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Debunking the Cul-de-Sac (citylab.com)
92 points by misnamed on Sept 19, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 112 comments



This article seems to totally gloss over the advantages of cul-de-sac and suburban living. Having just moved from the a more dense area of the city (after 10+ years) to a much more suburban area, I am keenly aware of the new perks I now have.

The first one is obviously space. Suburbs can have bigger houses and bigger yards. That is a very nice perk. I am not saying that bigger is always better, but you can't just dismiss this as not being important at all. Having a backyard where I can BBQ and a garage I can park in are pretty nice.

Second, the article talks about the increased overall danger from traffic accidents in the city, but they don't talk about actual accidents in the cul-de-sac itself. If you live in a cul-de-sac, your kids can play in the street much more safely than if you are in a city grid. Being able to play in the street is a nice thing.

Again, I don't think that there isn't a cost to suburban cul-de-sac living, I just feel this article completely ignores the actual benefits, instead focusing on a few parts that I don't think people are actually claiming about the suburbs.


I didn't understand the article to be against suburbs but against the cul-de-sac supporting layout that makes it hard for people to get around without a car. If suburbs were designed differently we could have both space and easier walkability and bikeability.

How would you feel about a grid with parks sprinkled in instead of cul-de-sac? I have a small public park across the street and it gets heavy usage from the kids that live around it. Traffic is still pretty low despite the street connecting the neighborhood to the main thoroughfare that leads to the freeway.

My wife used to own a home in a development in California that was actually designed around cul-de-sacs. However, there were walk ways between houses that allowed you to get around on foot quickly and be in less than 5 minutes at a small mall that had a grocery store, cafes etc. That also might solve some issues discussed in the article.

I do think that the boneheaded zoning in the US that practically aims to ruin walkability is as always a huge factor as well.


>How would you feel about a grid with parks sprinkled in instead of cul-de-sac?

Check out Savannah, Georgia. One of the first planned cities in the USA.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Squares_of_Savannah,_Georgia


There are quite a few interestingly designed cities in the UK. I used to work in Bracknell which is similar to what you suggest with walking paths and basically parks around many of the houses, especially in an estate called Great Hollands (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Hollands). They also have small roads that are dedicated to buses, with underpasses so that they avoid intersections. I didn't live there so I don't know a lot about it, but it did look really good and I used to go for runs along the paths there.

Another interesting one to visit is Milton Keynes. This city has a large grid layout with roundabouts at the intersections, and smaller communities inside each grid block. The grid layout is intended to allow for large flows of traffic.


Aren't these orthogonal concerns, mostly?

There is no reason you need cul-de-sacs in order to have large lots. In fact, it's often easier to have more usable space in a grid system because you aren't dealing with as many curves.

The suburbs have more space because they are the suburbs, not because they have cul-de-sacs.

To your second point, suburbs don't suddenly become 'city grids' with all the traffic that implies just because they use a grid layout. Yes, traffic will almost certainly be higher in front of your house if you are not in a cul-de-sac, but that doesn't mean it's unsafe for kids to play there. There are a lot of quiet suburban streets, built on a grid, and kids definitely play in them.

The article makes the point that grids actually decrease the amount of traffic, and its speed. It seems likely that the variation of traffic conditions is much lower; every street has some traffic, but no streets have lots of traffic. Grids promote walking and cycling, and are potentially serviced by public transport better (likely because they weren't designed car-first).

So yes, there are benefits to living in a cul-de-sac, but I would think most of those benefits come from living in a suburb in the first place. The cul-de-sacs, as opposed to a grid system, just make suburbs a worse place to live overall.


As others have pointed out, you can still obtain the benefits of the suburbs while not having to live in a suburban desert. If you wanted to fix the suburbs, you'd have to change zoning laws and make those areas much more walkable. That would mean allowing businesses to be sprinkled in with the homes.

The most successful communities (which are now being or have been gentrified) are walkable, mixed-use development neighborhoods. They have parks sprinkled throughout in addition to businesses, shops, restaurants, schools, and streets that are not through streets, have two lanes, cars parked on either side, and a bike lane between the parking spaces and the sidewalk.


I don't see how you can have those benefits in the suburbs. Restaurants fail at a very high rate. How can you afford to run a restaurant in the middle of the suburbs where the population density is so low? Other business face a similar dilemma. Can you afford to build a shop in the middle of a sparse neighborhood? Will the residents shop there or just drive to the big box just past the edge of the development?

And on the off chance you manage to build a successful urban-esque neighborhood in the middle of the suburbs, how do you prevent the massive influx of traffic that would undoubtedly come from the nearby suburbs? And how will you justify preventing that traffic when it impacts the livelihoods of the shop owners who took the risk to open there?

I don't believe that you can build a mixed-use, walkable neighborhood in the suburbs where lots are a third of an acre each. Density is what makes mixed-use possible.


In regard to traffic, I think you just let it happen, and provide metered parking on the streets. If the traffic gets bad enough then people will use the bike lanes between the cars and sidewalk, or the sidewalks. One mistake I think we make is this idea that we have to prevent vehicle traffic at all costs. Not only does it absolutely never work, it costs money and generally causes the areas where you're attempting to improve traffic to transform into drive through areas. Then we wind up with fast food chains everywhere... .

I also should have been more clear in my original post. I was trying to be subtle and make enough suggestions about improving a suburb that we actually turn it into a neighborhood :)


The lack of traffic is the entire reason people want to live on cul de sacs. If you fill a suburban street with traffic, the very people who want to live in the suburbs will not want to live on that street. Which is why people who live in the suburbs vote against multi-use zoning.


