Tag Archives: economics

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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Finding a Place for Parking

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

By Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces

 

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking

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

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

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

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

3. Are parking regulations being obeyed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Are there opportunities for angled parking?

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

9. Can curb cuts be consolidated and narrowed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Many Cities Changing One-Way Streets Back

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

12/20/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Little-Known State Law Gives No Parking Perk

Certain employers must pay a stipend to those who don’t drive to work. L.A. hasn’t enforced it.

By Jean Guccione, LA Times Staff Writer

October 10, 2006

When his boss offered him $185 a month or free parking, Tom Fleming didn’t hesitate: He bought a $52-a-month bus pass and pocketed the difference.

 

That’s exactly what state lawmakers had in mind in 1992 when they enacted a law requiring certain employers to pay a monthly stipend to employees who carpool, ride public transit, walk or bike to work.

But “a lot of employers don’t even realize they should be doing it,” said Gennet Paauwe, a spokeswoman for the California Air Resources Board, which administers the program.

 

And employers aren’t the only ones with little information about the law: State officials have no idea how many businesses are required to offer the cash inducements, much less how many of them actually do.

 

Always on the lookout for ways to reduce traffic congestion, the Los Angeles City Council’s Transportation Committee on Wednesday will consider how to go about implementing and enforcing the so-called parking cash-out law.

 

“I think it’s clear that parking policies affect how people get to work,” said Councilwoman Wendy Greuel, who is the committee chairwoman. She cited studies showing that free parking encourages people to drive to work alone.

 

Conversely, 17% of all drivers offered cash in exchange for their free parking space will give up their vehicles, said Donald C. Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who helped write the state law.

 

“It treats every employee equally,” he said. “It’s much fairer than saying you get free parking or nothing.”

 

Statewide, only Santa Monica enforces the law. More than a decade ago, provisions of the statute were incorporated into a traffic management ordinance.

 

Throughout the Southland, free parking is an ingrained fringe benefit. The Southern California Assn. of Governments estimates that 95% of the people who drive to work park there for free, Shoup said.

 

Under the parking cash-out program, employers must pay a stipend equal to the cost of a parking space to workers who do not drive to the office. The law covers public and private employers that have at least 50 employees and that offer free parking in a leased lot.

 

Those restrictions mean that just 3% – or an estimated 290,000 of the state’s 11 million employer-paid parking spaces – are subject to the law, according to a 2002 report by the state legislative analyst’s office. About 84% of the free parking spaces are exempt because they are employer-owned.

 

Some larger employers offer free bus passes and other incentives to reduce car emissions under regional air quality guidelines. Those entities can satisfy smog-reduction requirements and the state law by incorporating parking cash-out subsidies.

 

Martin Wachs, director of the Rand Corp.’s Transportation, Space and Technology Program, called the cash-out program a “first step.” He said the city also should consider limiting parking in high-rises, especially those near public transit.

 

“It doesn’t make sense to me to spend billions to build subways and the buildings next to them that have seven, eight, 10 levels of parking that is provided free to those employees,” he said, noting that free parking will trump even the most easily accessible public transit.

 

Shoup studied eight Los Angeles-area firms whose workers were offered cash instead of free parking. His 1997 report concluded that, on average, 17% of the employees took the money.

 

The law does not cost employers any more than if every employee opted for free parking, Shoup said. In fact, the cash-out provision gives lower-paid employees who are more likely to take public transit benefits equal to those provided to their colleagues with cars.

 

The legislative analyst’s report found that employee participation ranged from 2% to 22% at various job sites, depending on such factors as the subsidy amount, business type, location and proximity to public transit. “High-paid employees with irregular schedules [are] not easily swayed by cash incentive,” the report states.

 

At the Century City law firm of Jeffer, Mangels, Butler & Marmaro, none of the lawyers has exchanged free parking for cash, firm officials said. But 17 other employees – including Fleming, the firm’s director of information, resources and management – took the money, said John Kramer, administrative operations manager. Each of the firm’s more than 200 employees gets a free parking space, valued at $185 a month, or the cash equivalent.

 

Fleming, 58, lives less than three miles away in West Hollywood. He said he was surprised when he moved here from Baltimore six years ago and was offered free parking. He takes the bus and the cash. “It’s a very nice bonus and it most definitely keeps me from driving,” he said.

 

Other companies have had greater success. More than half of the workers at an unnamed financial services firm in downtown Santa Monica cited in the legislative analyst’s report took a $200-a-month stipend and found another way to work. Since the law was enacted, Santa Monica has reduced employee parking by as much as 20% and increased the average number of passengers per vehicle from 1.3 to 1.5.

