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Thread: Limiting the number of cul-de-sacs

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    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Limiting the number of cul-de-sacs

    I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about cities limiting the number of Cul-de-Sacs in new subdivisions. I was curious to see what the planning community thought of such a thing.
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian Plus
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    Article link from the ASLA website:
    A Dead-End for Cul-de-sacs
    Ask almost any city planners worth their salt, and they’ll tell you there’s a very good reason the term cul-de-sac translates as “bottom of the bag.” The American cul-de-sac is an inefficient use of land and has been proven to increase traffic. However, ask any red-blooded American suburbanites who drive a Suburban and they’ll tell you they’d much rather live on a cul-de-sac than on a through street. The Wall Street Journal takes on the debate, noting that as planners write rules restricting or eliminating the bottom of the bag, real-estate brokers and market forces point to an increased demand for homes on a dead end. And the battle rages on.

    http://online.wsj.com/article_email/...jIwMTIzWj.html

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    Cyburbian nerudite's avatar
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    I've been trying to get my city to do this for years. Both for sustainability (less crap in the air from vehicles due to more direct routes) and lowered on-going costs of operations (have to haul away snow instead of plowing it over to the side). Seems like a win-win to me... but I get shot down almost every time I go up against some neighbourhood group that wants a freaking cul-de-sac.

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    I've found that Cul-de-Sacs tend to lend themselves very easily to people (not nessicarily suburbanites) who want to exclude others from driving through or walking through their neighborhoods if they don't have too. Speaking from one specific example, an area about 1/2 mile square occupied by almost exclusively very upper middle class and upper class white professionals. On two sides of the area are very busy artereal streets. on most of the other two sides is a city forest preserve of varying...safety, but with no through roads. The last part is a stretch of a commuter rail line which has a stop in this area. Several years ago a generally poorer, but not outright impovershed black population began encroaching on the area. The solution: Cul-de-sacs and strange concrete structures which force right hand turns one way and left the other. And block access to the aterial streets except at only 4 places. And it 'works' the area has maybe 10 black families for the 2 or 3 hundred white familes that live there. The area outside has deteriorated but not inside

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    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I don't think cul-de-sacs are inherently bad. It just depends where they are placed. I absolutely hate looking at street maps where two cul-de-sacs are pointing to each other. Why the heck wouldn't they plan those as a through street? I also hate extra long cul-de-sacs cause they concern me from a safety issue standpoint, i.e. a tree falls down across the front of the cul-de-sac and a guy down on the end is having a heart attack. How would an ambulence get to him?

    That being said, I live on a cul-de-sac. It is short, only about 400 ft. long, and there are only 7 of us that live on it. And about 400 ft. from the mouth of the cul-de-sac we've got a through street that provides interconnectivity to the rest of the neighborhood. I'm not against through streets, and the house we ended up in is the only cul-de-sac house we even considered buying. I grew up in an old grid neighborhood built in the 1910s. But I do feel children are safer when they live on a cul-de-sac. Even though the street I grew up on was just a minor collector, cars often sped past our house far faster than the 25 mph speed limit. A little friend of mine even got hit by an out of control car while she played in her driveway, when we were young. Of course, those things can happen on cul-de-sacs too, if someone is careless, drunk, ect.

    But I definitely do not support cul-de-sacs being completely done with. They should just be placed only in layouts that aren't completely idiotic.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Habanero's avatar
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    This is one of the main things we look for in new subdivisions. Limiting cul-de-sacs is one way to ensure neighborhood connectivity, but they work in subdivisions or limited circumstances. My issue with them is that it's usually based on developers wanting more money with lot premiums.
    When Jesus said "love your enemies", he probably didn't mean kill them.

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    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Cul-de-sacs are inherently bad from a fire planning perspective. Think of what happens in a huge fire or other disaster when an accident happens somewhere along the route. All the people upstream from the accident are essentially trapped AND emergency responders can not respond.

    That said- I live on a dead end road and I like the privacy

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    From an economist's viewpoint: cul-de-sacs are a case of straightforward choice between connectivity and 'privacy/safety'.

