Category Archives: Town and Transportation Planning

Why Bicycle Light Laws are a Bad Idea, Part II

By Dom Nozzi

August 8, 2017

In an earlier blog, I had written about why laws requiring bicyclists to use lights at night are problematic. The following essay are further thoughts I have on the topic.

To begin with, I strongly agree that bike lights are a very important way to be safe when riding a bicycle at night. I use a light nearly every time I ride at night.

This is not a question of whether bicycle lights dramatically improve safety for cyclists at night. Clearly they do. The question is whether a law requiring cyclists to use a light at night is a good idea.IMG_8731

A question was asked on the Boulder CO “Thursday Cruiser Bike Ride” (a mass weekly bike ride which seeks to maximize the number of cyclists riding on Thursday after work) as to why some cyclists don’t use a light on these nighttime rides. I believe responsible cyclists will, when necessary, use lights, wear a helmet, and stop at intersections. I understand the safety importance. I also believe in each of those three cases, a law does almost nothing to increase the use of lights, use of a helmet, or stopping at an intersection (largely because all three can be done safely in many cycling situations, or for reasons I note below). We already have laws for certain things that distinguish between actions that are so dangerous (to oneself and others) that a law requires it, and situations that are considered relatively safe and the law therefore makes an exception (a boating life preserver, for example).

On the other hand, our society makes it very difficult, impossible, inconvenient, illegal, and dangerous in countless ways to ride a bike. There are so many of these discouragement factors that I’m shocked that ANYONE bicycles regularly. For the vast majority of people in the US, the very rare cyclist seen on American roads strikes nearly all Americans as a person who is completely out of his or her mind.

I don’t at all agree, as some claim, that lights can be attached to a bicycle and forgotten about. In America, here are very frequent worries:

  1. Bike batteries notoriously run low on electricity.
  2. Bike lights are very quickly and easily (and therefore often) stolen – particularly if they are high enough in quality to be reliable. Bike lights need to be easy enough to put on and take off a bike so that they are reasonably convenient. They are therefore inherently prone to theft. For this reason, at least in America, it is a bad idea to leave lights attached to a bike.
  3. Bike lights are very notorious for breaking down to the point where they don’t work. Often due to cheap construction, collisions with walls, racks, legs, rust or corrosion in rain, etc.
  4. It is easy to forget to bring along a light to attach to your bike (many don’t keep a light attached due to reasonable fear of theft or rain). Given how often a cyclist must attach a light to their bike for each night ride, I wonder how “convenient” a motorist would find it if they had to attach a portable front a rear light to their car each time they drove at night? And each time they went into and out of a store or restaurant each night?
  5. It is common for a cyclist to start a ride in daylight hours and not anticipate being out late enough to need to ride later in the dark. This is never a problem a motorist has to worry about.

Each of these circumstances happen quite frequently for a cyclist, and almost never, if ever, for a motorist.

So a bike light law regularly exposes a cyclist to a stiff fine, inconvenience, financial costs, and the burden of dealing with purchase and maintenance of the light.

Again, there are already a huge number of ways in which our society strongly discourages cycling.

Given the fact that responsible cyclists already ride safely and irresponsible cyclists are unlikely to be influenced by a law, why add another reason to discourage cycling?

 

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Should Bicycle Lights be Required when Bicycling at Night?

By Dom Nozzi

August 7, 2017

Using a law to require safety gear such as bike lights seems like a good idea at first glance. But there are many reasons why such a requirement is problematic.

Many cyclists don’t use lights because they easily break. Or rust from rain. Or batteries lose power. Or the lights are stolen. Or it is easy to forget them (particularly when you start a ride during daylight yet the ride unexpectedly ends at night). Or they are sometimes expensive. Or they get lost in the house or garage.

Bicycling is already much more inconvenient or difficult than driving a car in our pro-car society, and this requirement adds to that imbalance (thereby encouraging more driving and less cycling). For this reason, a bike light requirement worsens public safety and harms public health by reducing the frequency of bicycling – or punishing cycling by the increased threat of having to pay a steep fine.lights

Requiring lights is a form of victim-blaming. Instead of blaming the victim, we should be promoting effective safety tactics such as safety in numbers (ie, increasing the number of cyclists), and insisting that streets be designed to obligate slower, more attentive driving by motorists (engineers have almost single-mindedly designed roads for high speeds and inattentiveness for over a century).