Well, you can't have your cake and eat it too. If you want to live in a desirable area you have to deal with people going to that area for various reasons. And mostly you wouldn't have traffic problems anyway because people who did happen to be driving to the downtown area for shopping/food would primarily use the main avenue and wouldn't have a reason for going down side streets, so long as you design it such that those streets don't take you to outside highway arteries.


> Well, you can't have your cake and eat it too.

You were the one proposing that you could: "you can still obtain the benefits of the suburbs while not having to live in a suburban desert"

If you "fix" the suburbs, they won't be the suburbs that people want to lie in anymore.

> And mostly you wouldn't have traffic problems anyway because people who did happen to be driving to the downtown area for shopping/food would primarily use the main avenue and wouldn't have a reason for going down side streets, so long as you design it such that those streets don't take you to outside highway arteries.

Your vision of the "fixed" suburbs must involve either tons of parking garages or mass parking lots. Otherwise everyone driving in will absolutely be driving down side streets because they need to park.

I think what you're envisioning is not the suburbs at all but neighborhoods that you'll find in any city. Seattle is full of neighborhoods where there's mixed-use buildings and other shops and restaurants along "main" streets and single-family homes surrounding this. These aren't the suburbs, though. These are urban neighborhoods.


Well the benefits of the suburbs are that they usually don't have a lot of through traffic, and you can have a large house or lot.

And no my vision for these fixed suburbs would involve the removal of most parking garages and lots, so there won't be anywhere to drive to. There wouldn't be a reason to drive down any street really. Ideally what you'd want to do is make it very expensive to park at meters and the maybe one garage you have, and then have parking on side streets for residents only.

Then we would only have autonomous vehicles which don't need to park, uber/taxi, and walking/biking.


> Well the benefits of the suburbs are that they usually don't have a lot of through traffic, and you can have a large house or lot.

And you're going to create traffic, destroying the first benefit on your list. This implies traffic: "If you want to live in a desirable area you have to deal with people going to that area"

> And no my vision for these fixed suburbs would involve the removal of most parking garages and lots, so there won't be anywhere to drive to.

So no one will visit? I don't think your vision is honestly very well thought out.

> Then we would only have autonomous vehicles which don't need to park, uber/taxi, and walking/biking.

So your plan hinges on 1) autonomous vehicles 2) everyone taking a taxi, or 3) everyone walking/biking.

1. Autonomous vehicles effectively don't yet exist, and when they do it will likely be years before they replace people's cars. They will generally have the same shortcomings as taxis when they do arrive.

2. Taxis exist and have not replaced peoples' cars. People who own a car generally prefer to drive rather than wait 15+ minutes for a taxi/Uber and then pay $35 for a short ride. For families with small children, taxis are effectively useless because of the need to provide a carseat. Also, taxis don't sit around in suburbs because there's not enough business. So 15 minutes is probably an optimistic wait.

3. Suburbs are neither walkable nor bikeable, especially for children (or families with children). That's almost the definition of a suburb: you can't walk anywhere.

So again, I find your vision unrealistic. You're going to create a mixed-use zone in the middle of a suburb and somehow that area won't be filled with traffic, but it will attract people. It will also somehow be within walking distance of a large population of patrons in spite of the sprawl that a suburb implies.

Your vision is basically to have all the benefits and none of the drawbacks without an explanation. It's sprawled but walkable. Population is low but it still supports businesses. People want to come but there's no traffic.


A couple of quick points:

1. Autonomous vehicles are going to drive down the cost of essentially hailing a taxi to the point that it will become an affordable alternative. What we need to do is make it so painful to drive yourself to desirable areas that you basically don't do it.

2. You keep going back to the suburbs, but we've mostly moved past that. The benefits of the suburbs -> having a large lot and not much traffic, are both easily accomplished in a neighborhood. Not every house would be a giant McMansion, but some would. I'm not advocating to seriously create a mixed use development neighborhood in the suburbs. You'd have to demolish the whole thing probably.


I don't dispute at all that you can build nice neighborhoods. I live in one and love it. If there were fewer cars, that would be even better.

Autonomous vehicles don't really reduce the number of cars on the road, though. They just reduce the number of parked cars. You need great public transit and great walkability to really reduce the number of cars.


What makes a gridded layout have smaller blocks? I live in a gridded layout and I have a large backyard, as do all those in my suburb. And when I compare with the suburbs with the cul-de-sac layout I see their backyards are smaller! This is in Australia, and maybe it's different where you are, but there is nothing in the grid layout stopping larger blocks.

On your second point I wouldn't dismiss the articles argument completely. Where I live there are often children playing in the street. Games of football and cricket. Kids skateboarding and roller skating. Cars drive quite slowly because it tends to be local traffic. With all the stop signs it's far more efficient for cars to traverse the suburb on one of the arterial roads, so most of the traffic drives out of the grid to get anywhere.

When I find myself driving in cul-de-sac suburbs I find I get frustrated and tend to drive faster, because getting where I am going is a huge convoluted drive. Where I want to go is literally 200 meters away and to get there I have to drive 3 km. It's very frustrating.


I live on a cul de sac in Alameda with a bike/walking path that connects it to other streets. If you want to get to a house one street over it will take you a few minutes to drive but it is a short walk to cut across. The speed limit is 25 in most of the city.


This has been a really common theme of city planning discussions on HN. A lot of urban dwellers don't understand the appeal of suburban living, and would rather brand it as "wrong" than accept that not every living situation is there for their preferences.


