Saturday, March 29, 2008

End of the road for the cul-de-sac? - Toronto Star

I don't think you could call this article fair and balanced, but I was very pleased to see this published in today's Toronto Star. We need to take a critical look at how we plan our road network, as it influences the transportation options we have and affects how sustainable our communities will be. The cul-de-sac may be a "suburban icon," but as the article states, a deeper look reveals that it isn't as great as we might think. 

To quote from it:
Cul-de-sac began as an old French hunting term: It translates, literally, as "bottom of the bag "– where snared rabbits were shoved, face down, to keep in the dark and restrict their motion.

The meaning soon morphed into impasse: a dead end. And that pretty much describes how progressive planners and environmentalists now view the cul-de-sac as a system for organizing residential subdivisions. They consider it a dead end of planning that immobilizes its inhabitants in suburban mindlessness.

Among the alleged sins:

Cul-de-sacs consume vast amounts of land.

They create car-dependent zones whose inhabitants spew four times as many greenhouse gas emissions as downtown dwellers. All that driving creates traffic congestion as all those vehicles pour on to a limited number of collector roads.

Since residents spend so much time behind the wheel, abdominal spare tires quickly replace six-packs. A widely quoted American study concluded that people on cul-de-sacs weigh nearly three kilograms more than those in traditional grid neighbourhoods of straight streets and right-angle intersections.

Isolated and insular, they become cesspools of self-absorption and pettiness that turn their backs on the wider world. "People who live in a cul-de-sac are out of touch with the rest of their community and most likely do not know much about the folks who live behind the fences of their blocked-off streets," complains a recent report from the American Planning Association.

They inspire crime: A British study says the burglary rate is 30 per cent higher.

They add to the difficulty and cost of firefighting, snow plowing and other municipal services.

This is a heavy burden to lay on a simple arrangement of roads and houses, but it's having an effect. The cul-de-sac is being restricted or banned in municipalities across North America. In Britain, the likes of Prince Charles and former prime minister Tony Blair have called for it to be dumped to the bottom of the bag, forever.
This is a good read, and might make you think twice about where you purchase your next house.

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