Tag Archives: transportation planning

Sustainable, Unbiased Transportation Terminology

by Michael Wright and Dom Nozzi

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

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

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

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

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

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

Examples:

Biased —

The following street improvements are recommended.

The intersection improvement will cost $5,000.00.

The motor vehicle capacity will be improved.

Objective–

The following street modifications are recommended.

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

The motor vehicle capacity will be changed.

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

Examples:

Biased —

The level of service for motor vehicles was enhanced.

The level of service for motor vehicles deteriorated.

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

Objective —

The level of service for motor vehicles was changed.

The level of service for motor vehicles was decreased.

The level of service for motor vehicles was increased.

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

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

Examples:

Biased —

Upgrading the street will require a wider right of way.

The upgrades will lengthen sight distances.

Objective —

Widening the street will require a wider right of way.

The changes will lengthen sight distances.

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

Examples:

Biased —

The level of service was “A”.

Objective —

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

The level of service for pedestrians was “A”.

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

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

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

Examples:

Biased —

Alternative modes of transportation are important to downtown.

Objective —

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

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

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

[My own personal preference for terminology here is:

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

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

Examples:

Biased —

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

He had an accident with a light pole.

Here is the accident report.

Objective —

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

He crashed into a light pole.

Here is the collision report.

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

Examples:

Biased —

We have protected this right of way.

Objective —

We have purchased this right of way.

We have designated this a right of way,

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

Examples:

Biased —

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

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

Objective —

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

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

Summary

Biased Terms — Objective Terms

improve — change, modify

enhance, deteriorate — change, increase, decrease

upgrade — change, redesignate, expand, widen, replace

level of service — level of service for ___

traffic — motor vehicles

traffic demand — motor vehicle use

accident — collision, crash

protect — purchase, designate

efficient — fast

[Disparaging Term — Desirable Term

alternative — sustainable]

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Finding a Place for Parking

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

By Ethan Kent, Project for Public Spaces

 

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

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

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

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

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

10 Questions to Help Us Get the Most Out of Parking

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

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

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

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

3. Are parking regulations being obeyed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Are there opportunities for angled parking?

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

9. Can curb cuts be consolidated and narrowed?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

David Sucher’s Three Rules for Urban Design

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Prohibit parking lots in front of the building.

 

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Filed under New Urbanism: Timeless, Traditional, Walkable Design

Many Cities Changing One-Way Streets Back

By Melanie Eversley, USA TODAY

12/20/06

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

What’s Wrong with Bicycle Helmets?

by Michael Bluejay

Many readers are surprised that I don’t make a big deal on this site of insisting that cyclists wear helmets, especially since wearing helmets is what most people equate with bike safety.

And in fact that’s one reason I avoid cheerleading for helmets in the first place. The idea that cyclists should wear helmets is already so much a part of the collective consciousness that it doesn’t make any difference whether I encourage helmet use or not. So instead I focus on what people haven’t heard elsewhere: How to ride safely. Let’s face it: nobody is going to wear a helmet just because I say they should. People will not be motivated to action hearing something from me that they’ve already heard a thousand times before.

But it goes further than that: Focusing on helmets distracts people from what’s more likely to actually save their lives: Learning how to ride safely. It’s not that I’m against helmets, I’m against all the attention placed on helmets at the expense of safe riding skills. Helmets are not the most important aspect of bike safety. Not by a long shot.

Unfortunately, helmets have become a panacea: Many parents and city & state governments think they can slap a flimsy piece of styrofoam on a kid’s head and they’ve done their part to make sure that kids are safe. But it’s actually the opposite. This approach is akin to outfitting somebody with a flak jacket and then having them run through a firing range. If you had to choose between giving a child a helmet or the education about how to ride safely, you should choose the education and ditch the helmet every time.

Of course you don’t have to choose between one or the other, but the point is that most people are choosing, and they’re choosing the helmet only. For example, helmet laws are popping up all over the country, but how many of those same jurisdictions are mandating classes in how to ride safely? Almost none. In Adam Sandler’s movie Click, he sends his kids out biking at night, dutifully decked out with helmets—but no lights! That’s what the problem is: A misguided focus, a belief that bike safety begins and ends with putting a helmet on your head.