 

The city of Los Angeles does not require employers to submit annual traffic plans. But officials are exploring whether to revise tax forms to seek data essential in identifying businesses that should comply with the state law.

 

Shoup, the UCLA professor and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” applauded the city’s efforts. “Most of us assume that if the state passes a law, it will be enforced,” he said, noting that at the time he thought workers would push bosses to pay up.

 

But the Air Resources Board’s Paauwe said the law’s many exemptions make enforcement difficult. For now, it is “complaint driven,” she said. Possible violations may be reported by calling (800) 952-5588 or the local air district.

 

The statute includes a $500 fine per vehicle for noncompliance, but no one has been fined.

 

Shoup isn’t concerned that Los Angeles’ effort to enforce the law might take too long. “It has not been enforced since 1992,” he said. “We can wait to do it right.”

 

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Working Families Pay More for Transportation Than They Save on Affordable Housing

Detailed Data for 28 Major Metropolitan Areas Nationwide Finds That Moving Further From Work to Afford Housing May Not Mean More Money in Your Pocketbook

Washington, DC (October 11, 2006) – Low- to moderate-income working families are finding that as they move further from work to afford housing they end up spending as much, or more, on transportation costs than they are saving on housing, according to a new study of 28 major Metropolitan areas nationwide entitled A Heavy Load: The Combined Housing and Transportation Burdens of Working Families (http://www.nhc.org/pdf/pub_heavy_load_10_06.pdf).

Conducted by the Center for Housing Policy, the research affiliate of the National Housing Conference (NHC), the study also found that the combined burden of transportation and housing costs for working families was remarkably constant across all the Metropolitan areas studied at an average of 57 percent of annual income. This comprehensive study was conducted with support from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and was released today in coordination with NHC’s 75th Anniversary Policy Summit in Chicago, IL.

“Working families are increasingly moving further from their jobs to find affordable housing. Yet, we found that many of these families end up spending more on transportation costs than they save on housing,” said Jeffrey Lubell, executive director of the Center for Housing Policy.

“Ultimately, these findings emphasize the importance of coordinating the development of housing and transportation policy, as well as expanding the supply of affordable housing close to both central city and suburban job centers, improving public transit in areas with lower housing costs and reducing the costs of commuting by car for working families.”

Housing and Transportation Tradeoffs

In 17 of the 28 Metropolitan areas studied, the average transportation expenses for working families with annual incomes ranging from $20,000 to $50,000 are actually higher than their housing costs. Overall, across all 28 Metro areas, working families spend an average of 28 percent, or $9,700, of their incomes on housing and nearly 30 percent, or $10,400, on transportation. Transportation costs are based on auto ownership, auto use and public transit use and take into account the cost of commuting, as well as traveling for school, errands and other daily routines.

While the share of income that working families devote to housing and transportation differed from Metro area to Metro area, the combined burden of the two expenses was remarkably similar across all areas. These combined costs range from a low of 54 percent in Pittsburgh to a high of 63 percent in San Francisco, with 25 of the 28 Metro areas within three percentage points of the average combined burden of 57 percent.

Among all American households and income levels, and not just working families, housing and transportation are also the two largest expenses, but consume a smaller share of income at a total of 48 percent.

How Working Families Get to Work

The vast majority of low- to moderate-income working family commuters – more than 85 percent – in the 28 Metro areas studied drive to work in private vehicles. Commuters in some Metro areas take advantage of public transit alternatives such as extensive rail systems and buses. By far, public transit serves the greatest share of working families in the New York Metro area at 31 percent, followed by Chicago, IL at 14 percent and Washington, DC at 13 percent. The Metro areas of Boston, MA, Honolulu, HI, Philadelphia, PA and San Francisco, CA all have an average of 12 percent of commuters taking public transit.

Housing and Transportation Policy Recommendations

Numerous policy recommendations have emerged as a result of these findings.

Specifically, it is essential for regions to coordinate their housing and transportation policies to ensure they fully reflect the needs of working families – one example includes building more affordable housing near existing and planned transit hubs. Additional recommendations include redevelopment of inner city and older suburban neighborhoods near job centers and targeting job development in low- to moderate-income neighborhoods in central cities and inner-ring suburbs. Policies to encourage car sharing and make car ownership more accessible and affordable could also help reduce the transportation cost burdens of working families who must commute by car.