Note that I am NOT suggesting that bicyclists not use lights at night. There are very strong reasons why bicyclists should use lights at night.

The question I am asking here is not whether bicyclists should use lights at night. Of course they should. The question, rather, is whether we should use the power of law to require the use of lights.

What I am suggesting in this essay is that mandatory rules for bicyclists to use lights are counterproductive.

All of the above also applies to bike helmets. I am okay with people voluntarily choosing to wear a helmet, but I strongly object to mandatory bike helmet laws. Studies show that when such laws are adopted, bicycling frequency goes down, for the reasons I point out above.

Let us avoid a double standard when it comes to safety and convenience. If our society does not have the wisdom or leadership to avoid a mandatory light or helmet requirement for bicyclists, we should require motorists to abide by the same rules. Motorists must wear a helmet while driving (after all, head injuries are far more likely when driving a car), and must carry out to their car and attach car portable headlights and brake lights each time they drive a car.

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Making Cars Happy is a Priority for Town Planners

 

By Dom Nozzi

July 15, 1999

Yesterday was a dispiriting day for me as a town planner for a city in Florida.

It was a typical conversation amongst my town planning colleagues, who supposedly were in a job that obligated them to create a better quality of life for their city. Typical because my colleagues are thoroughly quite suburban and auto-oriented.

For the second staff meeting in a row, what was the main agenda item for these planners at the meeting?

The DESPERATE need to require businesses to provide more car parking.parking lot3

Yes. Perhaps the most effective way to undermine the quality of life of the community.

To say I was appalled was to put it very mildly. I was livid.

I cannot imagine ANYTHING that is more damaging or more likely to lock a community into a sprawling, car-dependent debacle than to widen roads or build bigger parking lots.

Why are allegedly professional planners – whose job it is to protect and promote the city quality of life – doing all they can to ruin the city?

To add insult to injury, we spent the first 45 minutes of the meeting trying to come up with rules for fences or barricades that a business with an outdoor cafe would be required to install to seal off their outdoor tables and seating.

Why, I asked?

Is it not true, I said, that seating and tables are scattered, unfenced, throughout Europe???

Coral Gables FL, in fact, had a law that says that outdoor cafes must NOT be fenced. Are people dying in Coral Gable as a result? Is my city so terrified of urban vibrancy?

Is it not true that at a coffee shop in the town center of my city, the ambience of unfenced tables is fabulous? (it is actually quite vibrant, for the record)

The response from my planner colleagues: “It looks messy if the tables area is unfenced.” (Urbanism is ugly!) “People might walk through the tables area.” (horrors!) “The tables might end up on the sidewalks and people will have to walk around them.” (run for your life!)

Typical suburban concerns. Let’s protect ourselves from a quality city by barricading, by protecting against disorder, by sealing things off, by sterilizing, by cocooning.

Sometimes I wonder why I don’t just quit this shameful suburban sprawl job and write a book or run for commission or something…

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The Making of an Unwalkable Street Intersection

By Dom Nozzi

January 15, 2005

In community town centers, the pedestrian is the design imperative. Everything else comes second.

A grievous example of how this can (and often is) disregarded is a case that I was involved with as a town planner in Gainesville Florida.

In this case, we had a project proposed that was at the northwest gateway of the most walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood in north central Florida.

But the old bugaboo raised its fearsome, tiresome head in this case. North Main Street and North 16th Avenue – where this project was located — is considered a “failed” intersection (for cars, that is). As I mention often in speeches I give, the “failed road” is a common, inflammatory term used by carbarians to have their way when they seek a bigger road or intersection.

Who could be against “fixing” a “failed road”? People are dying! Right?

So in this case, we had the spectacle of City and County “planners” and engineers (who have probably never walked to a store in their lives) DEMANDING that this proposed gas station provide the “amenity” of “fixing” this “failed” intersection by widening that stretch of North Main from 4 lanes to 5. Not only were they ignoring the endlessly stated double-left-turn-lane-intersection-bouldertruism that we cannot build our way out of congestion. They also overlooked the stunning, ironic fact that by widening this intersection from 4 lanes to 5, it would become a failed intersection FOR PEDESTRIANS.

