Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Can a place progress from Dead-End-Ville to Connectivity City? It's tough reports that the town of Cornelius in north Mecklenburg is proposing connecting a neighborhood street, Floral Lane, to Statesville Road (U.S. 21).

One of the most politically fraught decisions any elected or government staff officials can make is to connect streets that used to be dead-ends. It's easy to understand why residents protest, as the Floral Lane residents are doing.

The first house I bought was on a dead-end block in Charlotte's Chantilly neighborhood, where my street ended at Briar Creek. I liked the lack of traffic on the street, with only residents and their guests traveling in front of the house. I felt my cats were safe to go outside there. People who live on cul-de-sacs have the same welcome lack of cars going past.

But when a whole city is overloaded with dead-ends and cul-de-sacs, that sends huge numbers of cars onto the few streets that do connect. The result: far more congestion than you'd otherwise have.

Consider Providence Road in south Charlotte. It's horrifically congested, especially the farther you get from uptown. One reason is that all the vehicles heading from south Charlotte towards uptown have to travel on comparatively few thoroughfares, because south of Myers Park and Eastover, the neighborhood streets don't connect to any other neighborhoods. If the same number of vehicles that clog Providence Road daily were spread through dozens of interconnected streets, rather than all jamming Providence Road, the congestion problem would ease considerably.

But how does a town or city progress from Dead-End-Ville to Connectivity City? That's the hard part. If you simply open one new street connection, that street will absorb far more than its share of the traffic. What to do?

I've said for years that Charlotte (and I'd add Cornelius and other cul-de-sac landscapes to this statement) needs to connect dozens and dozens more streets to each other. But whenever the city does that, it owes the residents of those streets the ability to co-exist with more traffic. That means building sidewalks, crosswalks - signalized if necessary - and installing traffic calming devices like humps or roundabouts.

Connect the streets, but build the necessary infrastructure so that people can live with the cars. It's not rocket science. It's just more expensive.


Anonymous said...

Consider Pecan and Bascom in your old Chantilly neighborhood. Since these are literally the only options, the trade-off of all those quiet dead-ends along the creek is more traffic on Bascom, and especially Pecan.

Mary Newsom said...

Dear anonymous: Great example. When I lived there, Bascom, Hanover and Pecan all intersected Independence Boulevard, You could get across Indy at Bascom (though with fear in your heart) and at Morningside and Pecan with traffic signals. The freeway-i-zation of Indy Blvd. helped commuters but not connectivity in Chantilly. That said, though, the aesthetic improvement probably helped revitalize both Chantilly and Plaza-Central. PS - there's a foot-bridge bridge across the creek at the end of Bay Street, I think.

Jacob Lynn said...

I saw this post on Streetsblog. I used to be a fan of street grids -- connectivity good, cul-de-sac bad. Grids make routes direct and no longer than they need to be, while keeping traffic from saturating arterial roads. The downsides, however, are obvious: residential blocks are used as high speed cut-throughs. This makes it uncomfortable to allow cats (or children) outside.

I now think a far better policy than turning cul-de-sacs into through routes for cars is to turn cul-de-sacs into through routes for bikes and pedestrians. See this neighborhood in Assen, NL for an illustration of what I mean:,+The+Netherlands/@53.0170345,6.5600857,16z/data=!4m2!3m1!1s0x47c824c1cf7ae1b1:0xc350e413be5175c3

Making bike routes more direct than car routes is a huge thumb on the scales encouraging bike use. And the people who switch to bikes for local trips would help reduce traffic on the saturated arterials. Optimally, this change would go along with smarter land use policies that encourage schools and neighborhood-serving retail in and near residential areas (also illustrated in the Assen example).

Jan P said...

What bugs me is why would the city of Charlotte continue to allow many more dead-end roads to be added? Especially in areas where there is major growth going on where traffic is only expected to increase
@JacobLynn I like the idea of making bike routes.... adding a benefit for those who are not adding to congestion, smog etc!!

Mary Newsom said...

The following is from John Huson, who emailed his comment:
"The reason that we build so many cul-de-sacs is because neighborhoods/people like them. They provide quiet safe streets and a sense of neighborhood. I guess that's why on neighborhood through-streets they lobby the city to install traffic calmers to inhibit traffic flow. Maybe that's why they call the through streets thoroughfares.
Another plus is that they much better accommodate the existing topography and thus reduce grading and save trees."

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