates easy car travel with quality of life and sustainability. One important reason why this “happy cars” objective is counterproductive is that cars and people have dramatically different needs and desires—needs and desires that are significantly and frequently in conflict. For example, designing shopping for happy people means the creation of smaller, human-scaled settings where buildings rather than parking lots are placed next to the streetside sidewalk. Where streets are only two or three lanes wide and designed for slow-speed car travel. Where street trees hug the street.

Designing shopping for happy cars, by strong contrast, requires huge car-scaled dimensions. Giant asphalt parking lots are placed between the now giant retail store and the street, which invites easy car parking (but loss of human scale, sense of place, and ease of walking). Streets become what Chuck Marohn calls “stroads”:  5- or 7-lane monster roads intended for dangerous, inhospitable high-speeds. They are roads where streets belong, but their big size and high speeds make them more like roads. Street trees are frequently incompatible with happy cars, as engineers fear cars might crash into them.

Again, this comparison shows that by promoting “happy cars,” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is undermining its important quality of life and city-building objectives.

Indeed, Enrique Penalosa, the former mayor of Bogota, Columbia, once stated that “a city can be friendly to people or it can be friendly to cars, but it can’t be both.” Boulder’s congestion reduction objective is in conflict with this essential truth.

Fortunately, congestion regulates itself if we let it. Congestion will persuade some to drive at non-rush hour times, or take less congested routes, or travel by walking, bicycling, or transit. Congestion therefore does not inexorably lead to gridlock if we don’t widen a road or intersection, because some car trips (the “lower-value” trips) do not occur. Many of those discouraged trips are foregone because of the “time tax” imposed by the congestion.

But widening a road (or, in Boulder’s case, adding a second left-turn lane) short-circuits this self-regulation. A widened road or a double-left turn lane intersection induces new car trips because the road/intersection is now (briefly) less congested. The lower congestion encourages formerly discouraged car trips to now use the route during rush hour. Car trips that used different routes to avoid the congestion now converge back on the less congested route. And some get back in their cars after a period of walking, bicycling or using transit.

The process is very much like the infamous Soviet bread lines. The Soviets wanted to reduce the extremely long lines of people waiting for free bread. Their counterproductive “solution” was to make more free bread. But more free bread just induced more people to line up for bread. Likewise, the conventional American solution to traffic congestion is to make more free space for cars (widening the road or adding a second turn lane). The result is the same, as the bigger roads and intersections inevitably induce more car trips on those routes. The efficient and effective solution, as any first-year economics student will point out, is to NOT make more free bread or wider, free-to-use roads or second turn lanes. The solution is to price the bread and the car routes so that they are used more efficiently (and not wastefully by low-value bread consumers or car travelers). Or, to let a moderate level of congestion discourage low-value rush hour trips.

Given all of this, widening a road or adding a second left-turn lane to solve congestion is like loosening one’s belt to solve obesity. Similarly, despite conventional wisdom, car traffic does not behave like water flowing through a pipe (i.e., flowing easier if the pipe is expanded in size). Car traffic, instead, behaves like a gas. It expands to fill the available, increased volume provided.

Boulder’s Overriding Objectives

Boulder (and PLAN-Boulder County) has outlined key community objectives.

1. One is higher quality of life and more happiness. But counterproductively, happy cars lower quality of life due to clashing values and needs.

2. Another objective is for a more compact, walkable, vibrant city. Unfortunately, over-emphasizing cars means more sprawl.

3. An objective that is much talked about in the area is more affordability. By inducing more car dependence via easier car travel, the congestion reduction objective undermines the affordability objective by making Boulder less affordable (more on that later).

4. Given the growing concern for global warming, Boulder is placing more emphasis on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Easing traffic congestion, however, induces new car traffic, which increases car emissions.

5. Boulder and PLAN-Boulder County seek more travel (and lifestyle) choices. But the congestion reduction objective in Boulder’s plan is again undercutting other objectives because it leads to bigger car infrastructure (bigger roads and intersections), thereby reducing travel and lifestyle choices.

As shown above, then, Boulder’s congestion reduction objective undermines each of these five essential community objectives.

Oops.

Conventional methods of reducing congestion include wider roads, bigger parking lots, one-way streets, and huge intersections. These tactics are a “win-lose” proposition. While they can reduce congestion (briefly), they also cause a loss of human scale and charm; a loss of social gathering; sprawling dispersal; more car dependence and less bicycling, walking, transit; higher taxes; economic woes (for government, shops and households); a decline in public health; and more air pollution.