In the most walkable neighborhood in the area.

As an aside, part of the spectacle I observed repeatedly in this community was how often we had non-pedestrians and non-bicyclists design pedestrian and bicycle facilities. Is it any wonder that so few people walk or bicycle? Or that our pedestrian and bike facilities have so many design flaws?

Above is an example of a failed intersection design (for the forgotten pedestrian) in Boulder CO.

I find it enormously illuminating that while we have precise, mathematical, well-known ways to determine when a road or intersection is to be called “failed” when it comes to cars, we have no equivalent way to know when a road or intersection is to be called “failed” when it comes to pedestrians.

Why is that? Is it perhaps that most of us are never pedestrians for significant trips and therefore always forget that there are, in fact, pedestrians in the community?

Note that, of course, this 16th and Main intersection is ALREADY a failed intersection for pedestrians. Unlike with cars — where “failure” refers to a situation where a large number of cars are delayed for a brief time — a failed intersection for pedestrians occurs, in my opinion, when (1) there are no pedestrians using the intersection; and (2) the intersection is too dangerous for anyone but the most capable and quick to cross on foot.

In this case, city and county staff were DEMANDING that this intersection become even MORE of a failure for pedestrians.

So much for the pedestrian as the design imperative. So much for this being a community with a walkable, prideful sense of place.

One of the main aspects of my outrage is that the gas station designers found that it was very costly for them to give up eight feet of their property to install a turn lane at the intersection. They agreed with my point that by far, it would be preferable to improve the intersection by taking Main Street from 8th Avenue to 16th Avenue from 4 lanes to 3 (and have turn pockets along the way).

The street would become more permeable, safer, livable, and efficient. And more likely to promote healthy retail and residential development along the corridor.

But they were stopped in their tracks when they learned, recently, that county staff OPPOSED taking this portion of Main Street from 4 lanes to 3. I had heard that the obstacle to doing this in the recent past was that Publix was foolishly objecting (incorrectly believing that such a diet would reduce car-carrying capacity).

Does county staff not understand that such a diet would not reduce capacity, or does it assume that since they’ve heard that Publix is opposed that it is therefore a non-starter to recommend it?

Why would city and county staff, who do not live near this walkable neighborhood, go against the wishes of the neighborhood? Why are they instead calling for the further degradation of the neighborhood perimeter?

Why do the “escape route” interests of outlying suburbanites outweigh the community-building, community-enhancing wishes of such a neighborhood?

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Is Boulder Colorado Making Progress in Implementing its Transportation Plan?

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 1, 2016

I have served for over two years on Boulder Colorado’s Transportation Advisory Board (TAB). As I have noted in the past at TAB meetings, I believe Boulder’s transportation staff is extremely knowledgeable regarding transportation issues. They mostly “get it,” in my opinion.

However, I believe they have been consistently quite timid in their recommendations to Council, and a recent “progress update” issued by staff is an example of that. I believe staff is putting too much of a happy, optimistic face on the “progress” we are making on the TMP, and they are asking TAB to confirm that to Council. I, for one, do not wish to “confirm” that.

I believe staff is doing this because they are not being given PERMISSION by Council, supervisors, or citizens to offer effective, meaningful recommendations or findings.

There are four main categories in which communities can be effective in achieving transportation objectives (such as promoting transportation choices, reducing excessive SOV travel, promoting safety and quality of life, promoting environmental and financial sustainability, reducing GHG emissions, etc.). I call them the “Four ‘S’s”:

  1. Reallocate Space from motor vehicles to places for people (for example, repurposing travel lanes, reducing travel lane widths, shrinking intersection and parking lot sizes).
  2. Calm (reduce Speeding by) motor vehicles.
  3. Reduce the massive Subsidies motorists unfairly enjoy.
  4. Shorten distances to destinations.

