Cul-de-sacs Are Making Us Fat

Are the disconnected cul-de-sacs so popular in suburban development actually strangling their communities?

These striking images compare the walkability of two Seattle neighborhoods. The blue lines are how far a pedestrian could go walking from the red dot at the center.

At left is Woodinville, a typical suburban arterial jumble with no walkable areas. At right is Ballard, with much easier pedestrian access between points and to food, goods, and services. Ballard’s walkable footprint is much larger.

New research published in the Harvard Business Review finds those living in more walkable areas travel 26% fewer miles by car. As walkability increases, so does walking and biking, while pollution and fatness decrease.

The problem, The Seattle Transit Blog argues, is that the government, “historically let developers do nearly anything with cheap land.” “We all know what it’s like to have to get in your car to go to the Baskin Robbins in the next strip mall over. Is this an example of freedom? Not socio-economically, for certain. Not if you prefer to walk than drive. And certainly this lack of oversight is not the best choice for the planet.”

The Unintended Consequences of Cul-de-sacs [Harvard Business Review]
The Cul-de-Sac Ban [NYT Magazine]
How Cul-de-Sacs Are Killing Your Community [Infastructurist]
The Damaging Effect of Cul-de-sacs on Walkability [Seattle Transit Blog]
Is the Problem Auto-Dependency or Suburbia? [Seattle Transit Blog]


Edit Your Comment

  1. johnva says:

    I 100% feel that this is true. Suburbs should be retrofitted to at least connect the cul-de-sacs so that you can walk or bike between them without going all the way around. A certain amount of transportation flow should be a requirement in building a development. Obesity isn’t the only problem this creates: it wastes gas, further pollutes the air and water, costs taxpayers more money for road maintenance, increases traffic delays by funneling all traffic onto just a few arterial roads, makes it unsafe to walk or bike for transportation, and increases emergency response time to houses in these developments. It’s just a stupid, failed idea, and it’s time that we ditch it.

    • TuxthePenguin says:

      Excuse me? How does it make it any more unsafe for walking and biking? Ever tried walking in downtown Dallas and crossing the roads? Or try Houston if you’re brave.

      How about this – instead of forcing what you think is best, offer people choices and let them decide what they want to do. Looking at the air where I live (Frisco) compared to downtown (Dallas), the air here is MUCH better.

      • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

        That’s great. I hear Dallas is wonderful. The rest of us don’t live there and may not have the means or desire to. Cars run over pedestrians and cyclists. Does that answer your question? I live in a place where we have horrible drivers (Madison, WI – thank you) and have friends that are even afraid to walk their bikes across the street for fear of getting hit by an inattentive driver. Keep in mind that this is also one of the most bike friendly cities in the U.S., if you stick to the paths.

        I think the study fails to mention that by creating all those cul de sacs, developers also separate neighborhoods. I’ve always that neighborhoods like that tend to be “gated communities lite”, trying to keep out (or in) the riff raff.

        • johnva says:

          I do believe there is a “gated community”/isolationist impulse behind it that is strengthened by these communities. Around here, there was some talk of adding walking paths between different subdivisions, and there was tons of wild paranoia about how criminals and such would come in and snatch kids, etc. I think this is also, tangentially, related to the whole idea that was introduced in the book “The Big Sort”, the thesis of which was that Americans are increasingly moving to places where only like-minded people (politically, socially, religiously, racially…) live and getting more and more paranoid about “outsiders”, and that this is driving some of the polarization in our politics.

          • littleAK says:

            I don’t think wanting to have some level of privacy around one’s home means that people are paranoid about outsiders. (Nevermind the fact that creating trails for bikes and walkers doesn’t solve the suggested issue of traffic congestion.) I also don’t believe that communities that aren’t connected via road layout are creating a type of homogeneous environment. There are all types of families in my area – different politically, racially, structurally (non-traditional families), etc. People create these sorts of like-minded communities in big cities, where “walkability” isn’t an issue, at any rate. Blaming that sort of phenomenon on cul-de-sacs ignores much history, sociology, and geography.

            • johnva says:

              Trail connectivity DOES, in fact, relieve congestion. See my other post. It’s not going to be as great an effect as connected roads, but it’s still an effect.

              And like I said, I HAVE encountered genuine paranoia on this issue in my own community. People really believe that their children are going to get raped and murdered just because there’s a bike path going through their neighborhood. They have NO reason to believe that other than paranoia about “openness”, and it’s basically a wildly unsubstantiated fear.

              Your community may be nicer (every neighborhood is different…) but an anecdote does not constitute data by itself. And this isn’t just me saying this, but a wide variety of people who have commented on the issue and studied it.

              • Ladybird says:


                There is a bike trail in my neighborhood and guess who uses it the most: people who live in the neighborhood! Because, ya know, it’s in our neighborhood.

      • johnva says:

        It makes it more unsafe because it makes it so that the only way to actually travel to “destinations” such as stores or restaurants by bike or on foot is to cross huge arterial roads that are fed by numerous subdivisions. Having more alternate routes spreads traffic out more so that there isn’t as much heavy traffic in one place that everyone is forced to go through. Some places do have problems despite having good connectivity, but that doesn’t mean that it wouldn’t be even worse if it weren’t designed that way. Also, it’s wrong to compare an ultra-high-density downtown to a low-density suburb. Of course a suburb is going to have less traffic on the small roads, because there are way fewer people there. So to make a reasonable comparison you would have to compare a “connected” area to a “branching” area of similar density and land use. Similarly, your comparison of two cities is disingenuous because there are many other factors involved in air quality (primarily geography/topography).

        As for me “forcing” people to do that, YES, I think it should be forced in some cases because people are short-sighted and selfish and there needs to be some organized checks on that. That’s the whole point of things like zoning laws. You can disagree with me on this specific issue, but I vehemently believe it’s wrong to say that things should just be left to private preference. That’s a recipe for a lot of social and infrastructure problems developing that become everyone’s problem. And that’s already happening: I even pointed out several ways it affects people beyond just the residents of the area in my post.

        • TuxthePenguin says:

          And there is where we fundamentally disagree. I have no problem with people deciding the style of life they want to live – from their sexual preferences to where they live and how they commute to work. If someone wants to drive everywhere, fine by me. Their gas taxes will increase relatively to their decisions.

          See, I’m keen on freedom and avoidable, user-taxes. Don’t tell me how to live my life.

          Why? The danger is that while you might start off in power, eventually others might get into power that feeling 180 degrees opposite you. Think Obama/Bush.

          • johnva says:

            Yes, I think we do fundamentally disagree. I believe that it is a shared community responsibility to create livable communities that function well for everyone in them rather than just people who want to live a certain way. And keep in mind that I’m actually advocating for MORE choices as far as how you can get places and lifestyle, by making it more possible to walk, bike, or drive alternate routes. I feel mine is the more libertarian position, ultimately, because mine is about empowering individuals to choose their own “path” (literally and figuratively). I’m not telling you how to live your life so much as I’m saying that when it comes to infrastructure that everyone shares, that both efficiency and planning for a variety of uses should be a consideration even if SOME people “like” inefficiency and car-centric services (I say “some”, because it’s clear that that sort of planning shows bias and favoritism towards motorists and homeowners over other members of the community).

          • ARP says:

            Fine, if you want your FREEDOMZ, you can have it, but if you want that road widened because you refuse to walk somewhere or allow for walkable communities, the communities facing that road will pay for it, not the general town. Also, since I take the train and walk most places, I should get a tax break, right? Talking about invidual liberties is easy in a vacuum, but when when excercising your individual liberties impacts my pocketbook, then it’s not so easy to dissect.

      • Firethorn says:

        It makes it less safe because, like he said, traffic is funneled onto arterial roads and increases the number of miles people have to drive to get somewhere.

        More miles driven on fewer roads equals more traffic. More traffic is more dangerous.

        I’d also note that he didn’t suggest forcing more connected roads(though this would help), but ‘shortcut’ walking paths in developments. If you make it so walking over to your friends is a quarter mile walk vs a mile drive, more people will walk. An extreme, but possible number.