I'm pretty firmly in the "market urbanism" camp: I accept that people have different preferences, but please don't foist them on me. If you want to live in a suburb, fine: pay for it (all that infrastructure has a lot of costs associated with it), and stop trying to make things like corner stores or denser housing illegal.

http://marketurbanism.com/


I've lived in a suburban setting most of my life until a few years. Sure, there are advantages, but all in all not worth it.

I've spend way more time doing stuff out of the house than what I would spend in my garage or extra large home office. And most of this stuff would not be possible or would be really hard if I lived further away, in an area with less pop. density.


A lot of us grew up in a suburban setting, and did not like it. We moved to an urban setting for a reason.


I grew up in a small town and thought life there was pretty good until I moved to a city for university. Once I got a taste of living in a city, I didn't think I would ever return and couldn't understand why so many people live out there.

Then I had kids and we moved to the suburbs and I like living here better than any place I've lived before. Once self-driving cars are a thing, I'm buying one and moving even further out of the city.

Interestingly, there's been a lot of office space being built around me. I think companies that have a lot of suburban employees are moving to the suburbs (including my employer).


> I think companies that have a lot of suburban employees are moving to the suburbs (including my employer).

Probably so. It's cheaper than urban office space, and they probably figure everyone's driving anyway (which is pretty much guaranteed true after they move to the suburbs).


And continuing to miss the point, your comment stands as a shining example. You did not like it. Others do. You are not the defining opinion on how people should live.


I grew up in suburbia. It was nice. Moved to a city for college. It was nice. Moved to a different city after college. It was nice. Started a family, moved to a slightly more suburban area of the city. It was nice.

I think all the types of housing are good for different people at different stages of their life. There is no 'this is the best type of housing for everyone' housing type.


I grew up urban lived suburban and now I am somewhere in the middle. Suburban was the worst. Felt like I was far away from everything, and left the house far less.


I think I was four years old. My mother let my brother (5) and I walk our bikes down to the nearby cul-de-sac, and ride them there. (We lived on a narrow street, with little traffic, but still a through street.)

Some time later, she heard the sirens. She looked out the window as an ambulance went past our house, down toward the cul-de-sac. She came running down to find is sitting on our bikes watching the ambulance go past. A car had hit a boy crossing our street. It paralyzed him.

So, that's anecdote instead of data. But cul-de-sacs are a safer place for kids on bikes, scooters, skateboards, and just playing in the street. (Safer, not safe. I got mildly bloodied in a bike-on-bike collision in that exact same cul-de-sac...)


> So, that's anecdote instead of data. But cul-de-sacs are a safer place for kids

You agree that it's not days and yet you assert the truth of cul de sac safety based on your anecdote. :/

I wonder if data actually backs this up or not. Arterials are almost certainly less safe than cul de sacs just based on traffic volume and speed, but I wonder if that's the case for reasonably quiet residential streets. I've seen idiots driving through small residential streets at dangerous speeds occasionally, but I've also seen idiots screech in and out of driveways to turn around on cul de sacs.


> You agree that it's not days and yet you assert the truth of cul de sac safety based on your anecdote. :/

No, I assert the truth of cul-de-sac safety, but not based on my anecdote. I assert it based on... let's call it intuition, or prejudice if you're going to be less charitable to me. I admit that I don't have the data.

> Arterials are almost certainly less safe than cul de sacs just based on traffic volume and speed...

Agreed, though again, neither of us have data here.

> I've seen idiots driving through small residential streets at dangerous speeds occasionally, but I've also seen idiots screech in and out of driveways to turn around on cul de sacs.

My suspicion is that the through residential streets see more of this, because the turn arounds in cul-de-sacs are by mistake, but going through the residential street is on purpose.


When I was young I visited our city's traffic department, they had a map on the wall of all the traffic accidents. In the city I lived in the older parts were a very regular grid, and the new parts were cul-de-sacs. Almost all the traffic accidents were at intersections in the grid parts of town.


I think the problem is that the people who enjoy the benefits are not the people bearing the cost. It's great for you if you want to live on a cul-de-sac in San Ramon, but it's not great that you now need to drive your car to work on an elevated freeway through Oakland. Without having ruined that neighborhood, the property in San Ramon would be all but worthless.

If people in exurbs all rode the train to work then probably fewer people would be tut-tutting about their odd streetscape.


That seems backwards to me. The natural state of things is no roads. In the human world, we typically start with property rights, and only take them away when it's deemed necessary.

Looking at it that way, it's the road users who are enjoying benefits while foisting costs off on the residents whose property they drive past (or whose former property they drive over).


Parent commenter wrote: "[t]he problem is that the people who enjoy the benefits are not the people bearing the cost... if you want to live on a cul-de-sac in San Ramon... you now need to drive your car to work on an elevated freeway through Oakland."

You wrote: "[i]t's the road users who are enjoying benefits while foisting costs off on the residents whose property they drive past (or whose former property they drive over)."

I'm pretty sure you two agree.


I do think you're right. I thought they were saying that culs-de-sac screwed up transportation networks, but now I don't know why.

Sorry! Consider that to be strenuous agreement instead, OP.


> I thought they were saying that culs-de-sac screwed up transportation networks, but now I don't know why.

I think there's some truth to that as well. Government roads in suburbs obviously drive down the population density and encourage the use of cars, which definitely makes mass transportation less viable.


Would you elaborate on how is it nice to play on the street? For some reason I can't think of it being nice - quite opposite - I think it is dangerous (not to mention I don't see any fun in it). No matter the traffic is smaller. One car is enough to kill your kid.


