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Thread: Coherent argument about cul-de-sacs

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Coherent argument about cul-de-sacs

    I have never seen this argument put together so coherently before.
    In school we went over and over the negatives of cul-de-sacks but rarely discussed why they are so popular, and what the actual appeal of them is. This argument really speaks to the same desire (benefits for children, & neighborhood closeness)
    There is evidence that a cul-de-sack is a tighter community than a denser urban area. You get to know a few families very well.

    It mirrors exactly my experiences growing up in a inner-ring TN and my wife 's growing up in a suburb.

    My experiences also lead me to believe that in a Cul-de-Sac if you don't get along with the neighbors, or the ones you did move, the pool of neighbors that you might get along with is very small. Thus the neighborhood ties are closer to Binary - either close or non-existent.

    "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."
    http://www.latimes.com/features/prin...1288061.story?

    What are your experiences or arguments?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian SideshowBob's avatar
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    There is some validity to that point, though there was neighborly closeness on the inner ring grid on which I grew up.

    Either way, even if the cul-de-sac can produce equally good neighbor relationships, it's the transportation issues that concern me. People will have friends outside of the cul-de-sac. Easy enough for adults. Not so for kids.
    Fighting congestion by widening roads is like fighting obesity by buying larger clothes.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I have always lived in a big city with very few cul de sacs. I am however a transportation planner. I do have a different perspective on why these may be popular.

    I would assume that a cul de sac would not have so much noise. Much of the noise I hear in my home comes from kids hot-rodding down my street, playing music too loud, or from folks cutting through my street to get to the big box mall at the end of my street and avoid the complex light structure that would come with crossing the freeway twice to get to it.

    Another issue would be safety. Cars cannot simply go as fast in a cul de sac as they could on a staight street. The traffic however is probably much higher for folks at the end of the cul de sac whom share a corner with a larger street that acts as a mini-collecor.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  4. #4
    There are too many cul-de-sacs currently, you won't ever find a through street within 500ft of the first intersection. Mainly because there are so many cul-de-sacs. Those cul-de-sacs also increase the walking distance to places.

    Also, how can you create an area equally as dense as an urban area with cul-de-sacs when the houses space around them would take up so much space?

    Cul-de-sacs don't create a lot of problems, it's just that the people building the sprawl are so horrible at planning the surrounding area, and planning the density that because it is a cul-de-sac, it just makes the problem worse.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian natski's avatar
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    I lived on your typical suburban cul de sac. The street was rather long and at the end was a large park. This is where i met my best friend, who also lived on the street. ah bringing back memories- i cant decided which way to go on cul de sacs.
    "Have you ever wondered if there was more to life, other than being really, really, ridiculously good looking?" Zoolander

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    The quote from the article, "Age 3 through 8, it's great. Beyond there, you're a captive" is pretty true.... but I think it also applies any street in a neighborhood. If my kid was ten and I lived on a downtown grid with a world class buss system, I am not letting him run around town alone.

    But at least the quote acknowledges why some parents with young kids prefer cul-de-sacs. Half of the BS you hear about cul-de-sacs are stereo types. I have lived on two cul-de-sacs, and the following things were true:

    We had front porches which we sat on and waved and talked to neighbors.

    My kids had friends on our street and other surrounding streets.

    I never felt 'isolated from my neighborhood'.

    I never had to attend meeting where everyone wanted speed humps installed.

    I never had to listen to cars go 'klunk-klunk' in the middle of the night (speed humps).

    At this moment in my life, a parent, I like cul-de-sacs.

    (Please refrain from flamming me...it is my preference)
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  7. #7
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Here is my opinion about cul-de-sacs:

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

    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.

    As for some typical comments about more/less 'community' on cul-de-sacs, I would say that is much less tenable an argument and too reliant on the culture/attitudes of the people living there. Saying street design/layout has an appreicable affect on 'community' is a subjective stretch.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

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  8. #8
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    If my kid was ten and I lived on a downtown grid with a world class buss system, I am not letting him run around town alone.
    Why not? Plenty of children do (I did) and remain perfectly healthy and safe.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    Why not? Plenty of children do (I did) and remain perfectly healthy and safe.
    I'd agree. Heck I ran around post-riot Detroit alone and safe and I grew up next to the projects! Parents just need to teach their kids to be wary of the dopesters and perverts. Mine did.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    We had front porches which we sat on and waved and talked to neighbors.
    My kids had friends on our street and other surrounding streets.
    I never felt 'isolated from my neighborhood'.
    How old are your kids?
    In middle and HS my wife's friends were seperated by at least 2 arterials and a highway. There was no safe or convient way to visit besides driving.
    Living in a tradtional neighborhood I moved to bike transit - theaters, stores, friends and even hangouts (the Loop, a walkable shopping street) 1 block off the Loop was the 'hood, but the street was busy enough with slow moving cars and walkers that it felt safe. - eyes on the street in action.

