Tag Archives: community vision

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

Top Ten Urban Design Books

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

In no particular order, here are the ten best, most influential urban design books that I have ever read. Each of these books changed the course of my life and how I view city planning and the world at large. I would strongly recommend that each of these ten books be required reading for every local government elected official, planner and engineer in your community.

The High Cost of Free Parking.

By Donald Shoup (2005). My book, “Road to Ruin,” claims the key to quality communities is driven by how we build our roads. But in this groundbreaking work, the best planning book I’ve ever read in my 20 years as a city planner, Shoup persuasively shows that the excessive parking required throughout the nation is the primary factor for how our communities form, and plays a powerful role in how we travel. The parking we require new development to provide is scientifically unsound, economically irrational, counter to our community objectives, and thereby catastrophic for our cities and our quality of life. Shoup makes the overwhelming, disturbing case that how we manage our parking is the lynchpin to the future of our cities. Shoup’s book is exceptionally readable, witty and insightful. The book is thin with regard to urban design concepts, but as Shoup effectively points out, without the proper management of parking, quality urban design is not possible.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

By Jane Jacobs (1961). This book is universally and appropriately considered a classic in urban design, and is a pioneer in accurately describing what is necessary for a healthy city. Many of the timeless concepts used in urban design first gained prominence as a result of this book. It motivated (and continues to motivate) a great many professionals to become urbanists. As the author says, “Lowly, unpurposeful and random as they appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life must grow.”

Cities and Automobile Dependence.

By Jeff Kenworthy and Peter Newman (1989). The revolutionary, breakthrough book that changed my life as a planner. In its day, it turned conventional wisdom on its head with regard to traffic congestion, road widening and parking. Their international survey of cities shows that gas consumption and air pollution go DOWN as a result of congestion. That free-flowing traffic, big roads and excessive amounts of parking INCREASE gas consumption and air pollution (and also destroy community quality of life). This work also clearly shows the fundamental role that transportation plays in how a city forms. “The land use and urban form of cities are…fundamentally shaped by priorities in transportation…the essential character of a city’s land use comes down to how it manages its transport…higher average traffic speed appears to spread the city, creating lower density land use, a greater need for cars, longer travel distances and reduced use of other less polluting or pollution-free modes. The benefits gained in terms of less polluting traffic streams appear to be overwhelmed by the sheer amount of extra travel and the resulting bulk of emissions.”

Home From Nowhere.

By James Howard Kunstler (1996). The author combines an impressive understanding of quality urban design with hilarious, vitriolic, provocative observations about architecture in America. I have never laughed so hard in any book I have read. Or learned so much about the awful nature of buildings in the United States. Kunstler has made the point that, “what’s bad about sprawl is not its uniformity, but that it is so uniformly bad.”

Cities in Full.

By Steve Belmont (2002). The best case I’ve ever read about the merits of high residential densities in cities, and why such densities are essential for city health. A stupendous discussion about what ingredients are necessary for the wellbeing of a city. And why it is so important for a downtown to be the centralized community focus for jobs, housing and retail (instead of a polycentric city form). Excellent discussion about why the monocentric city is best for commuting.

The Great Good Place.

By Ray Oldenburg (1991). Oldenburg discusses the crucial importance of “The Third Place,” the place we would traditionally go to after the work day for socializing with friends and regularly finding a sense of community, the place where “everyone knows your name.” They are distinctive, informal gathering places, they make the citizen feel at home, they nourish relationships and a diversity of human contact, they help create a sense of place and community, they invoke a sense of civic pride, they provide numerous opportunities for serendipity, they promote companionship, they allow people to relax and unwind after a long day at work, they are socially binding, they encourage sociability instead of isolation, they make life more colorful, and they enrich public life and democracy. Their disappearance in our culture is unhealthy for our cities because, as Oldenburg points out, they are the bedrock of community life and all the benefits that come from such interaction.

Suburban Nation.

By Andres Duany, Jeff Speck, Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk (2000). A superb summary of the downfall of the American neighborhood and how it can be restored. “In [the traditional New England town], one can live above the store, next to the store, five minutes from the store or nowhere near the store, and it is easy to imagine the different age groups and personalities that would prefer each alternative. In this way and others, the traditional neighborhood provides for an array of lifestyles. In conventional suburbia, there is only one available lifestyle: to own a car and to need it for everything.”

Cultural Materialism.

By Marvin Harris (1979). This book is about anthropology, not urban design, but it transformed how I think about human behavior, and therefore plays an essential role in my understanding why humans behave the way they do. For us to be effective in our urban design, it is necessary to know that humans behave largely due to the material conditions they face in their everyday world, and how very little behavior is due to the exhortation of ideas, or educating citizens about how to properly behave.

Trees in Urban Design.

By Henry Arnold (1985). This should be a regularly consulted reference book on the shelves of all urban designers. An enormous wealth of information from an arborist who learned a great many things, in a long career, about the proper placement of trees to achieve better urbanism. How proper tree placement and selection can play a powerful role in creating a better city ambience. His prescriptions, while highly accurate and vitally important for a quality city, quite often run counter to what is frequently sought after by contemporary utility companies and other municipal engineers, which helps explain why most of our cities tend to be quite awful when it comes to their trees.

Stuck in Traffic.

By Anthony Downs (1992). Another landmark book that changed how I think about transportation and city planning. In this highly readable book—required reading, by the way, for elected officials—Downs popularizes the concept of induced travel—what he calls The Triple Convergence. Why it is impossible for us to build our way out of congestion. He writes in an extremely understandable way about topics that are complex, yet crucially important—given the hundreds of billions of public dollars we spend to try to ease congestion.

Once you have read the above, there are ten additional, magnificent books worth your time.

The Car and the City. By Alan Durning (1996).

Urban Sprawl and Public Health. By Howard Frumkin, Lawrence Frank, Richard Jackson (2004).

Getting There. By Stephen B.Goddard (1994).

Crabgrass Frontier. By Kenneth Jackson (1985).

How Cities Work. By Alex Marshall (2001).

The Wealth of Cities. By John Norquist (1998).

Visions for a New American Dream. By Anton C. Nelessen (1994).

Changing Places. By Richard Moe, Wilkie Carter Wilkie (1997).

A Better Place to Live. By Philip Langdon (1994).

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A Community Visioning Checklist

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Throughout the nation, there is a growing interest in, and concern about, whether the community has a clear, proud, effective vision that will lead to a quality future. Oftentimes, this interest and concern is borne from citizens who
look around their community and are appalled by the changes that have occurred due to new development. “Where is the vision?,” they ask, when they see the growth of an Anywhere USA strip commercial corridor being created on one of
their major roads. “Do we have a plan? Do we have development regulations to protect and promote our quality of life? What will this community be like 20 years from now? Will my children be safe and happy?”

Below is a checklist that can be used to determine whether a community will be able to establish and maintain a vision that delivers a quality of life in the future.