I grew up in a neighborhood that was laid out in a more or less rectangular grid. We played in the street all the time. Actually, the street was just an extension of the front yards, meaning that we had overall more space.

Playing in yards meant having to watch out for flower beds, and for neighbors who were fussy about their lawns.

During the summer, we played endless street hockey. When a car came, someone yelled "CAR" and we cleared out of the street.

One thing to note is that there were fewer cars and less traffic back then. When I go back to visit my parents, the same streets are parked up and down both sides with cars, with an apparent preference for giant pickup trucks. Some of traffic is kids being driven to destinations that we used to walk or ride our bikes to. The kids are also driven to the same elementary school that we walked to.


Since pretty much all the neighbors on a cul-de-sac know each other, they'll often just block off that part of the road system with cones, or even their cars while their kids are out playing and turn it into an all purpose flat space for wheeled play devices or even community activities like block parties or summer slip and slides, street hockey etc.

Even if they don't block it off, it's highly unusual for a car that's not from their particular group of homes to be down there, and all the people that live down there know that their kids are going to be out and about on the street, so people just drive cautiously.

I don't have any stats, but I'd wager that kids were more likely to be run over in their own driveways than out on the street of a suburban cul-de-sac.


Maybe if it's essentially private property, the cul-de-sac owners should also pay for it, rather than dumping the costs on the public at large:

http://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2016/8/2/fitchburg-cul-de...


In a fair number of cases they are, or similar road structures will be considered "private roads" and the residents along that road will provide a mutual easement and pay for maintenance, plowing etc. I grew up in a rural area that connected through some trails and dumped out into a private cul-de-sac road that was exactly as described -- it was also very poorly maintained.

In my current very suburban neighborhood there's dozens of cut outs "eyebrows" and private enclave segments in the development that are privately owned and maintained by the residents.

I personally wouldn't buy into a situation like that though, neighbors tend to make for terrible mutual cooperatives.


You might think that, but no more people die in cul-de-sac than without. Most likely because grids are easer to deal with as a driver so they can more easily see people. But with curves all over the place people tend to be far more distracted.


I've lived in three cu-de-sacs as a child. It's nice to bike, skate, scooter, whatever. Or toss around a football or frisbee.

> One car is enough to kill your kid.

When there's 8 houses on the street, there aren't many cars. And the cars that are there aren't driving 40mph to turn into their driveway.

By your logic, you shouldn't drive a kid in your car either, because one car is enough to kill him.


> When there's 8 houses on the street, there aren't many cars.

You'd think, right? I've found this strongly depends on the neighborhood. In my experience, the richer the neighborhood, the fewer cars you see, either parked on the street or driving about. In richer neighborhoods (of co-workers I visit for example), there's nary a car present. Few people driving in, out, and through, and all the homeowners' cars are parked nicely in their garages. In the neighborhoods I've live in, it's like Joe's Used Car Lot. Probably 3 cars to every house, all packed in together parked on the street, in the driveways, on the grass, cars everywhere, some functional. People driving through the neighborhood at all hours, sometimes speeding, sometimes gridlocked. Garages are all full of old stuff/junk and/or in-laws, not cars. Cul-de-sac or not doesn't seem to affect the environment as much as socio-economic class.

I know where I'd rather my kid bike or skate.


> In my experience, the richer the neighborhood, the fewer cars you see, either parked on the street or driving about.

That's less an indicator of wealth than an indicator of development age. Newer neighborhood developments tend to be designed with two car garages at minimum, and for more affluent neighborhoods, three or even four car garages. Newer developments also tend to be built with more enclosed space in general, including more dedicated storage space, making it easier to keep the garage clear for cars. For new cul de sac developments in particular, the street curves and driveway placements also often make it difficult to park on the street (probably intentionally so).

If you look in older but still affluent developments, you'll find a lot of cars parked on the street because there are fewer garages and the ones that exist are often small. I have no garage but do happily have off street parking. My neighbor has no off street parking at all. I live in a rather pricy neighborhood.

Development age in many places is tightly correlated with occupant wealth, but that's not true everywhere. You always pay more for a new house, but you often pay even more for that house to be in an established, affluent neighborhood.


> If you look in older but still affluent developments, you'll find a lot of cars parked on the street because there are fewer garages and the ones that exist are often small. I have no garage but do happily have off street parking. My neighbor has no off street parking at all. I live in a rather pricy neighborhood.

Best example of this I have around here is Ansley Park in Atlanta. Lots of very old houses, not a lot of garages. Tons of cars on the street. It's also, along with adjacent Sherwood Forest, one of the most expensive places in the entire Atlanta area to own a home.


On a cul-de-sac, almost all the traffic is of people that live there. Hours can go by with absolutely no traffic.


At the same time, for kids to play together, you need to get lucky and have other kids live nearby. A grid system is much easier to navigate for kids, even if their friends live 4 blocks over East and then 2 blocks North. In a cul-de-sac neighborhood, that same distance if drawn with a straight line is impossible to walk that way. It can quickly become daunting for kids to follow neverending mazes, often without any sidewalks.

Sidewalks are another issue. In car-oriented neighborhoods they are often non-existent, or an afterthought on only one side of the street. Sometimes they just randomly end, only to start again half a mile down the road. In older grid neighborhoods, sidewalks are wide, often separated from the street with a tree line, and are on both sides of the street. They are almost inviting kids to come play on them.


My home is on a street that only feeds cul-de-sacs. Almost every house has kids in it. Plus, there are trails connecting all of the different neighborhoods. Within a short walk of my house (< 1/2 mile) are tennis courts, basketball courts, swimming pools, soccer/football fields, and multiple playgrounds. It's all maintained by the HOA.