    IF everyone drives anyway and you ahve to drive to get anywhere, cul-de-sacs may icnrease traffic a bit but effectively connectivity loses much of its value. Coinversely, if anti-social behavior by people adn cars is permitted, then isolation gains more value. I don't think that planners can really change those underlying aspects.

    Road-and-loop, on the other hand, has many of the advantages of a cul-de-sac without the connectivity issues.

    I'm talking about this (copied from the DPZ website)

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    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    In theory I am opposed to cul-de-sacs. The "typical suburban" one that is long and has no pedestrian/bicycle connectivity through to another street is the kind I dislike.

    Luca's example is a reasonable form because it can't be confused with a through street, but allows a bit more densityand variety to the streetscape.

    For example I live in a uniform grided streetcar suburb. The municipality has cul-de-saced some of the neighborhood streets to prevent excessive cut-through traffic. But there is still pedestrian and bicycle access through it and there is still sufficient secondary and teriary paths for cars in the area.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    The ends can justify the means.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by imaplanner
    Cul-de-sacs are inherently bad from a fire planning perspective. Think of what happens in a huge fire or other disaster when an accident happens somewhere along the route.
    A common misconception, and scare tactic used by the planning community. Exactly how is one "trapped?"

    Sure, 2 CdS pointing at one another is dumb, but in many cases, they allow a developer to squeeze a few extra lots into an area where they wouldnt necessarily fit. Thus, they make nor emoney, thus the project is feasible, thus your community gets the public improvements they so desperatly need, i.e road widening, sewer, water, etc. Not to mention the extra tax base.

    Take a step back every once in a while, look at it from a different light.

    FWIW....I've been a fireman for years. There isnt much getting in the way of the FD when they are needed. The trucks will drive across your front lawn fairly easily

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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman
    For example I live in a uniform grided streetcar suburb. The municipality has cul-de-saced some of the neighborhood streets to prevent excessive cut-through traffic. But there is still pedestrian and bicycle access through it and there is still sufficient secondary and teriary paths for cars in the area.
    Sacramento, California implemented a pretty extensive "traffic-calming" program in its "MIdtown" neighborhood. The problem was quite simply huge regional traffic volumes traveling to the State Government offices downtown-right through a residential neighborhood. Their program does concentrate traffic on a few key arterials, but streets like "J" Street were largely commercial anyway.

    Berkeley, CA also had to deal with cut-throughs from huge regional traffic volumes. They used diverters and cul-de-sacing on almost all of their residential streets. Unfortunately, the few through-arterials are mostly pre-WWII streets that can in no way handle the traffic volumes-and Ashby Avenue, for example, is largely residential.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff
    A common misconception, and scare tactic used by the planning community. Exactly how is one "trapped?"

    Sure, 2 CdS pointing at one another is dumb, but in many cases, they allow a developer to squeeze a few extra lots into an area where they wouldnt necessarily fit. Thus, they make nor emoney, thus the project is feasible, thus your community gets the public improvements they so desperatly need, i.e road widening, sewer, water, etc. Not to mention the extra tax base.

    Take a step back every once in a while, look at it from a different light.

    FWIW....I've been a fireman for years. There isnt much getting in the way of the FD when they are needed. The trucks will drive across your front lawn fairly easily
    How are you not trapped? If an accident happens blocking the roadway and there are no other exits? A few trees in someones front yard and what is the fire truck or other emergency vehicle going to do?

    Everywhere I have worked this issue has been brought up by the fire departments and other emergency responders who oppose dead end roads for this reason.

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    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    How many accidents (so severe that the vehicles are not drivable) occur on these streets? Lets me real here. How many trees actually just fall down. Right there, across the intersection. How often does this happen? Especially while the guy at the end of the house is having a heart attack while his house is on fire.


    Come on.

  14. #14
    maudit anglais
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff
    How many accidents (so severe that the vehicles are not drivable) occur on these streets? Lets me real here. How many trees actually just fall down. Right there, across the intersection. How often does this happen? Especially while the guy at the end of the house is having a heart attack while his house is on fire.