By striking contrast, other less commonly used but much more beneficial transportation tactics are “win-win” propositions. Some of these tactics include road diets, designing streets for slower speeds, and designing for travel and lifestyle choices. They can result in:

  • More parking spaces
  • More civic pride (induced by human scale)
  • More social gathering
  • A more compact and vibrant community
  • Less car dependence and more bicycling, walking, and transit
  • Lower taxes
  • Economic health (for both government and households)
  • Improvement in public health
  • Less air pollution

If we can’t get rid of congestion, what CAN we do? We can create alternatives so that those who are unwilling to tolerate the congestion can find ways to avoid it. Congestion can be better avoided if we create more housing near jobs, shops, and culture. Doing this allows more people to have better, more feasible ways to travel without a car. We can also create more travel routes, so that the congested routes are not the only routes to our destinations. Some of us can be given more flexible work schedules to shift our work hours away from rush hour. And some of us can be given increased opportunities to telecommute (work from home).

How Can We Design Transportation to Achieve a Better Destiny?

An important way to start Boulder on a better destiny for the city is to revisit the “No more than 20 percent congested road miles” objective in the Boulder transportation master plan. Some possibilities: adopt a “level of service standard” not for cars, but for bicycle, walking and transit travel; “Level of service” standards for cars is becoming outdated because it is being increasingly seen as counterproductive, as described earlier. Other alternatives to the “congestion” objective is to have a target of controlling or reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) community-wide; or set a goal of minimizing trip generation by individual new developments in the city.

Another option is to keep the congestion objective, but create “exception” areas where the congestion rule does not apply. Those exception areas would be places where Boulder seeks to encourage new development.

Boulder needs to ensure that the community land development and transportation design tactics are appropriately calibrated within each “transect zone” of the community. (The “transect” principle identifies a transition from urban to rural, whereby the town center is more compact, formal, low-speed, and walkable; the suburbs are more dispersed, informal, higher-speed, and drivable; and the rural areas most remote from the town center are more intended for a farming and conservation lifestyle. Development regulations and transportation designs are calibrated so that the differing lifestyle and travel objectives of each zone are best achieved.) However, the difficulty with the transect principle in places like Boulder is that the demand for compact, walkable lifestyles and travel choices is much higher than the supply of such places in Boulder. There is, in other words, a large mismatch. By contrast, the supply of suburban, drivable areas is quite high. To correct this imbalance, Boulder should strive to create a larger supply of compact, walkable places similar to Pearl Street Mall, the Boulder town center, and even the CU campus. Opportunities now being discussed are the creation of new, compact villages and town centers at places such as street intersections outside of the Boulder town center.

As an aside, the community transect concept informs us that in the town center, “more is better.” That is, the lifestyle being sought in the community center is one where more shops, more offices, and more housing enhances the lifestyle, as this more proximate, mixed, compact layout of land uses provides the thriving, sociable, convenient, vibrant, 24-hour ambience that many seeking the walkable lifestyle want more of.

By contrast, in the more drivable suburbs, “more is less.” That is, the drivable lifestyle is enhanced in quality when there is less density, less development, more dispersal, and more isolation of houses from shops and offices. The ambience generally desired is more quiet and private.

While town center housing is increasingly expensive compared to the suburbs—particularly in cities such as Boulder—such in-town housing provides significant cost savings for transportation. Because such a housing location provides so many travel choices beyond car travel, many households find they can own two cars instead of three or one car instead of two. And each car that a household can “shed” due to the richness of travel choices provides more household income that can be directed to housing expenses such as a mortgage or rent. Today, the average car costs about $9,000 per year to own and operate. In places that are compact and walkable, that $9,000 (or $18,000) per year can be devoted to housing, thereby improving affordability.

In addition to providing for the full range of housing and travel choices, Boulder can better achieve its objectives through road diets, where travel lanes are removed and more space is provided for such things as bike lanes or sidewalks or transit. Road diets are increasingly used throughout the nation—particularly converting roads from four lanes to three. Up to about 25,000 vehicle trips per day on the road, a road that is “dieted” to, say, three lanes carries about as much traffic as a four-lane road. This is mostly due to the fact that the inside lanes of a four-laner frequently must act as Untitledturn lanes for cars waiting to make a left turn. Four-lane roads are less desirable than three-lane streets because they induce more car trips and reduce bicycle, walking and transit trips. Compared to three-lane streets, four-lane roads result in more speeding traffic. As a result, four-laners create a higher crash rate than three-lane streets. Finally, because the three-lane street is more human-scaled, pleasant, lower-speed, and thereby place-making, a three-lane street is better than a four-lane street for shops. The three-lane street becomes a place to drive TO, rather than drive THROUGH (as is the case with a four-lane street).

If Boulder seeks to be transformative with transportation—that is, if the city seeks to significantly shift car trips to walking, bicycling and transit trips (rather than the relatively modest shifts the city has achieved in the past)—it must recognize that it is NOT about providing more bike paths, sidewalks, or transit service. It is about taking away road and parking space from cars, and taking away subsidies for car travel.