        He’s not so much about forcing what he thinks is best, but adjusting things such that people have better chocies.

      • Total Casual says:

        Suburban road plans like the one in the left picture create high-traffic chokepoints where walking or biking is dangerous (plus the exit intersection gets really congested). Gridded layout suburbs like the alternative pictured aren’t “downtown”-you can have suburbs with a smarter layout-it doesn’t have to be urban.

        • littleAK says:

          How does creating bike trails to connect cul-de-sacs ease traffic congestion? The traffic pattern remains the same. The road design would have to be fundamentally changed.

          I don’t understand why every road has to be a through road. In more suburban and rural areas, this doesn’t even always make sense. We still have things like trees and lakes that don’t necessarily need to be cut down or removed so that roads connect more efficiently for traffic and biking. Although there is some traffic on the main roads in these types of living environments, it is much less of an issue than in a large city like Dallas, even with the cul-de-sacs and dead end roads. To compare the issues of an urban area with one that is less populated isn’t always logical.

          • johnva says:

            We’re talking specifically about suburbs here. It’s a separate issue from dense cities or rural areas. Creating more connecting bike trails eases traffic congestion because it makes it more feasible to bike or walk for transportation rather than just going nowhere for exercise purposes, etc. And each bicyclist or walker on those trails for transportation is one less car on the road.

            If you want to go further and have fully connected roads, then it also relieves traffic congestion by alleviating chokepoints where cars are aggregated, since there are then more paths that cars can follow. Cars can follow a more efficient and direct path to their destinations.

            And yes, it could require some retrofitting of the existing road grid to adapt older development. So what? It could be done with minimal land use, especially if it were just the trails.

            • littleAK says:

              I guess I’m not clear on how a cul-de-sac specifically makes exercise difficult, unless it is not well maintained or lacks sidewalks. If bike trails are not enough of an answer to the dilemma of exercise travel that seems less aimless, then how will little trails between cul-de-sacs solve this? What is it about travelling up one side of a cul-de-sac and down another that prevents people from excercising? I would think a bigger issue would be lack of sidewalks on any type of road design, poor maintenance, or the need to travel through areas where one has to stop at red lights and the like often. For the purpose of exercise, the cul-de-sac design does not cause any of these issues. The solution of cul-de-sac bike ways already doesn’t help the traffic congestion issue, as the grid road design would.

              • GearheadGeek says:

                It’s not so much that it makes exercise difficult. It just means that people only walk intentionally for exercise, rather than getting exercise as a side benefit from walking from place to place.

                • littleAK says:

                  I live in a suburban area, and I’d say the biggest barrier to walking from place to place is lack of sidewalks. The traffic isn’t choked, nor are there many barriers to the new stores and such, but one has to be willing to walk along the side of the road on most streets (main or side, except in the new home communities under fire) to get most anywhere. Some streets even have huge pits for sewage, so the walker or biker is between traffic and an unfriendly drop in terrain.

                  Some areas can benefit from better logistics, others just need the current roads to be more pedestrian friendly.

                  • johnva says:

                    I thought I’d also point out that sidewalks are not a bike facility. Bikes typically have to contend with the traffic in the road, regardless of whether or not there is bike lane there, because it’s both illegal (many places) and unsafe for them to ride on the sidewalk. It’s unsafe because it’s a hazard to pedestrians and because motorists are more likely to hit them on the sidewalk (most collisions take place while motorists are turning or pulling out, not hitting bicyclists from behind).

          • Palmer says:

            It reduces congestion by enabling walking.

            Look at the shape of a C and pretend you live at one end of the line, and your destination is at the other end.
            Now if you want to walk there, it’s like 45 minutes to walk along the roads represented by the line of the C.

            If there was a train that joined the two ends of the C, you could walk it in 5 minutes, and it would take LONGER to drive.

            So suddenly people going from point to point are walking the path… and their cars stay in the garage.

            Magically, this results in less traffic. I know it’s hard to understand, but it is true.

      • Dallas_shopper says:

        That’s probably because your house was built last WEEK as opposed to Dallas, which is over 20 miles south of you and has been there a heck of a lot longer. Downtown Dallas is also much closer to sources of industrial pollution south of Dallas, which you may be aware of if you ever go south of 121.

      • Billy says:

        Who’s “forcing” anybody to do anything?

      • Ladybird says:

        I have lived in both areas, downtown Dallas and northern Collin county. Biking is a lot easier downtown than in Frisco/Plano/Allen/McKinney.

        In McKinney, unless there was a bike trail, being able to bike for more than a couple of blocks without hitting a dead end, a cul de sac, or having the sidewalk just randomly end thanks to new construction, was pretty common. I’m north of downtown (but still Dallas) and my older neighborhood is walker/biker friendly.

      • GearheadGeek says:

        Ah, Frisco… our local slice of suburban hell where the city requires all developments to have a deed-covenanted HOA. It’s one of the last places in the mega-lo-plex I’d consider, for that reason alone.

    • littleAK says:

      I disagree. An entire area is not barred from easy travel just because some roads dead end into a cul-de-sac. I live on a cul-de-sac and I would hate if there was some connection between cul-de-sacs to encourage people to cut through. It’s a safety and maintenance issue, for one thing (there is a difference between a sidewalk and a trail through the woods cutting through someone’s property). In addition, we have sidewalks already, so people can safely walk and bike ride up and down the road if they wish (and many people do). There is a through road that connects the major roads in our development, so people can easily walk to anywhere they could also drive.

      There are benefits to having some level of seclusion from high-traffic areas, such as quiet and privacy. Having cul-de-sacs doesn’t discourage people from exercising or walking instead of using the car, laziness does. Creepy connecting trails won’t solve that.

      • johnva says:

        WTF? How are connecting trails “creepy”? It’s “creepy” just because someone wants to walk or bike to somewhere in the neighborhood instead of drive? You and me live in different worlds, I think.

        The point is, there are fewer high-traffic areas in the first place if there are more connected roads. It’s nice and secluded near the endpoints of the cul-de-sacs, but it increases traffic problems once you get away from there. Think about that the next time you’re stuck in traffic.

        • littleAK says:

          We clearly do. I live by lakes and woods. The bike trails close at dusk for safety reasons. Who closes the trails out of the woods that connect these cul-de-sacs? Who maintains them? What does it do to aid traffic congestion?

          I am rarely stuck in traffic (and when I am it isn’t an issue that connectivity would solve, usually a very bad accident). I don’t live in a densely populated area. Connecting every road for an issue that an area doesn’t have creates as many issues as it solves.

          • johnva says:

            Who maintains them? The same people that maintain the roads. Duh. It’s just another transportation option, not something that limits you in any way. It’s also pretty stupid to close trails at night for “safety” reasons. Would you close a road at night for “safety”? Then why would you close a trail? If it’s because it’s dark, then there’s no reason it can’t be lighted just like a road.

            And you’re really lucky if you’re never stuck in traffic. Not all of us live in places where that’s not a problem. I still think you’re stuck on viewing things through the lens of only your personal lifestyle. It may not seem like a problem to you because you can just drive everywhere. But what about the kids or elderly or disabled who can’t do that?

            • littleAK says:

              Given the budgets of governments as of late and the way they have been maintaining other roads, I’d be a little leary that these backwoods paths would be well-lighted and maintained. Our bike paths in all of the cities around me are not. Whether they should be opened at all times and well lighted, that is not the case.

              I not thinking merely in terms of where I live. I was at once responding to your insult that I should think about how great better-connected roads would be when I am stuck in traffic and to the idea that one should just blindly put a single solution on every community. There is absolutely nothing wrong with planning for walkability in the manner you described (creating a path through every cul-de-sac for bikers and walkers), or in the manner the article describes, if it makes sense in that community. There are other solutions and considerations beyond simple logistics that each community must consider. I feel as though it is you are applying one type of solution to everywhere (perhaps based on your limited experience).

              • johnva says:

                We do have a big problem with inadequate infrastructure maintenance and investment in this country. Our politicians have been putting off dealing with this primarily because the populace prefers cheap tax cuts to actually responsibly taking care of our communities and people.