  1. Has your community elected a courageous, wise elected leader (or leaders)? Such people have a clear vision for the future of the community, have hired the staff which is effective in achieving the vision, and are willing to make decisions that will make some people unhappy. (If you are not making some people unhappy, you are not doing anything. You are not a leader.)
  2. Does your community acknowledge that the lynchpin for a quality future is a strong, overriding focus on seeing that future design is making people happy, not cars? A community with vision should have a plan for putting some of its overweight roads on a “diet.” (by removing unnecessary, ruinous travel lanes) The focus on making cars happy has been the default strategy in nearly all development that has occurred in the United States since approximately WWII.
    Without courageous, wise leadership, future development in your community will continue with this status quo, and will result in a downwardly spiraling quality of life. Designing for cars instead of people defines an absence of vision. And an absence of leadership.
  3. Do your elected officials insist that the staff within the Public Works Department, the Fire Department and the state Department of Transportation adhere to the community vision? Typically, the staff from these three agencies tend to have the most powerfully negative impact on a community vision because they tend to suboptimize on their narrow agency agenda instead of the broader community vision, and these three agencies have a long, powerful, relentless history of creating a car-happy community of big, high-speed roads and other elements that subvert a walkable, high quality of life for people.
  4. Does your land development code acknowledge that one size does not fit all? That the full range of lifestyles must be provided for in the community? Not just the suburban, car-oriented lifestyle, but also the walkable urban lifestyle
    and the rural, pastoral lifestyle. As the Toronto planning director once said, the greatest threat to cities in North America is suburbanization. Suburban design should be one of manylifestyle choices, not the only choice.
  5. Does your community use a “transect-based” regulatory system that enables #4 above? That is, creating urban, suburban and rural zones in your community, and applying variable, appropriate regulations for each zone that are designed to
    maximize the quality of each zone for that lifestyle. Transect-based regulations help unify “overlay” plans, which have proliferated in recent decades as a way to try to customize regulations for special places in the community. This
    proliferation often results in an enormous number of overlays throughout the community, which becomes confusing, contradictory and difficult for administrative staff and developers. Instead of one transect vision, there are several. Transect planning consolidates all the “urban” overlays into one or two regulatory zones. All of the “suburban” overlays are placed into a second or third zone, and all of the “rural” overlays are placed into a subsequent zone.
  6. Does your community benefit from a charrette process? That is, a visioning process in which an intensive, relatively brief education and design session is accomplished by expert urban designers, architects, planners and citizens to create a neighborhood, community-wide or regional vision.
  7. Is your community proactive or reactive? For several decades, American communities have been reactive. Passively sitting back with regulations designed to prevent things from happening when a development proposal is brought in by a private developer. The rare proactive community, by contrast, has established a strong vision that is strictly followed by elected officials, staff and developers. Developers know, up front, what is generally planned for an area – particularly in terms of the street layout and design, building disposition, and the mix and location of uses intended for the area. That is, a clear vision has already been established for the area to be developed.
  8. Has your community coupled transect planning and a proactive method of regulation with “form-based” codes? Form-based codes are primarily focused on the form and design of buildings and streets. The traditional codes used in nearly all American cities are use-based codes, which are primarily focused on separating “incompatible” land uses from each other. The use-based approach creates no vision for the neighborhood or community. Such codes also promote a maximum separation of houses from offices and parks and culture and shops. While this was fairly important over 100 years ago, it is much less important today (because workplaces are now relatively compatible with homes). Use-based codes, by separating uses, promote auto dependency and make walking, bicycling and transit very difficult, if not impossible. Form-based codes acknowledge that over the course of time, a quality of design for a building is much more important for quality of life than what goes on inside the building. Buildings and streets, moreover, tend to have a much longer life span than land uses, which further increases the importance of getting the design of buildings and streets right, instead of the location of land uses.
  9. Have your elected officials shown enough courageous leadership to give your government staff “permission” to propose visionary plans and regulations? Nearly always, the staff has the knowledge necessary to be visionary and describe what
    a community needs to do to achieve its vision, but never proposes such strategies because they do not feel as if they are allowed to do so by elected officials. Officials who are willing to stand behind staff when staff is challenged (usually by developers or property owners) about visionary plans or regulations that are consistent with the community vision. Without leadership, a community often finds itself in the position of frequently hiring out-of-town consultants to prepare a plan. While this can sometimes be beneficial in jump-starting a better community path, it can also be easily ignored by elected officials and staff who are not vested in the ideas of the plan.
  10. Has your community hired one or more full-time urban designers to help promote the vision? Without such staff, a community can lose focus on the vision over time, or not be assisted in imaging possibilities. Or not have the skills
    needed to review development plans.
  11. Is your community vision graphics-based? Images, drawings, and photographs are much more assessable to non-professional citizens. Images are easier for citizens to understand than numbers or written (often jargon) words. They
    therefore more clearly convey to the largest number of citizens what the vision looks like.
  12. Is your vision based on a long-range, 20- or 50-year time horizon? If not, your vision may be too timid. As Andres Duany reminds us, with time, anything is possible. Don’t limit yourself to only those things that can be financed or otherwise achieved in a few years.
  13. Are the local government attorneys in your community willing to work to find a legal basis justifying aggressive visions? Often, public sector attorneys are overly conservative and unwilling to support design concepts for fear of losing lawsuits. A confident legal staff can be a powerful tool in achieving goals.
  14. Has your community acknowledged that quality of life is a powerful economic engine and a win-win strategy? As Richard Florida points out in his Rise of the Creative Class, the tradition for communities striving to promote economic
    development is to become more of a “doormat.” That is, attract jobs to the community by lowering regulatory standards. Or lowering taxes. Or providing subsidies. Increasingly, however, this is a losing strategy for economic development (and one that lowers community quality of life). Increasingly, the most effective strategy for economic development is to protect and promote the quality of life of the community. Doing so not only is beneficial to existing residents. It also helps retain quality people to stay in the community (instead of repelling them with an awful quality of life – often referred to as “brain drain”). Furthermore, a high quality of life tends to attract quality people from other communities. The result is that increasingly, job-producing companies are re-locating to communities with a high quality of life (instead of places with low taxes and meaningless development regulations). A great many companies now know that such communities will mean it is easier to retain and attract quality employees who will have a positive impact on the productivity of the company.

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Solving the Downtown Parking Problem

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Everyone agrees that most of our downtowns have a parking “problem.” Mostly, we complain that there is too little parking available. Are there any workable strategies to improve the parking situation?

For downtown parking, we should work with the following premises.

1. Downtown Needs a Reasonable Amount of Parking. I am not a utopian. Clearly, in the world we live in, a quality downtown needs auto parking.

2. There is Usually an Overabundance of Parking Downtown. I realize that this is a shock to most people (myself included), but looking closely at the problem and reading about it has drawn me to this astonishing conclusion. For example, an inventory of parking in the typical downtown typically uncovers that there is a vast number of parking spaces consuming a vast amount of downtown real estate. Indeed, in one city I looked at, were there is a constant complaint that there is too little parking downtown, the downtown contains approximately 80 percent of the parking found at the regional shopping mall in the suburbs of that city, and those spaces consume over 20 percent of the downtown acreage. It turns out that it is not so much that there is too little parking, but that there is too little parking within a few feet of the front door of the building a person is going to.