The problems with helmets

The main problem with helmets is not with the helmets themselves, it’s with the attitude towards them, the idea that they’re the first and last word in bike safety. If that’s the definition (and that’s pretty much how people view helmets) then there are two big problems with that:

• A helmet does nothing to prevent a cyclist from getting hit by a car.

• The effectiveness of helmets in preventing injury is seriously exaggerated.

At this point helmet supporters are jumping up and down with rage and reaching for their email (believe me, I hear from them), so let me be clear about this: Saying that helmet effectiveness is exaggerated is not the same thing as saying that helmets are useless. I don’t believe that helmets are useless. I think if you want the maximum protection possible in a crash you ought to wear one. But I also believe that if you think a helmet will do as much to protect you as you probably think it does, then you’re kidding yourself.

Helmet use among U.S. cyclists was nearly non-existent before the 1990’s. Nobody wore helmets in the 80’s and before. So what happened when helmet use skyrocketed in the 1990’s? Head injuries went down, right?

No, head injuries went up. Let me repeat that: When helmet use went up, so did head injuries. There’s a big article about this in the New York Times, showing that head injuries among cyclists went up 51% in the 1990’s as more and more cyclists started wearing helmets.

I’m not suggesting that helmets caused the head injuries; there are other plausible explanations for why head injuries increased (more attention to helmets and less attention to safe riding skills being one of them). But what I am saying is that the protective value of helmets is so small it’s hard to measure.

Most of us have heard that “bicycle helmets can prevent up to 85% of head injuries”. Many times the phrase is printed without the “up to,” stating flatly that bike helmets “prevent 85% of head injuries.” Typically, no source is ever cited for this 85% figure. Everyone believes it anyway, so who needs a source, right? But where did this 85% figure come from, and is it credible? The answer is that it came from a flawed 1989 study, and it’s probably wildly inaccurate. The study was roundly criticized in the Helmet FAQ by the Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling and by CycleHelmets.org, which states:

This paper is by far the most frequently cited research paper in support of the promotion of cycle helmets. It is referred to by most other papers on helmets, to the extent that some other papers, and most helmet promotion policies, rely fundamentally upon the validity of its conclusions.

The claims that helmets reduce head injuries by 85% and brain injuries by 88% come only from this source, yet are quoted widely as gospel by people who know nothing more about cycle helmets. The prospect of achieving such massive reductions in injuries to cyclists lies at the root of helmet promotion and mandatory helmet laws around the world.

Those who have taken the trouble to analyze the paper in detail, however, have found it to be seriously flawed and its conclusions untenable. (more…)

They also note that not a single helmeted cyclist considered in the study was involved a collision with a motor vehicle!

CycleHelmets has other good information, such as the chart at right showing that countries with the most helmet use also have the most head injuries. This is important enough that it bears repeating: countries with the most helmeted cyclists also have the highest rate of cycling head injuries. And of course the converse is true: cycling head injuries are much lower in countries where cyclists don’t wear helmets very much.

And that brings us to the third problem with helmets: Helmet-wearing may actually promote injury. A study at the University of Bath showed that motorists gave less room when passing helmeted cyclists vs. unhelmeted ones. The researcher was actually struck twice on his bicycle when conducting the study, both times while wearing a helmet.

Another theory is that helmets effectively make the cyclist’s “head” much larger, so with a bigger head a falling cyclist is much more likely to slam it against the road or a car (causing traumatic brain injury because the brain is still slammed against the skull), or possibly even breaking the cyclist’s neck.

Patrick Goetz points out another possible problem with helmets:

With some trepidations, I’ve actually been wearing a bicycle helmet for recreational road biking, However, [a recent car-bike] accident points clearly to one of the problems with helmet usage: I can no longer hear cars coming up behind me since I’ve started wearing a helmet. It’s quite unsettling to be biking down a quiet rural road and suddenly have a giant, noisy pickup blast by completely unanticipated. There’s something about how the wind passes through the air vents that greatly attenuates sounds from the rear (and perhaps otherwise).

If any of these things is true then it could explain why we don’t see any reduction in cyclist fatalities when helmet use goes up: helmets could be saving some cyclists but killing others.

Putting things in perspective

It’s funny how dramatically perceptions have changed in recent times. As recently as the 80’s virtually nobody wore helmets, and no one thought anything of it. But today cyclists are considered stupid and irresponsible if they don’t do something that nobody did the first 80 years that cycling was around. Today some motorists feel it’s their obligation to scowl and yell “Get a helmet!” at unhelmeted cyclists.