                Regardless, there is no reason why trails have to be treated as “second-class” to roads. They are, in fact, just another kind of road.

                • littleAK says:

                  I agree with you on all point in the above post. It’s mainly the lack of accountability and funds that makes me hesitate on your solution. I’d almost prefer the community constiutents pay for and maintain trails connecting their community, if they wanted them. These trails do tend to take a backseat to main roads, which haven’t been getting proper funding for maintenance and planning as it is.

              • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

                You know, cul-de-sacs are much more expensive to maintain, at least for municipalities with snow removal needs, than connecting streets. (Also adds time to mail delivery, garbage pickup, etc.) So it’s a little disingenuous to complain that the city can’t afford to light the paths when it very well could if it wasn’t paying to maintain cul-de-sacs.

        • littleAK says:

          I think you are demonizing cul-de-sacs as an issue, when they are mainly a problem in densely populated areas or if they are over-used (and then they are only one issue of many). They do serve a purpose in some cases. Not every road should connect to every other road.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        Lots of subdivisions have cul-de-sacs and NO frickin’ sidewalks. Sidewalks encourage pedestrian traffic, and some McMansion dwellers do not want this, so the lack of sidewalks oftentimes becomes a selling point.

        • littleAK says:

          I agree there should be more sidewalks. My area has them, but not all of them do. I think making areas walker-friendly in this capacity makes a great deal of sense.

          • jessjj347 says:

            In my experience suburbia never, ever has adequate sidewalks. The sidewalks usually magically stop after a short stretch. I swear I’ve seen “handicapped-accessible corners” of intersections, with NO SIDEWALK next to the corner. So apparently the person in a wheel chair can cross the street, get up out the street onto the corner. And then, well. I don’t know? Go back?

    • Azzizzi says:

      I completely agree with your comment about wasting gas. I live in Orange County, California where the most direct route somewhere starts off with going in the opposite direction or looping around a place. A lot of the residential neighborhoods will have only two entrances/exits and they’re both on the same major street. I’ve also seen places in San Diego with signs that say “No Through Traffic” on streets that do go through and have no other reason to limit traffic other than to make you take larger streets (more indirectly) to get somewhere.

      • TouchMyMonkey says:

        I typically ignore those “No Thru Traffic” signs. A public road is a public road, and besides, what are they going to do, pull me over and ask to see my license just to prove I don’t live there?

        • wrjohnston91283 says:

          I was told by the police officer’s in my town that those signs don’t have any laws backing them. It’s pretty much a “Please don’t use this as a cut through” sign, but they can’t pull people over.

          • somedave says:

            They get used in Portland in place of No Outlet sometimes. One near me is marked No Thru Traffic because the road does technically keep going, but is closed to vehicular traffic for about 10 miles that it runs through a park.

            • S says:

              That’s pretty much the way they’re used here. If it says “No Thru Traffic”, it’s probably a dead end. The signs that apparently served no purpose other than to abuse nonexistent authority have been stolen and put to good use. They’re usually made of the same high quality metal as legal road signs and in a lot of cases just the right size to replace a rusted out floorpan. Not that I know anyone that’s ever done that.

    • hendu says:

      ITT, people who don’t understand traffic design. There are reason that you don’t see grid streets through residential areas anymore and most of them have to do with the safety of our children.

    • MaxPower says:

      My street growing up was like this – there were a ton of cul-de-sacs but they all had a sidewalk exit to the main street. That way you could easily walk through but a car would have to drive all the way around. It made it really to walk to the nearby mall.

    • jenn7110 says:

      I agree. Of particular concern to is the increase in emergency response time. I live in a development that only has roads that actually exit the development. I actually live in between 2 different fire stations, but due to the layout of the development, it would take a truck from either station 5-7 minutes, minimum, to respond to a call at my address. I can see both stations from my house, and they could probably put out a fire here just by pointing a hose this direction from their station.
      Oh, and this development can’t be exited at all without crossing railroad tracks. If there were ever a train derailment or some other issue with the tracks that meant the crossings were blocked, no one would be able to get in or out of the development at all. Railroad tracks on one side, water on the other 3.

  2. TuxthePenguin says:

    Don’t care. I’ve lived in downtowns before. I hated it. Some of us just don’t want to live in high-density residential areas, period.

    There are a combination of two things that are making us obese – consuming too much energy and/or not burning enough day-to-day. Period.

    Walk-ability doesn’t help if you go down to McDonald’s or the pizza place every day for lunch/dinner.

    • johnva says:

      High density is not the same thing as having good road connectivity. You could have low density development with a grid layout rather than the branching setup of most suburban developments.

      • Firethorn says:

        Indeed, I lived in one as a kid, and they were actually INCREASING the number of connections when I last lived there. The roads weren’t entirely straight, but at any one point you generally had at least two options to quickly get to a main road.

        Going to elementary school – I had 2 more or less equivalent routes that only shared half a block of roads in common. Willing to walk an extra block? More like 5. Trips to other locations were fast and easy. You had so many routes congestion didn’t become an issue, and trips efficient.

        Another problem with Cul-de-sacs is road construction; with the lack of options, you’re far more effected by road problems. A bad accident at the ‘mouth’ of a development could keep EVERYBODY from being able to get out.

        • johnva says:

          We had a bad winter this year, with ridiculous amounts of snow for our area. And snow removal from all the suburban dead-end roads was a nightmare for the city/county/state. Until they came by your isolated street (days later…) you were stuck. On a grid layout they would have been able to free up a lot more people a lot quicker because they could clear just SOME of the grid streets and there would be alternate paths to get places.

        • littleAK says:

          That is only if there is only one way in and out. Any single point of entry area would have a similar issue, anyway.

          • johnva says:

            …isn’t that the whole issue we’re discussing? A cul-de-sac is one way in/out, by definition.

            • littleAK says:

              Any store (or anything for that matter – apartment complex, what have you) with a single point of entry would have this issue. Any through road have traffic issues after a collision. At least with a cul-de-sac, the only inconvenience is to the people that live on the street, not to traffic. I would park some ways away and walk to my home if I needed to be at my house while a wreck was being cleaned up. It’s not a permanent disturbance, anyway.

              • VermilionSparrow says:

                Wow, you’re really defensive about living in a cul-de-sac…

                Just saying.

                • S says:

                  After reading through the first few replies by littleAK, I just see the avatar and skip over the comment. Almost everything they’ve posted in this thread reads like the rationalizations you get from a battered wife.

    • the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

      On the contrary, if you walk to McDonald’s you are MUCH better off than if you drove there or anywhere else. You underestimate the benefit of having more available foot paths.

      • littleAK says:

        People that frequent McDonalds are less likely to walk, regardless of how direct and walker-friendly the route is. Unless and area becomes car unfriendly, people that don’t like exercise don’t walk if they can drive.

    • UCLAri: Allergy Sufferer says:

      You can have well-planned suburbs that aren’t cul-de-sac swamps.

      There’s a lot of myopia in American urban planning, and most of it assumes that people can’t even be trusted to consider walking further than their garage.

    • ARP says:

      At its most elemental level, yes. But having a community plan that supports walkability, would actually encourage people to walk and consume more calories. This is beyond the environmental impact, tax savings, and traffic savings. And it would actually be cheaper to do it that way. What’s often preventing this is this false sense of “privacy.” But if your privacy is impacting the health, evnironment, traffic, and taxes the community, shouldn’t you then pay a higher tax to keep your personal freedom.

      I find it odd that more people don’t get that more people walking, riding bikes, or taking PT usually means healthier people, less pollution, less traffic, and lower taxes. It has nothing to do with city v. suburbs as some suburbs do a great job encouraging walking/riding even though they have lower population density.

    • jimstoic says:

      It’s not true that walkability doesn’t help if you go to McDonald’s. Walking to and from McDonald’s is healthier than driving to and from McDonald’s.

    • maztec says:

      Well planned downtown areas or near-downtown areas make a big difference. What downtown areas have you lived in Tux? I would not be shocked if they were poorly designed.