 

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Around DC, a Cheaper House May Cost You

Longer Commutes Outweigh Savings of Living in Outer Suburbs, Study Shows

By Eric M. Weiss

Washington Post Staff Writer

Thursday, October 12, 2006

One of the lures of the outer suburbs is more house — maybe even one with a big yard — for less money. But a new study shows that the savings are illusory: The costs of longer commutes are so high that they can outweigh the cheaper mortgage payments.

A study of Washington and 27 other metropolitan areas by the Center for Housing Policy found that the costs of one-way commutes of as little as 12 to 15 miles — roughly the distance between Gaithersburg and Bethesda — cancel any savings on lower-priced outer-suburban homes.

“If you save $40,000 to $50,000 by not buying that house in Montgomery County but expand your commute by an extra 30 miles a day, you can certainly see how that new house could not end up being the deal you thought it was, especially if gas is at $3 a gallon,” said Lon Anderson, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “But because of the exorbitant cost of housing closer in to [the District], they don’t have a choice if they want to live with their families in a home they can afford.”

Barbara J. Lipman, an author of the study, said that people tend to focus on all the zeroes that differentiate the price of a closer-in house from one in the outer suburbs, but they don’t realize how much they’re spending on commuting costs, such as gas, tires and insurance.

“Even if you save a couple of hundred dollars a month on your mortgage, it doesn’t nearly outweigh the costs of the cars you are driving,” she said.

The average cost of owning a 2006 Toyota Camry and driving it 15,000 miles a year with gas at $2.40 a gallon works out to $7,967 a year, according to AAA.

Higher gas prices put such a strain on Hannah and David Lynch’s budget that they decided to carpool instead of driving separately to their jobs from their Sterling home, even though she works in the District and he works in Baileys Crossroads.

Moving closer to their jobs is out, Hannah said, because “there is no way we could move into an equivalent three-bedroom house for the same amount,” she said. “We don’t want to downsize and give up a yard, for instance.”

Still, the frustrations of her 90-minute one-way commute can sometimes rankle, she said, “especially when there’s a stupidity delay on the [Dulles] Toll Road. It’s a trade-off.”

The study also found that a lack of affordable housing near job centers in the Washington area and elsewhere forces low- to moderate-income families to live in outer suburbs where transportation options are few and costs are high.

Families in the Washington area that earn $20,000 to $50,000 a year spend nearly a third of their income on housing, a figure exceeded only in the San Francisco area, the study says.

“We do have central-city job growth, but in Washington and other places, jobs are growing faster in the suburbs, and the population generally is suburbanizing farther and farther out,” said Lipman, who works for the Center for Housing Policy, which is a research arm of the National Housing Conference, a District-based, nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that advocates for affordable housing.

Of the 20 fastest-growing counties in the United States, 15 are located 30 miles or more from urban centers, including Loudoun and Stafford counties, Lipman said.

Lipman said many communities have identified a lack of affordable housing, traffic-clogged roads and longer commutes as critical issues but have not linked them. “One thing this study shows is the need to have regional solutions about both housing and transportation,” she said.

The study found that most people in the outer suburbs pay so much for transportation not just because of long commutes but also because they have to use their cars for nearly every errand and trip.

Lipman also said many of the trends will accelerate. The study noted that 62.1 percent of the U.S. metropolitan population lived in the suburbs in 1996, up from 55.1 percent in 1970.

And although the median national household income has risen 10.3 percent from 2000 to 2005, it has been outpaced by housing costs that have gone up 15.4 percent and transportation costs that have risen 13.4 percent over the same period. Gas prices, for instance, have been rising steadily over the past four years, more than doubling from $1.42 a gallon in June 2002 to $2.86 a gallon this past June.

Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, said the data highlight a disconnect between where people live and work. Those with the highest commuting costs generally live on the eastern side of Washington, while many of the jobs are on the northern and western sides.

“A three-car family puts a lot of money into depreciating assets, instead of into mortgages and college educations,” he said.

 

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Location-Efficient Mortgages

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

Mortgage lending typically does not consider the financial burden of commuting and other transportation costs for a family living in a remote, single-use (i.e., only residential land use) suburban area.

By living in a house that is remote from jobs, schools, shopping, and recreation/culture means that the household must spend more for transportation — usually by owning a relatively large number of cars. Research by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) has shown that a typical family living in a more central location in Oakland drives only half as much as a similar family in a more remote location. The savings were measured at about $750 per month. Others report savings of $300 to $600 per month.

Higher overall payments (travel and mortgage) make the more remote home more risky to the lender than a comparable loan in a more central location.