Another transportation tactic Boulder should pursue to achieve a better destiny is to unbundle the price of parking from the price of housing. People who own less (or no) cars should have the choice of opting for more affordable housing—housing that does not include the very expensive cost of provided parking. Currently, little or no housing in Boulder provides the buyer or renter the option of having lower cost housing payments by choosing not to pay for parking. Particularly in a place like Boulder, where land values are so high, even housing intended to be relatively affordable is more costly than it needs to be because the land needed for parking adds a large cost to the housing price. Indeed, by requiring the home buyer or renter to pay more for parking, bundled parking price creates a financial incentive for owning and using more cars than would have otherwise been the case.

Boulder should also strive to provide parking more efficiently by pricing more parking. Too much parking in Boulder is both abundant and free. Less parking would be needed in the city (which would make the city more affordable, by the way) if it were efficiently priced.  Donald Shoup recommends, for example, that parking meters be priced to ensure that in general, 2 or 3 parking spaces will be vacant on each block.

Efficient parking methods that could be used more often in Boulder include allowing shops and offices and churches to share their parking. This opportunity is particularly available when different land uses (say churches and shops) don’t share the same hours of operation. Again, sharing more parking reduces the amount of parking needed in the city, which makes the city more compact, walkable, enjoyable and active.

Like shared parking, leased parking allows for a reduction in parking needed. If Boulder, for example, owns a parking garage, some of the spaces can be leased to nearby offices, shops, or housing so that those particular land uses do not need to create their own parking.

Finally, a relatively easy and quick way for Boulder to beneficially reform and make more efficient its parking is to revise its parking regulations so that “minimum parking” is converted to “MAXIMUM parking.” Minimum parking rules, required throughout Boulder, are the conventional and increasingly outmoded way to regulate parking. They tell the developer that at least “X” amount of parking spaces must be provided for every “Y” square feet of building. This rule almost always requires the developer to provide excessive, very expensive parking, in large part because it is based on “worst case scenario” parking “needs.” That is, sufficient parking must be provided so that there will be enough on the busiest single day of the year (often the weekend after Thanksgiving). Such a provision means that for the other 364 days of the year, a large number of parking spaces sit empty, a very costly proposition.

In contrast, maximum parking rules tell the developer that there is an upper limit to the number of spaces that can be provided. This works much better for the community and the business because the business is better able to choose how much parking it needs and can finance. Since financial institutions that provide financing for new developments typically require the developer to provide the conventional (read: excessive) amounts of parking as a condition for obtaining a development loan, the big danger for communities in nearly all cases is that TOO MUCH parking will be provided rather than too little. The result of setting “maximum” instead of “minimum” parking rules is that excessive, worst case scenario parking developments become much more rare.

The reform of parking is easy: simply convert the existing minimum parking specifications to maximum parking standards (“at least 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet” becomes “no more than 3 spaces per 1,000 square feet). An incremental approach to this conversion is to apply maximum parking rules in those places that are already rich in travel choices, such as the Boulder town center.

Again, what will Boulder’s destiny be? As the preceding discussion sought to demonstrate, much of that destiny will be shaped by transportation decisions.

Will destiny be shaped by striving for happy people and happy places for people? Or will it be shaped by opting for the conventional, downwardly-spiraling effort of seeking easy car travel (and thereby unpleasant places where only a car can be happy – such as huge highways or parking lots)?

Will Boulder, in other words, retain or otherwise promote place-less conventional shopping centers full of deadening parking, car-only travel, lack of human interaction, and isolation? Or will the city move away from car-happy objectives such as the congestion reduction policy, and instead move toward a people-friendly future rich in sociability, pride in community, travel choices, sustainability, place-making and human scale?

An example of these contrasting destinies is Pearl Street. West Pearl features the charm and human scale we built historically. West Pearl Street exemplifies a lovable, walkable, calm, safe and inviting ambience where car speeds are slower, the street is more narrow, and the shops—by being pulled up to the streetside sidewalk—help form a comfortable sense of enclosure that activates the street and feels comfortable to walk. The shops tend to be smaller—more neighborhood-scaled.

East Pearl Street near 28th Street is starkly different. There, the street is a “stroad,” because it is an overly wide road that should be a more narrow, lower-speed street. Shops are pulled back long distances from the street. The street here is fronted not by interesting shop fronts but enormous seas of asphalt parking. The layout is car-scaled. The setting is hostile, unpleasant, unsafe, stressful and uninviting. The shops tend to be “Big Box” retail, and serve a regional “consumershed.” There is “no there there.”

