Lloyd Alter of Treehugger brings us this story on the final days of the cul-de-sac. He starts by explaining how kids love playing in cul-de-sacs. Even I will admit that the one time I lived on a cul-de-sac I would spend hours sometimes every day playing hockey in the asphalt circle with the other neighborhood kids. However, we weren’t allowed to cross the arterial street that our cul-de-sac connected to, because the high speeds of the cars, lack of crosswalks and sidewalks made it very unsafe. Alter mentions a study from Davis, California, showing that fatal crashes were twice as common in areas built after 1980 than in the old, gridded part of town. In addition, 59% of trips in the old part of town were made by foot, bike and transit, whereas 14% were made by these modes in the newer parts of town.
Municipalities are beginning to realize the high costs of cul-de-sac development. Alter quotes a Charlotte, North Carolina study on fire stations in parts of town with high v. low connectivity (i.e. cul-de-sacs):
The least-connected service areas served 5,700 to 7,300 households; the most-connected service areas served 20,800 to 25,900 households. That means there are dramatic differences in the fiscal efficiency of individual fire stations. The stations in least-connected areas cost $586 to $740 per capita annually; the stations in most-connected areas cost $159 to $206 per capita annually.
Virginia has passed a law in the last year that will make cul-de-sacs responsible for their own maintenance, and a number of cities, including Austin, Portland and Charlotte, have passed or are working on ordinances to discourage cul-de-sacs. I agree with Alter and look forward to the return of the grid in American cities.