    Come on.
    Could you please talk to my fire department...they keep using arguments such as the above to require wider streets, larger turning radii, etc.

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    Cyburbian
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    I think the planning profession's disdain for cul-de-sacs is misplaced--except when discussing connectivity.

    Cul-de-sacs are actually critical design elements used often by developers to avoid impacts on environmental features--ie. when implementing conservation design techiniques.

    Grid street patterns are great in many places--but not so great with floodplain and wetlands and steep slopes in the way.

    I also think cul-de-sac hating is just another example of planners not understanding why many, many americans choose to live amongst a suburban design.

  16. #16

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    Quote Originally posted by gkmo62u
    I think the planning profession's disdain for cul-de-sacs is misplaced--except when discussing connectivity.

    Cul-de-sacs are actually critical design elements used often by developers to avoid impacts on environmental features--ie. when implementing conservation design techiniques.

    Grid street patterns are great in many places--but not so great with floodplain and wetlands and steep slopes in the way.

    I also think cul-de-sac hating is just another example of planners not understanding why many, many americans choose to live amongst a suburban design.
    Good points, all.

    I'll admit my dislike for modern tract home subdivisions up front and not try to justify it by claiming that cul-de-sacs are uniquely responsible for modern American anmoie. Heck, cul-de-sac neighbors are often far more neighborly than those living on through street collectors!

    Heck, even if there was a complete grid system, the average American is still going to drive his SUV to the big box store. Jonny, who is already diabetic and spends at least four hours a day playing Playstation, is still going to be driven to his friend's house, not walking. We can be too deterministic about design as a solution to broader cultural ills.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Tranplanner
    Could you please talk to my fire department...they keep using arguments such as the above to require wider streets, larger turning radii, etc.

    I would point out that the most prestigious FD in the world, FDNY, services houses on 10' wide streets, dead end back alleys, etc.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian imaplanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff
    I would point out that the most prestigious FD in the world, FDNY, services houses on 10' wide streets, dead end back alleys, etc.
    Obviously different communities have different issues to deal with and different needs. The risk from a wildfire in NY is probably pretty minimal to nonexistant. In a more rural to semi-rural community where wildfire is a big risk the issues of narrow roads and dead end roads becomes much more critical. Ask any firefighters having to deal with fires in the western states and they would likely not be a big fan of narrow dead end roads.

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    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by cch
    I But I do feel children are safer when they live on a cul-de-sac.
    At some point in time though children get old enough to walk to a friends house or a convenience store or a bus stop and must go out on the through streets, which inheritenly have more traffic on them because all of the traffic from the cul de sacs has to empty onto them. They then are force to walk on busier roads which, unless designed with the pedestrian in mind, are more dangerous than cars with fewer roads. If the cul de sacs were connected, they could perhaps venture through the subdivision to get to school instead of going onto the busier roads. this is less of an issue where cul de sacs empty onto other local roads, but you are still placing more traffic on those roads than you would be without cul de sacs.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian PlannerByDay's avatar
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    There is a bill in the Michigan State Senate (Senate Bill 1107 (2006)) that would amend the Land Division Act and prohibit a board of county road commissioners from disallowing cul-de-sacs.

    Under the Act, the board must reject a final plat isolating lands from existing public streets or roads, unless the proprietor provides suitable access by easement or dedicated to public use. The bill would retain this requirement, but add that the board could not prohibit cul-de-sacs.


    Supporting Argument Under the Act, a county road commission must reject a final plat isolating land from existing public streets or roads, unless the developer provides access by easement or dedication to public use. Apparently, under this provision, some county road commissions prohibit the use of cul-de-sacs, regardless of the specific characteristics of the project. Some commissions find cul-de-sacs undesirable because they present increased maintenance needs, and the presence of only one entrance and exit can interrupt the flow of traffic. In some cases, however, the presence of certain natural features, such as those specified in the bill, makes a cul-de-sac the only practical or economic use of the land. The bill would not require road commissions to allow cul-de-sacs, but simply would prevent commissions from prohibiting them generally.
    Response: Allowing road commissions to regulate cul-de-sacs, but not prohibit them by policy, rule, or practice, would appear contradictory. Furthermore, the County Road Association of Michigan has established policies detailing the conditions under which cul-de-sacs should be used, although some county road commissions do not follow those guidelines. If cul-de-sac regulation is to be codified, it would be more appropriate to do so in a separate section of the Act, and to enact more specific regulations, rather than the broad provisions included in the bill.