    Neither of our parents had any social isolation - they got along with close neighbors and had cars to extend thier range.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    I grew up on one of the very few cul-de-sacs in Oak Park, IL, which is a rectangular suburb directly west of Chicago that is pretty much a grid, with <25' lots and tons of alleys and a bunch of Frank Lloyd Wright

    We were behind a neighborhood Jewel grocery store which fronted onto a busy arterial. Most of the houses on the block were stucco four-squares from the 1910's. I am assuming that the street went through at one time further south the busy arterial, but was turned into a cul-de-sac when the Jewel was built. Still seemed like a pretty neighborhood friendly block to grow up on (we invited people from both sides of the alleys for our block parties each year).

    I think you can still do some interesting things with cul-de-sacs to make them more pedestrian friendly. One way is to have neighborhood open space behind the residential parcels, with access points onto the cul-de-sac. You can even include bike paths, trails as well.

  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    I think you can still do some interesting things with cul-de-sacs to make them more pedestrian friendly. One way is to have neighborhood open space behind the residential parcels, with access points onto the cul-de-sac. You can even include bike paths, trails as well.
    I completely agree with this, but the private nature of cul-de-sacs and the overall auto dependency will make these paths underutilized. The suburb where I was raised has a lot of things like this. Many cul-de-sacs have a bike/pedestrian path connecting it either to another cul-de-sac or to a park on the other side of the houses. The trails are nice, but don't seem to be utlized too much except by the people on the cul-de-sac.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by mendelman View post
    Here is my opinion about cul-de-sacs:

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

    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.

    As for some typical comments about more/less 'community' on cul-de-sacs, I would say that is much less tenable an argument and too reliant on the culture/attitudes of the people living there. Saying street design/layout has an appreicable affect on 'community' is a subjective stretch.
    I totally agree with you here.

    Actually, cul-de-sacs can be designed to facilitate inter-neighbourhood pedestrian connectivity through the use of walkways.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    That was great...nice discussion without flaming me...

    The point of my entry was that cul-de-sacs tend to be a negative term in planning. And as many of you have pointed out (and my little list eluded to)... there are cul-de-sacs that are well designed and have balanced elements incorporated into them. All of us have seen the worst examples of cul-de-sac neighborhood planning. My pet peeve is the 'all encompassing label'. This applies too more than cul-de-sacs.

    Oh, some of you pointed out that I am an overprotective parent. I grew up in an urban area and I KNOW what I was doing at that age; do you guys remember what you got into at that age? That probably makes me an overprotective parent.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  15. #15
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    I don't have any kids. So I don't know what I'd do. I know if they were ever screw-ups however I'd just take a few weeks off of work and follow them around, attend high school classes with them, the mall, all of that stuff. Make them realize that if they were going to look for trouble that I'd be there just to make sure they don't find any.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  16. #16
    Something will have to front the massive arterials necessary to access all these cul-de-sacs. The benefits gained from cul-de-sacs may be completely erased by the losses on the arterials.

    I don't see what's so great about a cul-de-sac that you can't get identical benefits from a courtyard block.

  17. #17
    Cyburbian cmd uw's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jaws View post
    I don't see what's so great about a cul-de-sac that you can't get identical benefits from a courtyard block.
    Personal space, private and larger backyard. To some, that is important.
    "First we shape our buildings, and then our buildings start shaping us." - Sir Winston Churchill

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Luca's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by cmd uw View post
    Personal space, private and larger backyard. To some, that is important.
    ??? You can just as easily have thsoe in a grid/modified grid system...

    Surely the main attraction of cul-de-sacs is the lack of through traffic?
    Life and death of great pattern languages

  19. #19
    Cyburbian Flying Monkeys's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Luca View post
    ??? You can just as easily have thsoe in a grid/modified grid system...

    Surely the main attraction of cul-de-sacs is the lack of through traffic?
    That would be the big draw... but there are extras because of the lack of through traffic;

    Less noise.
    A feeling that all of the neighbors know everyones car, therefore security.
    The street doubles as a playground for kids with less interruptions than grid street.
    I personaly get a 'tight-knit' feel from my cul-de-sac. We have pride in how our corner of the world looks.
    That kinda stuff.
    What’s in a name? – Your reputation….:)

  20. #20
    Cyburbian iamme's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Flying Monkeys View post
    That would be the big draw... but there are extras because of the lack of through traffic;

    Less noise.
    A feeling that all of the neighbors know everyones car, therefore security.
    The street doubles as a playground for kids with less interruptions than grid street.
    I personaly get a 'tight-knit' feel from my cul-de-sac. We have pride in how our corner of the world looks.
    That kinda stuff.
    Yeah, that stuff can't exist if the area has a grid.