  3. ColHapablap says:

    I moved from a fairly urban area to a suburban cul-de-sac hell, and I was surprised to find that contrary to expectations, it’s a lot harder to go for long runs or bike rides. Most roads are either dead-ends or unsafe for pedestrians, so you can’t get very far without having to loop back over the same places again and again. So this all definitely feels true to me.

    • javac says:

      Same problem here. We’ve got a park less than a half mile away, yet it’s unsafe to walk there unless I cut through a neighbor’s yard or two.

    • Snakeophelia says:

      Same here. When I lived in Philly, I could hop on my bike right out my front door and be on Kelly Drive in one minute. Even though I lived near some rough neighborhoods, I could bike and walk everywhere. Now that I’m in the suburbs, the sidewalks are erratic and sometimes completely absent, and the meandering streets mean I have to be careful where I go, because unlike with a grid, I don’t know where I’ll end up or whether I’ll be able to quickly get to a safer area by foot.

      So I drive to a nearby high school to run on their track.

  4. FCBLComish says:

    Cul De Sacs are great for people with kids. If there is no access, then kids are safe and can play without parents worrying about who is walking through the neighborhood.

    • exconsumer says:

      Random strangers that happen to walk by your home don’t kidnap children.

      • Marshmelly says:

        yea but they might, you don’t know that…=p Usually the only people in your cul-de-sac (I grew up in one) are people you know. It doesn’t completely get rid of the chance that they’ll get kidnapped of course…but it minimizes it.

        • johnva says:

          People you know are the biggest threat to your children, in reality. This is more of a psychological “benefit” than a real one. Knowing all the people that come by may make you “feel” better about it, but it doesn’t actually protect you better. Also, it actually may mean you know FEWER people in your neighborhood than if your “community” were less isolated.

          • Marshmelly says:

            Yea you have a point. I guess it depends how suspicious you are of strangers vs people you know. In my case, my cul-de-sac was full of nice elderly couples that didn’t really wander outside anyhow haha, so my situation may not be typical of most.

        • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

          So’s my urban residential gridded street. I know all my neighbors. The cul-de-sac isn’t the safety feature; the community is.

        • AnonymousCoward says:

          With the exception of custody disputes, child kidnappings are incredibly rare. Rare enough that they always make the news, usually in a big, splashy way, thus making parents very afraid…

          That said, if I look at all the famous child kidnappings in the past 20 years in my part of Southern Cal, it was always someone who lived within a block or two, usually someone the parents knew. Every one of them was in an upper middle class suburb, too.

    • hattrick says:

      I don’t know how to break it to you, but odds are that your local child abuser isn’t a guy walking randomly around the neighborhood, looking for children playing outside so he can hurt them and then make a very, very, very un-speedy getaway by walking away.

      I mean, congratulations for protecting your kids from the walking menace, but it’s kind of like patting yourself on the back for protecting your kids from falling meteorites.

      Also, you can still get into a cul-de-sac with a car, so I’m not clear on how your kids are “inacessible” anyway. Not to mention, I’m pretty sure they’re still playing sports, going to school, going to friends’ houses, going to camp, going to birthday parties…

    • Firethorn says:

      As mentioned, strangers aren’t the danger, it’s the people you know that are the real danger. I’ve even seen some studies that say kids are MORE likely to be hit by a car while playing in Cul-de-sacs.

      Given that stranger kidnappings are rarer than being hit by a car, what’s your choice?

  5. cabjf says:

    I used to live in a planned neighborhood in the suburbs complete with dead ends and cul-de-sacs. The difference with that neighborhood though was that there was a walking/biking path that crossing almost every road. Of course, it didn’t help that the shops and offices never moved in around it, so you still had to drive everywhere.

    • Total Casual says:

      the town i’m living in is like that now, only the situation is reversed. The main commercial area has bike paths and sidewalks, but they don’t actually connect to where anyone lives. It’s more laughable than walkable.

  6. FatLynn says:

    According to the “Defensible Space” theory of urban planning, cul-de-sacs actually benefit the community in other way, by creating smaller neighborhoods within neighborhoods and preventing thru traffic. This, in turn, increases a feeling of ownership and lowers crime.

    The theory is debatable, but walkability may not be the only consideration in designing a suburb.

    • Firethorn says:

      No, it isn’t. Still, I grew up in a neighborhood that had a feeling of community and did have great ‘walkability’ and many connections to main roads.

      The roads were twisty, yes. But they generally began and ended on a ‘main road’. Lots of interconnections, but between the 25 mph speed limit on them, the twistyness, and the straight 35mph ‘main roads’, through traffic kept to the main roads, but residents could generally get from their house to a main road with only 3 blocks worth of driving, at most. I’d even say that ‘most’ homes were within reach of a main road within 1 block.

      I don’t believe that a inelegant grid design is the best, but the extreme branching of some developments goes so far as to be counterproductive. You need a balance, one I think my neighborhood hit.

  7. Im Just Saying says:

    Regardless of the validity of the argument, Ballard is a Seattle neighborhood. Woodinville is about 25 miles northeast and a completely different city. Seattle city planners had no say in Woodinville.

    • WagTheDog says:

      I think Ballard was built before there were planners and government control of developments, right? It is just that, back then, folks believed streets should be straight. And if there was a hill in the way, you washed it into the bay to make room.

    • MaytagRepairman says:

      I work just north of Woodinville. There is very little of worth to walk to in Woodinville even if you chose to walk from that neighborhood. There is a new neighborhood in Issaquah, however, that is trying to imitate Ballard by providing a mix of residential and commercial development that isn’t so segregated.

    • tdogg241 says:

      Exactly what I came here to say. If they changed it to refer to Woodinville as being in “the Seattle area” it’d be more valid, but calling it a Seattle neighborhood is disingenuous.

  8. WagTheDog says:

    And let us face it, with all those through streets, Ballard is MUCH more fun to cruise through at a high rate of speed. Then we would all stop at Dick’s. Good times.

    • ChemicalFyre says:

      Yay for Dicks :)

    • varro says:

      Cruise through Ballard at high speed? What about having to slalom around all the 1980s cars going 10 mph with seat belts hanging out the door and Uff Da bumper stickers?

  9. HogwartsProfessor says:

    Makes no difference if you have a bigger walkability footprint if your stupid city didn’t put any sidewalks in. Where I live, you take your life in your hands to walk anywhere. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs in the road too, because there’s nowhere else for them to travel.

    • Rectilinear Propagation says:

      Makes no difference if you have a bigger walkability footprint if your stupid city didn’t put any sidewalks in.


      Continuous sidewalks people! It makes no sense for there to only be sidewalks near and in front of stores. Continuous bike lanes would be nice too.

      • johnva says:

        There’s often a lot of resistance to adding sidewalks and bike lanes from property owners who don’t want to lose land and/or on-street parking. Which is why I often favor the “road diet” approach: remove or narrow traffic lanes to add the sidewalks. It has the nice side benefit of slowing traffic down in areas you don’t want fast traffic. Also, a thing that’s getting popular lately is “sharrows” for bikes (ie, pavement markings designed to indicate that bikes and cars share lane space). They’re good because they don’t require widening the road or taking space away from parking or travel lanes.

    • thetroubleis says:

      Thank you for bringing up the danger for people using assistive devices like wheelchairs. Far too many wheelchair users are dead from a lack of side walks.

      • jessjj347 says:

        Yeah, I just commented at the top that the town I used to live in actually made every corner handicapped-accessible by creating the little cement ramps to the street. However, the corners led to no sidewalks. So, basically they were useless.

        Tangent (stop reading if uninterested):

        The problem is that many people create designs that are “technically” accessible but not very usable. Jakob Nielsen (web usability expert) gives an example of a handicapped entrance to a building. Theoretically, you can put a handicapped entrance in the front of a building and then if a handicapped person and a non-handicapped person have to get a meeting, they can both get there at the same time. (In this example there is only an elevator in the front of the building only – like most buildings) However, say that the handicapped entrance was put in the back of the building. It is still technically a handicapped-accessible building, but now the handicapped person would have to navigate the building’s floor plan to get to the front where the elevator is. Now it will take a lot longer for the handicapped person to get to the meeting, and they basically have a disadvantage. So it’s no longer as useful.