East Pearl Street was built more recently by professional planners and engineers who have advanced degrees that far exceed the professionalism and education of those who designed the more lovable West Pearl Street. Where has the charm gone? Why have our streets become less pleasant in more recent years (by better trained and better educated designers, I might add)? Is it perhaps related to our more expensive and sophisticated efforts to ease car traffic and reduce congestion?

There is an inverse relationship between congestion and such measures as vehicle miles traveled and gas consumption. At the community level—despite the conventional wisdom—as congestion increases, vehicle miles traveled, gas consumption, air emissions DECREASE. And as conventional efforts to reduce congestion intensify, quality of life and sustainability also decrease.

Again, is Boulder aligning itself with the Sprawl Lobby by maintaining an objective of easing traffic flow – by striving to reduce congestion?

On Controlling Size

David Mohney reminds us that the first task of the urban designer is to control size. This not only pertains to the essential need to keep streets, building setbacks, and community dispersal modest in size. It also pertains to the highly important need to insist on controlling the size of service and delivery trucks. Over-sized trucks in Boulder lead the city down a ruinous path, as street and intersection dimensions are typically driven by the “design vehicle.” When trucks are relatively large, excessive truck size becomes the “design vehicle” which ends up driving the dimensions of city streets. A healthy city should be designed for human scale and safety, not for the needs of huge trucks. Indeed, because motor vehicles consume so much space, a sign of a healthy, well-designed community is that drivers of vehicles should feel inconvenienced. If driving vehicles feels comfortable, it is a signal that we have over-designed streets and allocated such excessive spaces that we have lost human scale and safety.

A proposal for human-scaled streets: in Boulder’s town center, no street should be larger than three lanes in size. Outside the town center, no street should be larger than five lanes in size. Anything more exceeds the human scaling needed for a pleasant, safe, sustainable community.

It is time to return to the timeless tradition of designing to make people happy, not cars. Boulder needs to start by revisiting its congestion reduction objective, putting a number of its roads on a “road diet,” and taking steps to make the provision of parking more efficient and conducive to a healthy city.

________________________________________

 More about the author

 Mr. Nozzi was a senior planner for Gainesville FL for 20 years, and wrote that city’s long-range transportation plan. He also administered Boulder’s growth rate control law in the mid-90s. He is currently a member of the Boulder Transportation Advisory Board.

 Studies Demonstrating Induced Traffic and Car Emission Increases

Below is a sampling of references to studies describing how new car trips are induced by easier car travel, and how car emissions increase as a result.

http://www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/articles/hwyemis.asp

http://www.vtpi.org/gentraf.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Induced_demand

https://walkablestreets.wordpress.com/1993/04/18/does-free-flowing-car-traffic-reduce-fuel-consumption-and-air-pollution/

TØI (2009), Does Road Improvement Decrease Greenhouse Gas Emissions?, Institute of Transport Economics (TØI), Norwegian Centre for Transport Research (www.toi.no); summary at www.toi.no/getfile.php/Publikasjoner/T%D8I%20rapporter/2009/1027-2009/Sum-1027-2009.pdf

Robert Noland and Mohammed A. Quddus (2006), “Flow Improvements and Vehicle Emissions:

Effects of Trip Generation and Emission Control Technology,” Transportation Research D, Vol. 11 (www.elsevier.com/locate/trd), pp. 1-14; also see

www.cts.cv.ic.ac.uk/documents/publications/iccts00249.pdf

Clark Williams-Derry (2007), Increases In Greenhouse-Gas Emissions From Highway-Widening Projects, Sightline Institute (www.sightline.org); at

www.sightline.org/research/energy/res_pubs/analysis-ghg-roads

TRB (1995), Expanding Metropolitan Highways: Implications for Air Quality and Energy Use,

Committee for Study of Impacts of Highway Capacity Improvements on Air Quality and Energy

Consumption, Transportation Research Board, Special Report #345 (www.trb.org)

D. Shefer & P. Rietvald (1997), “Congestion and Safety on Highways: Towards an Analytical Model,” Urban Studies, Vol. 34, No. 4, pp. 679-692.