3. The Provision of Parking is Very Expensive for Downtown Businesses. For a small business, purchasing more land for off-street parking than what is needed for the building footprint is extremely expensive – particularly in cities where the land cost is sky high. Typically, land for parking is significantly larger than the land needed for the building. This chases away not only small businesses (which are the lifeblood of a healthy downtown), but also harms the overall downtown economic health.

4. Cities Typically Lack Sufficient Funding for Adequate Downtown Capital Improvements. Not only are most all cities unable to pay for all of the essential downtown capital improvements it needs (more street furniture, new curbs, new landscaping, bulb-outs, etc.), but they are also critically short on the funding needing for operation and maintenance of downtown public facilities and services.

5. Excessive Surface Parking Downtown is Deadly. Most all downtowns provide too much surface parking, thinking that such parking is essential for the survival of downtown. Yet ironically, a significant impediment to the competitive leverage that downtown needs if it is to compete with suburban retail and office clusters is excessive surface parking. That leverage is compact walkability, and surface parking seriously degrades that objective. The loss of compact walkability degrades the health of downtown transit, because healthy transit depends on compact walkability. The downtown residential lifestyle also requires high-quality, compact walkability. Downtown economic health is much stronger when compact walkability is established. Excessive surface parking deadens a downtown, detracts from downtown appearance, character and ambience, and significantly reduces downtown vibrancy. Place-making is nearly impossible when surface parking becomes prominent.

6. Downtown Parking Garages Tend to be Underutilized. One sign of a downtown with excessive parking is a downtown parking garage that tends not to be anywhere near capacity. Many downtowns experience the paradox of a perception that there is “too little parking” in a downtown with empty parking garages.

7. On-Street Parking Downtown Tends to be Un-Priced or Under-Priced. A common mistake made by a downtown is to conclude that an essential way to attract suburban motorists to downtown is to provide free or under-priced on-street parking. But as Donald Shoup points out, this strategy simply leads to the perception that there is no parking available, because under-priced on-street parking typically leaves no on-street parking vacancy. The lack of on-street parking vacancy creates the impression that there is NO parking vacancy anywhere in the downtown, since the off-street parking vacancy tends to be less visible. As a result, underpriced on-street parking is actually more of a future deterrent to suburban motorists than properly priced on-street parking (priced so that there is always some availability of on-street parking). Put another way, free but unavailable parking is less attractive than available, priced parking

What Is To Be Done?

Given the above, it seems reasonable that the following parking program is called for in downtowns with a parking “problem”:

1. Create City-Operated Off-Street and Multi-Story Garage Parking. To the extent possible, downtown parking should only be provided by the city in city-owned, maintained and operated garages and lots. That provision would be in the form of municipal parking garages and lots that all downtown businesses and residences can lease spaces within.

2. Charge a Parking Fee In-Lieu or Parking Impact Fee. Downtown businesses and residences would be obligated to pay a parking in-lieu fee (or a parking impact fee if the downtown does not require parking). Revenue from that fee would go toward capital and Operation & Maintenance (O&M) for municipal parking garages and lots. Downtown businesses would also be able to lease needed spaces within the garages or lots. The expense of the impact fees and the leasing is generally much lower than the cost of land that the business would otherwise need to buy and maintain for their own off-street parking. These fees also tends to be significantly lower than the opportunity cost of foregoing floor area that could otherwise be available for a larger building. In-lieu or impact fees for parking range from $2,000 to $20,000 per space in the cities that use it (EPA, Parking Spaces/Community Places, 2006).

3. Increase the Amount of Metered, On-Street Parking. Create significantly more metered, on-street parking (if there is existing street space) and price the meters to create approximately 15 percent vacancy on an on-going basis, as recommended by Donald Shoup (The High Cost of Free Parking, 2005).

4. Dedicate Downtown Parking Meter Revenue to Downtown. Shoup points out that tactically, it is critical to dedicate revenue from downtown parking meters to capital improvements and O&M that benefit downtown. Not only does that provide a meaningful amount of revenue for a dramatic amount of downtown improvements (which attracts people to downtown), but it builds a vocal political constituency of downtown business owners who come to accept and defend the meters because they can see that the meter revenue is providing substantial downtown improvements.

5. Allow Downtown Businesses to Expand. Once the program described above makes off-street parking less necessary for each downtown business to provide, allow downtown businesses to construct building additions that start consuming off-street parking areas associated with their property. That is, property now used by the business on their site for parking could be put to more productive, revenue-generating, vibrancy-inducing use. Be sure that regulatory obstacles are removed in order to make this business expansion legal. Floor area ratios should be significantly increased (or better yet, removed). Exempt downtown businesses from most or all landscaping requirements. Allow buildings to abut the public right-of-way.

6. Encourage or Require Businesses to Share Parking. Many businesses have different hours of operation. Churches tend to need parking on Sundays. Offices on weekdays. Nightclubs at night. Shared parking and municipal-owned parking allows for a reduction in needed downtown parking, reduces costs for businesses, and promotes “park once” travel. Parking is therefore used and provided more efficiently.

7. Reform Taxation by Establishing a Land-Value Tax. Land value taxation (LVT) is the policy of raising tax revenues by charging each landholder a portion of the value of a site or parcel of land that would exist even if that site had no improvements. It is different from a property tax, which includes the value of buildings and other improvements on the land. The common use of the property tax therefore discourages building improvements or expansions, and encourages the speculative retention or under-use of downtown property (typically by creating a surface parking lot), because development of the property or building improvement of the property financially penalizes the property owner by increasing taxes. While not a pure LVT system, Harrisburg PA has substantially reduced the vacant land found downtown by taxing land at a rate six times higher than improvements on the land. The development of vacant land in Harrisburg has been far in excess of similar cities using conventional property taxation.

Conclusion

Each of these strategies promote an improved urban design, promote a more continuous urban fabric (instead of a downtown pock-marked with gaptooths), promote better economic health, promote a livelier downtown, promote a downtown that is more friendly to residences, promote a safer downtown, promote a downtown with more funds for improvements, and promote an overall more walkable downtown.

 

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A Realizable Smart Growth Vision

by Rick Cole

 

The Planning Report, Los Angeles CA, Dec/Jan 2005

Rick Cole, currently the City Manager of Ventura, has been for years a leading Southern California voice for good government and planning. Rick has been City Manager of Azusa, and before that served as Mayor of Pasadena. TPR is pleased to publish excerpts from a recent speech he delivered in November as part of the USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development’s Urban Growth Seminar lecture series, titled “Smart Growth in Southern California: How Pasadena Made It Happen; How Ventura Will Make It Happen.”

