Tag Archives: planning

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

David Sucher’s Three Rules for Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

Suggestions for Use of [Downtown] Space

by Dom Nozzi, AICP

Published in Boulder Daily Camera

March 9, 2011

The redesign of the Daily Camera building on 1048 Pearl Street provides a spectacular opportunity for Boulder. I have a few humble suggestions.

Most importantly, the redesigned building must fit in with the context of its neighbors on Pearl Street. That context is walkable, compact, traditional and human-scaled. Given this, the crucial task is almost a no-brainer: the front facade of the building fronting Pearl Street must abut the sidewalk, as its neighbors properly do. The suburbanizing surface parking lot that has separated the building from Pearl Street creates an anti-walkable, gap-toothed dead zone along a critical stretch of Pearl Street. The town center already suffers from the deadening, dispersing influence of off-street surface parking lots along Walnut Street just west of 13th Street. Now is the chance-in-a-lifetime opportunity to correct this surface parking blunder in the walkable Boulder town center.

While removal of surface parking is essential, it is not even clear to me that “structured/stacked/garage” parking is a good idea, as a downtown needs “agglomeration economies” to be healthy. Even stacked parking acts as a powerful (and quite costly) dispersing agent that takes away extremely valuable floor area that the town center needs for vibrancy and economic health.

On the topic of vibrancy, a place intended to be walkable needs to “activate” the sidewalk 24/7 to the extent possible. That means the building should have, if possible, a strong residential, retail and cultural component.

Finally, I believe it is important that town center building design induce civic pride. That means that redesign should shy away from “modernist” architectural style, which tends to be disliked by most people (there is nothing more dated, or bizarre, than yesterday`s vision of tomorrow), and lean toward traditional, contextual, probably classical style, which tends to be more lovable.

More worthy of our affections, as my friend Jim Kunstler would say.

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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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Measuring Walkable Urbanity

By Dom Nozzi, AICP

What are the benefits of Walkable Urbanity?

A community fortunate enough to contain walkable urbanity is a community to cherish, celebrate and protect. A walkable place is lively, physically and financially healthy, fashionable, affordable, sustainable, sociable and safe. It is, in other words, a crystal clear sign of a high quality of life. Almost by definition, an attractive community is walkable and an unpleasant community is unwalkable.

Walkability exists when there is convenient access. The home is so close to a park, a grocery store, a movie theatre, places of work, nightlife and civic institutions that it is an easy, short walk to nearly all of life’s daily destinations. Car ownership must be optional if a walkable lifestyle is to exist.

Ironically, in the 20th Century, travel by car was seen as the most convenient form of travel. Increasingly, however, we are coming full circle and realizing that past civilizations were right. That easy, quick access by foot, not car, is the key to convenience. And, importantly, living a rich, joyful life.

A walkable lifestyle is the most sustainable, low-impact, convivial way of living. Achieving and sustaining a walkable community is the most effective way to promote a high quality of life. More walking — not just for recreation, but also for trips to work, to school, to shops — is an ideal way to:

1. Improve one’s health, by warding off obesity and a host of chronic illnesses.

2. Increase affordability, by substantially reducing travel costs.

3. Get to know your neighbors, because the serendipitous experience of bumping into those who live on your street frequently occurs when one walks, but nearly vanishes when one drives a car. Healthy neighborliness is a necessary ingredient if a sense of community is to be achieved.

4. Promote travel independence and travel choice, because children, a large number of seniors, the disabled, and many low-income people are unable to use a car and are unable to travel on their own when a car is mandatory. Indeed, approximately one-third of all Americans are unable to drive a car.

5. Reduce air & noise pollution, as motor vehicles are a prime source of nearly all forms of noxious discharges to our skies. Indirectly, the compactness required for walkability reduces energy consumption per capita, which effectively reduces regional air pollution. The largest source of noise in most cities comes from car travel

6. Promote a human-scaled neighborhood, because the existence of pedestrians leverages provision of modest sizes, speeds and dimensions. Very little is more effective in creating a quality of life.

7. Reduce stormwater & “heat island” problems, because a reduction in use of motorized vehicles results in a reduction in petroleum products being released to surface- and groundwaters, and a reduction in the amount of impervious surface that must be provided. “Heat island” problems decline because of the reduction in needed impervious surfaces

8. Reduce injuries and deaths, because motorized vehicle travel results in tens of thousands of injuries and deaths each year.

