Police Arrest Motorist AND Bicyclist

Police: Man arrested for trying to run down cyclists

May 22, 2004

By ALICE WALLACE, The Gainesville [FL] Sun

Police say the man was angry because the cyclists weren’t riding single-file and began yelling at them.

Gainesville man was arrested Friday night after a road rage incident in which he tried to run down a group of nine bicyclists who were riding down E. University Avenue in the area of Newnan’s Lake, according to the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

No one was injured in the incident.

Lt. Jim Troiano with the Sheriff’s Office said George Hastings, 60, of Gainesville, was driving east in the 7000 block of E. University Avenue late Friday night when he encountered a group of nine bicyclists riding two-by-two along the two-lane road. Troiano said Hastings was angered because the bicyclists weren’t riding single-file and began yelling at them through his car window.

The bicyclists yelled back at Hastings, Troiano said, which angered Hastings further. He pulled in front of the bicyclists and slammed on his brakes, nearly causing the riders to crash into his 1998 Taurus, Troiano said.

In retaliation, one of the bicyclists caught up to Hastings’ vehicle and punched him through his open car window, Troiano said.

“That really made the guy mad,” Troiano said. “So he took off and then conducted a series of U-turn maneuvers. He was trying to run over these bicyclists.”

Troiano said Hastings was essentially chasing the bicyclists around the road for a while, running up on the bicyclists and then turning around each time he missed them.

“He was driving all over,” Troiano said. “He almost ran over one of the bicyclists. The biker was barely able to veer away from the guy’s path.”

Eventually, Hastings stopped his vehicle and began exchanging blows with the bicyclist who had punched him through his window, Troiano said.

While the two were fighting, a bystander who was out in his front yard saw the commotion, called law enforcement and then quietly went and turned off Hastings’ car and took the keys so he would not be able to leave until law enforcement arrived.

When the Sheriff’s office arrived, deputies arrested Hastings on three aggravated assault charges. Troiano said they are also sending charges to the State Attorney’s Office in the form of a sworn complaint charging the bicyclist who punched Hastings with burglary and battery. He said the bicyclist is being charged with burglary because he reached into Hastings’ vehicle. “We’re definitely holding blame on both sides, but the aggressor was definitely Hastings,” Troiano said. “He could have easily killed several of those bicyclists.”

My thoughts about the above news article:

  1. As a bicyclist, I can confirm that this sort of aggressive, dangerous, homicidal motorist behavior against bicyclists happens all the time.
  2. The story is a good example of something that is highly annoying to the bicyclist: Nearly all motorists haven’t a clue about the rules of the road or the safest way for bicyclists to ride their bikes. In this case, the motorist was enraged that the bicyclists were riding two-by-two instead of single-file. While single-file sometimes allows the motorist to avoid being delayed by bicyclists (as he can get around them easier), it also happens to be a form of bicycling that is dangerous to bicyclists, which explains why they were riding two-by-two. Two-by-two forces the motorist to be more careful. The motorist must pass by getting into the adjoining travel lane briefly to get around the bicyclists, rather than trying to squeeze by the bicyclist in the same travel lane. Two-by-two also makes the bicyclists more visible to the motorist. It is a form of safety in numbers.
  3. I am aghast that the police found it necessary to arrest both the homicidal motorist AND the bicyclist.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Curbing the Expectation of Driving at High Speeds

By Dom Nozzi

Many of us who seek to make our world more conducive to happy people rather than happy cars are adamant about the importance of slowing car speeds in communities.

Residential streets typically do not promote the problem of high-speed, free-flowing traffic, but sometimes they do act in such a way when they are used for “cut-through” trips or if they are relatively large neighborhood streets which “collect” traffic fed from smaller streets in the neighborhood (usually called “collector” streets).

Lowering the average motorist speed is one of the most essential ways I can think of to improve quality of life. And the most effective way to do that is through calming strategies which design the street to force slow car travel. It is critical that we LOWER THE EXPECTATION of motorists to be driving at high speeds. High speed car travel in a community should not be considered the “default” way for a motorist to travel.

Tragically, conventional traffic engineers have designed our streets for the past 100 years to promote high-speed travel – even on what should be quiet, low-speed streets. The result is that too many motorists now believe that relatively high-speed driving is the norm.