Alison Cassady, Tony Dutzik and Emily Figdor (2004). More Highways, More Pollution: Road Building and Air Pollution in America’s Cities, U.S. PIRG Education Fund (www.uspirg.org).

http://www.opr.ca.gov/docs/PreliminaryEvaluationTransportationMetrics.pdf

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Filed under Bicycling, New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking, Sprawl and Suburbia, Traffic Congestion, Walkable Streets Speaking and Consulting

New Urbanist towns in the US

New Urbanist towns and neighborhoods I have visited

Haile Village Center, Gainesville FL http://www.haileguide.com/

Town of Tioga, Gainesville FL http://www.townoftioga.com/

Seaside FL http://www.seasidefl.com/

Rosemary Beach FL http://www.rosemarybeach.com/

Celebration FL http://www.celebration.fl.us/

I’on SC http://www.ionvillage.com/

Holiday neighborhood, Boulder CO http://www.boulderhousing.org/content/recent-development-holiday-neighborhood

Iris Hollow, Boulder CO http://www.coburndev.com/index.php/site/irishollow/

Baldwin Park FL http://www.baldwinparkfl.com/

CityPlace FL http://www.cityplace.com/

Bryton, Gainesville FL http://www.brytan.com/

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

Sustainable, Unbiased Transportation Terminology

by Michael Wright and Dom Nozzi

The following excerpted memo was sent to all department directors and division heads of the City of West Palm Beach by Michael Wright, the City Administrator (Manager) on November 14, 1996:

Please be advised that the City of West Palm Beach has adopted a new transportation language policy. Employees are asked to follow the policy and encourage those who deal with the City to do the same. The intent of the policy is to remove the biases inherent in some of the current transportation language used at the City. This change is consistent with the shift in philosophy as the City works towards becoming a sustainable community. Objective language will be used for all correspondences, resolutions, ordinances, plans, language at meetings, etc. and when updating past work.

Everyone’s cooperation will be greatly appreciated. Please ensure that your employees are aware of, and use, the objective language. After a few of weeks of practice, using the objective language will become second nature.

Background. Much of the current transportation language was developed in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This was the golden age of automobiles and accommodating them was a major priority in society. Times have changed, especially in urban areas where creating a balanced, equitable, and sustainable transportation system is the new priority. The transportation language has not evolved at the same pace as the changing priorities; much of it still carries a pro-automobile bias. Continued use of biased language is not in keeping with the goal of addressing transportation issues in an objective way in the City.

Language Changes. There are several biased words and phrases that have been identified and summarized at the end of this memo. Suggested objective language is also summarized. The rationale for the changes is explained below. In summary, the City has to be unbiased, and appear to be unbiased. Objective language will also allow the City to be inclusive of all of the City’s constituents and modes of transportation.

The word improvements is often used when referring to the addition of through lanes, turn lanes, channelization, or other means of increasing motor vehicle capacity and/or speeds. Though these changes may indeed be improvements from the perspective of motor vehicle users, they would not be considered improvements by other constituents of the City. For example, a resident may not think that adding more lanes in front of the resident’s house is an improvement. A parent may not think that a channelized right turn lane is an improvement on their child’s pedestrian route to school. By City staff referring to these changes as improvements, it indicates that the City is biased in favor of one group at the expense of others. Suggested objective language includes being descriptive (e.g., use through lanes, turn lanes, etc.) or using language such as modifications or changes.

Examples:

Biased —

The following street improvements are recommended.

The intersection improvement will cost $5,000.00.

The motor vehicle capacity will be improved.

Objective–

The following street modifications are recommended.

The right turn channel will cost $5,000,00.

The motor vehicle capacity will be changed.

Like improved and improvement, there are similarly biased words such as enhance, enhancement, and deteriorate. Suggested objective language is shown in the examples below.

Examples:

Biased —

The level of service for motor vehicles was enhanced.

The level of service for motor vehicles deteriorated.

The motor vehicle capacity enhancements will cost $40,000.00.

Objective —

The level of service for motor vehicles was changed.

The level of service for motor vehicles was decreased.

The level of service for motor vehicles was increased.

The increases to motor vehicle capacity will cost $40,000.00.

Upgrade is a term that is currently used to describe what happens when a local street is as a collector, or when a two-lane street is expanded to four lanes. Upgrade implies a change for the better. Though this may be the case for one constituent, others may disagree. Again, using upgrade in this way indicates that the City has a bias that favors one group over other groups. Objective language includes expansion, reconstruction, widened, or changed.

Examples:

Biased —

Upgrading the street will require a wider right of way.

The upgrades will lengthen sight distances.

Objective —

Widening the street will require a wider right of way.

The changes will lengthen sight distances.

Level of service is a qualitative measure describing the operational conditions of a facility or service from the perspective of a particular set of users (motor vehicle users, cyclists, pedestrians, etc.). If the set of users is not specified, then it is a mystery as to which set is being considered. The bias enters the picture when it is assumed that, unless otherwise specified, level of service implies for motor vehicle users. The objective way to use this term is to add the appropriate modifier after “level of service”.

Examples:

Biased —

The level of service was “A”.

Objective —

The level of service for motor vehicle users was “A”.

The level of service for pedestrians was “A”.

