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Why are cul-de-sacs reviled?

Doohickie

Cyburbian
Messages
1,836
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27
Can anyone explain to this non-planner why cul-de-sacs are so reviled by planners?
 

Dan

Dear Leader
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Can anyone explain to this non-planner why cul-de-sacs are so reviled by planners?
It wasn't always that way. Here's why previous generations of planners loved cul-de-sacs:
  • Limits through traffic in a residential neighborhood.
  • Increased social cohesion among cul-de-sac residents.
  • Perceived security, with only one way in and out
  • The bulb provides a safe area for kids to play in the street.
  • Allows more efficient development on odd-shaped and backlot parcels. (Backlot - rear of a narrow frontage or bowling alley lot.)
However, there's a lot more downsides.
  • Meant mainly to mitigate vehicle traffic, not be part of a neighborhood's broader "big picture".
  • Doesn't function as a public good, but rather as a common driveway for a small number of residents -- which taxpayers still have to pay for.
  • Less adaptable to changing land use patterns and market conditions than an interconnected grid or web.
  • Limits the variety of possible routes to get between two points, both within and beyond the subdivision.
  • Usually increases travel distance between two points within a subdivision, in some cases by miles.
  • Funnels what would be through traffic onto collector and arterial streets. increasing traffic congestion.
  • Redundant in-and-out traffic pattern makes travel times and route distances for mail and parcel delivery, trash pickup, snowplowing, school buses, etc, much longer.
  • Lack of connectivity makes a neighborhood feel less connected and coherent.
  • Indirect routes with few alternatives increase police/fire response times, and can prevent access to an incident site.
  • Sometimes requires water and sewer service lines to be stubs, rather than more effective loops.
Cul-de-sacs in Buffalo's suburbs are unusual, because the majority (Cheektowaga being an exception :flamingo:) have landscape islands or little parklets in the bulb. Completely paved bulbs are more common in other parts of the country.

I like some of the cul-de-sac alternatives, like loop lanes and their variants, which have small common areas that are part of the broader public realm. Eyebrows work too, but public works departments hate them because of their pavement coverage and plowing difficulty.
 

Whose Yur Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
10,653
Points
33
Can anyone explain to this non-planner why cul-de-sacs are so reviled by planners?
Because, as planners, we like grids. In my native state, even the county roads are built on a grid pattern. Having lived in two states that don't have this, I miss it. Roads based on old Native American paths or game trails, is a pain.
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
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1,836
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27
The cul-de-sac neighborhood they show is an a reductio ad absurdum where there are over a hundred homes with one exit from the neighborhood.
Screenshot (155).png

I'm asking about a single cul-de-sac. Like in AG74683's post. What's wrong with that? I understand the benefits of a grid system, but sometimes there are little pieces of land that don't warrant a through street.
 

AG74683

Cyburbian
Messages
6,074
Points
26
The cul-de-sac neighborhood they show is an a reductio ad absurdum where there are over a hundred homes with one exit from the neighborhood.

I'm asking about a single cul-de-sac. Like in AG74683's post. What's wrong with that? I understand the benefits of a grid system, but sometimes there are little pieces of land that don't warrant a through street.
Yeah in that example the cul-de-sac is just a simple (IE CHEAP) solution to a problem. In my case, they are necessary because of the topography of the land and the fact that there is literally no other way to go besides into the lake. I think they should be the exception, not the rule.
 

Dan

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I'm asking about a single cul-de-sac. Like in AG74683's post. What's wrong with that? I understand the benefits of a grid system, but sometimes there are little pieces of land that don't warrant a through street.
You're right -- sometimes, a cul-de-sac is unavoidable. If a subdivision site has an odd shape, and street network is otherwise porous, I don't have an issue with it. It's when someone uses cul-de-sacs as the easiest or cheapest way to design around some site constraint, and they haven't explored all the other options available, where I have issues.

The reductio ad absurdum subdivisions aren't all that uncommon in some parts of the country, especially Florida and Nevada. There's also bad grids.
 

mendelman

Unfrozen Caveman Planner
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41
I'm asking about a single cul-de-sac. Like in AG74683's post. What's wrong with that? I understand the benefits of a grid system, but sometimes there are little pieces of land that don't warrant a through street.
See Dan's post above for the reasons why the overuse of cul-de-sacs when not really necessary are problematic, at best.