Also, there are sidewalks everywhere. My one big complaint is that the street lighting is pretty bad.


And that's I think is even more dangerous. You may get surprised the most by something that you expect the least.

Well, I am glad you guys could stay safe, but I would rather send my daughter to play in some sort of kinder garden, park, or some facility made for that purpose rather then allowing her playing on the street.

Still, it is my personal feeling only, because I've had never lived in a suburbs like this.


I'm okay with it I think because I grew up playing street hockey every day after school.

There are parks and schools with playgrounds within a very short walk from my house. Like I mentioned in a different comment, my big complaint is the crappy street lighting. I don't mind my kids going out to play, but once the sun goes down it's pretty dark out and that makes me a little uncomfortable.


> but once the sun goes down it's pretty dark out and that makes me a little uncomfortable.

Just get your child a decent headlamp. Problem solved (this is how I solved the problem that it is quite funny to go inlineskating on summer nights, when it is already dark but still warm).


The coyotes make me nervous.


Did I miss something? I don't see anywhere where it "debunks" anything.

It has some talk about traffic accidents when you travel outside of a cul-de-sac, but doesn't talk about the increased safety inside (especially for say children who play in the area), doesn't talk about crime rates, or any of the reasons people move into suburban areas. It throws in some off the cuff comment about being more connected, but doesn't say why that would be true in a more densely populated grid layout (as opposed to knowing your neighbor more in the the suburbs).

The article seems really poor actually, rushed to meet a deadline.


Also 'paid by the word journalism' - so many words such little content. Not sure why citylab is so heavily linked on hn. There are better urban development sites to read. Just today marketurbanism.com had a great article on Houstons alternatives to simple zoning. A really important contemporary example on a really important current issue


Those are fair comments about this article.

If you're generally interested in answers to the questions you raise, you might enjoy reading Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (https://www.amazon.com/Death-Life-Great-American-Cities/dp/0...)


Suburbs full of cul-de-sacs are terrible places to grow up for children after the age of about 6. They’re invariably designed to be incredibly pedestrian-hostile, and usually also bicycle-hostile, so if you don’t drive a car, you either need to have your parents drive you everywhere, or you need to have every possible destination within a couple blocks.

Such an environment is stifling of children’s independence and community interaction.


When I was a kid I rode a bicycle.


I think the difference is, in a suburb a kid can safely ride a bicycle. That's great, if your goal is to ride. If your goal is to go to somewhere specific (movie theater? soccer game? swimming pool?), kid probably needs a ride in a car, because those places aren't within biking distance for a kid.


> doesn't talk about crime rates

While the article may have issues, I've not seen a compelling argument explaining lower suburban crime rates by their lower density instead of the huge unaddressed socioeconomic problems that in part drove suburbanization.


Yeah, suburbanization is a symptom of a failure of the social contract - people fleeing from terrible schools, crime, racial division, etc.

"A nice place to raise children" is a fairly transparent way of saying "a neighborhood with no black people," and they're not wrong: due to structural racism and America's unwillingness to deal with it's core issues, the white middle class really doesn't have another choice.

Are you going to pay 1 million+ to live on the Upper East Side, which has good schools? You can't afford that on 75k a year. You're going to move to PA and talk about how it's "for the yard."


Here we go again. When you say things like that, a casual reader might think you're implying that there are next to no middle class black people or, worse, that people are intentionally avoiding black people and not typical inner city crime. A neighborhood with no black people? Bollocks. Unless you can demonstrate struck Ural racism, as opposed to just stating it, your entire second paragraph seems specious.


*structural


I live in Davis CA (briefly) mentioned in the article and grew up in Pittsburgh PA. Pittsburgh PA placed in the top 10 worst cities to bike in, several times. The main problem is that the neighborhood streets don't go anywhere, they just feed you onto busy streets with speed limits of 35 mph and up, with minimal shoulders.

So even for a 7.5 mile commute you end on up fairly dangerous roads for bikes. On the bridges you have to choose between really dangerous and legal (no shoulder at all, with a big railing between you and sidewalk), and illegally using the sidewalk.

Things like a local school, grocery store, drug store, and even a pizza joint are often pretty far away. You have to skip several useless neighborhoods on a major thoroughfare to be able to shop.

In davis there's a large downtown section that's largely a grid, low speed limits, bike lanes, and reasonable shoulders. The surrounding neighborhoods often have a green belt, and when they don't there's pretty much always a reasonable parallel road to any major through fair. There's much more retail space mixed into the neighborhoods. There are schools, parks, drug stores, and restaurants spread around the city, not just downtown.

Pittsburgh does have a grid like downtown, but it's pretty much exclusively a business district, very few people actually live there. It seems fairly post apocalyptic after hours with no cars and no foot traffic, just the rats scurrying around.

Seems like all the best cities have mixed use zoning, large grids, and highly connected streets. This allows for biking, walking, and of course better public transportation while minimizing high speed vehicles mixing it up with bikes and pedestrians.


Pittsburgh's neighborhoods are also heavily segregated by geography. You really can't go more than maybe a mile being generous, ½mi more likely, without hitting a major elevation change. Additionally, we're starting to add better support for bikes; it's not super great, but it's getting a lot better than even 5 years ago.


Having lived in all different types of road patterns, the number once thing that increases safety is population density.

The lower the density, the safer, and the better for children. Everything is more pleasant, less noise, less wasted time, room for kids to play, less conflict with neighbors.