If “level of service” were used frequently for the same users in the same document, using the modifier every time would be cumbersome. In these situations, the modifier is only required at the beginning of the document and periodically after that…

…Promoting alternative modes of transportation is generally considered a good thing at the City. However, the word alternative begs the question “Alternative to what?” The assumption is alternative to automobiles. Alternative also implies that these alternative modes are nontraditional or nonconventional, which is not the case with the pedestrian, cycle, nor transit modes. [I would also add that the term alternative disparagingly implies that it is a form of travel only used by hippies, wild-eyed radicals, or other undesirable, weird, counter-culture types, and will therefore never be a form of mainstream transportation used by us “normal” people — Dom]

If we are discussing alternative modes of transportation in the City, then use direct and objective language such as “non-automobile” modes of transportation. Alternatively, one can add an appropriate modifier as shown in the last example.

Examples:

Biased —

Alternative modes of transportation are important to downtown.

Objective —

Non-automobile modes of transportation are important to the downtown.

Non-motorized modes of transportation are important to the downtown.

Alternative modes of transportation to the automobile are important to the downtown.

[My own personal preference for terminology here is:

Sustainable forms of transportation are important to the downtown. — Dom]

Accidents are events during which something harmful or unlucky happens unexpectedly or by chance. Accident implies no fault. It is well known that the vast majority of accidents are preventable and that fault can be assigned. The use of accident also reduces the degree of responsibility and severity associated with the situation and invokes a inherent degree of sympathy for the person responsible. Objective language includes collision and crash.

Examples:

Biased —

Motor vehicle accidents kill 200 people every year in the County.

He had an accident with a light pole.

Here is the accident report.

Objective —

Motor vehicle collisions kill 200 people every year in the County.

He crashed into a light pole.

Here is the collision report.

Protect means shielding from harm. However, when we discuss protecting land for a right of way for a road, the intent is not to shield the land from harm, but to construct a road over it. Objective words include designate and purchase.

Examples:

Biased —

We have protected this right of way.

Objective —

We have purchased this right of way.

We have designated this a right of way,

Everyone at the City should strive to make the transportation systems operate as efficiently as possible. However, we must be careful how we use efficient because that word is frequently confused with the word faster. Typically, efficiency issues are raised when dealing with motor vehicles operating at slow speeds. The assumption is that if changes were made that increase the speeds of the motor vehicles, then efficiency rises. However, this assumption is highly debatable. For example, high motor vehicle speeds lead to urban sprawl, motor vehicle dependence, and high resource use (land, metal, rubber, etc.) which reduces efficiency. Motor vehicles burn the least fuel at about 30 miles per hour; speeds above this result in inefficiencies. In urban areas, accelerating and decelerating from stopped conditions to high speeds results in inefficiencies when compared to slow and steady speeds. There are also efficiency debates about people’s travel time and other issues as well. Therefore, be careful how you use the word efficient at the City, If you really mean faster, then say faster. Do not assume that faster is necessarily more efficient. Similarly, if you mean slower, then say slower.

Examples:

Biased —

The traffic signal timings were adjusted to increase motor vehicle efficiency.

Let us widen the road so that cars operate more efficiently.

Objective —

The traffic signal timings were adjusted to increase motor vehicle speeds.

Let us widen the road so that it cars operate faster.

Summary

Biased Terms — Objective Terms

improve — change, modify

enhance, deteriorate — change, increase, decrease

upgrade — change, redesignate, expand, widen, replace

level of service — level of service for ___

traffic — motor vehicles

traffic demand — motor vehicle use

accident — collision, crash

protect — purchase, designate

efficient — fast

[Disparaging Term — Desirable Term

alternative — sustainable]

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Filed under Bicycling, New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

Finding a Place for Parking

Parking spaces usually diminish public spaces — but it doesn’t have to be that way.

By Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces

 

Despite what you may have heard, nobody goes to a place solely because it has parking. In fact, the current obsession with parking is one of the biggest obstacles to achieving livable cities and towns, because it usually runs counter to what should be our paramount concern: creating places where people enjoy spending time. As long as the myth persists that economic prosperity depends on parking, local governments will continue to waste public money and distort the public planning process.

The realization that creating a place where people want to come and spend time is more important than parking unfortunately eludes many municipalities. Worrying about and wasting public money on parking is taking over the public planning process and subsequently parking is taking over our communities. So how can we put parking in its place and draw people back to public spaces?

One big step forward is to assess the supply of parking in relation to what is actually needed. PPS often works with towns that have excess parking capacity, where the growing number of surface lots and parking structures has choked out the very reason people drove there in the first place. In Salt Lake City, for instance, PPS’s land-use map highlighted the excess parking spaces within 1/4 mile of downtown, showing that the real shortage was of places for people to go, not spaces to park.

The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself.