Also, the 'hate' of them by some is more a knee-jerk reaction than a reasoned understanding of the pros/cons.
 
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luckless pedestrian

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Well @Doohickie - there's also the former mindset that many communities may not do anymore of having a streets plan so you can plan out your street network to avoid needing cul-de-sacs so when a developer comes in then they have to show how they connect into the streets plan. A former town I worked in had a streets plan from way back and developers hated it but it helped us truly plan neighborhoods
 

Doohickie

Cyburbian
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1,836
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27
If a subdivision site has an odd shape, and street network is otherwise porous, I don't have an issue with it.
I would say this is a typical recent subdivision in Fort Worth.
48688809113_985e7eb20e_b.jpg

Although it doesn't follow a grid, if you look there are several access points in and out. For the most part, though, not too much through traffic, just feeder roads for the local neighborhood. I highlighted a couple of them in yellow to illustrate that you can go through the neighborhood in a relatively straight path, and in fact I've followed these routes on bicycle rides. Yes, there are cu-de-sacs in some nooks and crannies, but they're relatively small and empty out into the feeder streets pretty directly.

The southwest quadrant is cut off from the rest of the neighborhood by a creek, but it is walkable/rideable with trails along the creek that have access points at logical spots (i.e., not just through people's back yards). Fort Worth is relatively flat prairie, but there is some small scale (not mountainous by any means) terrain that breaks up the grid: The Trinity River and creeks that feed it, and man-made "topography" such as rail lines (Ft Worth is a major hub with trains coming in from all directions) and freeways. The city has done a decent job of providing bicycle/pedestrian access across and around those barriers.

Fort Worth has some intimidating arterials such as Summer Creek Drive on the west side of this subdivision and Hulen Street on the east: multi-lane, curb-bound, medianed roads that are constructed and driven as if they were highways (50+ is common in the 40 mph zones). Although Summer Creek pays lip service to cycling with bike lanes on some sections and sharrows on others, many riders don't feel safe on that road. But because of the porous nature of this and adjoining neighborhoods, you can ride a bike through them to get from point A to point B in a relatively straight line to travel across the city. (In this way the city is stealthily "bike friendly".)

You're right; if this neighborhood was a cul-de-sac with one way into each section and no connections between sections (like in Dan's example) it would be terrible. But for cycling, and to some extent, walking, it's not bad.

In the older sections of the city (like my neighborhood on the previous page- see Westcreek Drive), there are several roads that are bigger than neighborhood feeders and smaller than suburban arterials. They are used as through streets for traffic, but often have bike lanes and a 30 mph speed limit. A lot of them don't follow "the grid" but rather they follow creeks and other natural features. They make for great cycling because, following the creeks, they don't have a lot of elevation change.
 
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Dan

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Yeah in that example the cul-de-sac is just a simple (IE CHEAP) solution to a problem. In my case, they are necessary because of the topography of the land and the fact that there is literally no other way to go besides into the lake. I think they should be the exception, not the rule.
The alternative may be to use that land for open space, with some street frontage for visibility and accessibility. If the original design has open space elsewhere, move its location, tweak everything else, and scrap the cul-de-sac. That, or make all the lots a little bit smaller. Odds are most will be somewhat larger than the zoning district minimum.
 

Dan

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I would say this is a typical recent subdivision in Fort Worth.
I rag on Texas a lot, but one of the things they do kind of right, aside from H-E-B and houses with brick cladding, is suburban subdivisions. From what I've seen, the loop-and-lollypop dendritic subdivision never really took off there to the same extent as Florida, Caifornia, Nevada, and other booming Sunbelt states. New subdivisions often have a pattern like what you'd see in the 1950s and 1960s -- curvilinear or straight streets, somewhat rectangular or four-sided blocks, and occasional courts (streets that begin and end on the same street) or cul-de-sacs. There's usually direct through routes, and often provisions for larger parkways or boulevard-type streets, even in subdivisions with more Florida-like dendritic patterns. The DFW area (more on the Dallas side) also has alleys in its post-WWII suburban areas -- something that's very uncommon in the US outside of new urbanism/TND developments.

