Cities: March 2009 Archives

Charles G. Hill has brought together two interesting items about cul-de-sacs, those dead end streets often hailed as the acme of suburban living. One is a Washington Post report that Virginia is requiring all new subdivisions to have streets that connect to other subdivisions, rather than dumping all traffic out through a single entrance onto an arterial street. The other is an analysis of the financial benefit to developers of not using a street grid -- grids require a developer to build more streets and leaves less land for houses.

I was struck by a comment in the Post story from a spokesman for the homebuilders' lobby:

"Cul-de-sacs are the safest places in America to live," said Mike Toalson, executive vice president of the Home Builders Association of Virginia, which opposes the new rules. "The first lots sold are often on the cul-de-sacs because they are safe." As for developments with single entrances and exits, Toalson said, such configurations ensure that all traffic is local, neighbors watch out for each other and speeds are kept down. "Crooks look for multiple exits."

That last comment is the opposite of reality. The less the traffic down a street, the more opportunity a criminal has to work undisturbed by passers by. A house on a cul-de-sac, especially a long one, or on any street near the back of a development, would be easier to burgle unnoticed than a house on a busy through street.

I heard recently about a family that has what sounds like an ideally quiet living situation -- on a cul-de-sac, backing up to a park, in a well-regarded suburban school district. But their house has been burglarized and vandalized repeatedly. Neighboring homes have been hit as well. The park, open only to homeowners, makes it easy for idle youths to sneak unobserved into someone's backyard. They wouldn't be noticed from the street, as few cars or pedestrians would go past -- it's not on the way to anywhere. (See Jane Jacobs' Death and Life of Great American Cities for more about the problem with parks that extend too far from the nearest traffic.)

A neighborhood with a single entrance and exit also concentrates traffic on the main collector street, while a grid disperses the traffic, without overburdening any single street. The single-entrance neighborhood creates congestion at that entrance, as left-turners and right-turners are thrown together. In my neighborhood, with a modified grid, I can pick my neighborhood exit based on the direction I need to go, so I never have to make a left turn into heavy traffic.

A grid also prevents local traffic from having to use arterials. Tulsa's 71st Street would be far less congested if there were other east-west roads providing local access between stores.

There are times when it would be nice to have a cul-de-sac. The lack of traffic gives kids a place a fairly safe place to ride bikes and scooters, shoot baskets, and skate. But there are other ways to calm traffic and provide a safe, paved place to play. One idea is the woonerf or living street. Shallow cul-de-sacs -- perhaps only a couple of lots deep, attached to a grid of streets might provide the best of both worlds: Enough traffic to deter troublemakers but bays of calm away from the main flow.

Oklahoma City taxpayers raised their sales tax rate to build a new state-of-the-art arena and renovate their convention center (the Myriad -- rechristened as the Cox Convention Center). The same tax built a new baseball park and a canal. A later incarnation of the same tax was used to revamp the barely-five-year-old arena to accommodate the whims of a small number of freakishly tall millionaires.

Surely all that public investment is sufficient to stimulate private investment. Surely free enterprise can handle things from here.

Not according to a consultant hired by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce:

Oklahoma City is faring well as a conference destination, but its convention center is inadequate and must be replaced if the city is to remain competitive, according to a study commissioned by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

The study by Conventions, Sports & Leisure International, released today, suggests that replacing the 38-year-old Cox Convention Center will cost between $250 million and $400 million.

Mayor Mick Cornett has suggested for the past two years that any MAPS 3 should include a new convention center as a priority project. That call is being joined by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber.

No matter how much the taxpayers give them, it's never enough.

About this Archive

This page is a archive of entries in the Cities category from March 2009.

Cities: February 2009 is the previous archive.

Cities: April 2009 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.



Subscribe to feed Subscribe to this blog's feed:
[What is this?]