Tuesday, May 12, 2009

cul-de-sacs: the enemy?

Are cul-de-sacs killing the planet? That's what this video from filmmaker John Paget says. Anyone who lives in East County, especially in the cul-de-sac-laced subdivisions along Route 29, appreciates the difficulty of getting around when none of our streets connect to each other.

I think "New Urbanism" has become a dirty word - if only because so-called "New Urban" projects like the Downtown Silver Spring redevelopment really just piggyback on the existing urbanism that Silver Spring has (i.e., gridded streets, public transportation, density of homes/shops/offices, ease in walking around.) But it's in fact true that Downtown and its surrounding neighborhoods - East Silver Spring, the Woodsides - have a smaller carbon footprint than their counterparts in White Oak, Fairland or Burtonsville because you can do more without a car, and you can do more without a car because the streets actually connect to each other.

Keep an eye out for drawings/photos of real-life projects in this area, including King Farm and Rockville Town Square, both in Rockville, and the redevelopment of the area around Columbia Heights Metro in the District.

[Thanks to Mike Lydon at Planetizen for the heads-up.]

1 comment:

Thomas Hardman said...

I love the quote from the classic film "the 'Burbs", where a baffled trash collector tells his partner: "I hate cul-de-sacs. There's only one way in and out, and the people can get really weird".

Tom Hanks -- to whom I supposedly bear an uncanny resemblance -- is reported to have remarked "What's so bizarrely interesting about this black psychocomedy is that the stuff that goes on in real life in a regular neighborhood will make your hair stand up on the back of your neck.".

Yet there are arguments both for and against connecting cul-de-sacs.

One local and myself have had considerable discussions on the matter of an unsolved murder in the area. If seems there was at least one serial killer operating in the greater Washington DC Region in the timeframe of the mid-1970s, and analyzing a timeline of the evening of the murder seems to indicate that either the victim or the murderer(s) or all of the above may have used pedestrian "cut throughs" to avoid being observed or noticed. Indeed, kids jumping backyard fences from one side of town to another is a very old story. But would it have made any difference if the cul-de-sac "cut throughs" had been usable by vehicle or bike?

In the modern day, much discussion in the crime-plagued eastern part of Aspen Hill involved whether it was more appropriate to contribute to the geographical isolation characteristics by improving and adding fencing between a lot of condo/apartment communities in the vicinity of Bel Pre Road and Connecticut and Georgia Avenues, in the so-called "triangle". On one side of the debate we had the pedestrian-safety argument, and on the other side, the "controllable/patrollable routes" side of the argument.

The side that was was the side in favor of fencing, since the police couldn't afford the manpower to have an officer controlling any central pedestrian passthrough; they liked the idea that each of these communities was a cul-de-sac with only a few entrances which were located mostly on major throughfares. They preferred that people who might be neighbors other than but for the fence between them would have to walk a mile out of their way rather than walk fifty yards. Considering the level of crime and drug trafficking there, I can't say I blame them for taking this position. The real stickler problem was that they could not open both pedestrian and vehicular passages, so if they were in pursuit they would have had to get out of their patrol cars and pursue on foot, generally not the desired approach. Indeed, since the fences have been erected and reinforced, there has been significant decrease in crime.