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Thread: Close streets to stop crime: evidence?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Jun 2004
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    Michigan
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    Close streets to stop crime: evidence?

    A neighborhood in my town has asked the city to consider closing off a couple of streets (creating cul-de-sacs) in order to address two concerns:

    First is cut-through traffic - cars detouring through the neighborhood, speeding and ignoring stop signs, in order to avoid the lights on parallel major roads.

    Second is crime concerns - if the streets are cut-off, the theory goes, drug and prostitution activity will be reduced because the dealers and johns won't have getaway routes, so they'll go elsewhere.

    I've been asked to comment on this idea. My immediate reaction was that it's a bad idea - the best case scenario, after all, is just pushing the crime and traffic to the next block over. (Which some of the neighborhood residents think is just fine, "because that's a major street", but I'm not so convinced it's an improvement at the community level.

    Either way - and I am willing to be proven wrong - I'm interested in finding some good case studies or analyses of this kind of action. Does breaking street connectivity reduce crime on the immediate blocks? What are the effects (positive or negative) on a neighborhood- or community-wide level?

    What I've got so far:

    A search of the forums uncovers plenty of "everybody knows" sort of statements about cul-de-sacs and crime, but I'm not finding where numbers have been discussed before.

    This paper from Blakely and Snyder "Separate places: Crime and security in gated
    communities" (1998) - pdf
    suggests that gating / barricading neighborhoods uniformly brings a perception of increased safety, but appears to have slight or no actual reduction of crime.

    A 2005 case study Evaluation of Traffic Barricade Impact on Crime in Pendleton: Cincinnati, Ohio (2005) - pdf is a pretty intensive look at one particular street closing. It states no neighborhood-wide reduction in crime that could be attributed to the barricade; while crime and drug activity on that block were reduced, an accompanying increase was seen on the next block parallel..

    A paper from the Problem-Oriented Policing Center, Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime: Should You Go Down This Road? (2005) includes a discussion of about a dozen case studies, noting that street closings seem to generally reduce crime, and often with little to no displacement, though typically other measures were undertaken at the same time that may have been responsible for the effects. Some good citations to look further into.

    Does anybody else have any experience with this issue? Any tips? I suppose my recommendation, assuming that the fire and public works departments don't kill the idea, is that street closing be a trial-period solution with a thorough same-month analysis after about six months.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Dec 2001
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    America's Dairyland
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    I can't point you to any studies . . . .

    But I live in 'da hood' and, based on personal observation, the bad guys (criminals and the households that harbor them) are just as territorial as the good guys (concerned citizen types) and a whole lot meaner and more persistent. When you cut off through traffic you lose the passive surveillance it provides. The bad guys get more entrenched because they don't feel as exposed/obvious as they would otherwise. I lived on a dead end block in "a good part" of my fair city and had a whole lot more local trouble there with transients setting up shop for illicit trade out of cars and on foot, and with baddies running their business out of rental units, than I now have living on a through street in "a bad part" of the same city.

    (I'm talking residential neighborhoods. This doesn't speak to the heavily travelled commercial strips with plenty of through traffic and a number of marginal businesses harboring various and sundry things they shouldn't.)

    Good luck. I'm hoping someone else offers some additional research since my hearsay won't do you much good in a formal response.

  3. #3
    Member
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    Ann Arbor, MI
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    At who's cost?

    Depending on the street, but especially if the street were by chance paved in recent years and have bond payments for the rest of eternity, consider the cost that is being absorbed by ALL the residents. In addition, remember that although it is a part of the LOCAL street system that it is still a system. I'm of the opinion that while the residents that live on the street will be the primary users, they should by no means think they should be the only users.

    I think about that every time I go on drives through subdivisions with huge mansions that are on public roads. I helped pay for it, I can drive on it.

    Here's the scenario I fear:

    The City or Act 51 agency turns the road(s) into culdesacs, this eliminates the auto traffic but it is important that pedestrian and bike traffic still get through. This would necessitate another retrofit. Now the residents begin to fear that the poorly lit path is a magnet for violence.

    If they want to live on a culdesac they can move to a township. Cities are cities. I'm not a fan of the urban culdesac!