  10. shepd says:

    No, they’re not. My city was one of the few designed around the “put roads randomly” model of the mennonites, with a sort-of idea of some ring roads. Lots of this exact development, with only a very small amount of grid style development (mostly built during WWII, after the city was already well established). It’s been this way since forever. And nobody here is any fatter than anywhere else, and it hasn’t been considered a fat city ever.

    BTW: Due to this form of development, some of the roads here have four directions (N, S, E, W) and many of them do not follow the direction labelled (eg: Roads going North actually go due East). Did I mention the most major streets intersect three times, and one of the major streets has 3 completely separate sections to it? :-D

  11. raydee wandered off on a tangent and got lost says:

    I live in an area that is a complete tangle of roads that do not connect to one another. In order to get anywhere, we have to go on or across the huge 4-lane street. Businesses that are on “our” side of that street have zero access except from that street itself, and most parking lots don’t even connect.

    While cul-de-sacs are good for minimizing “through traffic” in neighborhoods, it also means that there is only ONE way in or out.

    Cul-de-sacs are also difficult for snow plows to navigate.

  12. bsh0544 says:

    I think this is a correlation != causation situation here. Even if I could walk farther in suburbia, where would I go? It’s not like there’s a McDonald’s 3/4 of a mile away that I’d walk to if there was a direct route. There’s no restaurants, no bars, nowhere really to walk to except maybe a friend’s house.

    • jsl4980 says:

      Woah now, slow down with the common sense here. If one study says so then it must be true because I read it on the internet.

      I mean it is a known fact that there was no such thing as a fat or lazy person until houses were built in suburban neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs.

      • Dory says:

        Woah now, slow down with the non sequiturs there. Everyone knows that phenomena only have one singular cause forever, and that smugness is both attractive and conducive to discussion.

    • jasonq says:

      Precisely. That’s one of the problems with suburbia. Even if you can walk somewhere easily, there’s often nowhere to walk to.

  13. UrIt says:

    i agree, but i also don’t enjoy the idea of being able to look into the back of my neighbors house and see them shagging in the living room. at least if you live in a cul-de-sac you have a bit of a barrier between houses

    • Firethorn says:

      Living in a cul-de-sac doesn’t mean that you don’t have a back yard neighbor that you can peep and be peeped on with. It just means that rather than a street walk to their house being like 1/8th of a mile, it could be over a mile. Exit your cul-de-sac, over to theirs.

    • ellemdee says:

      A bit of a barrier between houses is very nice to have. I live in a mainly grid neighborhood (built in the early 60’s), but the street bends right in front of my house. Unfortunately for me, that means my lot is pie shaped and I have a smaller back yard than my neighbors, but I also have this little extra wedge of lawn next to my driveway that my neighbors with rectangular lots don’t have. Most lots have only a few feet of grass (owned by the neighbor) between the driveway and the side of the neighbor’s house, but I have about 3-4 times as much space and a tree between drive and my neighbor’s property. It really helps the front of the lot to feel more open.

    • Dory says:

      I’ve only ever lived in the middle-class inner city, and it’s not at all hard to find privacy, even without building fences. (My current house came with a well-developed grape harbour and a bunch of trees behind it. Lots of sunlight, lots of privacy, and only a waist-high chain link fence at the property line.)

  14. nova3930 says:

    “The problem, The Seattle Transit Blog argues, is that the government, “historically let developers do nearly anything with cheap land.” “

    Oh yeah, its terrible when people get to make their own fucking choices as to what to do with their property. We wouldn’t want anyone choosing to live some place the gov’t doesn’t approve of. They might actually be happy.

    We’ve gotta stop this right after we get rid of all the salt, fat, fast food, fast cars and unprotected sex…..

    • johnva says:

      It’s not “letting people make choices” with their own property. This is something that is about COMMUNITY property, ie the road grid. The developers are creating that on behalf of the community, not just on their own land. Hence, it’s perfectly reasonable to have rules about how they can do it.

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        Actually, the developer does own the land… I know where we live that it used to be a family’s farmland that was sold once the old man died. I have always wondered who pays for the roads to be built, though…

        • johnva says:

          It depends…some places it’s a city responsibility, some places it’s a HOA, etc. Usually the developers pay to put in the roads initially, but the city still has to live with them after they’re built and has a right to regulate how they are done. In general, I think it’s a bad idea to have a patchwork of privatized roads and other infrastructure, and I think it should be a local government responsibility after they’re put in. Regardless, it’s absurd to be against things like zoning (which is an EVIIIILLLL GOVERNMENT regulation of how you can use private land). Communities without good zoning often have a lot of problems. This is just an extension of that.

        • wrjohnston91283 says:

          I’m pretty sure the developers usually pay for the roads to be built, as a concession to get the permits to subdivide the lot and build homes. Further repairs and plowing usually falls to the town.

      • nova3930 says:

        Oh yes it is. My property, my development. I can and should be able to put in any road configuration I want. If peoplt (the community) does not like it, they can choose not to purchase my property when I put it up for sale and go live somewhere else.

        There are plenty of places in this country gridded to hell and back for anybody who wants it…

        And as far as zoning goes, communities with zoning, especially restrictive zoning have just as many problems, just in different areas. There exist instance after instance of zoning being used in a confiscatory manner by corrupt gov’t officials and their crony capitalist cohorts in business, as a hammer of revenge neighbor over neighbor and for oppressive purposes against minority groups.

        Don’t believe me. Go look up the illustrious career of New York’s Robert Moses who systematically had the homes and businesses of nearly 500,000 poor blacks and hispanics bulldozed all in the name of zoning and “city planning.”

        This is all not to mention that restrictive zoning played more than a little role in the housing bubble. Systematically cities with restrictive zoning laws were hit much harder than those without because the artificial scarcity created by zoning served to drive up already inflated prices even farther….

        • ARP says:

          Fine, you can do what you want with the property. Are your residents prepared to pay the extra money for the extra impact they cause on environment and traffic. If you’re willing to pony up the extra cash for all the intended and unintended consequences of doing what you want, knock youreself out.

  15. shibblegritz says:

    “Is this an example of freedom? Not socio-economically, for certain. Not if you prefer to walk than drive. And certainly this lack of oversight is not the best choice for the planet.”

    This is about the clearest case of doublespeak I’ve ever heard, saying an individuals free choice to live in a suburban cul-de-sac is not, actually, freedom in support of an argument that such a choice should be taken away from those individuals to benefit someone else’s perceptions of how we are supposed to live.

    If suburban living is so bad, and densely packed urban living so good, then what must we say to those who live in rural areas of America, where the nearest grocery store may be measured in multiples of miles and the nearest ice cream shop may be even further? Clearly these must be staggeringly unhealthy lifestyle choices, as they are entirely vehicle dependent! In fact, many farmers must get into a vehicle just to reach the fields they farm! *gasp* Perhaps we should engage in a mass urbanization project, uprooting rural families, packing them in trucks and then shipping them off to the city so they can live in “healthier” environments. Then we can raze all those widely scattered farms and create densely packed industrial agricultural hubs. It sounds like heaven!

    Liberals are famous for their “live and let live” mentality until, of course, it comes to living in a way in which they do not approve. At which point, were they to have their way, we would all be commanded to eat salt-free organic tofuburgers, live car-free lives within a one-mile zone of our homes, and never, ever, ever exhaust a single particle of emissions to heat our homes or have a damn bit of fun.

    Cul-de-sacs don’t create obesity. People who don’t pay attention to their health create obesity.

    Now, all this being said, I’m not a big fan of the cul-de-sac and have no problem with grid-based development. I’m also like many of the new urbanist concepts, and I support my large suburban county’s efforts to lure high-density nodal development tied to mass transit.

    But I get tired of liberal urban do-gooders telling me I have to abide by their lifestyle. I don’t tell you to live mine, so get out of my life and mind your own damn hippie business. Mkay?