There's more driving, but I don't care, everything else is so much better it's worth it. And don't forget that even with the driving, everything takes less time.

So do it - design "for cars" if you want to call it that - you are really designing for the people inside the cars, and they will be much happier.

If that means a cul-de-sac ("dead end" as I've always called it) do it.


We've seen experiments globally where highly planned developments, and even 'projects' fail.

However I am unaware of any experiments, natural or otherwise, with systemic encouragement of desired development goals.

I see no environment in cities, suburbs, or rural areas where there is a strong vision and drive towards building community.


Seems like what you're describing is a planned community or also intentional community. The latter being more of focused on the community part and the former on the planning part. Washington DC is a planned community.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Planned_community https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_purpose-built_national...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Intentional_community https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_intentional_communitie...


> And don't forget that even with the driving, everything takes less time.

What do you mean by "take less time"?

My experience doesn't bare that out, but we might be thinking about very different things.

For context: I live in a fairly residential area now, where I drive to get groceries or to get food. I used to live in San Francisco, where I had four grocery stores and a whole bunch of restaurants and bars within four block.


Urban areas are great for children. When I was a kid I'd walk outside and go find a neighborhood kid, there was always at least one outside. Then we'd go to a park or do we random shit. There was just tons of kids around all the time, instant playmates. Kept ourselves entertained for hours.

We also had tons of places to go within walking distance and if we hopped on a bus the sky's the limit!

Safer? Motor vehicle crashes are the number one killer of children, the most dangerous everyday place for them is a moving vehicle.

Also stranger violence is rare.


Well, we are glad you feel safe, but the fact is that rates of violent injury is inversely related to population density. People think of it as a city problem, but in fact you are more likely to be shot, per capita, in sparsely populated areas. Violence is inversely correlated with population density.


Can you back that up? The first link I found disputed your contention: https://www.neighborhoodscout.com/ne/omaha/crime/

According to this site, Omaha is 2x as violent per capita then the rest of the state.


https://wisqars.cdc.gov:8443/cdcMapFramework/

All the data you could possibly want, but unfortunately no deep linking.


That doesn't quite prove your point. For example, compare and contrast violent crime on the map between Douglas County, Nebraska (Omaha) and Lancaster County (Lincoln). Douglas County has a far higher injury rate than Lancaster. Also, this link only covers injuries, and doesn't include non-injury crime. A lot of crime doesn't include an injury component.


> The lower the density, the safer, and the better for children. Everything is more pleasant, less noise, less wasted time, room for kids to play, less conflict with neighbors.

Maybe "better" for very small children. Once they start wanting some form of independence, early into their teens, kids hate the suburbs. There's little to do and most of their friends or any activities they want to engage in are far enough away that they require a parent's involvement to cart them around everywhere.

Technically, yeah, kids can play outside in their cul-de-sacs but whenever I drive through suburbia to visit my parents, I don't actually see it happening. Miles and miles of empty lawns, devoid of actual people.

> There's more driving, but I don't care, everything else is so much better it's worth it.

"Motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of death for children of every age from 2 to 14 years old (based on 2001 figures, which are the latest mortality data currently available from the National Center for Health Statistics)."[1]

That "more driving" you don't care about is killing children at a greater rate than any other cause.

> And don't forget that even with the driving, everything takes less time.

Based on my own experience (which may not mirror your own), that is comically untrue. The nearest grocery store to me is a 3 minute walk away. There are dozens of restaurants within a five block radius. The nearest park is one block away. Work is a 15 minute streetcar ride or bicycle ride away. Museums, nightlife, movie theaters, etc., are all about the same distance — 15 minutes by car or streetcar. Friends too are similarly close by.

You'd have to drive pretty fast to beat this.

> ...you are really designing for the people inside the cars, and they will be much happier.

You're right — studies show that people in the suburbs are happier.[2] That said, there are huge costs that suburbs impose to others that are currently being heavily subsidized.[3] Without these subsidies, I suspect we'd have an even greater migration from the suburbs into the cities than we're experiencing today.

[1] https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/... [2]: http://www.citylab.com/politics/2014/08/overall-americans-in... [3]: http://grist.org/cities/starving-the-cities-to-feed-the-subu...


The article somehow seems to conflate road layout with population density, peppered with some vague arguments in favour of high density building.

I agree that a lot of America's traffic problems are related to their low-density suburbs, and there are many arguments why these suburbs are not all that great. But that is completely seperate from road layouts: you can build a cul-de-sac with high-density buildings, add a few footpaths and get basically all the advantages listed.


I got exactly the same impression. The cul-de-sac per se isn't even addressed. Taking it as symbolic, the article's main argument for grid layouts seems to be little more than "everyone was doing it 100 years ago, and we found a handful of favorable correlations, so they must have been on to something".


Exactly, add a few footpaths to cul-de-sacs and you encourage walking/cycling while having low traffic noise. Works well in many European countries.


I'm going to repost a comment from citylab page:

This piece is lying or deceptive, depending on your perspective. The Roman Empire may have built cities on grids, but most major European cities are generally not on grids, at least not in the sense of American cities. Just have a look at London, Berlin, Paris, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome and many more. They are full little side streets that head off in unpredictable directions. They're not full of Cul-de-sacs, though, as most streets are not dead ends. But, don't pretend that the main alternative to cul-de-sacs is the American grid. Both are awful, compared to Paris! Without being an expert, I would guess that what makes European cities more enjoyable that American ones (they usually are!), is that they have many streets that are for pedestrians only - this makes for a much more enjoyable experience walking the city, and creates lots of wonderful spaces for restaurants and other venues to have outdoor seating.