  4. #4
    Cyburbian Wannaplan?'s avatar
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    Anecdotally, consider this from Lansing:

    While addressing one problem, the cul-de-sac raises another. The street was closed to reduce crime and drug traffic in the immdiate area, but may force such activity into neighboring areas. Capt. Raymond Hall of Lansing Police Department’s North Precinct, who helped organize the cul-de-sac initiative, does not deny that the crime will move but wants to displace it and keep it moving. “The best thing you can do is keep criminals on the move,” Hall said at the planning board’s urban development committee meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 25. He defends the cul-de-sac as a part of “community government.”
    Difficult racial tensions in this neighborhood obscures the analysis, but the perspective of local law enforcement on cul-de-sacs and crime is clear.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian jkellerfsu's avatar
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    6 in one hand....

    We have been asked by residents in the neighborhood of Seton Hill (in Baltimore City) to eliminate the cul-de-sacs at either end of their street because it ENCOURAGES drug activity! What happens is when a patrol car enters the street, the dealers simply run away - patrol car can't follow.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian ICT/316's avatar
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    Kansas (Lurking)
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    Quote Originally posted by jkellerfsu View post
    We have been asked by residents in the neighborhood of Seton Hill (in Baltimore City) to eliminate the cul-de-sacs at either end of their street because it ENCOURAGES drug activity! What happens is when a patrol car enters the street, the dealers simply run away - patrol car can't follow.
    I am in total agreement. I was going to mention, that when a cul-de-sac is present it can cut down on police response. Police response is measured in seconds and those seconds count.
    I’m assuming that these closed streets will be found in the areas where the city blocks are in a grid pattern. With houses found directly across from each other on either side of the street. With the block closed, the end of the block would not have houses built at them. There would be void and seclusion, with no houses. The end houses would lose property value, attract trouble and the street lights would soon be taken out. Easy access, cover to and from the nearby major streets by foot.
    In newer neighborhoods where there are homes built all the way around the cul-de-sac, these houses provide some sort of barrier, in the sense that there is property and yards covering most or all of the land at the end of the cul-de-sac. Not really the best place to set up shop. Sorry about the “Everyone Knows” statement, I had to voice my opinion. If I read anything I’ll post.

    Bill

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    near Baltimore, Maryland
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    The street closings will definitely eliminate through traffic, but I wouldn't depend on street closings alone to reduce crime. Plenty of shady things go down in quiet alleys and side streets where witnesses are few and far between, if there are any at all. From the three studies you found and the police chief's quote Wanigas provided, it sounds like the best you can hope for is a slight shift of criminal activity. I'd heed the experiences of indigo and jkellersfu, and consider Rybu's reminder of the public's right to use public streets before closing the street based on crime.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian southern_yank's avatar
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    Oscar Newman wrote a study for HUD, "Creating Defensible Space". In one case, they closed off a plethora of streets in a residential grid network to create mini-neighborhoods based around cul-de-sacs in order to reduce crime and cut through traffic. Violent crime was reduced by 50 percent. Increased police presence and home ownership programs were intervening variables, however, and depending on the type of crime (walk up drug dealing, etc), closing streets would be a bad idea.

    http://www.huduser.org/Publications/pdf/def.pdf

  9. #9
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    Ask your police patrol leaders for their opinions. don't stop with the chief, ask the ones on the streets.

  10. #10
    Member
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    I live in a city where is very common to see closed streets as a result of robberies and assaults on homes and individuals. I must say it does produce a difference, simply because thieves will automatically choose a home that they can get away from easily after the robbery. Of course it also involves a lot of other things that are mentioned here: Street lightining, frequency of patrol cars romaing the neighborhood, neighbors being alert, etc.
    I've seen, however, that these measures do not truly stop thieves. I live in a closed community, inside a condominium which features 10' perimeter walls, armed guards, two patrol cars, security cameras 100 yards away from each other, and approx. 5,000 people live here. Still, there are ways to commit crimes. How? A group of thieves, disguised as gardeners, entered the complex in plain sunlight, while the family was away, and peacefully entered the house and filled the van with TV's, furniture, and any valuable object they found. Of course, they knew the security guard (which in turn told them which house would be empty), gave him a cut, and everyone was happy.
    Only after interrogation of every employee, was the procedure known.
    In conclusion, certainly putting obstacles in the way reduces crime incidency, but does not stop it at all.