    /rant off

    • johnva says:

      Once again, density != connectivity. These are two COMPLETELY DIFFERENT CONCEPTS. You’re all stuck on this idea because that’s generally how it is in America, but it doesn’t have to be.

      Also, disconnected suburbs demonstrably DO create obesity. This is a proven fact that a lot of studies have shown. Is it possible to avoid getting fat while living a car-centric lifestyle? Of course. But it takes more effort than just having exercise be integrated into daily life, so it’s not the path of least resistance.

      And I’m not telling you what to do. I’m saying that YOU shouldn’t tell other members of your own community what to do. The suburban lifestyle you’re advocating is great…for some. It sucks for other people who live and work there and who can’t drive, for whatever reason (e.g., they’re disabled, or elderly, or too young, or don’t have a license, or don’t own a car…). And it costs everyone more money in increased costs for various services. Have some perspective for others who aren’t like you.

      • TuxthePenguin says:

        No, what you don’t seem to get is that in this country, you can choose where you live. There is no government mandate that keeps you from moving. Sure, there are economic reasons that might keep you in an area, maybe even sentimental reasons, but if you ever decide that the negatives outweigh the positives in an area, you can uproot and move yourself. Might take a while to save up, but that’s on YOU.

        Period. Simple as that.

        For all those people who would like a more “connected” area… are you willing to trade all the other benefits of your current location to improve that? Because I know when we bought our house, we looked at a lot more than just the house itself… and made a decision. And if ever things change, we might just move again to find an area that suits us better.

        • johnva says:

          I get it perfectly fine. But I also think that car-centric culture is a failed model of community. And we’re already seeing some enormous problems caused by our over-reliance on that model. All I’m asking for is saner planning.

        • Dory says:

          “No, what you don’t seem to get is that in this country, you can choose where you live.”

          If you’re rich and mobile, which most people aren’t. Do you think people CHOOSE to live in high-crime areas? “Oh, the rapes and assaults add to the charm, really, and the bullet holes give character to the houses!”

          • shepd says:

            Actually, some do. There are some people who earn a good enough salary to live wherever they like in a city, but they choose the poorer areas (which are generally associated with high crime) so they can spend less on housing.

            Although, I think this differs from city to city. Where I am “high crime” means you get shot if you screw a drug dealer out of thousands of dollars. The average person risks being shoved/punched for their cash. That’s a risk I am willing to take to save money.

            I know in other areas, high crime means every 100,000th person gets shot in the face for their wallet. I don’t know many willing to take that risk.

            As always, it depends. :)

    • Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

      “then what must we say to those who live in rural areas of America”

      Thank you for growing our food?

      FYI, most small rural towns are built on a grid and are very walkable. Density != walkability.

      • shibblegritz says:

        I’m well aware about small towns, having worked much of my life in small towns. But small towns are clusters of civilization. In much of rural America, particularly the further west you go, distances between homes is often measured in miles, not feet or yards.

        It’s those poor disconnected souls I’m facetiously referring to in order to make a point that cul-de-sacs are not the problem .. it’s a culture in which video games and television take precedence over play for children and people live too far from their homes and so spend too much time in their cars, don’t exercise and don’t eat well.

  16. rpm773 says:

    The biggest impetus for walking when I lived in Chicago weren’t the existence of sidewalks or the city’s block layout. It was that it was a pain in the ass to park the car anywhere. So I left it in one spot and walked when I could. And Chicago has easy parking, compared to cities in the northeast.

    But this little meme is handy for all the urban planners to extract tax dollars from our hands for the next 10 – 20 years for projects. Get rid of the cul de sac! It’s evil! It’s an easily explained, concise solution. Town councils will gobble it up. Too bad it won’t do shit.

  17. gparlett says:

    “those living in more walkable areas travel 26% fewer miles by car” … when I lived in DC I did walk significantly more than when I lived in the suburbs, but this was not so much that DC is a walkable city as that it is not a drivable one. Drivability and walkability are complete opposites. If there is enough parking around a business to allow you to drive to it, then you will have at least a block long walk if you try to walk there (look at the size of a parking lot around a WalMart). If you live in a ‘walkable’ neighborhood then no business has more than 5 parking spots. You find yourself walking not because you love to walk or for health reasons, but simply because you don’t want to spend 30 minutes circling the block looking for a parking space.

  18. Bagumpity says:

    How about this theory:
    1. Grid layouts are aging
    2. Aging neighborhoods (pre-gentrification) have lower house prices and less attractive landscaping
    3. Wealthier home buyers will look elsewhere.
    4. Therefore, the people in grid-layout neighborhoods are lower-income families, and the people in cul-de-sac neighboorhoods are higher-income families
    5. Lower-income families have a lower transportation budget than higher-income families and therefore walk more often.

    It’s not the layout, it’s the economics.

    • morehalcyondays says:

      You’re on to something here.

    • Niphil says:

      Yes, that’s why it’s so cheap to live in big cities. Everyone I know owns an apartment in Manhattan because all the wealthy people left to the cul de sacs!

    • regenerator says:

      And to which cities does this apply? Detroit? Seriously, this is so inaccurate for pretty much any established, thriving city. Certainly doesn’t apply here in Seattle.

    • regenerator says:

      Also, Ballard is far from run-down and impoverished, FYI.

    • AnonymousCoward says:

      You’re not from around here, are you?

      How would that explain the gentrification that’s happening in a lot of cities right now?

      • failurate says:

        For every gentrified community, there is a Milwaukee, Cleveland, St. Louis, the vast majority of Chicago… poor urban communities still exist. This person’s statement might have been too broad, but without a doubt, poor folk make up a pretty hefty part of the urban population.

    • Dory says:

      A good argument mounted on faulty premises. C+

  19. momtimestwo says:

    I would LOVE to have sidewalks in my neighborhood. The kids have no where to play and run around but in the street, and I would love to go for walks not in the street. People drive so fast and it’s just not safe.

    • gparlett says:

      or you could move to a cul-de-sac, where the overall design decreases driver speed and limits the number of drivers.

      • johnva says:

        …at the expense of increasing speed and traffic elsewhere, and increasing the total number of cars on the road and miles traveled by car. That’s great for you living on the cul-de-sac, but it creates a lot of problems elsewhere.

        There are effective ways of slowing down traffic without having to have dead-end streets. One way is narrowing the roads/lanes, and/or putting in various traffic calming devices. The psychological effect slows cars down dramatically.

  20. sparrowmint says:

    Regardless of layout, sidewalks should be a requirement everywhere that is even the slightest bit urban. Where I live (suburb of Pittsburgh), there’s a sidewalk to walk between houses in my immediate neighbourhood, but to any area of business where someone might be employed or might want to shop without getting in the car? Impossible without risking one’s life.

  21. smo0 says:

    I have to agree – living in the suburbs, you couldn’t walk anywhere.
    The public transportation out here is horrible as well – makes you just want to stay at home or get a car.

    • morehalcyondays says:

      Or a bike? I live in a suburb and lots of people bike or walk.

      • johnva says:

        But do they bike or walk for transportation, or just for exercise? Those are two different things.

        • smo0 says:

          I gave up my car… and when I lived in the suburbs I had to walk very very far to reach the neared bus – and that was an hour ride to my job in the middle of the city.
          Most of the Cul De Sac neighborhoods cater to middle class, suburbia, where everyone is “expected” to have a car (mainly a minivan) it makes it so if you wanted to take alternate transportation, you couldn’t…. that’s not environmentally friendly…. and it 115 degree heat, it’s horrible.

  22. Sarahnoid says:

    I’m so about to be that asshole.

    It’s culs-de-sac.

  23. Toffeemama is looking for a few good Otters says:

    The lack of shortcut walking paths bothers me to no end in my neighborhood. We have a main road with a library, gym, and small park literally on the other side of the block, but in order to walk there I have to go around the entire neighborhood.

    We have only one working car, so I’m stuck at home all day. I had a play date at the library, and it took 15 minutes of me in a near run to get there while pushing my toddler in a stroller. It would have taken all of 5 minutes to stroll over there if there were a walking path straight across. We haven’t been to the library during the day since then, because I’m not about to push a two year old while pregnant in 90+ degree heat.