- by wowsuchgoodpoint


The point isn't that streets are for pedestrians - the point is that the streets are not single-purpose.

The street I lived on in Stockholm had a life cycle like:

- 6am - early people head to work

- 8am - kids head to school

- 10am - parents with baby strollers pass by on their way to cafes

- 11am - first people show up for lunch at the square

- 12pm-2pm - bulk lunch traffic

- 4pm - people start coming back home

- 5pm - people going shopping down the street

- 6pm - shops start closing, shop keepers fiddling with their things

- 7pm - dinner guests start passing by on their way to the restaurants

- 11pm - last restaurant guests start heading home

Compare that to the cul-de-sac I now live on in the US:

- 6am - people start leaving, everyone drives

- 10am - all cars are gone at this point

- 5pm - people come home, all in cars

The difference here has nothing to do with grid or windy streets, it has to do with mixed use buildings and streets built to be used for multiple purposes.

The effect is quite substantial: In the Stockholm neighborhood, I always felt safe, always had neighbors going places on the street.

In my US neighborhood, the streets are almost always empty. No one has a reason to come here for most of the day. This is why the local PD posts a patrol car at our dead-end cul-de-sac every Saturday night, because otherwise people come out here to smoke pot, since there's never anyone around


And plazas, don't forget plazas. It's a beautiful thing to go to a local plaza, look around for a cafe and hang out with a light meal and some coffee for 3 or 4 hours and read a book and not get bothered. And then maybe meet up with a friend on the steps of the local church or whatever. Built well, plazas are fantastic public spaces.


I live in Edmonton, AB, and it somewhat follows a grid system. Although, a bunch of newer nieghborhoods have not continued to follow it. The roads all have numbers in a predictable pattern. This is very helpful for navigation, as just giving someone an address means they will probably be able to find it without consulting a map. Named streets automatically imply that I cannot find an address at all without a map. You can't even find out which general direction would be correct.


At some point while I was growing up, I found out that American streets were often numbered rather than (as is traditional in the UK) named. Then at some point, a few years later, I discovered that they weren't random, and were actually numbered in order... a possibility that had simply never occurred to me.


In Boulder, significant east-west streets are named alphabetically from south to north.


Worse yet - go to Calgary where they've named all the roads in a given neighborhood with the same name. E.g.: Eversyde Blvd, Eversyde Cir, Eversyde Manor, Eversyde St. It's insanity.

(Lived in Edmonton, Calgary, and now Lethbridge. Always fun to see another Albertan on here. :P )


As a former Calgarian I feel obligated to provide an example of this:

https://www.google.com/maps/place/Calgary,+AB,+Canada/@51.14...


Been to a few nieghborhoods in Calgary like that, I can definitely confirm.


I was going to say: "But what about the quadrant system?" until I took a look and saw that apparently all of Edmonton is in the NW quadrant. That's some great city planning.


When you get/send mail the NW is implied if you leave it off, although there are small brand new nieghborhoods in the SW quadrant now that the city is running out of room.


In Massachusetts both in suburb and city we have almost complete chaos.

I'm almost sure we do no have the "grid" nor "curvilinear" nor "cul-de-sac" (my house is older than all of those designs by ~130 years). What we have is streets that follow natural features (e.g. the Charles River).

The irony is Massachusetts despite its urban legend of having horrible drivers is one of the safest states to drive in [1] (there are many more references).

[1]: http://www.autoblog.com/2014/07/23/traffic-accident-death-od...


It seems like many states are known for having the worst drivers, while none are known for having the best


The states that have a distinctive "style" of driving, which isn't close to the "average" national style, are known for having bad drivers, by visitors who aren't yet comfortable with the local style.


The article claims cities should not be trees, but I don't think grids are better. I'm a big fan of Christopher Alexander's claim that successful cities are actually semilattices:

http://www.bp.ntu.edu.tw/wp-content/uploads/2011/12/06-Alexa...


Highly recommend http://www.strongtowns.org/ if you are interested in articles like this; still trying to explain to city councils over a hundred years after Ebenezer wrote "To-Morrow" (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Garden_city_movement) why he was horrifically wrong.

If you want to dive deeper into this, Jane Jacobs's "Death and Life of the Great American Cities" is an incredible and very approachable book on urban planning: https://www.amazon.com/Death-Life-Great-American-Cities/dp/0...


My work life for the past few years has been a constant effort to not work downtown. I don't want to live or work there. It is a miserable concrete hellscape. Dirty, unkempt, infested with beggars and other indigents. The concept of a legitimate grocery store is something that has not existed there for decades. This is all fine if you can survive off of craft beer, gourmet cupcakes, and takeaway for the rest of your life. But the city keeps making sweetheart tax deals for desirable employers. And I keep getting the news "We are moving the office downtown! Isn't that great!"

It's great for somebody, but not the average working stiff.


I've noticed over the years that Palo Alto's residential areas started with a grid system but moved towards a cul-de-sac by blocking off roads to cut off parts of the grid. The College Terrace area is particularly notable (likely because of its proximity to employment centers like Page Mill's corporate campuses and Stanford University), and I seem to recall the Old Palo Alto area having some road blocks as well (particularly the area directly south of Palo Alto High School).

It definitely makes the quality of life better for the residents while making commuters "pay more" so to speak. I wonder when these road blocks (which are visually pleasing with trees and pedestrian and cyclist permeable) came to be.


When self driving cars take over, Get ready for the revival of suburbia.

Whatever progress migration toward densely populated urban areas has made in recent year (due to traffic and high gas prices) is going to rescind.