    Anyway, my guess is how most of us feel about a certain style has much to do with what we are exposed to. With a gridded system you have more options and choices for how the street will be. It can be a very intimate street designed to slow any traffic, or it can be a speedy shortcut. With a cul-de-sac, it seems it requires less effort to get the slower street and intimate feel. For a grid, it must be designed a certain way for it to function in the same capacity as a dead end, and usually it's not created that way.

    Just my two pennies.

  21. #21
    Quote Originally posted by cmd uw View post
    Personal space, private and larger backyard. To some, that is important.
    But all the front space is wasted.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    Don't hate the Cul-de-sac, hate the game the Cul-de-sac plays.

    "The problem with the cul-de-sac is not the cul-de-sac itself," the dude says, and I agree.

    I grew up in a neighborhood that had cul-de-sacs - maybe not to the extent many developments do today. It was nice, nothing like the suburban helltopia stereotype. We socialized in our front yards, back yards, side yards, driveways, and even in the street itself. It was both and idyllic and enriching environment for me. I think the cul-de-sac is a scapegoat for problems that actually have other causes.

    Walkability - There's no reason sidewalks/bike trails can't continue where a street doesn't; you'll see a "cut-through" bike path every once in a while off a cul-de-sac, and I wonder why it's not in more widespread use. Heck, in real neighborhoods with kids, everybody just cuts across each other's yard anyway. Arguably, the lack of traffic makes some cul-de-sac-afflicted areas more walkable.

    Cul-de-sac farms necessitate monster arterials?
    Surely they contribute, but they're not the prime culprit. I submit that the scale of the massive arterial barriers problem tends to be proportional to the size of the metropolitan area. The reason you see these problem spring up in larger areas is not because of the existence cul-de-sacs, but because there are a hundred square miles of them, and that their residents all work elsewhere, and have to commute through each other to get there. If this residential wasteland were on a grid, then the traffic-barricaded areas wouldn't be the cauliflower-like developments, but even smaller units. I say the real problem is insufficient proximity and mix of development types.

  23. #23
    NIMBY asshatterer Plus Richmond Jake's avatar
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    After arguing against so many of these, a former county where I worked approved them. Sometimes you just give up.
    Attached Thumbnails Attached Thumbnails Soquel.jpg  

  24. #24
    Cyburbian cdub's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by gsys View post
    Cul-de-sac farms necessitate monster arterials?
    Surely they contribute, but they're not the prime culprit...The reason you see these problem spring up in larger areas is not because of the existence cul-de-sacs, but because there are a hundred square miles of them, and that their residents all work elsewhere, and have to commute through each other to get there...
    Doesn't this equate to cul-de-sacs as the prime culprit, being there's a hundred square miles of them? Would there be the same issue with a hundred square miles of gridded neighborhoods and commercial areas?

    The quote from Jeff Speck is spot on, while cul-de-sacs may create a small haven of supposed safety, sense of community or whatever, once you leave that, you're pretty much in a wasteland. No place to walk to or want to walk to. How can you lessen car dependence with a scenario as such. I equate the cul-de-sac typology with a funnel, they may all come from different spots, but their going to bottleneck at one point. Commercial areas are the same, limited connections between immediately adjacent strip centers. And then people whine about traffic and wonder why it happens.

    As for larger back yards, is that really the case? Homes in sprawl type developments are typically located towards the rear of the property, creating more semi-public space and less private. A quick drive through most 50's and 60's type burbs will show this. A drive through newer developments will show practically no backyard at all and a front yard that's all pavement.

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by cdub View post
    Doesn't this equate to cul-de-sacs as the prime culprit, being there's a hundred square miles of them? Would there be the same issue with a hundred square miles of gridded neighborhoods and commercial areas?
    To your second question -

    IANAPP (I am not a professional planner), but my belief is yes, given the same ratio of residents to jobs, and a shared commuter destination outside the area that required a trip through it by most. I believe this can be witnessed in large, gridded residential areas. Even at low density, traffic levels would be considered undesirable by many would-be child-raising residents.

    I think there are several reasons (aside from a lack of cul-de-sacs) why you don't see as much congestion in those nice, pre-war single family residential neighborhoods.

    1. The subdivision suburbs dwarf the gridded area in most metros. They're seriously huge.
    2. The city is better served by the existing transportation infrastructure. Somebody living in Exburbia has to take an expressway 10 miles flanked by subdivisions to get to a freeway. A person living on a grid probably has to drive about a mile. The fact that most urban residential areas in America have lost population over the past few decades means the transportation network is more adequate than it might have been.
    3. Old, gridded neighborhoods have a better mix of development types, and more small businesses diluted throughout.
    4. Old gridded neighborhoods traditionally have had more poor people, who are more likely to ride the bus or be unemployed. I don't know if this is the case anymore.

    For the sake of argument, I suggest that these reasons are as influential, if not more so, than the overuse of cul-de-sacs.

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