The hope of groups supporting what are called “location-efficient” mortgages is that the lending formula can be changed so that a dollar a month saved on transportation can be applied to a dollar a month higher loan payment. As a result, families wanting to purchase a home in a more “location efficient” area could qualify for a higher mortgage than a family purchasing a remote, less location-efficient home.

Location-efficient mortgages create a way for banks and mortgage lenders to recognize the transportation savings that an “access rich” central location is able to benefit from. A portion of these savings can be used by such institutions to “stretch” their standard income-to-expenses ratios that are part of the mortgage application process.

Of course, this concept is a powerful affordable housing tool as well. With this approach, like the Energy Star mortgage program (commonly called “energy-efficient mortgages”), a lower income household could qualify for housing that would otherwise be “unaffordable” under conventional lending rules.

Location-efficient mortgages acknowledge that families save money when they “live locally.” Those who shop, work, go to school, and enjoy parks or culture locally don’t need to travel as much because their more compact and populated (location-efficient) area is pedestrian-friendly and amenity-accessible.

In the neighborhood which has good accessibility, residents can walk to the grocery store, ride the bus to work, pick up the laundry on the way home from work, walk to the park on weekends, and bike to the shopping center for weekend errands. Households are more likely to own one car, instead of two or more, and drive less than 900 miles per month.

By contrast, neighborhoods that provide good mobility are ones where residents live in a more sparsely settled area with one-acre lots on cul-de-sacs and other disconnected roads without sidewalks. Households often must depend on two or more cars to provide the mobility tasks that members of the household must deal with — tasks that the “access-rich” households often perform by walking, bicycling, or using the bus. Such households must devote an enormous amount of time to travel by car, which means, among other things, loss of free time, emission of relatively large amounts of air pollution, and consumption of relatively large amounts of gasoline.

Patrick Hare claims he came up with the idea originally. He called it “Near Transit (one car) Mortgages.” His point was that if a household was in a location-efficient area, it would be better able to shed the second household car. By doing so, about $3,000 per year could be saved — which translates into being able to make mortgage payments for a mortgage of about $34,000 with this money saved.

“Location Efficiency” is emphasizes how accessible things like jobs and parks and shopping are, rather than how mobile one must be to find such needed goods and services. A strong correlation has been found between a location-efficient house and how many miles are driven each year and the number of cars owned by a household. The key correlative factors for location efficiency are:

Relatively high residential density

Good access to public transit

Good access to shopping, services, cultural amenities, and schools

Good pedestrian “friendliness” of sidewalks, bikeways, benches, lighting, and plantings

The author of the study that found these correlations states that it is possible to project auto ownership and usage, and thus average travel costs, with good reliability.

The Internet now has something called “Location-Efficient Mortgage Advisor” software that a lender could use to determine mortgage qualification. It contains an area map which shows the location of the property that the hypothetical buyer is considering buying, and any bus stops, train stations, and principal cultural features near the property. It would also indicate walking distances. This information is merged by the software, which then calculates a “Location Efficient Value” (LEV), and enters a predetermined portion of the LEV into the mortgage formula calculation. (For those of you who enjoy playing with mortgage calculations, the Web page I cite below goes into detail that I won’t bore you with about how the “location-efficient mortgage” would work.)

To summarize, the benefits of the location-efficient mortgage are:

Creates affordable housing. Encourages home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

Stimulates home purchases in low- and moderate-income urban neighborhoods.

Increases transit ridership.

Promotes infill and establishes a financial disincentive for sprawl

Supports local consumer services and cultural amenities.

Cuts energy consumption

Improves regional and local air quality.

Is all this a pipe dream that is too good to be true? Not at all. It is starting to happen. The Federal National Mortgage Company (“Fannie Mae”) was slated to do a market test of location-efficient mortgages in Chicago in February 1998.

The project is expected to help Fannie Mae achieve its “One Trillion Dollar Commitment” to expanded home ownership opportunities for low- and moderate-income households.

Some of the organizations that are supporting the location-efficient mortgage initiative are:

The Center for Neighborhood Technology

National Resources Defense Council

US Dept of Energy

US Dept of Transportation

Environmental Protection Agency

Surface Transportation Policy Project

Federal Transit Administration

The Chicago Public School System

The Chicago Board of Realtors

Sources for the above info:

Earthword, Issue #4

Center for Neighborhood Technology WWW Page

Contacts:

James “Kim” Hoeveler. 312-278-4800 email: hoeveler@cnt.org

Location-Efficient Mortgage Home Page: http://www.cnt.org/lem/

Patrick Hare 202-269-9334

David Goldstein 415-495-5996

 

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