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Our greatest threat… is cul-de-sacs!

Nifty little video about cul-de-sacs, sprawl and environmental impacts:

H/T: Gordon Price

43 comments to Our greatest threat… is cul-de-sacs!

  • MeToo

    I think all the new development at Riverhead is going to be cul de sacs, going against the existing town which is criss-crossed roads, featuring lots of walkers.

  • SlowJoe

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having culs-de-sac per se; people like to live in them for a reason (i.e. no through-traffic)
    From what I’ve read, it appears that the earliest developers of the “cul-de-sac” suburbia model in the States were well aware that, on its own, the roads layout wouldn’t make things easy for those wanting to walk, cycle or take public transport to places. Some recommended walk and/or cycleways between properties that would enable residents to take short-cuts to the main thoroughfare, but, as we have seen over the past 60 years, these would have been deemed “costly extras” and almost left out completely. Especially in Auckland, where cost-cutting has been almost de rigueur as far as town-planning is concerned!

    • Max

      Actually, a lot of the Manukau cul-de sacs for example seem to have connecting walk / cycleways. Have a look at the developments between Chapel Road and Te Irirangi Drive. Doesn’t seem to have helped them develop a balanced transport culture, wedged in between busy high-speed / high volume arterials, and lacking good PT.

      • SlowJoe

        I know which neighbourhoods you’re talking about – Ormiston, Flatbush, etc…

        You’re right – there are some nice walkways and patches of park between properties, but, in the case of these neighbourhoods at least, the fact that they are bordered by busy arterial roads has prevented them from developing a balance in the way the residents get themselves around. Again, this is a factor peculiar to this type of area; in neighbourhoods that aren’t surrounded on all sides by de-facto motorways (and have decent bus and/or rail links), walkways/cycleways would be a help.

    • Stu Donovan

      There’s a problem with that logic though Slow Joe – no through-traffic on a cul-de-sac means more through-traffic everywhere else. Therein lies the dilemma – the people who live in cul-de-sacs are externalising the negative effects of their travel demands on everyone else. We’d all be better off if we had a connected street network, because it would stop the burden of negative effects falling too heavily on downstream properties.

  • Ben S

    MeToo, I’m thinking the cul-de-sac riff is just to make it cute – they’re scarcely the problem. In fact, with footpath connections etc added they’re part of the solution.

    This New Urbanism biz is a step in the right direction though – a big one – but until we design our habitats around people again, and not cars (specfically), we’re dealing with side issues (and that includes PT).

    A great vid though.

  • Anthony McBride

    In Welcome Bay, Tauranga. I noticed that the streets are all connected with lit up footpaths and little parks so that it easier to get around. I personally like cal-de-sac suburbs. They just need connections like I had mentioned.

  • 2 points of interest from this great lil vid-
    “Walk 5 minutes to the Post Office”- or mall kiosk as we’re about to call them in NZ. (I guess people don’t buy things off Trade Me or the Internet anymore right?) and
    Trams! Or streetcars as they call them in New Orleans. This literally awesome city, just six years off it’s 300th birthday has shown itself as far more innovative than Auckland by opening a NEW streetcar line, finished just in time for tomorrow’s SuperBowl. And there’s another new line on the way…
    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-18563_162-57567311/return-of-the-streetcar-mirrors-new-orleans-rebirth/
    Go Ravens- “Omar comin”!”

    • Ben S

      I love how in this NO story – as with every streetcar/tram/light rail story – they describe the streetcars as “iconic”. Well, if they’re so ‘iconic’ why can’t we all have ‘em….ie here in AKL? When the penny eventually drops in AKL, we’ll be reading about our ‘iconic’ tram system and no doubt every man and his dog will suddenly be out there bandwagoning & saying we should have re-instated them years ago…. tick tock…

      • Hear hear! The Legendary Mike Lee got the lil loop on Wynyard Wharf going, money has been allocated to take it across the bridge to the Bileduct and onto Quay St, but progress appears to have halted. The argument we SHOULD be having is “Which line first?” Mission Bay- no, Ponsonby, no Dom Rd, no- etc. Instead people obsess about an un needed Additional Harbour Crossing… tick tock indeed

      • Stu Donovan

        Do you really think that building trams will make Auckland more sustainable?
        More so than, say, taking the same amount of money (let’s say $500 million) and investing it in better bus infrastructure and services, like completing/extending the Northern Busway and a new busway on SH16/22?
        I just can’t see the pay-off from trams. The only place they really make sense is central city environments with lots of peds and/or streets with high PT demands but narrow ROWs, e.g. Dom Rd. Beyond that their potential benefits seem very marginal, at least in a sustainability sense. Of course, if your keen to burn loads of carbon making steel tracks, vehicles, and overhead wires then they’re definitely the way to go ;).