Here's a bit of Plano.

plano.jpg

Here's a comparison to suburban Denver, halfway between the porous DFW suburban patterns, and the ultra-dendritic Florida "planned communities". Even in the sprawliest, most cul-se-sac-filled areas, there will usually be north-south and east-west streets through a section, many roughly following the half-section lines (survey lines splitting the square mile "sections" into "quarter sections" in the Public Land Survey and Dominion Land Survey systems). Here's an example in Aurora, probably one of America's best planned suburban municipalities by 1970s standards.

aurora.jpg

The half-section streets don't make up for the cul-de-sacs, but they do help take some traffic off the arterials, and make the square-mile superblock a little bit more porous. Still, Plano beats Aurora when it comes to flexibility and the possibility for future pedestrian-scale retrofitting.
 

Doberman

Cyburbian
Messages
182
Points
7
Yeah in that example the cul-de-sac is just a simple (IE CHEAP) solution to a problem. In my case, they are necessary because of the topography of the land and the fact that there is literally no other way to go besides into the lake. I think they should be the exception, not the rule.

This^.

They should be dependent on topography; which is the reality for most new developments now. There is not very much flat land available that has not already been developed on.

There's also the harsh reality that many grid roadways; if not most, are in depressed urbanized areas. I've seen many people express that they do not want sidewalks and open roadways in their neighborhoods and communities for security reasons.
 

Dan

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I've seen many people express that they do not want sidewalks and open roadways in their neighborhoods and communities for security reasons.
It's increasingly the opposite around here. The overwhelming majority of roads outside of the core city have a rural profile -- shoulders, swales or ditches, no sidewalks, even in subdivisions. In the past, residents didn't want to see sidewalks, because the street profiles reflected an idealized "rustic" rural character.. Today, there's increasing demand for sidewalks.

Just like New York has the pop/soda line, there's also the suburban sidewalk/suburban no sidewalk line. There's a lot of exceptions, but as a rule, streets are more "finished" the farther west you go down the Thruway.

Syracuse: curbless swales or gutter pans, no sidewalks
Rochester: gutter pans, no sidewalk or sidewalk on one side
Buffalo: gutter pans or vertical curbs, sidewalks with tree lawns on both sides

Try to do this in suburban Syracuse.
 

luckless pedestrian

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@Dan - yes, omg - WHY can't Syracuse and Rochester get the need for street trees and sidewalks through their heads?

My cousin lives in Rochester suburb in a subdivision developed (on a farm - ironically she often posts about living out by the farms - uh, your house used to be a farm) in the early 90's (so they knew better, as the town) and the town did not require anything but those damned curbed gutters, and no street trees - fast forward 25 years later when I was out there last and the development just looks tired - the McMansions all have little bermed shrub planting and some have a flowering tree but it didn't mellow with age - even the fake siding has yellowed on some houses - and, literally across the way is a 50', maybe 60's neighborhood that has smaller homes but it's filled with street trees and sidewalks and it is just lovely (more irony is everyone in my cousin's development goes over there to do their morning walk/run)

also, I have safety cul-de-sac story that I likely have posted before:

In a former unnamed town, there was a McMansion neighborhood that was about 65 lots with one way in and out. On the edge of the subdivision was town land that was also adjacent to a similar development on the other side. I was working on a school to be placed on that town site as the town had actually done some serious planning way back in the 60's and purchased this lot just for this purpose sas they knew development would go out this way in the future and they knew they would need another school. The people in both neighborhoods fought me tooth and nail like I was trying to place a nuclear power plant - one of the things they didn't like was that the school would have full access to both of these neighborhoods. People didn't want this access.

So one day, and you couldn't script this, a fire broke out near the mouth of the 65 lot subdivision in one of the houses and all the fire trucks came out and completely blocked about 60 houses in. Given this was high end houses, as all the doctors were getting beeped for surgery and the like with their respective hospitals, they were mightily pissed off that they were delayed getting out. They stopped fighting me after this - and now the school has been there and people love it because little Rachel can walk to school. To add to the irony, the house that had the fire was a Planning Board member's...
 

MD Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
1,989
Points
25
Where I live and work now sometimes a cul-de-sac is really the only option. They don't call it the lowcountry for nothing. There are so many wetlands that you have to avoid that it's impossible in a lot of places to create a true grid because the uplands are so unconnected and dispersed throughout a property. And I'm talking very, very large properties. Much of the land here was timbered many times over and there are thousands of acres of pines. So I don't even get that upset when I see the clearing because that's why they were planted anyway. And when development occurs the landscaping and buffer regulations actually create much more plant diversity than the scrubby pines.
 
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