This state of affairs arises when businesses compete with each other to maximize their own parking spaces–to the detriment of the surrounding community and, inevitably, themselves. The hang-up on parking is an indicator that a community has no broader vision for itself. Get businesses and other parties to cooperate creatively with each other, and you can create the kind of parking infrastructure that supports public spaces. Here are some questions to get businesses and public officials talking about creative new ways to accommodate parking needs with the public’s desire for lively public places:

10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking

1. Is it a destination worth creating parking spaces for?

Public dollars are often spent on large parking areas that provide no tax revenue and serve businesses that either compete with existing downtown businesses or would better serve the community if located downtown. But why should municipalities use public funds to subsidize parking spaces for destinations that don’t enhance the community as a whole? Spending the same money to instead make development more attractive and connected to downtown means taxes better spent, space better used, and communities better served.

2. Do the parking spaces really make more people want to go there?

Think of the most popular district in your region – places like downtown Cambridge, MA, or the French Quarter of New Orleans. Is it easy to park there? No way! But do people go? You bet! They’ll walk six blocks from their car to a store, and LIKE it! Which is to say that people don’t come to an area for the parking, they come for what’s distinct and special about that place. Why should towns create excess parking spaces if all that asphalt detracts from the qualities that attracted people in the first place? Many communities that have parking shortages are actually thriving.

3. Are parking regulations being obeyed?

When there appears to be a parking shortage, the most likely explanation is that people are simply not obeying parking laws. In the business district of Poughkeepsie, NY, PPS found that more than half the on-street parking was illegal. Parking turnover studies are an easy, inexpensive way to show where violations are happening and suggest how to enforce existing regulations more effectively.

4. Are there opportunities to share business parking lots that have demands at different times of day or week?

Parking areas for churches, theaters, restaurants and bars often sit vacant during peak hours, when demand is highest. Can these businesses and institutions be encouraged to let go of their dedicated parking areas and take advantage of existing nearby parking which is available on evenings and weekends? Put another way: Would people be more likely to go to church or the theater or a restaurant if they saw their destination as simply “downtown” and could easily visit more than one place per trip?

5. Where do employees park? If they have the same shifts, can they carpool?

Merchants and their employees consistently take on-street spots early in the morning and feed the meters all day. They should be encouraged to instead park in municipal parking lots, carpool, or take transit. These alternatives can be made more attractive by designating off-street spots, creating employee incentive programs, or implementing shorter meter times.

6. Is the timing and pricing of meters optimized for each location?

Different sections of the same street may have varying parking needs. The meters in front of a post office, for instance, may provide two whole hours of parking time, but only require ten minutes. Some parking spaces should be more expensive to encourage high turnover. Again, parking turnover studies can inform more appropriate regulations that fit the context of the street.

7. Are there adequate sidewalks and pedestrian amenities connecting off-street parking areas to downtown streets?

The walk to downtown shopping areas from many municipal parking lots and garages is so abysmal that many people won’t park there. Though such lots may provide significant quantities of parking, they will be underutilized if the walk from the car is poorly lit, dull, uncomfortable, or outright hazardous.

8. Are there opportunities for angled parking?

Lane widths in downtowns and on commercial streets need only be 8-10 feet, rather than the standard 12-plus feet. This means that many commercial streets are wide enough to accommodate angled parking in some sections. Angled parking can fit almost 50 percent more cars than parallel parking, and it calms traffic, creating a safer environment that’s more conducive to pedestrian use.

9. Can curb cuts be consolidated and narrowed?

Frequently, parking lot entrances and exits can be combined, narrowed or made one-way to make room for more on-street parking and a safer, more pleasant pedestrian environment.

10. Are there opportunities to share business drop-offs that have demands at different times of day?

Some truck or passenger drop-off areas are only used for predictable early morning or weekday periods and can be used for parking the rest of the time.

Once you start asking the right questions, ingenuity and cooperation will follow. In Littleton, New Hampshire, for example, PPS worked with the town to address its nagging parking problem by making downtown streets more walkable. Following a series of small, inexpensive traffic-calming experiments, the town is now partnering with several business owners to improve the pedestrian environment, reduce lane widths (and therefore automobile speeds), and expand the pedestrian-friendly downtown area. The improvements will increase the availability of parking spots from which people will feel comfortable walking to downtown by at least threefold. How? By enabling people to consolidate their car trips and visit more places from the same parking spot.

Of course, the biggest benefit of this plan is that more people go out on the sidewalk, which creates the very streetlife that makes other people–and businesses–want to come downtown. But that doesn’t happen automatically. In order to create a more desirable street environment for pedestrians, businesses, and drivers, you need to take full advantage of the opportunities presented by rethinking parking. These opportunities include:

• Pedestrian amenities: Street corners with more sidewalk space, seating, and plantings can become the focal points necessary to bring back pedestrians and streetlife.