If we instead start designing our communities so that, eventually, most streets in a community are designed for slow car travel, general expectations will evolve so that a motorist realizes that the normal manner of driving is to drive slow (except on interstate highways, of course). With such an expectation, there will be significantly less road rage (and related hostile driving) in calmed areas, because the motorist EXPECTS to drive slow.

Designing streets for slow speeds is particularly important on residential streets, because such streets are the places where we most expect children and seniors to be, and where people are in homes and bothered by the noise of high-speed car travel. We also need to slow cars on the BIG roads in our community to ensure we solidify a general motorist expectation that they are driving in a slow speed community.

“Road rage” and fast driving are NOT genetically programmed into humans. A slow-speed community is NOT unrealistic.

In a discussion about slower car speeds, it is important to note that speed limit signs have little or no impact on how fast a motorist drives. Average driving speed on a street is dictated by the “design speed” of the street. The conventional traffic engineering philosophy is to assume that safety is best achieved by designing the “forgiving” street. That is, to design the street so that the motorist is “forgiven” if they, say, drive too fast and lose control of their car.

What this means is that the street is made wide and obstructions are kept away from the shoulders so that a fast, out-of-control motorist will not smash into anything.

Unfortunately, this fails to take into account the motorist psychology. If you design a street for safe driving at 40 mph, the average motorist will drive 40 mph, even if the posted speed limit signs say 30 mph, because average driving speed is determined by the maximum speed a motorist feels comfortable driving.

Typically, this philosophy means that a street with a speed limit of 30 mph has been designed with a “design speed” of 40 mph. We should not be surprised when a large number of motorists drive 40 mph on such streets. Enforcement is nearly impossible, short of a police state.

Therefore, in my opinion, the “forgiving street” philosophy gives us LESS safety due to higher speed (and more inattentive) driving.

The effective solution for slowing cars is to “retrofit” our streets (including residential streets) with calming designs that force cars to slow down (which is why things like speed humps are often called “sleeping policemen”).

However, “vertical” treatments like humps are almost never, if ever, appropriate for streets (including residential streets) – particularly those that are on designated emergency vehicle routes (where calming needs to be carefully designed to not excessively impede such vehicles).

In the case of such routes, “horizontal” calming is usually called for. Horizontal treatments include such things as curb extensions or other forms of street narrowing, as opposed to “vertical” calming like humps.

Does Traffic Calming Increase Air Pollution?

A common objection to traffic calming is that air emissions will increase due to “stop and go” traffic that is induced by calming. But this concern makes the mistake of  being overly reductionist. Peter Newman and Jeffrey Kenworthy effectively point out why reductionism in this case leads to erroneous conclusions. Newman and Kenworthy correctly point out that those who fear higher emissions due to calming forget about changes in motorist behavior that occur with calming. Reductionist thinking in this case only looks at what is coming out of a tailpipe of individual cars.

But Newman and Kenworthy, take a broader and more accurate view by pointing out that changes in travel behavior (caused by higher development densities, shorter travel distances, congestion, calming, etc.) completely swamp any air pollution gains that can be realized from individual cars that have less stop-and-go travel.

I will grant that it is possible there will be “micro-level” increases in air pollution levels due to calming. But at the “macro” (community) level, I’m convinced there is a net reduction in air pollution. That is, there is LESS air pollution at the community level.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Run for Your Life When a Traffic Engineer Wants to Make a Road More “Safe”

By Dom Nozzi

Conventional traffic engineers (the people who have been designing our roads for the past century) often like to make the claim that their design strategy is to make the road more “safe.” The tragic irony is that a great many of their “safety” tactics actually make the road much less safe.

And that helps explain why today, we have an epidemic of unsafe, inattentive motorists driving at excessively dangerous speeds. What could be more ironic?

Here is an excellent, common example of how our roads become less safe in the name of “improved safety”:

A road intersection have what are called a “turning (or “curb”) radius.” This radius is a measurement of the tightness or width of the corner of the intersection. The following image illustrates a tight radius vs a wide radius…

curb radius large vs small

Too often, the conventional traffic engineer will recommend a wider turn radius for “safety.” He or she will frequently state that a wider radius is needed to help improve pedestrian safety. Without a wider radius – the engineer will often claim—motorists will sometimes jump the curb, which would endanger pedestrians.