  11. #11
    Cyburbian jkellerfsu's avatar
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    Baltimore, MD
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    End to the cul-de-sac

    I posted a few months ago about a community urging the cul-de-sac to be re-opened. An update: We will propose to the community it be opened based on crime statistics. Right now, the BCPD has a large spot light sitting at the end of the cul-de-sac to deter drug trafficing. The DOT will host a meeting with the religous institution that opposes the re-opening (the institution will lose a few spots if we open it) and community - now who can argue against safety as a reason to open the cul-de-sac? More to follow.

  12. #12
    Member
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    When assessing the situation and considering alternatives, the community really needs to determine what the problem is and whether the proposed solution is too much, or will solve the problem at all. This is especially the case when analyzing a single solution that was proposed by upset citizens instead of comparing a set of solutions to a specific problem.
    First, the problems this neighborhood wants to solve. There are two main issues.
    1) People driving dangerously through a residential street. Notice I say driving dangerously, not cutting through. The real issue is that people are speeding, blowing stop signs and not paying attention to the local non-vehicle users of the street. It doesn't really matter if you have ten cars a day or 200 (and I'm sure that if you did tube counts, you'd find that the volumes are lower than what the residents feel) provided that they are watching for pedestrians and driving a reasonable speed.
    In this case, closing the street seems a little overkill. I'm sure that there are people who would like to get rid of the cut through traffic for the sake of getting rid of it, but most would really just like to have their street safe, and there are definitive advantages to having the streets open, which I will get to in a moment.
    Speeding: There are many traffic calming initiatives that can be introduced that have been shown to help reduce speeding and improve safety. Speed humps and bumps have been shown to be particularly effective for this. In fact, they can often be designed so that drivers don't need to slow below the speed limit. You can also construct mini traffic circles at small intersections, which require drivers to slow down and change direction to pass, which helps make them more aware of pedestrians on the side.
    Mini circles can also address the stop sign running. Chances are that drivers are running stop signs because they are not reasonable for the amount of traffic at the particular intersection. Drivers aren't stupid and they typically realize when stop signs are unreasonable and choose to ignore them. This happens frequently with unwarranted multi-way stop signs that are put in, against standards, to calm traffic. This often has the opposite effect; drivers speed up in between stops in order to 'make up' the time they lost from the stop sign, which doesn't seem to happen with real traffic calming devices. The unwarranted signs also cause drivers to lose respect for traffic control devices in general and tend to run nearby, warranted, stops more frequently.
    There is also the possibility that there is something wrong with the major street which is causing the frustration which leads to cut-through driving. It could be that the traffic signals are not correctly timed since signal timing needs to be maintained periodically to keep up with changes in traffic and most municipalities don't do this because of funding. A simple traffic study of the main road could reduce cut-through traffic significantly.
    2) Crime. The problem with crime is really indicative of much larger problems within the neighborhood that need to be addressed. Of course it takes a lot of time and energy and most of all, care of the residents to fix these problems. Closing a street to solve the crime problem is like trying to cure cancer with morphine. It might make some of the symptoms a little more tolerable, but the underlying problems are still there. Unfortunately everyone seems to want a slapfix solution that doesn't cost much. What really needs to happen is that the people who really care about the neighborhood need to work together to figure out how they can address the things that have bred the crime in the first place. Until this happens, any bandaid solution won't stop the crime, but change its face.

    Problems with closing streets:
    A lot of the potential problems have already been discussed by others, but I want to point out that having a grid pattern, or any type of alternatives to the main streets, is extremely important for a well functioning city road network.
    One benefit is local choice. Right now residents have a choice when leaving home, depending on which way they want to go. If the street is closed (I'm speaking hypothetically since I really don't know what the situation is there) the options will be more limited, which means that they will probably have to get on the major streets in another location, which will probably mean traveling through more signals. Of course, this will increase traffic and congestion and reduce safety at these intersections, and potentially cause cut-through traffic on other streets - it's all connected. Also, if this street is closed, others will likely clamor to have their streets closed, which will compound the situation.
    Another benefit to connectivity is incident relief. Having alternative routes is extremely beneficial when an incident, such as an accident occurs on the major street that blocks traffic. When this occurs traffic can diffuse along alternative routes, thereby reducing the overall impacts of an incident.

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