  21. #21
    My problem with limiting the number of cul-de-sacs is the number part. What's the point? If cul-de-sacs are as bad as everyone here claims they are, then one is too many.

    This is one of those situations where the obsession with numbers is ruining planning. Instead of looking at all the alternatives between cul-de-sacs and throughways, the planning committee just slaps on a half-applicable regulation. This in way resolves the problem that made cul-de-sacs a popular solution, which is that through streets are too dangerous. Even if you suppress cul-de-sacs they will still be dangerous.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    I think that there is a negative social aspect to cul-de-sacs in that they promote exclusivity. Only a certain amount of people have the "luxury" of living on a cul-de-sac. How many times have you read a real estate listing that said, "The house is located at the end of a cul-de-sac"? Although I don't have any data on this, I believe people see cul-de-sac houses as signs of prestige, much like the SUV, riding lawn motor, big boat, etc.

    From a pedestrian connectivity standpoint, cul-de-sacs are horrible. Walking paths can improve this.

    Total vehicle trips remain the same with cul-de-sacs, but certain streets will see increased trips.

    I imagine that larger lot sizes/setbacks encourage cul-de-sacs because, but again, I have no proof.
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  23. #23
    Cyburbian Jeff's avatar
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    People want to live at the end of a Cul de sac b/c they are exclusive. Because the lots are bigger, because they dont want to be on a through street, because they dont want to know their neighbors.

    People will get what they want.

    Until people no longer want that cul-de-sac. this is what developers will provide.

  24. #24

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    Quote Originally posted by cololi
    At some point in time though children get old enough to walk to a friends house or a convenience store or a bus stop and must go out on the through streets, which inheritenly have more traffic on them because all of the traffic from the cul de sacs has to empty onto them. They then are force to walk on busier roads which, unless designed with the pedestrian in mind, are more dangerous than cars with fewer roads. If the cul de sacs were connected, they could perhaps venture through the subdivision to get to school instead of going onto the busier roads. this is less of an issue where cul de sacs empty onto other local roads, but you are still placing more traffic on those roads than you would be without cul de sacs.
    What is this "walk" you are speaking of? Today's kids are DRIVEN from one pre-programmed, organized, socially beneficial event to another.

    Quote Originally posted by jaws
    This is one of those situations where the obsession with numbers is ruining planning. Instead of looking at all the alternatives between cul-de-sacs and throughways, the planning committee just slaps on a half-applicable regulation. This in way resolves the problem that made cul-de-sacs a popular solution, which is that through streets are too dangerous. Even if you suppress cul-de-sacs they will still be dangerous.
    I agree. Just like in our code we slap "Conditional Use Permit" requirements on everything we don't really like but can't/don't want to eliminate.

    The difficulty is, of course, what the "alternatives" are. Under the current economic and social system, the widely separated land uses mean that unrestricted automobile use is the only solution for most suburban areas. Thus, the through roads need to be big and wide, which during non-peak hours encourages anti-social driving. (four lane roads signed for 25 mph-how ridiculous). The loop roads Luca illustrated are interesting and perhaps more attractive in some ways, but this solution doesn't really change the ultimate reality of creating pockets.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Jeff
    People want to live at the end of a Cul de sac b/c they are exclusive.
    True, and this is why I don't like them. Planners should strive to create living situations that are inclusive.

    I understand the economic argument that if people didn't like them, they wouldn't exist. But the economic decision of offering cul-de-sac houses has social impacts on the surrounindg neigborhood(s).
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 08 Jun 2006 at 10:09 AM.
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