Nonsense.

What actually happens in the real world is that the wider radius allows most motorists to negotiate the turn at a much higher (and more inattentive) speed, and there is very little that is more dangerous than a motorist driving at excessive speeds inattentively. If a motorist “jumping the curb” was truly a problem, hardened bollards should be placed at the curb to to punish or otherwise discourage reckless, excessively speeding driving.

Another canard that the engineer often pulls out is that the wider radius is needed because the road is used by very large vehicles (such as buses or trucks). The large vehicle becomes what is called the “design vehicle” that the engineer uses to design the road geometries.

But again, the unintended consequence emerges. By enabling the large vehicle to negotiate a turn with a wider turn radius, we induce the high-speed, inattentive driving by the much more common passenger vehicle. Overall safety goes down as a result, because while a large truck jumping a curb is perhaps averted by the wide radius, such vehicles are quite rare, whereas the smaller passenger vehicles which are induced to drive more recklessly are much more common.

In a walkable downtown, it is ass backwards to use a large vehicle as the design vehicle for designing the streets. The pedestrian should be the design “vehicle” if a town center is to be designed for walkability. Using a large vehicle as the design vehicle utterly undercuts the objective of creating a safe, walkable street design for pedestrians.

There are much more appropriate strategies for dealing with large vehicles in a town center that is intended to be walkable. First, the effective turn radius can be made wider without creating the unintended consequences I mention above. This can be done quite simply by adding on-street parking close to the intersection. Or, the community can prohibit the use of large vehicles in the town center.

When conventional traffic engineers mention “safety,” watch out. Usually, it is just a smoke screen to grab the moral high ground at a public meeting concerning street design. Meanwhile, the man behind the curtain that we are not supposed to notice is designing the street for a single-minded objective: Higher motor vehicle speeds — which, of course, degrades our safety and quality of life.

Tactics such as wider intersection turn radii usually fall under the category of the conventional “forgiving street” philosophy, whereby we “forgive” reckless, high-speed, out of control driving by eliminating things that motorists might run into, such as trees, pedestrians, buildings, parked cars, etc.

Leave a comment

Filed under Transportation

Downtown Parking: Is It Killing Your Town?

By Dom Nozzi

Everyone seems to know exactly how to make their downtown better: MORE PARKING!!!

A few years ago, I read a research article written by a couple of internationally famous transportation and livable cities experts. Part of their work was to survey 32 cities worldwide for the amount of parking and lane mileage provided downtown, and then look for correlations between these factors and both gasoline consumption and the livability of the city.

11781090Based on this analysis, they came up with a rule of thumb for a CBD (Central Business District) parking-to-CBD employment ratio. Their conclusion was that beyond 200 parking spaces per 1,000 jobs, the city becomes noticeably ugly, congested, polluted, auto dependent, energy intensive, and deteriorated.DSC_0675-copy-771x438

When I did an analysis for Gainesville FL (where I was working as a town planner), I was astounded to learn that despite all the rhetoric about insufficient downtown parking, the city has over FOUR TIMES more spaces than this rule-of-thumb ratio.

Ouch.

Here are some spaces-per-1,000-jobs numbers for perspective:

Phoenix = 1,033

Houston = 370

Detroit = 473

LA = 524

DC = 264

Chicago = 96

NY = 75

Gainesville = 840

It seems to me that if we decide it is “unreasonable” to expect people to walk a couple of blocks from their parking space, or DowntownMinneapolisLot640_0unreasonable to build multi-story parking garages (with first floor office and retail), the city is in trouble of fouling its own nest.

A couple of provisos:

  1. No more downtown parking? Nothing mentioned above should be taken to mean that we should not add ANY form of parking downtown. I’m tired of hearing that canard. I generally support multi-story parking garages, in part because their “verticality” helps define the public realm. And they are especially nice when they include a first floor “wrap” of retail and office (since without such a wrap, the structure has a severe deadening effect). Another enormous benefit of such parking is that it substantially reduces the amount of real estate consumed by car parking. A car parking space consumes an ENORMOUS amount of space (about 350 square feet). Since a healthy town center requires walkable compactness and “agglomeration economies” to thrive, the extreme dispersal of the town center with acres and acres of parking asphalt is a recipe for town center decline.