        • Ben S

          In a word – yes.

          Because building networks based on offering people a better way to live is the only way to get to sustainability.

          Otherwise they will continue for years to come default to the car for 9 out of 10 trips – except if they are on a restricted budget and therefore condemned to your buses and bus lanes etc. (BTW bus lanes are an urban blight IMHO, plus the local road ones only excerbate congestion, which I know some argue should push people out of cars & traffic jams and onto buses but is in fact it’s merely transport brutalism that results in people like me, who having been forced to take buses for many years, now won’t have a bar of them).

          Light rail is the ultimate solution for the urban village (or the new urbanism as some people like to call it).

          It is not a solution to urban sprawl, therefore the best way to retrofit AKL with light rail would be to bring tram systems to local areas and then connect those areas with high speed rail, ferry and other links. Local areas could easily have light rail inter-links too – e.g. if you were downtown and wanted to get to, say, Panmure, in a pleasant yet slightly slower way you could make your way through a connected network. Central AKL is just another local area in that context (we all know central AKL once had trams and I think this restricts people’s thinking on the subject – eg you say: “The only place they really make sense is central city environments with lots of peds …” – think of local areas as a network of central city-like environments with increased densities etc.

          For example, take a place like Henderson – a perfect example of an AKL location you could re-boot as a new urban village, with added high density – eg low cost of entry – living/accomm, connnected to downtown AKL by a high speed link but served locally by light rail. And AKL is full of Hendersons.

          So as I said, I believe building networks based on offering people a better way to live is the only way to get to sustainability – and the only way to flip the transport choice to 9 out of 10 trips being public transport – otherwise we’ll be burning oil until the planet finally chokes.

          • Sorry, but how is it that bus lanes are a blight but tram lanes presumably wouldn’t be.

            Apart from the aforementioned high pedestrian corridors and constrained road widths (steel rails do wonders for keeping vehicles in place, the tram lanes in Adelaide are only 2.8m wide!), the only other advantage I can see is that people seem to like trams more than buses and would probably use them more, all else being equal.

            …however all else is not equal, you might be able to afford three or four good BRT routes with full bus lanes and new hybrid buses, for the money it costs to establish one light rail line. Which of those would people be more likely to use?

          • Nick- The fact that people think Trams are sexier than buses is EXACTLY why we should have them. Sex sells. You want more PT use- make it sexy!

            Now if only Len and AT could grasp that….

          • Ben S

            Nick R – I think you answer your own question – “the only other advantage I can see is that people seem to like trams more than buses and would probably use them more”. Why do people romanticise trams/light rail/streetcars? I could write an essay on that – but I think it’s primarily to do with a sense of connection to the envrionment you’re passing through (in bus terms only the old Routemasters in London had that too and how people loved them); the knowledge that because you’re on rails your movement is predictable and assured; how the rhythm of your journey is not so subject to the whims of the driver like buses… the quietness (compared to motorized buses, maybe not hybrids)… they’re even safer… etc etc.

            In terms of cost, trams would be about $25 million per km – in other words you could re-instate the ENTIRE old central AKL tram network (of 72 kms) for just over half the proposed cost of the CRL (most people who lurk around this blog are pro CRL – I can see the positives but in terms of bang for buck I think it’s a mistake, and I think underground travel in AKL in general is an expensive mistake, but that’s a whole other issue…).

            BTW – didn’t quite understand your Adelaide reference, sorry, could you clarify.

          • Peter M

            Yeah sure light-rail is nicer and sexier than buses, but the real question is whether the additional patronage and benefits achieved through this “nicer/sexier” factor is worth the massive extra cost. In most situations I would probably think not.

            However, we should go through the process of working this out. Work out what the real advantages of light-rail are and start to quantify them – I’m sure that some routes will stack up pretty well.

  • tuktuk

    Great vid! Cul-de-sacs are definitely part of the problem. They are in my opinion a fundamentally selfish process of shutting out through traffic from residential streets and onto key arterial roads which in turn dislocate and isolate various portions of the community. Shops, work are always somewhere down that main road. The main road ends up being very non-pedestrian friendly due to the volume traffic piling out of all those cul-de-sacs and concentrated along those major arterial roads. And of course, successful PT become very difficult to successfully achieve, especially suburban distributor style bus networks.

    A grid does not need to have conventional rectangular blocks if it is designed in sympathy with the landscape. In fact dozens of European cities have a concentrated network of inter-connected medieval lanes that are in no way geometric. However, they do mostly all join up. This has for centuries worked for communities featuring a very high degree of walk-ability and a sense of being connected.