• Improved safety: Curb extensions make sidewalks and pedestrians more visible to drivers. Narrower lanes slow vehicles and reduce risk to pedestrians and bicyclists. Replacing parking lots with in-fill development eliminates space that is perceived as unsafe and makes possible anonymous criminal behavior.

• Shorter crossing distances: Curb extensions at intersections create shorter crossing distances for pedestrians, and therefore shorter wait times for automobiles.

• Retail kiosks and cafés: Temporary or permanent retail stalls can be placed at the street edge of parking lots or in reclaimed parking spaces.

• Programming and multiple-use spaces: Existing parking lots can be converted–whole or in part–into public squares with markets, performance spaces and seating areas.

• Transit compatibility: By reducing the supply of parking, demand for transit goes up and new destinations form around transit stops.

Spending money on such public amenities instead of parking may seem radical, but in fact it is a wise investment. Pedestrians feel more comfortable walking because of the slower vehicle speeds and reduced number of curb cuts. Businesses get more passersby and first-time walk-ins. Drivers make fewer trips, waste less time in the car, get more exercise walking, and even enjoy the experience of driving downtown more — because it is a pleasant place to be, not a parking lot.

Consider the city of Copenhagen, which has instituted a policy to reduce parking by two percent each year. The risk has paid off many times over by the number of people who now walk and bike to the city center–all of whom, you can be sure, feel at least 50 percent more devotion for their home city.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Parking

David Sucher’s Three Rules for Urban Design

David Sucher is the author of City Comforts, a fantastic, easy-to-read, important book about the essential elements of designing a quality city. I strongly recommend the book.

Sucher has established what he believes are the Three Rules for quality urban design:

“The key decision in creating a walkable, pedestrian-oriented neighborhood, is the position of the building with respect to the sidewalk.

This decision determines whether you have a city or a suburb.”

1. Build to the sidewalk (i.e., property line).

2. Make the building front “permeable” (i.e., no blank walls).

3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

Many Cities Changing One-Way Streets Back

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

12/20/06

More traffic will be coming to downtown Danville, Ill. — and that’s how Danville wants it. The city of 33,000 is converting some of its longtime one-way streets back to two-way thoroughfares. City officials hope the change will make it easier for customers to reach downtown stores and shop in them.

“The driving force behind it is economic development,” says city engineer David Schnelle, who expects to reprogram signals, change pavement markings and change signs by November 2007.

He says motorists tend to drive faster on one-way streets and go past their destinations, then lose time and patience backtracking.

Danville is one of hundreds of cities — from Berkeley, Calif., to Charleston, S.C. — switching one-way streets to two-way to improve commerce downtown, according to the American Planning Association in Chicago. The trend got rolling in the early 1990s and has expanded this year to bigger cities such as Miami, Dallas and Minneapolis. It’s part of the reinvention of former industrial cities, which are converting empty factories into loft housing and trying to convince suburbanites that downtowns are livable.

“There’s a lot of emphasis now on taming the automobile and emphasizing walking and biking. It’s all part of creating a place that people want to be,” says Marya Morris of the American Planning Association. “The bigger pieces are the major downtown housing booms and having things for people to do after 5.”

The boom in one-way streets began with the Cold War in the 1950s, when cities planned quick routes out of town for evacuation in case of nuclear attack, says John Norquist, one of the first vocal advocates of two-way-street conversion. Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2003 and now runs the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes the revitalization of cities.

The growth of the suburbs contributed, too, as cities smoothed the route home from work, says Neal Hawkins, associate director for traffic operations at the Iowa State University Center for Transportation Research and Education. Now, though, there are more jobs in the suburbs, more entertainment downtown, and drivers go in all directions.

They drive less efficiently on two-way streets, according to the Thoreau Institute, an environmental advocacy group in Oregon. The slower stop-and-go traffic means cars pollute more, the institute says.

In Danville, 170 miles south of Chicago, two-way streets are meant to speed an economic revival after 15 years of plant closings left downtown streets quiet. The city set up a small-business loan program to attract stores and restaurants.

Now Danville wants to make it easier for customers to find them, especially the shops on Vermilion Street.

Marie Pribble, co-owner of the Java Hut coffee shop and cafe, looks forward to the change. “The slower people go, the more likely they are to pay attention to your business or your storefront, and the more likely they are to stop in,” she says.

Norquist was one of the first mayors to promote more two-way streets. He led a campaign to convert several downtown Milwaukee streets back to two-way. He says the increased traffic means that neighborhoods flourish: “I think people started to realize that the city was more important than the road that runs through it.”

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Traffic Congestion