Many town centers around the nation provide insufficient amounts of on-street parking. I support adding as much on-street parking as possible.

On-street parking buffers pedestrians from the noise and danger of cars, and helps slow cars to a more pleasant and safe speed. In addition, on-street parking is extremely helpful for retail, since retail does better when pedestrians find a more pleasant place to walk (or enjoy an outdoor cafe), and because the parking provides a handy place to park near the front doors of businesses.

In my opinion, it is OFF-STREET parking (asphalt parking lots) that we need to be careful about downtown. Such parking creates “gap tooth” dead zones that harm the downtown ambiance and unique character, create ugliness, and increase crime and safety problems. The space used for off-street parking is usually better used for residences, retail, offices, or cultural buildings — all of which help enhance the quality of the public realm and build vibrancy (and “agglomeration economies”). We need to strike the proper balance in our efforts to revive the downtown, instead of putting all of our eggs into the off-street parking basket.

  1. Quality of transit. Occasionally, people respond to the information I present above about parking ratios by saying that the other cities have higher quality transit, and can therefore get away with less parking.

While it is certainly true that the bigger cities have higher quality transit, I believe we need to realize that this is a “chicken and egg” issue. Which comes first? Quality transit, or the conditions that demand the installation of quality transit? While it is possible that we can get quality transit first, it is not probable. After all, we live in a democracy. Our elected officials are not dictators who will take actions that do not have political support. In nearly every city with quality transit, conditions emerged which lead the citizens to choose to support whatever it took to install quality transit. Conditions such as a high cost and inconvenience to drive a car, park a car, or both.

In summary, we need to strike a balance between the need to provide parking and the need to create a livable, vibrant, transit-supportive, attractive downtown.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Opposition to the Installation of Greenway Trails for Bicycling and Walking

By Dom Nozzi

An enormous number of Americans are fiercely opposed to the installation of bicycle and pedestrian greenway trails near their homes. As a greenway planner for Gainesville FL in the 1990s, I was shocked and disappointed by the level of hysterical Boulder Greenway Canopyopposition to something that one would think is a welcome addition to any residential area.

In seeking to reduce the opposition, we tried to be sensitive to neighborhood concerns by placing the trail as far from homes as possible.

But what we learned in Gainesville was that placing the trail in “uplands” would cause a firestorm of opposition and renewed cries that the City was not listening to citizens. Let’s not forget that for many NIMBYs (Not In My Backyard), the concern about the trail being close to homes is cloaked in a more acceptable (and less selfish) “concern for the environment” (i.e., the environment is a smokescreen for underlying NIMBY opposition).

But even if we moved the trail to the “uplands” (and away from the more sensitive creek ecosystem that vocal “environmental” opponents are allegedly up in arms about), would this protect the “pristine” creek environment?

Hardly.

parking lotThe creek ecosystem would still suffer from noise, cats and dogs, nearby houses, erosion and sedimentation, sewage leaks, stormwater runoff, herbicides and pesticides, vegetative removal, ad nauseam. Gainesville’s creeks have been suffering major environmental insults for decades due to these nearby homes and businesses and roads.

The greenway path we proposed, in other words, does not create the first negative impact on a “pristine” creek environment. Instead, it is an important tool to reverse these decades of mostly hidden abuse.

Much as we would like it to be true, I do not believe that the goal of making an urban creek a pristine environment (by preventing the installation of a greenway path) is a matter of political will or citizen education or laws and regulations.

It does not matter how much will or environmental sensitivity or concern we dedicate to urban creeks. Why? Because it is simply not possible to insulate an urban creek from nearby urbanism. Oh, sure, we could dream about removing all the homes and apartments and retail and office and parking lots and roads within five miles of the creek, but is that realistic? Or how about creating a “Gainesville Biosphere” in which we encase the creek floodplain with glass walls? The truth of the matter is that there is no financially or politically feasible way to create a pristine environment in the middle of the city — for all the reasons I listed above (and others I did not mention).