 

I want to start with a disclaimer. This is not about planning. This is not about architecture. This is about vision. I am in awe of the kind of people who understand the planning and the architectural elements that go into smart growth. But the reality is we’re not going to get smart growth in Southern California (or anywhere else) until there is an alternative vision of smart growth that is as compelling as the suburban vision that has animated public policy and popular imagination since World War II.

I am convinced that the places that offer that vision, that alternative model, will change the world. Because the stakes are not about Southern California. In Southern California, there are seven parking spaces for every car, and there are more cars than there are registered drivers. This is a problem. But in China, when they end up with more cars than registered drivers – if they follow our pattern of development and put seven parking spaces for every car, that’s eight billion parking spaces. That’s not a problem; that is an ecological and social catastrophe. If we cannot fix the way we live and build in Southern California, the mother of sprawl, we will be responsible for a worldwide economic meltdown. So we have an opportunity and a responsibility. And I think we can change the world one city at a time.

…What happened [when Pasadena collaborated on a new General Plan in 1992] was little short of miraculous, because we stopped asking the question, “Should we grow?” which is a question that bedevils all of Southern California. It turns out that “Should we grow?” is a really stupid question, because we’ve been growing for 100 years and no one has figured out how to stop growth. Instead, when we shifted the question from whether we should grow to “How we should grow?” and “Where we should grow?” two things happened. One, a lot of the polarizations literally melted like snow in the spring. Second, a lot of the people who had been ready to strangle each other suddenly found themselves fast friends. The people all agreed that growth ought to happen in the places where growth would benefit neighborhoods that were either worn out through disinvestment or neighborhoods that had infrastructure capacity and vacant land, and not in low-density, healthy, intact neighborhoods. Once we figured out the “where,” then the “how” was something we now call “smart growth.”

…You can’t beat sprawl without an alternative vision. In Pasadena, the alternative vision was called “Imagine a Greater City.” The seven principles were written specifically so that people could understand them. Literally these 85 words that articulate the seven principles were the words that people voted on. The ballot said: “Shall the voters of the City of Pasadena adopt a new General Plan, based upon the following seven principles?” The majority of the citizens of Pasadena checked “yes” to these seven principles at the November 1992 election – the highest voter turnout until this last November.

…The lessons from Pasadena that apply to Ventura and other communities begin with asking the right questions. It’s not copying Pasadena’s plan, nor even the seven principles. Not every place wants to have a downtown like Old Pasadena. Some places want to be towns, some places want to be cities, and some places need to be metropolises. This is something about New Urbanism that gets really mangled by proponents and opponents alike. Opponents particularly seize on the claim: “New Urbanism is all about higher density!” “It’s all about one way of doing things!” It’s not. Smart growth is about choices. It’s about appropriate choices. There’s a place in the polycentric fabric of Southern California for a variety of places – for towns, for regional centers, and for the metropolitan center of Los Angeles. And Pasadena knows its place. It is to be the Paris of the West San Gabriel Valley.

…Here’s the problem: We keep trying to do smart growth projects in a “dumb growth” landscape. And we wonder why they don’t work. It’s like trying to run Microsoft Word on an Apple computer. We get all these error messages, and it’s really frustrating. And yet, we keep trying to do smart growth projects. Instead, we have to establish a new operating system…New Urbanism. It’s an integrated approach to landscape. It’s made up, not of projects, but of streets and corridors and neighborhoods and districts. It’s a comprehensive alternative to the suburban sprawl model. It works. But you can’t just take pieces of it and make it work. You have to replace the auto-oriented suburban model we have now with a new operating system.

…What are the key elements of smart growth in Ventura? The battle is over when it comes to deciding whether we’re going to pave over the farmlands, pave over the hillsides, or pave over the greenbelts. The voters have decided: we’re not going to do it. That means, we either grow smart or we don’t grow at all. It’s that simple. And “where” we’re going to grow smart is on our Westside and in Midtown and Downtown. The Westside is an older urban area that cries out for revitalization. Midtown has a strong urban grid of stable neighborhoods, but with really ugly strip corridors. Downtown has come back strongly in recent years. Everyone agrees these are the right places to grow.

There is beginning to be consensus that says we’ve got these corridors, these long strip streets that have an old Burger King, and a used car lot, and a vacant lot, and a little tiny office building, and a strip of one-story retail stores. That all needs to be replaced with handsome boulevard housing. There’s a crying need for workforce housing. That will be tough at first, because there are neighbors to those corridors, and they will think that it’s more dumb growth. But if we show it can be done right and we do it right a few times, it will actually spread very rapidly.

In Ventura, an essential element of smart growth is “green” building. It’s not enough to just do growth in the right place, but to do growth that is environmentally sustainable. That’s particularly true in existing suburban areas. The real battleground at the moment is traditional neighborhood design. Again, as in Pasadena, it’s critically important to respect the history of what’s already there. We learned how to build cities for 4000 years of human history, and then in 1945 we forgot, and we went through 50 years of amnesia, and listening to false prophets. We have got to relearn some of the basic ways in which cities were built. That does not mean that there’s no place for modern architecture, or for new design. But it simply means that human beings still need doors, they still like windows, they still walk.

…A critical piece of New Urbanism is that there’s no such thing as “one size fits all.” You don’t want to put a skyscraper next to low-density residential. You don’t want to put low-density residential in the middle of a downtown. There’s a place for everything, and everything in its place. And that has all kinds of beneficent outcomes… Again, you can’t just do projects that are called “smart growth” where you paint a bike lane and proclaim: “You have the opportunity to ride a bike.” You have to make neighborhoods and cities bike-friendly again, and people-friendly again, and transit-friendly again.

For those of us who advocate smart growth, the most important problem is that everything we believe in is illegal in 50 states. I want to make this clear: It’s illegal to do smart growth. It’s illegal in every city in California except Azusa, which last year unanimously passed a smart growth General Plan. All this stuff has to be jammed through by exception, by variance, by creativity, by pounding on developers, by incredibly brilliant and tenacious developers who try to move things through. It’s illegal. And the only way to fix that is to repeal the laws that make it illegal.

I know I sometimes sound like sort of a desperate guy in the 12th hour of a filibuster. “You’re talking about repealing zoning? What planet are you from?” I’m from the planet Earth. And for the last 50 years we’ve been taken over by aliens: people who don’t understand how to build for people. The idea that instead of walking a block to get a loaf of bread, you should have to drive three miles to get a loaf of bread is a fundamentally alien idea. We have to change the codes. We have to abolish the zoning strictures that make it illegal to put natural human activities in close proximity.

You know, we have this weird new phrase, “mixed use.” It’s like “horseless carriage.” Remember when cars first got started, nobody had a word for cars, so they called them “horseless carriages.” Well, it’s the same with “mixed-use development.” Do any of you live in a house or an apartment? Those would be called “mixed-room development.” But in the world of zoning, the bathroom would be six blocks away. The bedroom would be on the other side of the freeway, because you wouldn’t want the bedroom close to the kitchen, because they might rub off on each other. And you wouldn’t want to have high-income bedrooms next to low-income bedrooms. So the kids would have to sleep somewhere else, because they don’t make as much money as you do.