  24. bhr says:

    New research published in the Harvard Business Review finds those living in more walkable areas travel 26% fewer miles by car. As walkability increases, so does walking and biking, while pollution and fatness decrease.

    Relation /= Causation.

    For all we know (and I assume) people moving to those suburban areas tend to be older, more afluent and have kids. All of which leads to more driving and expanding waistlines. Its highly probable that people who chose to live in less walkable areas do so specifically because they like to drive rather then walk.

  25. Felrond says:

    The nice thing about cul-de-sacs is the restricted driving access. Particularly for those of us with children who want our kids to be able to ride their bikes and walk without cars flying through on their way to somewhere else and with no regard to speed limits.

    Therefore I propose a new term… “car-de-sacs”. These would be communities where there is only 1 way in and 1 way out for cars, but multiple ways in and out for walkers and bikers. Groups of car-de-sac neighborhoods would allow for easy walking between communities but difficult driving, that is, you would have to drive out, around and back in just to go to the next community over. This would make walking easier and quicker and therefore the preferred way of getting to the ball park or ice cream stand.

    • johnva says:

      This is an intermediate compromise that a lot of places are doing lately. It’s not a bad idea, but it has limitation on how well it can work vs. just putting in real connected roads.

      The cut-through, high-speed traffic thing can be addressed in many other ways besides just having roads to nowhere. There a lot of traffic calming measures that can effectively discourage cut-through traffic and slow cars down.

    • ElizabethD says:

      Our small dead-end street is exactly like what you propose. It’s one reason we bought our house there four years ago. (The other reason was sweeping water views in two directions!)

      The street dead-ends at the narrow entrance to a paved walking/bike path that runs along the shoreline. The path isn’t big enough for cars, so we don’t have extra traffic, and I’m able to play in our road with our granddaughter — safely. But walkers and bikers can leave the path and walk up our road to the main connecting road if they wish. I enjoy greeting them when I’m gardening in front, or sitting on the porch. Best of both worlds.

    • Tardis78 says:

      Where I live we have speed bumps and that solve much of the same problems. Kids play in the street, cars have to drive slower and no one minds.

  26. ElizabethD says:

    Back in the early 60s, in the affluent CT suburb (of NYC) where we lived, kids like me routinely cut through our neighbors’ back yards when we reached the end of the numberous cul de sacs — like the one my family lived at the end of. I cut through the yard over the stone wall from ours to reach my walking route to elementary school every day. We all cut through yards to get to our friends’ houses, etc. No one seemed to think this was a big deal. Now, it’s hard to imagine.

  27. Eat The Rich -They are fat and succulent says:

    I really hate all these groups that tell us how to live according to their “standards”.

    Cul-De Sacs offer greater security for families, slower traffic speeds, greater privacy for the folks living there, etc.


    Having lived in both types of neighborhoods, I far prefer the cul-de-sac layouts over the roads, streets and boulevards.

    Quit telling me how I should live my life.

    • johnva says:

      Ironically, it’s often the people that live in these cul-de-sac neighborhoods that are most interested in placing authoritarian rules on the minutia of their neighbors’ lives, decorating, and landscaping. They are the places with restrictive HOAs and such, in general. So it’s “interesting” that so many people seem to view it as a personal freedom issue that they get to live on a cul-de-sac.

      • TehLlama says:

        Since you’re so keen on making an assumption on how another person thinks and disregarding their thoughs, I’ll stoop.
        The niggling complaints and standards by which certain neighborhoods expect houses to abide by are usually contractually obligated terms, and most importantly exist to preserve the value of individual houses in the entire neighborhood, in the same way towns require businesses in certain zoned areas to meet certain appearances and the like. The motivation for this is purely financial, and while how they’re enforced can be hilariously idiotic, these are strictly voluntary ventures, as opposed to
        completely inane suggestions like increasing taxes on residents of these areas because of increased risk of health problems, or how folks who don’t choose to live in such areas are simply unwilling to see why families would live in those areas (the converse is generally not the case).
        Writing off a lack of causality isn’t a chicken-egg type affair, and implying such is a logical fallacy. Population density is the real driving factor behind all these, and while I agree that intermediate solutions should be pursued (because they’re just better ideas, not for any other reason) I have yet to see any traffic abatement attempts that don’t result in devaluation of property, property damage to residents, or otherwise making people not want to live there as much, so the most logical conclusion is to limit the number of thoroughfares, though not necessarily affecting walking and biking paths.
        The insular nature of these communities is the draw for most folks, look at indicators like number of neighborhood watch organizations: developments that are enclosed tend to become more isolated communities, but with reason to gather together, while in my current residence the grid of thoroughfares makes any such efforts limited to commercial traffic areas, and adjacent housing communities that have less straight-forward layouts.

  28. stooj says:

    Darn, if only there were some way to reuse a sidewalk. We should get some scientists to somehow use the technology they use to make running tracks. Then people could make a circuit and walk for as long as they want. One day…one day.

  29. Talisker says:

    Neighborhoods with cul-de-sacs are fine as long as they have sidewalks for pedestrians to use.

  30. EverCynicalTHX says:

    The government need to tax these cul-de-sacs at an increased tax rate of 300% since living in these locations would be an unhealthy lifestyle choice and could lead to adult obesity.

    Since I don’t live on a cul-de-sac I think it’s a great idea! I’m sure others here don’t live on cul-de-sacs so let’s here some support.

  31. baristabrawl says:

    Really? Then walk in circles.

  32. El-Brucio says:

    I think the issue is also having something interesting to walk *to*. I live in an area that is composed of a lot of winding crescent roads, so it’s almost impossible to walk in a straight line to get somewhere – but where would I go? The closest thing is a grocery store and it’s more than a mile away. Ditto for the closest restaurant. Having my streets arranged in a grid wouldn’t fix this – zoning for both business and housing would.

  33. jasonq says:

    For those of you who find both of the cited urban planning models to be lacking, let me suggest you look into the design principles of “coving,” which was developed by an architect in Minnesota.

    Basically it creates more walkable neighborhoods with better traffic flow, better access to retail, more greenspace and less pavement than conventional planning methods, without necessitating crackerboxes built on postage-stamp lots.

    It’s not a panacea, but it’s very interesting, and seems to answer a lot of the aesthetic, practical and livability problems found in standard suburban developments. The architect’s website is . (No affiliation here, just an interested consumer.)

  34. kpieckiel says:

    I’m surprised nobody’s mentioned yet that the plural of cul-de-sac is culs-de-sac. Unfortunately, many people either don’t know that or don’t care about it.

  35. jimstoic says:

    I don’t understand that maps. First, why can’t one keep walking beyond the blue diamond in Ballard? There’s certainly no diamond-shaped barrier around that region. Second, the walkable distance in Woodinville looks about the same as the walkable distance in Ballard. The difference seems to be the number of available directions for walking rather than the distance that can be walked.

  36. DeeJayQueue says:

    The area I live has cul-de-sacs, but not everywhere. My development was built in the 60s, before the dead-end theory really took hold. All the roads more or less connect, but the vibe is very “planned community” -ish.

    The main problem isn’t so much the lack of walkability but the lack of commercially-zoned areas nearby. It doesn’t matter at all to me how the neighborhood is laid out, just that I have to drive 2 miles at a minimum to get anywhere. There’s a mall, and 2 conjoined shopping centers within .5 miles of each other, but separated by a 6 lane highway with no walkway from one to the other. Nevermind walking through the parking lot full of people who aren’t looking for you, driving backwards.

    Honestly, the issue we’re facing is more a separation of commercial and residential zoning. And it’s caused by the NIMBY fuckers who don’t even want sidewalks in their communities. They don’t want a theatre or a grocery store or a CVS anywhere near them because they bring noise and traffic, and OMG other people.

    Also, lots of the people who bought houses in the cul-de-sac communities have no interest in building a neighborhood relationship or a sense of community. At least they didn’t till they got caught upside down in their mortgages and can’t flip their house for profit anymore. People don’t even leave their house to get to their car anymore because they have doors in their garages.

