"The problem with the cul-de-sac is not the cul-de-sac itself," says Jeff Speck, director of design at the National Endowment for the Arts and coauthor of "Suburban Nation: The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream." Over time, he says, "very few streets carry most of the traffic and therefore must be exceedingly wide, creating an environment that is generally unwalkable."
People inclined to leave their cul-de-sac usually face the equivalent of neighborhood highways — a pedestrian nightmare of high-speed arterial streets that are unsafe for children and no fun for anyone, Speck says. Dead-end streets that start out as a playground for youngsters, he says, turn into a prison when children get older.
"Age 3 through 8, it's great. Beyond there, you're a captive," says Speck, who along with his "Suburban Nation" coauthors coined the term "cul-de-sac kid" to describe children isolated by geography.
Indeed, woe to the adolescent who wants to walk or bike to a movie without begging Mom for a ride, says Michael Southworth, professor at UC Berkeley's College of Environmental Design and coauthor of "Streets and the Shaping of Towns and Cities."
"I have a lot of students who have grown up on cul-de-sacs. They loved them until they were teenagers," Southworth says. "Teenagers want more freedom to move around. They felt very isolated and really felt dependent on adults to take them to shopping centers and entertainment centers."