Because of its wealth and because it is relatively easy politically, Boulder has a long history of spending money to provide infrastructure and services to achieve TMP objectives. But that approach is only able to achieve relatively trivial gains — particularly compared to the four items I mention above. As an aside, much of Boulder’s historic achievements regarding transportation are due to “self-selection,” where many people who ALREADY want to bike, walk or use transit move to Boulder because they have heard Boulder is a good place to travel in those ways. Relatively high levels of non-car travel in Boulder are much less due to the facilities and services provided by Boulder. Part of this self-selection is due to Boulder being a “college town.” College towns throughout the nation have relatively high non-car travel levels.

If we consider the above — and how little Boulder has done to implement any of the four effective items I mention above — it is clear that Boulder is either standing still or losing ground with regard to achieving TMP objectives. For example…

  1. Boulder is mostly failing to reallocate space from motor vehicles. The Folsom Street right-sizing (called a “road diet” in most of the nation) and other Living Lab projects have been rolled back. Boulder retains and in some instances continues to install arapahoe-in-boulder-codouble-left turn lanes at intersections. Boulder continues to maintain a large number of overly wide streets and travel lanes for cars. Boulder continues to require excessive amounts of parking space for motor vehicles as a condition for development approval.
  1. Boulder continues to avoid funding and implementing a traffic calming program, which means that speeding and safety remain problems on many of Boulder’s overly wide streets and overly wide intersections and overly generous turning radii at intersections. Staff recently noted that there is no evidence that there are safety problems on Boulder streets due to speeding (?), which suggests that calming is more of a “quality of life” matter than a safety matter. I believe that is misleading. First, I think that the large quality of life benefits that calming provides in and of itself is a justification for re-starting the calming program. I believe a large number of citizens continue to request calming for valid reasons (safety for their children, for example). I believe calming is an effective way to reduce aggressive opposition to development in Boulder (because much of the opposition to new development is due to the perceived danger and speed of new car trips delivered by new development). I would note that the chance of injury or death goes up exponentially as motor vehicle speeds go above 25 to 35 mph. I also believe that even if there is no data showing that calming will reduce injuries and deaths in Boulder, the PERCIEVED danger due to excessive car speeds is reducing the number of bicycling and walking and transit trips in Boulder.
  1. Boulder continues to mostly avoid imposing fair user fees for transportation. User fees for parking and roads are a powerful way to encourage non-SOV travel and induce a lot of walking, bicycling and transit use. It is also an excellent way to raise much-needed transportation revenue. User fees can introduce a lot of fairness into cost of living in Boulder, as bicyclists, transit users, and pedestrians will be subsidizing motorists less (they subsidize motorists by paying more taxes and paying more for goods and services — such costs would be substantially lower if motorists paid more of their own way).
  1. Boulder continues to do very little to promote more compact development (which shortens travel distances), and arguably is losing ground due to the amount of development which occurs in outlying “bedroom community” towns.

The result of not implementing the four items I mention above is that Boulder GHG emissions are probably stable/increasing, safety for peds and bicyclists (particularly for the canaries in a coal mine: the “interested but concerned” seniors, children and women) remains poor (which means efforts toward a “Vision Zero” for traffic fatalities is mostly lip service), the number of motor vehicle trips remains very high (well over 60-80 percent of all trips), transportation choice is not noticeably improving, quality of life in Boulder is stable or worsening when it comes to factors related to the transportation sector (such as high noise levels and lack of charming, human-scaled spaces), and financial costs for transportation remain unsustainably high and getting higher.

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Environmental One-Upsmanship

 

By Dom Nozzi

June 20, 2002

It is disappointing but not surprising that so-called “no-growthers” and blue collars (lower income residents) in Gainesville Florida have joined forces with the “pro-sprawl” Republicans on transportation.

One outcome of this: the Gainesville city commission is preparing to completely gut the long-range transportation plan I prepared for the city.

After all, we are ALL motorists with motorist values. It matters not a whit that many no-growther people pay lip service to the idea of fighting sprawl and protecting neighborhoods. By being pro-car, they completely undermine any alleged effort to discourage sprawl and help neighborhoods.