    How to fix it?
    Let’s start by adding sidewalks to the streets. How dumb is it that people have to be limited by fears of safety (getting run over by cars) to where they can go in their own neighborhood? Last time I checked, people had the right to go anywhere they pleased, car or not. We should at least be accommodating that.
    Next, how about we open up some of the zoning laws and allow things like corner grocery stores, ice cream shops, drug stores, etc. back into our neighborhoods. This will give people a reason to get out of their house for once, and can help to foster a sense of community, as well as help spur the local economy.

    • npage148 says:

      White middle/upper class people need to get over their fear of EVERYTHING before that will happen.

  37. Kid Awesome says:

    I live on a cul-de-sac and we frequently walk to our near by shopping center. And this is in an unfriendly walking town, Tulsa.

  38. tacitus59 says:

    Couple of things –

    In my suburban maryland area – we don’t need sidewalks in my neighborhood. Besides as a home-owner I am required to not only maintain the side walks once there but taxed on them; no wonder there people are NIMBY about that. But we certainly need sidewalks on main routes as far as I can tell they actively discourage biking and walking once outside the neighborhood. I use to walk down to my corner store, except the 45-50 mph traffic was far too unnerving.

    Every whiny puck who complains about cul-de-sacs causing problems should be required to live in an older neighborhood, prefereably in a urban center without cul-de-sacs and be forced to use public transportation. Same thing with any other expert who wants the world to change because of their pet idea; they have to walk-the-walk not just talk-the-talk.

  39. tidalfae says:

    Bottom line: “Cheap” land is not actually cheap. Suburban development costs more in maintenance (i.e. plowing) and takes up more space, thus reducing the amount of available farmland. The misleading pricing in our society promotes development of suburban, residential, cul-de-sac neighborhoods because there is no economic incentive in most places for developers to do anything else.

  40. Red Cat Linux says:

    I dunno – I like not having the nimrods across the way cutting through my yard because they are too lazy to walk the sidewalks.

    I may live on a Cul De Sac, but most of them here have walking/biking trail connections.

    I’m not living in the city for a reason. I don’t feel all the through traffic really adds to *my* quality of life in my house.

  41. Caffinehog says:

    Not only are they less walkable, they waste gas. Frankly, cul-de-sacs are annoying to navigate. If you know your destination is to the north, you would think you could just turn on the first street in that direction and you’d at least get closer. Not with cul-de-sacs. You can end up driving around and around just trying to get a half mile in one direction! With a grid, you just drive north, and BAM! There’s the street you need! All you have to do is figure out which way to turn, and if you get it wrong, you can turn around.

  42. varro says:

    Ballard Driving Academy –

  43. varro says:

    There’s also a correlation/causation problem there – “walkable” neighborhoods tend to be dense, affluent urban areas attracting wealthier young people, whose bikes often cost more than many people’s cars. (Think Pearl District in Portland.)

    They’re also very expensive compared to less-walkable areas in the city or the suburbs.

    The denizens of The Pearl are more likely to put a premium on things like “not being fat” rather than “affording where you live”.

  44. Charmander says:

    I happen to live in Ballard (yeah!) and have also had the unfortunate experience of trying to navigate my way around Woodinville (ugh) and I can tell you that developments on linear grids are much much superior.

    Everything the article said is true: it’s easier to walk, bike, get a bus, go to restaurants and shops. Oh, how I had the cul-de-saccy mess that is Woodinville and other cities north of Seattle such as Shoreline, Bothell, etc.

  45. JeremieNX says:

    Having spent two years living in/around the Seattle metro area… the suburbs are a NIGHTMARE to navigate. You often have multiple street address systems converging on each other, streets that don’t logically go thru, etc.

    I do feel that suburbs as we know them in America are a huge problem – they encourage driving while making little/no options available for any alternatives. One can say many of the things that is wrong with this country (pollution, traffic, etc) are largely contributed by suburban planning.

    Wide boulevards that are fed by 2,080 cul-de-sacs are hazardous eyesores. Urban Growth Boundaries and feasible alternatives to cars are a good thing – my hometown or Portland, OR is an example of that.

  46. teke367 says:

    Eh, I lived in a suburb that didn’t have cul-de-sacs in general (there was a random dead end street here and there) but overall the roads all connected well for walkability.

    The problem is, the places you’d walk to were too far in general. This is in NJ, near the shore, so we aren’t talking about some rural widespread area. But unless you lived “downtown” (loose use of the word as the town was not very large), it wasn’t feasible to walk anywhere unless you just wanted to exercise. That or you had to go on the highway, which wasn’t safe. The cities, and towns built with similar road designs done seem to have that one or two major roads where most of the business are.

  47. ricklesgibson says:

    They probably mean culs-de-sac.

  48. TehLlama says:

    Is anybody missing the fact that it is this exact design and layout of suburbs that attract families to live in them? Reduced traffic flow (means kids can play in streets, incredible, I know), less noise, and reduced population were the initial intent, and while the minor limitations on walking to locations (again, population density dictates how spaced out each major commercial service is going to be, anybody who can’t make that correlation needn’t participate in the intelligent discussion) I completely fail to see the problem.
    If there was a demand to build these areas differently, they would be. I’ve seen places where it’s been attempted, and those end up as absolute speed bump and traffic circle ridden hellholes, that eventually suffer needless property devaluation, and become areas of increased likelihood to become low income gang influenced areas.

    I’d love to live in an area where walking and biking are viable means of transit (I do right now), but developments like this are part and parcel of what allows the general prosperity we enjoy right now to be adequate enough to support the money to get fat. Again, that’s a personal choice, and it’s still vastly cheaper to buy a set of weights or a gym membership than to move into a new higher density neighborhood for the privilege to commute to work by foot.

    These arrangements don’t impede walking around, and the causality of what is worth walking to and how far away it is is poorly thought out, I just can’t understand how this article has been well received except by those who haven’t lived in a suburban setting.

  49. elladisenchanted says:

    Much of the newer parts of Woodinville are actually eminently walkable and near the transit center which has frequent, fast transit service, and it’s pretty bike-friendly. The older parts are less so on all levels.

    That said, i think the reality is that i live in a part of Seattle that looks more like the walkable grid, there’s a bus past my house every 10 minutes or so, there’s plenty of nice stuff near me, and my rent’s under 500 bucks a month. Is it a “hip” neighborhood? Heck no. But i can catch a bus to Woodinville or downtown with ease.

  50. gparlett says:

    This has nothing to do with Cul-de-sacs. People who live in the city walk places because of higher density and worse parking options. People who live in the suburbs drive because of lower density and better parking options. Currently I live in the suburbs, on a street laid out in a grid with sidewalks. The closest business to me is a Taco Bueno. I can walk there in 20 minutes or drive there in 5. I nearly always drive because I don’t like wasting 15 minutes of my life every time I want tacos. It has nothing to do with whether or not I’m on a cul de sac.

  51. Buy used! says:

    I’m late to this topic, but anyone who is still following these comments and wants to learn more about “bad” suburbia, “good” suburbia, and cities can do a couple of things. One is watch a fun video (link below), and the other is to read a couple of books. One recent one I highly recommend is “The Option of Urbanism” (should be in your library), and the other is the classic “Death and Life of Great American Cities.” I study issues related to urban planning and energy use, and one organization that really “gets it” is the Congress for the New Urbanism — look ’em up in your state and get to know your local chapter if you want to have a voice in these issues. We have not even gotten a taste of how difficult life for many Americans (especially) will be when oil starts tripling and quadrupling in price. Places that give people access to day-to-day needs via methods other than cars will be the winners in the shakeout — it’s why “mixed use” is such a buzzword in planning, for good reason. When it seemed like we’d have oil forever (and the money to maintain roads and bridges), it sounded like a good idea to separate shopping and offices from where people lived. Oops.

  52. BytheSea says:

    The only benefit of the suburban neighborhoods is that in making them blocked off, they’re safer. No one goes in them if they don’t live there, there’s no through traffic, no strangers. They developers created lots of small towns inside of very populous suburbs. You can let your kids play outside without fear of them being snatched, and women can walk after dark.