  • Malcolm

    Personally, I like cul de sacs, as long as they have pedestrian connections through to other streets at the end. If I had the choice to live on a normal through street, or a cul de sac, I’ll take the cul de sac every time. They create a nice, quiet living environment. Especially when they are windy streets. The key is having the connections though. Without them, they do create a lack of connectivity.

  • SlowJoe

    As I and others have mentioned above, I don’t have a problem with culs-de-sac, so long as they are balanced with pedestrian connections in the form of walkways. Melbourne’s innercity suburbs, for instance, often manage this quite well.

  • SanLuca

    I was also going to say culs de sac

  • Mr Anderson

    Culs-de-sac really are the problem – no matter how we think that narrow little pedestrian alleys between them will fix the problem. These generally become crime-magnets and don’t provide the real connectivity that a street would.

    I think that the real problem is that we build our streets far too wide, which is why we think they need to be dead-ends in order for them to be safe for pedestrians. If most of our local streets were far narrower then everyone would need to drive much much slower along them and the streets would have the safety without creating the disconnection of culs-de-sac.

    • David O

      I didn’t watch the video, so maybe I have no place on this comments-thread, but Is there really much concrete evidence that pedestrian or cycle links between culs-de-sac are ‘crime magnets’? That seems like a stretch – at least in the absence of any evidence.

      Connectivity for people is important, less so for cars – they have the arterials and motorways already, surely? – so I tend to agree with folks on here that like culs-de-sac but recognise that the way they disconnect neighbourhoods for pedestrians and cyclists is a problem.

      • Max

        It is more the PERCEIVED unsafety. A lot of the historic pathways are too narrow. Others are designed as nicely meandering, with planting or lined on both sides by high closed-board fencing blocking sightlines and making them into tunnels where it seems that no one will see you get mugged etc… (unrelated to the chances of actually being mugged, perception is key) – if designed right, they don’t ave those issues.

    • Robert

      Apart from dodgy alleyways I understand they are prime spots for burglaries as there are less people around to watch burglars. Not a fan of them, waste of space, discourage public transport, make cities less connected.

      • starnius

        I would consider that (more theft in cul-de-sacs) as an unproven rumour. It’s not like a lot of burglars are caught by people just driving through on their way from a to z.

  • SlowJoe

    “Pedestrian alleys”, no. Broad greenways, yes.

  • Drizzt

    As an ex cul de sac resident, right at the end, I think they are great. Good for cricket and tennis. Kids learnt to ride their bikes on it and they could get to the neighbours by walking around the outside. Great piece of design enabling community connection.

  • Lloyd

    Pedestrian alleyways correctly designed with suitable fencing should not be popular places for the local petty criminals. Pedestrian through routes should be:

    – short
    -Visible right through from public roads at each end (no bends)
    – have low fences
    -be addressed by the dwellings they pass (Put the front doors of the houses so they face the pedestrian route, not the street)
    -be well lit
    -be in quiet areas where pedestrians can be heard in adjoining dwellings.

    These routes should preferably:

    -be overlooked by residential buildings with windows at a higher level than the walkway (ie 2nd storey bedroom or lounge windows).
    -be mixed with private driveways, perhaps being separated by a low fence from rear lot driveways, with the objective of making the walkway feel more like a private driveway than an un-owned space.
    -be abutted by owners of noisy dogs

    • I was with you right up to “noisy dogs”. There is NO place in a built up area for noisy dogs. None. The first two time our neighbour’s dog started going nuts I raced over to help. “We’re ok” they said “He just likes doing that”.

      I explained to them the story of the boy who cried “Wolf” I don’t think they got it…

  • Tamaki

    Most cul de sacs I’ve lived in have pedestrian lanes at the end e.g. New Lynn, Birkenhead, Glen Innes. These streets were developed in the 50s and 60s so must have been de riguere then. I bought a house in a cul de sac in Tamaki. I’m on first name terms with my neighbors, kids play in the street, lots of people use the pedestrian access way, there is no through traffic and speeding issues. There are lots of positives to them so they should not be discarded based on currently voguish trends. I’ve seen people refer to them as ‘curly wurly’ roads. This is childish.

    • starnius

      Yes, I can see my kids using the term “curly wurly road” with glee ;-)

      I guess the reason many dislike them with a passion is that they have become – partly fairly, partly not – the poster child of the car centric suburb. It really depends not only on whether they have pedestrian cross-connections, but also whether the whole system is a tree (with small cul-de-sacs branching of what are essentially larger cul-de-sacs) or a network. If we have a network with many short cul-de-sacs off it, fine. But if we have William Gamble Drive (Greenhithe) where the closest “network” road is almost 2km (!) away…

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