Are cul de sacs a curse?

One of the tenets of new urbanism is that streets should be laid out in a rectilinear grid to maximise connectivity i.e. to minimise public transport and walking distances.

This research project in Seattle seems to confirm the wisdom of that principle. It compared the distance travelled by residents of two neighbourhoods and found that in Woodinville, where the dominant street form is the cul de sac, residents travel 26% more kilometres than residents of Ballard, where streets are laid out in a rectilinear grid.

As it happens, I’ve spent a fair bit of my life living on a “no through road” or similar street form and I think the advantages of cul de sacs are too often neglected. I grew up in a closed street, lived for six years in a mews and currently live with my family in a short cul de sac created in the 1950s when a larger property was subdivided into seven lots.

The great advantage of the cul de sac is low traffic. When my children were very young my wife and I were relaxed about them playing in the street because the only cars that entered the street were residents or their visitors. And for that same reason we don’t have issues with traffic noise like we used to have in North Fitzroy.  These are major advantages and should not be dismissed lightly.

But cul de sacs have another advantage. If they’re not too long, they can create a sense of a place that is shared or “owned” by a small number of residents. We got to know all our neighbours well, shared child supervision responsibilities and even had an annual lunch in the middle of the road.  Read the rest of this entry »