9. Increase the feasibility for smaller, locally-owned businesses, as larger pedestrian volumes are a necessary ingredient for the establishment and survival of smaller, neighborhood-based shops and services.

10. Increase citizen surveillance, as larger numbers of pedestrians on sidewalks increases the “eyes-on-the-street” phenomenon (also known as “citizen surveillance”), which increases public safety.

A walkable urbanism featuring convenient access is a powerful way for a community to attract and retain Richard Florida’s “Creative Class”, the young, smart citizens that communities depend on for a health economy and healthy overall community. “Brain Drain” is most likely to occur in placeless cities which lack the character, vibrancy, “hip-ness” and attractiveness provided inherently by a walkable community.

Ironically, despite all of the talk of the need for “sustainability,” improving the local economy, and improving neighborhood quality in America today, walkability is rapidly vanishing as a lifestyle choice throughout the nation.

Measuring Walkable Urbanity

Ann Breen and Dick Rigby (InTown Living, 2004) provide what I believe are clear, accurate criteria that describe the essential elements of walkable urbanity. They list five characteristics, which they point out should be present, to some extent, in all places that wish to be considered “urban.” Besides the obvious “walkability” criterion, they list

* Density

* Diversity

* Hipness

* Public Transit

I would add “Human Scale” to the list, although this can be considered to be implicit within the “Walkability” criterion. Properly modest building heights (no more than 5 stories, ideally), modest lot sizes, modest lot widths and building setbacks from streets and intersections, as well as modest dimensions for street widths, block lengths and intersection turning radii, are indispensable elements of urbanity (streets should also be connected, instead of cul-de-sac’d, to reduce walking distances).

A crucial scaling mechanism for creating a human scale pertains to off-street parking. If such parking is in front and pushes the front of the building far back from the street or intersection, all semblance of human scale is lost.

Human scale sends the powerful message that a neighborhood or street is designed to welcome pedestrians rather than cars. The ambiance is one of safety, peacefulness, dignity and neighborliness. Walking is welcomed, and the character created promises that the stroll will be delightfully interesting, thereby ensuring frequent walks.

BIPSM

While walkability “guru” Dan Burden lists his own criteria for walkable places on his web site, I really like this from him in April 2006: “…a powerful new way to measure the walkability and livability of a community…”Bump Into’s Per Square Minute.” (BIPSM)

BIPSM measures how many friends or acquaintances one bumps into per minute of walking on a sidewalk. A superb measure of the level of conviviality and sense of community.

A Comparison of Walkability

The National Resources Defense Council (Environmental Characteristics of Smart Growth Neighborhoods: An Exploratory Case Study) compares two neighborhoods in Sacramento, California with dramatically different densities, to show how density plays a profound role in creating walkability.

Metro Square

(20 dwelling units/acre) North Natomas

(6 dwelling units/acre)

Distance to:

Convenience Store 815 feet 15,388 feet

Supermarket 1,941 feet 14,458 feet

School 1,962 feet 17,181 feet

Bus Stop 666 feet 11,055 feet

Parks 347 feet 702 feet

Jobs in One Mile 29,266 0

How Many Businesses Are Within Walking Distance of Your Home?

A powerful way to assess the walkability of your home location or a location you are considering moving to is to determine the number of businesses within a one-mile walk of your home. A quick and easy way comes from Alan Durning (an author who wrote the superb book, The Car & the City). With this tool, you can, within seconds, find out how many businesses you can walk to from your home.

The method:

To get a count of businesses within a mile of your home (your “walkshed”), go to the Qwest online phone directory: http://www.dexonline.com/#, select the business listings, type “all” in the category field, click “near a street address,” type in your address, and choose “1 mile.” The Qwest site will rapidly list how many businesses there are within a one-mile walk of your front door, as well as their name and address.

My house has 148 businesses within a one-mile walking distance. Not bad, but homes within a big city downtown are usually within a mile of several THOUSANDS of businesses. But still, the number near my home is a lot better than the suburban home I grew up in when I was a boy. That home has a score of 0.

Durning goes on to point out that more than one quarter of car trips in the United States are shorter than one mile. That is a LOT of trips that could have been walked. (In my opinion, most of these short trips are by car rather than by foot because for at least 98 percent of all car trips that Americans take, there is a free parking space at the destination, which BEGS us to arrive by car.)

Durning also indicates that “realtors provide detailed information to prospective home buyers on schools and resale values. They could as easily report the Walkshed Index–high scores translate into thousands of dollars of potential savings in fuel and car payments.”

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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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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design, Sprawl and Suburbia

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