I think you are right about that. Self-driving cars are going to lower the cost of trips and car ownership and I think that can only lead to more trips being made and cars being owned.

I can't wait to buy one.


Why buy one? Just use Uber or similar.


Because they are going to be very affordable (eventually) and it's nice to be able to leave stuff in your car. People already spend far more on cars than they need to and that's not likely to change.


Why would they possibly be cheaper than current human operated cars?


The cars will be mechanically simpler (electric motor connected to wheels without a traditional gearbox), require less maintenance (no oil changes), be cheaper to insure, and inexpensive to operate. The electronics and software will do what they always do - get better and less expensive. Lighter cars that don't crash (often) can be made from different (cheaper) materials than current cars. They will be similar to today's golf carts. I think a basic car will cost less than $10,000.

A lot of the same innovations that go into producing a self-driving car apply to the construction and repair of the car itself. One of the most expensive parts of a new car is paying for wages, benefits, and pensions for the people that made the car. I'm thinking self-driving cars will be built and serviced by other machines. I would bet that before long, you buy a car the same way you buy a cell phone. You subscribe to a plan and upgrade every 2-3 years. Maybe you would subscribe to a shared fleet for $50 / month or maybe you "buy" your own car for $250 / month.

This is all assuming a few years have passed and human driven cars are rare.


Car prices historically haven't done that. The typical inflation adjusted price for a car is the same as it was 100 years ago, as automation and technology improve manufacturers add features rather than lowering prices. Current cars are almost entirely built by robots as it is, not much more gains to be had there.


"Car prices historically haven't done that. " ... in the United States.

Let's take a cheap car from the 1960s, an Austin Mini Cooper.

A 1960s Mini Cooper was about 500 pounds. That's 10.000 pounds in today's money.

Today you can buy a Dacia Sandero for 6.000 pounds. That's almost half of a Mini Cooper.

http://www.thisismoney.co.uk/money/cars/article-2232885/Top-...


Or you could get a Mini Cooper today for around 16.000 pounds. In the 1960s you could get a Trabant for less than than the Mini too if you're comparing English vs Romanian cars.


The point I was trying to make is that "automation and technology" can lower prices.

The current Mini is nothing like the old Mini, it has billions of features more (exactly the point you were making in the original post I replied to).

I can't find any sources, but I strongly suspect that an inflation-adjusted Trabant would be much more expensive than a Dacia Sandero.

Edit: I found some sources which confirm my hunch. A Trabant would be 11.000 pounds today if bought at East Germany prices, and 5.500 pounds if bought at West Germany (subsidized) price. The same source says that the Mini destroyed the Trabant market, they competed at similar price points.

A Maruti 800, which would be a much better comparison to the 60s Mini or Trabant, should probably cost about 4000 pounds in the U.K.

Source for Trabant prices:

http://heinkelscooter.blogspot.com.uy/2014/01/trabant-east-g...


I travel a lot out of town.


Cul-de-Sac hase one enormous advantage - Google and Waze will not be able to send tons of traffic through your little street.


Simple, if you put in a huge section of housing without services in walking or good mass transit distance, people will be forced to drive there. Thus negating advantages of the cul de sac while making the congestion much worse.

Fixing means a return to mixed developments, but you can still keep the cul de sac structure.

Another broken thing recently appearing is gated "communities" adding impassable terrain to the landscape.


These things always devolve into a shouting match between the planners and people who value solitude or a big yard. I agree with the anti-density folks on one thing: big yards are awesome, larger houses are very useful, and I want my kids to feel safe on my street, and I find it hilarious that planners have so little humility--they curse the foolishness of the previous generation of planners, who overlooked some very important details, and then proceed to lay out their broad-brushed scheme for utopia. What could possibly go wrong?

But I'm convinced of the following: driving has huge costs that are not internalized as part of the decision-making process about whether to drive somewhere or not. E.g.:

- driving presents a large risk to pedestrians or bicyclists nearby

- driving requires a large amount of incredibly expensive infrastructure to be custom-built to support it

- driving down a street makes that street a less pleasant place to be, in general, due to noise, perceived risk, etc.

- driving causes congestion, which delays other drivers

- pollution and environmental costs

So if people actually paid the full cost of their trips, they'd probably drive less, and would be much less likely to plan their lives in ways that require large amounts of driving. For some people, the benefits would be worth the costs, and more power to them--but I shouldn't have to subsidize that choice.

I wish the debate could be less about what type of lifestyle we prefer, and more about how to fairly distribute the costs of our choices.


No one pays the full cost of their trips. Transit users are subsidized. Pedestrians and cyclists are subsidized as they pay nothing at all for their infrastructure. Plus, every "drivers are subsidized" argument ignores the fact that drivers shoulder the entire capital and operating expense of their vehicles--a cost borne entirely by governments for transit. Even transit systems with high fare box recovery rates do not come close to paying even one penny of _any_ of their capital expense, whether for guideways or for vehicles.


Pedestrians and cyclists are subsidized as they pay nothing at all for their infrastructure.

Comparisons across many orders of magnitude are not insightful. Pedestrians and cyclists can travel over unimproved ground, or gravel if they're being picky. Any road that currently serves automobiles could serve the same number of drivers as pedestrians and cyclists for centuries with no maintenance.


The article did not discuss the advantages that my cat(s) obtain from not being crushed beneath the wheels of passing traffic on a more regular basis. [note to purists: "our cats" are kept strictly inside, but there are stray cats that we feed, and have survived for many years without auto crushing on a cul-de-sac].




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