There has been an emergence in towns like Gainesville of a hysterical, fanatic contingent of angry NIMBYs disguised as environmentalists. Within the city, such people fight to the death to save every blade of grass or small tree or possum in the hopes of stopping a nimbyproposed development project, or at least forcing the project to lower its density to suburban, cow-town density.

These “environmentalists” desperately grasp at any available straw to slow or stop a development project.

Yesterday, it struck me: A lot of these “environmentalists” seem to be engaged in a game of “one-upsmanship”. They try to outdo each other to publicly demonstrate that they are “holier than thou” with regard to protecting the environment.

“You believe we should have a 30-foot setback from wetlands in order to protect them from development. I want us to have a 60-foot setback!!!”

“Oh, yeah??? Well I think we should have a 90-foot setback, and protect ALL mud puddles in Gainesville!!! So there!!”

“Big deal!! I think we should prohibit ALL future development in the city to REALLY protect the environment!!!”

The point I’ve made in the past is that this sort of hysterical one-upmanship is not only counterproductive. It is a way in which suburbanites, who lead environmentally destructive lives by living in sprawlsville and driving their SUVs to rent a video every week, ease their guilty conscience by engaging in this sort of public environmental one-upmanship.

But there may be another explanation for this phenomenon: These hysterical, angry citizens have the same psychology that afflicts fanatical fundamentalist religious zealots. The one-upmanship of today’s environmentalist is the same psychology that we observe when a fundamentalist tries to one-up his religious friends on religious doctrine. “I am more holy than you because I am CERTAIN that every comma and semi-colon in the Bible is inerrant!!”

Likewise, many environmentalists seem to be seeking admiration for the purity and strength of THEIR beliefs — albeit pertaining to wetlands rather than scripture…

So perhaps this drive for salvation through one-upsmanship is shared by both religious fundamentalists and environmental fundamentalists…

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Why Did the Boulder Road Diet Project Stir Up So Much Opposition?

By Dom Nozzi

January 18, 2016

I’m not sure that the City handled the road diet project on Folsom Street (called “Right Sizing” in Boulder) wrongly. A huge number of cities all over the nation handled their road diet projects much, much worse than Boulder and still made them happen.

I think an important problem in Boulder is that there are a large number of wealthy people in Boulder (who therefore have an enormous sense of entitlement – they have a RIGHT to do whatever they are doing!). Also, many in Boulder are very intelligent, which means that people are smart enough to intelligently tell local government why something won’t work. In less educated communities, the arguments tend to be dumber and therefore easier to disregard.

I think Boulder has also been making a huge mistake, through its plans and rhetoric over the past several years, to suggest that bicycle, pedestrian, and transit improvements can happily coexist with making motorists happy (the idea that it is a arapahoe-in-boulder-co“win-win” game). It is NOT a win-win. It is zero-sum. When conditions are made better for driving, conditions for walking, bicycling, and transit always worsen – largely because improving conditions for cars means oversizing streets and intersections, and
spreading origins and destinations far from each other.

Similarly, Boulder continues to make the awful mistake of stating that it will keep congestion from getting worse. That is an excellent recipe for making cars happy and making non-car travel very unlikely.

Boulder’s reputation for being friendly to bicyclists, pedestrians, and transit users comes almost entirely from having a lot of money (due to Boulder’s wealthy population), so the City fools a lot of people into thinking we are discouraging car use by building lots of paths and providing lots of buses. Politically easy to do that. But not effective in reducing car use. If we are talking about effectively getting more people to travel without a car, my mantra is that it is not about providing shiny new toys or techno-wizardry or facilities for those not traveling by car. It is about the Four S’s: Reduce Space (parking and roads) allocated to cars, reduce Speeds cars can travel, reduce the huge Subsidies allocated to those who drive cars, and Shorten the distance one must travel to get to destinations (via compact development).

Boulder does not do much of anything regarding these four tools.

There are a relatively large number in Boulder who bicycle, walk, and use transit (in terms of America, but pathetic when compared to Europe). But the higher numbers are significantly due to self-selection. People who ALREADY like to bicycle, walk, and use transit move here due to the city reputation. Many of those people would be bicycling, walking, and using transit (for utilitarian trips) even if the city provided mediocre sidewalks, buses, and bike paths.

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