The phrase “mixed use” is an exotic, weird thing – yet that’s the way human beings have lived since we started building cities. “Mixed use” is redundant. “Segregated use” is the problem. But that’s what is legal, what’s required, in 50 states. Instead of legalizing mixed use, we need to abolish the zoning codes that make mixed use the exception. It should be the rule.

Now, there are a number of developers here. And my message is very simple: it is the responsibility of the local community to set quality rules. We need to figure out what we want, and offer developers a clear code on what that looks like. There ought to be one door to City Hall, and there ought to be a sign next to the door: “This is what is allowed.” If you look at our code and you want to build it, then by all means, come on in and we’ll give you a permit. It shouldn’t take years. It should take six months. If you want to build quality, you should get a permit promptly. If you aren’t interested in quality, you should have to wait forever. You should never get a permit. Even if you lobby or go to lunch with people or make campaign contributions or schmooze with neighbors, you will never get a cruddy project through, because cruddy projects should be against the law.

…2500 years ago, the original people who invented democracy and built pretty cool cities understood that making great places is everybody’s job. It’s not a planner’s job or a politician’s job or an administrator’s job or an architect’s job. It’s a citizen’s job to build great places. It’s everybody’s job. And when you became a citizen of Athens, you had to swear that you were going to leave the place better and more beautiful than you found it. I think that’s the basis of democracy. I think that’s the basis of building cool cities. And I think that’s the basis of saving China from building 8 billion parking spaces.

 

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In Praise of Traffic Calming

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

For 50 years, transportation planners have treated streets as little more than conduits for motor vehicles, and see little need for roads other than to maximize motorist driving speeds. Sadly, in all except our remote subdivisions, the quality of life in cities designed for cars has become miserable. No wonder that so many flee the city for the relative safety, peacefulness, and pastoral nature of outlying areas.

According to Cynthia Hoyle, the U.S. has been so successful in providing for fast, unobstructed travel by car that it has seriously undermined the use of transit, walking, and bicycling.

Streets designed primarily with driving speed in mind deter people from walking and bicycling. They’re difficult and unattractive places to walk or bicycle to begin with, and the heavier, faster traffic they generate makes them downright hostile. Pedestrian street crossings are challenging and infrequent, sidewalks are anything but continuous, and anyone who ventures out on a bicycle is soon reminded by an impatient honking motorist that she’s in the way and doesn’t belong there. “Danger” and “road conditions” or “lack of facilities” are reasons more frequently given in surveys for not bicycling.

How big is the problem for Floridians? One example is the fact that 37 percent of Floridians cannot legally drive-not to mention those who cannot afford to own a car.

The proposed “design speed” for a road affects its dimensions more than anything else. It is the highest speed at which a motorist can drive safely. Not surprisingly, the bible of traffic engineers—”The Green Book”—calls for the design speed, except on local streets, to be as high as practicable.

A wide pavement exerts a strong influence over a motorist. First, it puts someone in a car at a greater distance from objects on either side. Looking at objects that are farther away creates a feeling that a vehicle is moving more slowly and prompts a motorist to compensate by speeding up. Second, by making the motorist survey a broad field in front of his vehicle, a wide pavement provides an assurance that he is in command of that field, which in turn induces him to increase his speed. In addition, when a wide pavement means more lanes, it leaves fewer vehicles in each lane and increases the distance between each vehicle, providing yet another inducement to go faster. Thus an urban arterial with three 11- or 12-foot travel lanes, or a broad two-lane residential street, can have a virtually irresistible effect. Even motorists who are not inclined to drive fast creep up to highway speeds. Others seize the opportunity to floor it.

Cutting down trees, removing other vegetation, taking property by eminent domain, and lowering hills create what traffic engineers assume is the necessary “stopping sight distance.” And the design speed of a road is the primary factor determining the stopping sight distance.

When a traffic engineer states the newly designed road will “improve safety,” beware. While it usually means fewer fender benders, it generally leads to more serious accidents and more accidents involving pedestrians. Making a street “safer” usually tends to increase motor vehicle speeds, which makes the streets less safe for pedestrians or bicyclists. Sixteen percent of all people killed in motor vehicle accidents are pedestrians and bicyclists, which is way out of proportion to the number of pedestrians and bicyclists on the streets. Thirty-nine percent of all children killed in motor vehicle accidents are killed while walking or riding a bicycle. When we hear traffic engineers tell us that the road “improvement” will improve safety, we need to ask them to precisely define what the safety problem is.

Alcohol, vehicle speed, weather, and animals are more important factors in accidents than road design.

Motorists driving at 25 mph or faster have difficulty perceiving that a pedestrian is ready to cross a street, deciding to slow down, and actually doing so. The normal driver usually decides to speed up, assuming that another car will stop.

Many homeowners have essentially written off their front yards as a place to be, largely because of the speed and volume of traffic. It is time that we start designing our communities for people instead of cars. And one of the emerging, exciting ways to do that is through use of “traffic calming.”

Traffic calming involves making design changes to a street or parking lot to slow down and “discipline” autos, and make streets mixed-use rather than single (auto)-use. Strategies include traffic circles (photo above), roundabouts (photo below), on-street parking, narrow travel lanes, reduction in travel lanes, woonerfs, traffic diverters sidewalk bulb-outs, speed humps, smaller turning radii at intersections (15 feet), and elevated/textured/brick crosswalks that serve as a speed hump.

Portland, Oregon has a “skinny streets” program for new residential areas. It allows residential streets to be 20 feet wide with parking on one side, or 26 feet with parking on both sides. The city notes that such streets maintain neighborhood character, reduce construction costs, save vegetation, reduce stormwater runoff, improve traffic safety, and make it possible to use scarce land for purposes other than motor vehicle use. The Portland Fire Department finds that skinny streets provide adequate access for emergency vehicles. It has been noted that it would be more economical to purchase fire trucks that fit local streets than to build all streets to meet the needs of the largest size trucks. Berkeley studies show that traffic control devices had little or no effect on police emergency response time, and Palo Alto found that bicycle boulevard barriers had not impaired police and fire emergency response.

Motorists are more likely to collide with pedestrians at higher speeds. At 60 miles per hour, the field of vision of the motorist is two-thirds less than at 30 miles per hour. In addition, the probability of a pedestrian being killed is only 3.5 percent when a vehicle is traveling at 15 miles per hour, but jumps to 37 percent at 31 miles per hour and 83 percent at 44 miles per hour.

Roadway geometry in safety-sensitive areas, such as schools, should keep auto speeds within 15 to 20 miles per hour. Planting vegetation close to the street will reduce the “optical width” of a street, which makes it seem narrower than it is and help to slow down motorists.