And I say this as a well-known wild-eyed environmentalist.

I have very little patience for “bleeding heart ecologists” who are behaving hypocritically. For example, when they so loudly and frequently express concern that a simple bike and foot path will cause major negative impacts to amphibians and reptiles, I think about relative impacts. Those two or three angry, concerned ecologists in Gainesville have probably killed more creek amphibians and reptiles as they drove in their cars over the past few years than will hundreds of bicyclists on a creek trail in 50 years.

And this is direct road kills caused by the cars the ecologists drive. How much damage is caused by a road as it slashes through creek floodplains? Did these ecologists (who lobby for a charter amendment that would forever prohibit the City of Gainesville from constructing a greenway path in the creek floodplain) support a charter amendment that would forever forbid the city, the county or the state from building a road through a floodplain unless it was bridged?

I suspect not.

And I have not even mentioned car impacts such as underground storage tank leaks, stormwater runoff from roads and parking lots, erosion, light pollution, fuel and oil droppings from cars that leach into the creeks, the removal of floodplain vegetation for parking lots and roads, air pollution, and noise.

Can we please put things in perspective here?Dom condemned for planning Greenway94

I begin to wonder if the huge fight against a greenway path and the ear-shattering silence we hear when it comes to, say, road widening, is more due to the fact that the opponents of the path have given up the fight against the major forms of urban wildlife and ecosystem impacts and put up a tremendous fight against a path because it seems like a “winnable” fight.

I also begin to wonder if these ecologists know much about how much the creeks have suffered from abuse over the past several decades, and how much it continues to suffer. How much more can the creek ecosystem take before it collapses?

Leave a comment

Filed under Environment

Taking My Views to More Appreciative Audiences and Communities

By Dom Nozzi

In 2005 or thereabouts, the City of Gainesville FL – my employer at the time – started expressing serious concerns about the speeches I was giving about transportation and urban design (a “lessons learned” presentation about what I had learned in my many years as a town planner). It was becoming screamingly obvious that my views were too high-octane (read: controversial) for spineless Gainesville. My response was that I decided to rarely make a presentation in Gainesville anymore. At the time, I was on a crusade to let folks know what I had learned about urban design and transportation, since I believe I’ve come to realize some crucial things about what works and what does not regarding quality of life.

Frustratingly, I was not only strongly discouraged from providing this knowledge locally through speeches. I was ALSO not allowed to submit written comments for publication by the Sun any longer (according to the censorship board that arose at my office at the time).  This troubled me a great deal, as I have always had  a strong desire to share with others the critical things I’ve learned about transportation and land use. Because I was gagged locally, I resigned myself to the second best alternative: Speaking in OTHER cities. And trying to get a book published regarding my views. That way, even if Gainesville did not appreciate or want my views to be heard, maybe I could help other communities.

Gainesville was so terrified of offending ANYONE that my idea of having the City sponsor a James Howard Kunstler talk here was nixed immediately a few years earlier (Kunstler is internationally known for his provocative, important views regarding transportation). So I considered it a badge of honor that I’d also been severely restricted (and ultimately prohibited) from speaking in Gainesville.

At this time, I had given a presentation to the local Kiwanis Club.

Wow.

You would think that I was Hitler or something. In all my speeches around the state, that speech elicited the most negative reaction from the audience.

By far.

I increasingly questioned whether Gainesville should be re-considered as a place with “progressive” views. Given the reception I got at the Kiwanis Club event, I’d say Gainesville is, if anything, quite reactionary.

My speeches outside of Gainesville were generally happening through word-of-mouth advertising (primarily because Gainesville so severely restricted my ability to give presentations). When I gave a speech somewhere, there was almost always someone in the audience that enjoyed what I had to say and decided to invite me to THEIR town for a future speech.