And this brings up another point: The motorists who are so insistent that cyclists wear helmets aren’t wearing helmets themselves. This isn’t silly: crash helmets could potentially save more lives for motorists than cyclists. About 38,000 motorists die on U.S. roads every year compared to fewer than 700 cyclists. If helmets are good for cyclists, they ought to be great for drivers and passengers. Why is nobody banging the drum about this? After all, helmets save lives, right?

 Helmet laws

Another problem with the focus on helmets is that they encourage state and local governments to enact helmet laws. But while something might be a good idea, that doesn’t mean that not doing it should be a criminal offense. It’s a good idea to brush your teeth. Should you have to risk arrest if you don’t?

The main problem with a helmet law is that it ignores the unintended consequences. If a city passed a helmet law and the only thing that changed was that more cyclists started wearing helmets, then there might be a public safety benefit and no downside. But that’s not the only thing that happens when a helmet law gets passed. The most significant result of a helmet law is to discourage cycling. That’s because many would rather quit biking than have to wear a helmet, and because a law promotes the idea that cycling is an incredibly dangerous activity. Reductions in cycling by 33% to 50% are typical in places where helmet laws have been passed. (CycleHelmets.org, Cycle-Helmets.com)

Ironically, helmet laws thus make cycling more dangerous, because fewer cyclists on the road means that motorists are less used to seeing cyclists. It’s no surprise that the countries with the most cyclists have the lowest rate of injuries per cyclist. Helmet laws ensure that the rate of injury per cyclist goes up. In fact, helmet laws make driving and walking more dangerous, because when people stop biking, they start driving, and it’s cars & SUV’s that kill other motorists and pedestrians, not bicyclists.

There are yet other problems with helmet laws. In some communities police have used helmet laws as an excuse to target minority kids. In Austin the last time anyone checked, over 90% of the no-helmet tickets given to kids went to black and Hispanic kids.

Once something normal suddenly becomes against the law these kinds of excesses can occur. In Palm Beach County, Florida a sheriff’s deputy handcuffed a nine-year-old boy for not wearing the obligatory helmet.

But one of the biggest problems with helmet laws is that they shift the blame onto the cyclist in car-bike collisions, even if the motorist was clearly at fault. The idea is that if a cyclist gets hit by an at-fault motorist, it was the stupid cyclist’s fault for not wearing a helmet. This is no exaggeration; this exact opinion has been promulgated by the defense in countless court cases, effectively denying cyclists and their families justice against at-fault motorists. When Ben Clough was killed while bicycling in Austin both the police press release and the article in the local paper made sure to point out that Ben hadn’t been wearing a helmet. What they didn’t point out at all was that the driver who killed him ran a red light to do so.

Wait, it gets richer. The driver in question was not arrested, paid no fine, served no jail time, and did not even receive a traffic ticket for running the red light. This prompted one local cyclist to comment that the best way to avoid a ticket for running a red light is to run over a bicyclist while you do so.

BicycleAustin has a whole laundry list of arguments against mandatory helmet laws.

Summary

• Bicycle helmets probably have some protective value, but not nearly as much as has been claimed, or most people seem to think.

• Wearing a helmet does nothing to prevent you from being hit by a car.

• Real bicycle safety involves learning how to ride properly.

• Crash helmets could easily save more lives for motorists than bicyclists.

• Helmet laws restrict freedom of choice, may result in the targeting of minorities, discourage cycling, make cycling more dangerous for those who remain, and shift the blame in car-bike collisions to helmetless cyclists even if it was the motorist who was at fault.

Pages referenced in this article, and other resources

• How to not get hit by cars

• CycleHelmets.org reviews the literature about helmet efficacy

• Helmet laws reduce the number of cyclists

• Ontario Coalition for Better Cycling’s Helmet FAQ

• New York Times article questioning the effectiveness of helmets

• Deputy handcuffs 9-year-old for not wearing helmet

• Minority kids more likely to get no-helmet tickets

• Lack of justice for bicyclists

• Safety statistics

Also see Dom’s blog on this topic:

http://domz60.wordpress.com/2010/01/15/bicyclist-safety-and-recruiting-new-bicyclists-are-bicycle-helmets-counterproductive/

 

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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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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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