A German study found that traffic calming reduces vehicle idling time by 15 percent, gear changing by 12 percent, brake use by 14 percent, and gasoline use by 12 percent. This is in part because the greater is speed of vehicles in built-up areas, the higher is the incidence of acceleration, deceleration, and braking. Similarly, a study in Portland, Oregon found that a pedestrian-friendly environment can reduce vehicle miles traveled by 10 percent. Other studies show up to a 114-percent increase in non-motorized travel on traffic-calmed streets.

Another German study found that calmed streets experienced a 60 percent reduction in injuries, a 43 to 53 percent reduction in fatalities, and a 10 to 50 percent reduction in air pollution (Nitrogen oxide emissions, for example, begin to increase with speeds at about 15-20 mph, and then increase sharply with speed at about 48 mph.) These substantial benefits, in addition, were achieved by increasing motorist trip time by an average of only 33 seconds. Motorists who found the 18 mile-per-hour speed limit acceptable grew from 27 percent before the streets were calmed to 67 percent after the program began. Receptive residents along the streets grew from 30 percent before to 75 percent after.

Portland finds that traffic circles are most effective when constructed in a series. They are sometimes also located in the middle of the block. Circles reduce motor vehicle speeds and result in a big reduction in the number of accidents. Circles reduce crashes by 50 to 90 percent when compared to two-way and four-way stop signs and traffic signals by reducing the number of conflict points. Seattle likes circles so much that they build about 30 circles each year.

The Institute of Traffic Engineers (ITE) have stated that speed humps are effective in reducing vehicle speeds without increasing accident rates (some studies have found a reduction in accident rate). Humps cause motorists to experience little or no discomfort at speeds up to 25 mph, and need to be spaced close enough to each other so that motorists do not speed between them. The ITE has found that despite concerns about liability, vehicle damage and emergency vehicle impacts, these problems have not occurred or have been found to be insignificant when considering the positive impacts of humps.

And despite the conventional wisdom, stop signs do not affect overall traffic speeds or control speeding. Posting appropriate speed limits and enforcing them is not sufficient to achieve needed reductions in motorist speeds. Modest physical reconfiguration of streets are the only reliable and cost-effective way to slow and control traffic.

Calming also helps reduce neighborhood noise pollution. From a distance of 48 feet, a car traveling at 56 miles per hour makes ten times more noise than a car traveling at 31 miles per hour. Reducing average speed from 25 miles per hour to 12 miles per hour reduces noise levels by 14 decibels (ten times quieter). At higher speeds, every 12 to 15 miles per hour in speed increases results in a 4 to 5 decibel noise increase.

The City of Oakland recently budgeted $1 million to install traffic calming measures throughout the city in response to citizen petitions for safer streets. The City has already installed speed humps and is pursuing road narrowing and barriers to through traffic. A similar strategy in Menlo Park has reduced through traffic by 66 percent, has reduced top speeds by 40 percent, and has reduced average speed by 20 percent.

It is important to learn from our past in designing street intersections. For example, in the past, we designed corners with a small “radius.” A corner with a radius of 15 feet or less is usually appropriate to require turning vehicles to slow down, and also shortens the distance that a pedestrian must walk to get across the street.

A maximum driving speed of 19-25 mph is necessary to ensure safety, create an environment people find conducive to walking and shopping, and minimize noise. Fred Kent, a nationally known urban designer, says that in all the surveys he has done around shopping districts, the biggest problems are not security issues. They are traffic issues-the speed of vehicles, the noise of vehicles, the congestion. You realize that if you create less vehicle flow and slower vehicles, you create more of a sense of community and you increase the perception of safety and security.

Here are some of the benefits that a German city found by using traffic calming:

50 percent increase in bicycle use.

57 percent reduction in fatal accidents.

45 percent reduction in severe accidents.

40 percent reduction in slight injuries.

43 percent reduction in pedestrian accidents.

16 percent reduction in cyclist accidents.

16 percent reduction in traffic accident costs.

66 percent reduction in child accidents.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) has stated that traffic calming appears to be one of the more cost-effective ways to promote pedestrian and bicycle use in urban and suburban areas, where walking and bicycling are often hazardous and uncomfortable. By improving the quality of urban neighborhoods, traffic controls can help reverse the flight of the middle class away from the city. And as for children, Stina Sandels, a world authority on children and road accidents says that the best road safety education cannot adapt a child to modern traffic, so traffic must be adapted to the child.

The FHA notes that the importance of reducing traffic speed cannot be overemphasized. While the overall goals of slowing traffic may include environmental improvements, better conditions for bicyclists and pedestrians, accident reductions, and more space for children to play-the reduction in vehicle speeds is crucial to each.

The primary question has become whether or not the city, which was formerly built on the human scale, and in which the street existed primarily as a means of contact, is to be replaced by a sprawled megalopolis where the dimensions of the street and city are on a scale required for its primary use by motorized transportation, and whether we will let our quality of life and sustainability remain terrible-all in the name of making cars happy.

References:

Traffic Calming by Cynthia Hoyle

Traffic Calming by CART (David Engwicht)

Sustainable Community Transportation by Todd Litman

Taming the Automobile by Richard Untermann

Take Back Your Streets by the Conservation Law Foundation

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

The Merits of New Urbanism

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

The standards and principles of new urbanism are designed to make areas more livable, more vibrant, and more people-oriented, and to build community pride in the city and the work of its developers.

The people-oriented, traditional areas of the city share a number of desirable characteristics that provide us with many benefits. We should strive to preserve, celebrate, encourage and emulate how these areas are designed because of such benefits. For example, a traditionally designed city provides the following benefits:

Gives people without access to a car, such as children, the elderly, and the disabled, more safety and independence in their world.

Enhances urban livability, which reduces the desire to flee to the suburbs, which, in turn, reduces the pressure for costly sprawl and strip commercial development.

Substantially reduces government and household costs — especially because of the enormous savings in the building and maintaining of road infrastructure, and the purchase and maintenance of cars.

Reduces the need for travel.

Helps retain historic structures instead of replacing them with parking or large suburban retail “boxes””

Features streets designed to slow traffic. It increases travel choices and reduces the length and number of vehicle trips.

Makes neighborhoods more memorable and dignified.

Contains structures built for permanence, instead of structures designed, as too many contemporary structures are, for a short-term “throw-away” life.

Integrates income groups by mixing housing types and providing a public realm available to all incomes.

Makes walking feel more enjoyable.

Is not characterized as much by strip commercial visual blight.

Increases citizen access to culture.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Puts “eyes on the street” and promotes “citizen surveillance” of public places where citizens watch over their collective security, crime is reduced, as are public law enforcement costs.

Stabilizes, reinforces the identity of, and improves the value of nearby older neighborhoods.

Preserves and promotes community character.

Promotes neighborhood and community self-sufficiency and, therefore, sustainabilty.

Reduces per capita gasoline consumption and air pollution.

Coupled with regulations that are designed to promote and preserve its features, restores the traditional citizen hope and expectation for a better future with each new development in the city, and, in so doing, reduces the extreme polarization between developers and neighborhoods.

Provides affordable housing options.

Creates a sense of place, a sense of community, a sense of belonging and restores civic pride and place-based loyalty.

