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December 09, 2009


A Facebook User

The link you have to "The Cul-de-sac Safety Myth" goes on an on about how Cul-de-sac Safety is a Myth but never gets around to supporting that assertion. What evidence is there that Cul-de-sacs are no safer than grid streets?

John Michlig

The title claims that the cul-de-sac safety assumption was/is just that: an assumption. The article asserts that no evidence exists to show some sort of increased safety on a cul-de-sac.

To wit:

"The belief that cul-de-sac street networks are safer than the alternatives is a myth in the sense that it was advocated without a demonstration that such networks were safer. There was also no recognition by advocates of cul-de-sacs for safety reasons about how cul-de-sac networks would work in reality, after they emerged in the ad hoc, incremental land development processes that dominate land development practices. The absence of empirical and theoretical justification for cul-de-sac-based networks continues to the present. There are some conceptual reasons to believe that cul-de-sac networks actually may be more dangerous, or at least as dangerous, as grid networks and other modified grid street patterns, which emphasize connections among streets that facilitate vehicular and pedestrian access for residents in every direction.

"The gridiron street pattern of rectangular or square blocks in which streets are aligned at right angles was claimed as far back as the 1920s to be the most dangerous street pattern. The antigrid argument had taken root by the 1930s among many experts. Then it was incorporated into federal housing guidelines and other sources of official influence. After World War II, the belief that cul-de-sac street networks were safer and settings for sounder housing investments became the conventional wisdom."

From another article:

Lucy says safety has always been a big selling point for cul-de-sacs. From the beginning, builders noted that they gave fire trucks extra room to turn around, and that they prevented strange cars from speeding by on their way to somewhere else. Ads for cul-de-sacs often pictured children riding bikes and tricycles in the street.

These days, those images seem grimly ironic to people who actually look at safety statistics. For example, Lucy says cul-de-sac communities turn out to have some of the highest rates of traffic accidents involving young children.

"The actual research about injuries and deaths to small children under five is that the main cause of death is being backed over, not being driven over forward," he says. "And it would be expected that the main people doing the backing over would in fact be family members, usually the parents."

Armed with such arguments, critics of the cul-de-sac have won some victories in recent years. In cities such as Charlotte, N.C., Portland, Ore., and Austin, Texas, construction of cul-de-sac-based suburbs has basically been banned. In other places, cul-de-sac communities have been retrofitted with cross streets.


Having grown up on a cul-de-sac in Franklin, I really enjoyed this.

The pic of the mailbox was apt. Our family's was jury rigged with pipe in an huge, winged L-shape so that it wouldn't get buried/demolished during snow season. Uglist mailbox ever, but everyone else's always got crushed - every year.

I live downtown now, but the memories of the cul-de-sac were great. I rode my big wheel round and round, and loved to jump the curb into our driveway.

At the same time, I wouldn't dream of moving back. I know now how dull cul-de-sacs are and isolated from the real world.


Cul-de-sac's to increase connectively (something you never prove in your post) among the neighbors on the cul-de-sac. While the streets are less connected, neighbors tend to be closer on cul-de-sac's especially if there are families with children.

Michael Horne

I so wish folks would use "culs-de-sac" as the proper plural of this hideous phenomenon.
Thank you.
Michael Horne

John Michlig

Michael Horne - With all due respect, the strictly correct plural is indeed "culs-de-sac." However, the (arguably) accepted colloquialism is "cul-de-sacs." For instance, the book SUBURBAN NATION uses the colloquialism, and its author, Andres Duany, is a smart cosmopolitan dude.

Nick - you want to reel in that undocumented "tend to be close" comment before it gets eviscerated with pesky facts?

Jarrett at HumanTransit.org

Excellent. Even without snow, cul-de-sacs are a powerful metaphor for anti-urban design at all scales. For my perspective as a transit planner, see here:


Los Angeles SEO

The intricate, time-and-fuel-consuming snowplow ballet that is required in order to clear the huge circle of non-permeable surface created by cul-de-sacs.

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