Your Cul-de-Sac Is Bad For You

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A recent study suggests that living on a cul-de-sac can be hazardous to your health. Research conducted by Lawrence Frank at the University of British Columbia shows that lowering a neighborhood’s walkability increases the use of automobiles and, therefore, raises the air pollution and body mass index per capita.

That’s right.  Your cul-de-sac is making you fat.

“The type of a roadway network (e.g. grid vs. cul-de-sac) used in a new subdivision will affect the number of buildable lots or the amount of money required to complete the project,” Frank said in the report, “but will also affect the ability for the future inhabitants to walk to shopping, recreational opportunities or employment.”

Frank’s allegations aren’t exactly new. Earlier research conducted by the Charlotte, N.C., Department of Transportation and the University of Connecticut's Center for Transportation and Urban Planning supports the idea that dead-end streets interfere negatively with motor and foot traffic.

The central themes within the reports are that the lack of interconnectedness within a neighborhood forces cars onto arterial roadways and prevents residents from walking anywhere.

This influx of negative press hasn’t been without consequences.  Late last year, Virginia passed a law that limits the amount of culs-de-sac that can be built in its new developments.

The law stipulates that neighborhoods must maintain a certain level of connectivity, meaning there needs to be plenty of through streets linking residential and commercial areas. A subdivision that violates the new law is not provided with road maintenance or snow plow services.

Virginia’s motives, specifically, weren’t exactly altruistic. The law was intended to relieve budgetary strains. Through streets are cheaper to maintain and clogging arterial streets with excessive traffic usually leads to expensive road repair.

Prior the Virginia law, cities such Portland, Ore., Austin, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C., had instituted similar regulations in an attempt to save some money.

Of course, where there’s a demand, there will also be a supply and suburbanites have always found culs-de-sac attractive, mostly for the low noise levels, minimal traffic congestion and implied safety benefits. Ultimately, it’ll be up to homeowners to decide if a move is in order.

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