Strikes a balance between the needs of the car and the needs of the pedestrian. It creates a pedestrian ambiance and interesting pedestrian features, and makes the pedestrian feel safe, convenienced, and comfortable.

Creates a good environment for smaller, locally-owned businesses to become established and to operate in.

Increases transit viability, primarily through density, access, traffic calming, community-serving facilities, compactness, mixed use and pedestrian amenities.

Currently, developers are often reviled and their developments feared. This is manifested in the contemporary epidemic of NIMBYs (not in my backyard), NIMTOOs (not in my term of office), BANANAs (build absolutely nothing anywhere near anything), and NOPEs (not on planet earth). Largely, these attitudes have emerged because since WWII, developers and cities have sought to make cars instead of people happy.

Typically, American suburbs are characterized by this design. Suburban design features:

Large setbacks that are inconvenient for pedestrians and fail to define a comfortable public realm

Large parking lots in front of buildings

Large street blocks with no cross access or connecting streets

Buildings with their backs or sides turned toward the street. Instead of an entrance or windows, the pedestrian is confronted with blank walls, air compressors, dumpsters, and long walks to the building

Pedestrian-hostile features that are designed to promote car use, such as drive-throughs, single-use zoning, segregation of land uses, and “armoring” with fences and walls

To make Gainesville a safer, more livable place, and to increase citizen pride in its developments, the new urbanist standards are designed to primarily promote the health, safety, and welfare of pedestrians, while still accommodating the needs of the car. More specifically, the design is intended to make the pedestrian feel:

Safe and secure

Convenienced

Pleasant and comfortable

With enhanced safety, livability, civic pride, and visual appeal in these older parts of the city, the city will establish an important engine in job recruitment and a strengthened tax base. A downtown that adheres to these standards will be a city that provides an important incubator for new, entrepreneurial, locally-owned small businesses and entry-level job opportunities. A healthy downtown also protects the property values of surrounding residential areas.

Some Principles of New Urbanism

Build-To Line

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

Building Height of At Least Two Stories

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

Parking Located at the Rear or Side of Building Instead of in Front

Parking areas located in front of buildings are inconvenient and unpleasant for pedestrians. They are inconvenient because they significantly increase walking distances from the public sidewalk. They are unpleasant because they often make for hot expanses of areas to walk in, prevent the pedestrian on the public sidewalk from enjoying the building details and the activity within the building, and increase safety problems since pedestrians must dodge cars in the parking area. In addition, they prevent the building from contributing to an intimate, pleasant, comfortable street wall, which harms the sense of place and makes the pedestrian feel as if she or he is in “no man’s land.” Buildings pulled up to the street without intervening motor vehicle parking have more of a human scale.

Hidden Trash and Recycling Receptacles and Loading Docks

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

Sidewalks Sufficiently Wide and Aligned for Convenience

Sidewalks, when properly dimensioned and maintained, can provide the pedestrian with a pleasant, safe, and convenient place to walk. Sidewalks that are too narrow are inconvenient, especially in areas with large volumes of pedestrians, pedestrians walking side-by-side (which requires a minimum sidewalk width of five feet unobstructed), and people using wheelchairs. In addition, sidewalks that must wrap around large block faces are a serious impediment to pedestrian convenience.

Building Oriented to the Street, Instead of Turning Its Back to It

A successful commercial establishment is designed to provide convenience for customers by minimizing walking distances from public sidewalks and nearby buildings. Rear or side entrances, or entrances oriented toward a parking lot, make travel highly inconvenient for pedestrians and transit users. Such a design also cuts the building off from street life. In addition, a building with its main entrance directed away from the primary sidewalk and street “turns its back” to the public realm, reduces urban vibrancy, and is harmful to promoting street life. When a building is located at an intersection, the most convenient entrance is usually abutting the public sidewalks at the corner of the intersection. Often, the most convenient sidewalk is formally aligned diagonally and aligned straight to minimize walking distance.

Facade Treatment Creates Interest for Pedestrians

All building shall be designed to provide interest for pedestrians. Long expanses of blank walls tend to be boring and unattractive for the pedestrian. In addition, windows attract pedestrians, which act as a security system for the business. Buildings without such relief and interest tend to create a “massive scale”, and makes the public realm impersonal. Such an appearance is inconsistent with the “human-scaled” and pedestrian-oriented character of the a traditional area of a city, and inconsistent with a city intent to restore such character to the traditional city area.

Hidden Outdoor Mechanical Equipment

Outdoor mechanical equipment, such as heating or AC units, when improperly located on a site or improperly screened, can contribute to noise problems and create visual blight.

Formal Landscaping

In the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city, landscaping should be used both to soften the “hardness” of the urban area for the pedestrian, and make the pedestrian feel more comfortable by providing cooling, reducing glare and helping to form public spaces, “outdoor rooms,” and street corridor edges. Such formality of landscaping adds dignity to the traditional area of a city, instead of a chaotic one, thereby inspiring a sense of civic pride.

Properly Scaled Lighting

Lighting can often detract from the intimate, pleasant, romantic character a city seeks to promote in the traditional, pedestrian-oriented areas of a city. But lighting designed for cars tends to be not human-scaled. Lights on tall fixtures cause light pollution by casting light into areas not needed by pedestrians. In addition, the lights present a poor, bleached out atmosphere as the pedestrian views an area from afar, and hides the nighttime sky completely. A new urbanist, pedestrian-oriented street lighting design features shorter and more numerous light fixtures and structures.

Prohibited Auto-Oriented Uses

Certain uses are oriented toward or designed to attract motor vehicles, and therefore contribute to danger, visual blight, inconvenience, and lack of human scale for pedestrians. Therefore, such uses are not compatible with the a people-friendly downtown area.

Alleys

Alleys allow the developer to place garages, driveways, waste receptacles, and overhead utilities in a less conspicuous location away from the public street and therefore less likely to detract from the pedestrian ambiance of the neighborhood. Alleys also provide an additional location for emergency vehicles to gain access to a building, and a relatively safe place for children to play.

Front Porches

When they are set back a modest (“conversational”) distance from the sidewalk, porches allow persons to sit on their porch and interact and socialize with their neighbors. They therefore add safety (by putting “eyes on the street”) and friendliness to the street. As a result, porches contribute to an enjoyable walk by pedestrians in the neighborhood.

Narrow Streets

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

Mixed Housing Types

Mixed housing types provide the neighborhood with a mixed income environment, since the mixed types provide a range of housing affordability. Mixed housing types enable lower income workers to live within walking distance of their jobs, instead of creating traffic problems by being forced to commute by car to their jobs.

Transit Links

When a neighborhood contains — or is near — safe, pleasant, and convenient bus stops, a larger number of trips are made by bus, which reduces excessive neighborhood trips to and from the neighborhood by car. This provides more transportation choice, enhances neighborliness, and reduces household transportation costs (every car a household can shed saves the household the equivalent of the monthly home mortgage payment on a $51,000 house, at 10 percent interest).

