The End of the Road for Cul-de-Sacs?

Today on the Streetsblog Network, Connecticut Smart Growth asks for a reconsideration of the cul-de-sac. As the post notes, a couple of important studies in recent years have highlighted how this iconic type of suburban development causes unsafe and costly traffic problems. Now governments in several parts of the country are discouraging such dead-end developments:

3442550309_1eb0cb7948.jpgThe cul-de-sac’s glory days may be past. (Photo: piermario via Flickr)

Early last year the state of Virginia became the first state to severely limit cul-de-sacs from future development.  Similar actions have been taken in Portland Oregon, Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, North Carolina.
 What they are beginning to realize is that the cul-de-sac street grid
uses land inefficiently, discourages walking and biking, and causes an
almost complete dependence on driving, with attendant pollution and
energy use. Furthermore, town officials are beginning to realize that
unconnected streets cost more money to provide services to and force
traffic onto increasingly crowded arterial roads, which then, in many
cases, need to be widened (more tax money)…

With municipal and state budgets at the breaking point, why aren’t
CT officials looking at land use patterns and their accompanying
expenditures and begin the process of growing smarter? I don’t know
about you, but I am willing to live without the cul-de-sac if it would
save me some tax money. 

More from around the network: Beat Bike Blog has a great little item about an older gentleman who rides his bike in Hartford, Connecticut:

In this bike’s owner, we have personified the nullification of every
excuse anyone has ever given for not riding. You think you’re too old?
Unless you are well into your 70’s or older, this man has you beat. Too
cold? Temps were in the low 20s this particular afternoon. Are you too
tired, too sore, too out of shape? I invite you to check out the custom
cane mount. This man walks with a cane, hooks it on to the rack and
frame of his heavy single-speed bike and rides on.

And Tucson Bike Lawyer has the story of a good Samaritan who chased down a drunk driver after she hit and dragged a bicyclist — and took her keys away from her so she couldn’t flee the scene. 

  • I have on occasion watched “House Hunters” on HGTV. In the show, home buyers are shown 3 houses by a realtor, and at the end of the show, they usually pick one.

    I have seen families still making comments that they like such and such a house because of the cul-de-sac. Personally, I see the cul-de-sac, wide large lots, and bungalows as a negative. However, there are still people who as so dependent on cars, they don’t see the lack of sidewalks, no walkable neighbourhoods, and lack of nearby shops as problems.

  • MtotheI

    I don’t see the problem being innate to the cul-de-sac but rather to poor implementation. Cul-de-sacs can be used to foster more walkable and bikeable cities because they make car routes less direct and take more time.

    Davis, CA, for example, has walking and biking paths behind cul-de-sacs making it easy to get places that a car would have to drive circuitously to get to.

    Im not saying that I love cul-de-sacs, but its not their fault. If we can better incorporate cul-de-sacs into urban and suburban environments, they can deter driving and foster cycling and walking.

  • electric

    Hopefully yes, the end is near.

    The design has a few positive aspects for the illusion of seclusion and people who want to wear paperbags on their heads. In cul de sacs, there are a lot of negatives, higher crime rates for one.

    Is the cul de sac being replaced by the gated community though?

  • the cul-de-sac street grid uses land inefficiently, discourages walking and biking, and causes an almost complete dependence on driving, with attendant pollution and energy use.

    Isn’t that the whole point of living in a posh suburban subdivision? ‘Inefficient land use’ is just a synonym for ‘rich enough to waste resources.’

  • Cul-de-sacs are a collective action problem. People who have these preferences individually want that feeling of living at the end of the secluded cul-de-sac, but obviously want a fully functioning road system as well. The fact that groups of people want this feeling leads to the traffic and location problems of too many cul-de-sacs, when the entire group would be better off if they compromised their wants and ended up with a grid system. Classic prisoner’s dilemma. Technically, the entire concept of suburban living is a problem like this.

    Of course (@Jonathan), this is also the reason why historic city neighborhoods are destroyed by bland glass condos. People want a luxorious condo but also want it to be located in a vibrant and aesthetically pleasing old neighborhood. We’re all selfish!

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