Monday, March 23, 2009

Virginia goes with connected streets

Virginia has changed the rules.

The state of Virginia has declared that henceforth all new subdivision streets will connect to some other street. That means no more cul-de-sacs, no more dead end stubs with out possibility of extending further and more ways of getting through in case of emergency. What have they been smoking/drinking/taking to have come up with this?

Apparently, they have taken a good long look at how increasingly expensive it is to provide services to those residents of the suburban standard, the cul-de-sac. All those courts and stub streets that seem to define the idea of suburbia. Developers and Realtors say that they love them(why not, they can mark them up by 10%) and residents say that they love them(safety, security and a sense of neighborhood), but once they exist, all those who have to provide services there find them a nuisance.

First off there are the daily and weekly providers, like the postman and newscarriers. They have to maneuver their cars and trucks into and out of each and every individual cul-de-sac, each and every day, regardless of the condition of the street. If there are cars parked in the street instead of the driveway, that just makes it worse. The other weekly folk are the friendly people from Solid Waste. You know them as the garbage, trash and recycling folks. They ahve the larger trucks and the need to maneuver in larger spaces. They lately have been trucks designed to operated by a single driver/operator, but they don't work very well in courts filled with autos and basketball goals.

Next, there are the occasional service providers. Those who come on an as needed basis. The utility repairman or the moving company. These guy have even larger trucks and I wonder how we would feel if they charged extra for every turn that they had to make off of a truly connecting street.

Lastly, we have the first responders of public safety. They have the really big trucks and the need to be where they are going quickly. For every street name on all the cul-de-sacs and stub streets it is just more directions that they need to know. Even with computer aided dispatch, these names need to be filtered through and correct match displayed. Add on top of that the increased response time to reach an emergengy that they can see but not reach by the shortest distance. Many times the 200-300' distance between two courts ( if connected) would save precious minutes and seconds in fighting a fire or saving a life. The response time problem also means that there have to be more fire stations, as the goal of every department is to continually decrease the response time. Police have a similar but slightly different need as it takes more vehicles to cover all the cul-de-sacs in a particular area simultaniously.

I once had a discussion with a gentleman who had come in to protest the extension of his street, across a short stretch to connect with a major highway. The distance could not have been more than 500' and he just couldn't see why the connection was so necessary. His first contention was that the connection would increase the traffic in front of his house and be used as a "cut-thru by everyone". Now, this neighborhood currently had two entrances/exits to collector roads and this would add a third. I explained that this would add to his street, but would decrease his "cutting thru" in front of his neighbors property and proportionally decreasing the traffic for all the neighborhood.

"But the kids roller skate and play basketball in the street here" he countered. "So, you teach your children to play in the street? I asked. "Certainly not." came the retort, then realizing that by not preventing them, he was teaching them to play in the street. "Where are they supposed to play?" How about in the yard, and if you are not comfortable about the street , then the back yard.

I had it easy. I had a big back yard and a major city park across the street. Every street for blocks around were connecting streets save one and it ended in the park. Somewhat constant traffic but no high speed traffic and parents had no fear of kids playing in the front yards.

The State of Virginia has the right idea. For every inconvenience for the residents of the cul-de-sac suburbs and having to travel out for even the most minor task, the inconvenience is multiplied on all citizens, in increased costs of time, fuel, manpower and benefits needed to provide for the services to those residents. Even the engineering and planning fields have recognized that two way connected streets are safer than the suburban cul-de-sac sprawl.

Thanks, Virginia for getting the ball rolling.


topazsfp said...

I never even thought about it, but it makes perfect sense when you explain the reasoning behind it.

Sherman Cahal said...

About time! With residential units already producing little in tax value in comparison to commercial or industrial ventures, adding unnecessary trips via cul-de-sacs only exaggerates and compounds the issue of providing basic services to the households. There is an excellent article you would like regarding sprawl that was in the National Geographic several years ago that focused on Warren County, Ohio (north of Cincinnati), and Cary, North Carolina, that makes many of the same points that you did in this post.