On-Street Parking

Buffers pedestrians from vehicle travel. Narrows the street in order to slow traffic to a safer, more livable speed. Provides convenient parking locations for nearby businesses. Allows businesses and residences to reduce the amount of off-street, on-site parking, which reduces the “heat island” effect and enhances urban vibrancy by improving the public realm.

Mixed Use

Reduces trip distances to the point where walking, bicycling, and bus trips are much more feasible for a number of different types of trips. Adds to neighborhood and urban vibrancy by increasing the number of places people can meet — such as a pub, on the way to work or a civic event, a grocery store, a fitness center, etc. Provides children with more of an awareness of community land uses other than parks, residences, and schools.

Resessed Garages

Enhances the neighborhood walking environment for the pedestrian. Houses appear people-oriented and interesting to walk along, instead of sending a strong message that “a car lives here.”

Narrow, Smaller Lots

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

Connected Streets

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

Terminated Vistas

A concept in which a prominent building is placed at the “visual termination” of a street. Provides dignity and prominence to important civic buildings, such as post offices, libraries, city halls, churches, convention centers and performing arts centers. Sends the message that the building is an important place for the community. In addition, terminated vistas make walking more pleasant by giving the pedestrian a “goal” to walk toward. The walk therefore does not seem endless. It also provides an impressive view to strive to reach. Such vistas also make trips more memorable by helping to orient a person as to their location in the community.

Livable, higher densities

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

By contrast, the more compact, higher density “new urbanist” development reduces trip length; and makes bicycling, transit, and walking more viable. For these reasons, compact development generates about half as much vehicle travel as does sprawl development, making such a land use strategy one of the most effective in reducing auto dependence.

Minimum densities necessary for a viable bus system are approximately eight dwelling units per acre. Newman and Kenworthy indicate that only when densities exceed 7,000 to 8,000 persons per square mile (Gainesville’s density is currently 2,000 per square mile) do mixed land uses and shorter travel distances become predominant enough to significantly reduce auto dependence. These researchers note that a dramatic reduction in per capita gasoline consumption occurs when population density reaches 12 to 16 persons per acre. “Low density land use ensures almost total dependence on automobiles, enormous travel distances, no effective public transit, and little possibility of walking or [bi]cycling. Below five or six people per acre, a city almost ceases to exist, and requires enormous transportation energy to hold the scattered parts together.”

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

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

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

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

Public service vehicles scaled small enough so that they do not dictate unsafe, wide streets

New urbanism encourages the use of public service and emergency vehicles (such as fire trucks) that are scaled to be compatible with neighborhoods. Increasingly, such vehicles are quite large, and their size often dictates rather wide streets and unsafe turning radii. Yet studies show that the dangers of such street design typically far outweigh the safety benefits that larger streets and turns will provide for emergency vehicles. In general, this is because the probability of traffic injury or death due to over-sized streets is much higher than the chance that injury or death would be averted because the emergency vehicle can shave a few seconds off of a trip. Therefore, smaller service vehicles can help a City keep average neighborhood vehicle speeds lower, make the streets safer and less noisy, make the neighborhood more walkable and, in general, more livable and sociable.

Streets and sidewalks straight, not curvilinear

Streets are more memorable and less disorienting when they are straight. They are more dignified, and can be terminated with a prominent vista. It is important that sidewalks be straight, since pedestrians have a strong desire to walk the distance that provides the minimum trip length. Curving sidewalks promote the creation of “cow paths,” as pedestrians take short cuts along their route. In general, curvilinear sidewalks are only appropriate when needed to avoid a large tree or other important physical feature, or in an area in which most pedestrians are walking strictly for optional recreation or exercise. This is generally not the case in an urban area, where almost all trips are utilitarian. Mostly, curving sidewalks are intended to improve the view of motorists driving along a road, and provide no important benefits for the pedestrian.

One-quarter mile walking distance

It is generally recognized that the convenient walking distance ranges up to one-quarter mile, or roughly a five- to ten minute walk. It is therefore important that for a neighborhood to be walkable, most homes should be within one-quarter mile of public parks, schools, civic buildings, retail, office, and various forms of culture. The one-quarter mile design yardstick also enhances the viability of transit.

Short, walkable block faces

In general, a neighborhood or commercial block face length should not exceed approximately 500 feet. Longer blocks tend to create inconvenient walking distances. When long blocks must be created, they should be shorted with cross-access walkways.

Ground-floor retail. Offices and residential above.

This form of mixed use enhances vibrancy and provides more affordable housing choices. It reduces the need for trips by car, since employees of the retail establishment can live above the shop. It is important that such “vertical mixing” of uses not place residential on the first floor, since it is disruptive for the residence when users of the office or retail must walk through the residence. It is also important that such mixed use include retail on the first floor so that more energy and interest is at the street level – -thereby benefiting pedestrians.

Eyes on the street. Citizen surveillance

Law enforcement agencies increasingly see the merits of citizen policing, in which citizens are able to watch out for their collective security. Such “eyes on the street” are promoted when buildings, windows, entrances and porches are near the street and sidewalk. Citizen surveillance is also promoted when the neighborhood or commercial areas are designed for regular, frequent pedestrian activity. Areas without pedestrian activity are areas where illegal, inappropriate, or unsafe behavior can occur more easily since there is no one to observe the deed and report it or intervene.

Diagonal usually the shortest walking distance

In general, the shortest walking distance is a diagonal route. Frequently, sidewalks are designed with right angle turns, which increases the walking distance and increases the likelihood of “cow path” shortcuts.

Centrally-located schools, parks, squares, civic w/in walking distance of most homes

When schools, parks, squares, and civic buildings are within easy walking distance of most residents, a sense of community and neighborliness is promoted, and vehicle trips are greatly reduced. If children are able to walk to school or a park, such areas can become social and recreational gathering places for students, because they are able to go to the school or return home on their own, as opposed to being required to leave when the bus leaves at the end of the class day.

Parks, squares and civic uses are more frequently used when residents have easy, non-vehicular access to them. When centrally located, they become the focal point of the neighborhood, and maximize the number of residences that are within walking distance.

Square street curbs

Square street curbs provide more safety for pedestrians, and provide a more attractive, urban appearance for the neighborhood.

Modest curb radius

A larger curb turning radius at an intersection or a parking area ingress and egress point allows vehicles to negotiate a turn rapidly, whereas a smaller radius forces a vehicle to slow down. Conventional traffic engineers often prefer a larger radius for vehicle convenience and curb protection, but such a radius makes life more inconvenient and dangerous for pedestrians. A larger radius also significantly increases the distance for crossing the street, which exposes the pedestrian to more danger from moving vehicles.

Note that large garbage trucks or delivery trucks or buses or fire trucks should not dictate the design of neighborhood curb radii. To do so is equivalent to obligating an architect to increase the size of the front door opening so that an overly large TV set can be brought into the house. No, the correct solution is to request that service and emergency vehicles be scaled for neighborhoods…

 

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