“Progressive Gainesville”? I don’t think so.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Suboptimizing Trees: A Common Anti-City Tactic

By Dom Nozzi

“Suboptimization” occurs when efforts are made to achieve a lower-order goal to the detriment of a higher-order goal. A common instance of suboptimizing is when there is a single-minded effort to reduce fire truck response times, and doing so to the detriment of peace and quiet in a community (and to the detriment of traffic safety). A study has found, for example, that using excessive street geometries to speed fire truck response time results in a net increase in injuries and deaths, as the number of people saved from fires by faster fire trucks is overwhelmed by the big jump in car crashes due to excessive street dimensions.

When I was a town planner in Gainesville, Florida, I experienced what is surely a very common national occurrence: obsessively and emotionally suboptimizing on trees, to the substantial detriment of a walkable city.

During my time as a planner in Gainesville, I was forced to cram in several confusing, silly sentences in my “traditional neighborhood development” (TND) ordinance — designed to create a compact, walkable neighborhood — describing “engineered soil” (said by some to be needed for relatively large trees). Not only was the definition inherently confusing and complex. I was told by a number of local landscape architects that such soil would be quite expensive to install.

So the TND ordinance, which was already too onerous for a rational developer to use to build a subdivision, became even more difficult to use by developers because city-hating Gainesville citizens and elected officials wanted enormous trees above all else (including walkability).

This is yet another reason why we don’t see developers building walkable places. Huge trees are quite often incompatible with a modest, walkable, human-scaled building-street-sidewalk design. And a large number of Americans have strong emotional feelings toward protecting trees.

The tree suboptimizers also won another battle. I was directed to amend my walkable town center ordinance (somewhat similar to my TND ordinance) to make street trees a requirement in the Gainesville town center. Like most cities, Gainesville had properly exempted developers from needing to install tree landscaping in the town center, as the town center tends to require compact, human-scaled spaces to deliver the charming, quality urbanism we seek in a town center. The new suboptimizing rules ended up requiring that developers jam street trees into all developments and redevelopments in the town center. This added additional complexity, burden, and confusion to the ordinance, and added another disincentive to build or infill in a town center that has long been sorely in need of development and redevelopment (as so much development was being strongly pulled to sprawl locations).

At the same time, I learned that the new county courthouse parking garage planned for the Gainesville town center would NOT be getting desperately needed on-street parking (one of the most crucial amenities for pedestrians) along the garage. Why? Surprisingly, it was not for the goofy fears that kept on-street parking away from the courhouse itself. In that case, the embarrassing reason was that there was a childish worry of truck-bombing terrorists (which, coincidentally, also just happened to be in the interest of motorists who dislike being slowed by on-street parking, by the way).

No, on-street parking next to the garage is not going to be stopped because of a fear of Timothy McVeigh. On-street parking was stopped because the City desperately wanted big trees.

For the record, on-street parking and trees could be deployed together, but trees such as palm trees are “unacceptable” by those who wish to suboptimize tree ecology for quality walkability.

The end result was predictable and nearly certain: Gainesville would soon amend its walkablility codes (in particular, the two ordinances I mention above, as well as walkable ordinances for student-oriented neighborhoods adjacent to the University of Florida) to push buildings back from the street — so that the human-scaled sense of enclosure is lost — or discourage desperately needed in-town, infill, walkable development.

Thereby creating less-walkable streets.

I’ve stated this over and over again in my work as a town planner: In the town center, the needs of pedestrians come first. NOT the needs of live oak trees.

But only if we care about having a walkable, healthy downtown.

Maybe we really do want sprawl, and aspire to be another Atlanta. If so, we are using tactics that are sure to get us to be another Atlanta. And I was probably working in the wrong community…

The lush landscaping looks wonderful from your car windshield as you whiz by in your car in Atlanta and Gainesville. But where are the pedestrians?

Why are they not out walking? Isn’t it enough that we provided a lot of shading live oaks???

I was left to wonder: Was there ever a time over the past 30-40 years when Gainesville had not suboptimized on big trees as the number one priority? Has suboptimizing live oak trees done anything to stop us from taking big steps toward becoming a sprawling auto slum? Has that done anything to promote walking on our sidewalks?7390694268_93120010d5_z

Is it any wonder that the anti-city, tree-suboptimizing attitude in America led to such a nearly universal development of cities throughout America that are utterly unwalkable, uncharming, and unlovable? A nation with cities that only an Oldsmobile could love?

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized