The End of the Cul-de-Sac

When I started studying New Urbanism some 9 or 10 years ago, I think I was shocked to find that there were really good reasons not to do the things that seem so obvious to us.

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1) Wide Roads are safer than narrow roads. Of Course this is true. After all, there is far less chance of hitting something if you have plenty of space to drive.

2) Cul-de-sacs are safer. Another no brainer. After all, no one drives down a cul-de-sac if they don’t need to be somewhere at the end of the road. Less traffic = less accidents. Further, dead end roads mean that robbers won’t dare to try and target you, as they have no where to go.

Well, both of these statements are actually false, and now Virginia is leading the way to correct and change the way developers build. Statistics show that wide roads are far more dangerous, as drivers become complacent. Roads that have unexpected stops and curves (such as our Park Street after “traffic calming measures” were installed) cause drivers to slow down, and thus drive more carefully. Wide roads, even when in subdivisions lined with homes and kids playing, promote excessive speed.
As for cul-de-sacs, they cause more damage than they prevent. First off, rescue vehicles take far more time (and expense) to navigate neighborhoods full of cul-de-sacs. They increase distances between two points thus increasing the number of vehicle miles driven, and the decreasing the likelyhood that people will walk from point to point.

Well, Tim Kaine and the Virginia Legislature has done something about it. Check out the full report if you can’t fall asleep tonight. (It can also be accessed on my Report Download Page.) Finding ways to enforce powers not granted to legislative bodies has been a pastime for both our national and state governing bodies for decades, and this is no exception. The Federal Governement can’t dictate state drinking ages, so it instead refuses to give out Federal Highway Funds to any state not cooperating with their “recommendations.” The State can’t impose development guidelines, so instead it offers these recommendations to developers. The punishment for non-compliance is that the roads within the subdivision will not be accepted by VDOT for ongoing maintenance. Too expensive? Yup… Developers will take note.

The new regulations don’t outlaw cul-de-sacs, but they do create pretty substantial penalties for not connecting to nearby neighborhoods. Devotees of New Urbanism will applaud these actions. For a generation, the goal has been to live at the end of the cul-de-sac with minimal traffic so your children can play outdoors. The new goal will be to create neighborhoods where once again, children can ride their bikes to school without having to venture out onto a major artery.

The new regulations only affect urban and suburban areas, and to differing degrees, but the direction this is clearly taking is outstanding. Create a network of streets that allow pedestrians younger and older to walk and ride bikes where they need to go. I can’t wait to see this taking shape.

Cars that Tweet

I love stupid TV shows. You know, the kind that attempt to impart some info, but are really purely informational entertainment. Well, one of my favorites in this category is Top Gear. Three brits talking about cars, but nothing you ever really need to know about cars, and certainly not about cars you would ever buy. These guys drive SUVs with huge wheels and nitro boost engines across lakes without sinking. They launch Mini Coopers off ski jumps. The test drive Toyota wheelchairs that go 20 MPH and send out Tweets to other wheelchairs about where they are going.

Wait a second. What was that? Wheelchairs that tweet? Interesting glimpse into our future. Toyota calls it a iWheel and it is cool… and it is coming… in 2010.


(Note: While typing this post, I found 3 sites that had the Top Gear clip on-line. By the time I finished the post, all three had been removed for Copyright infringement. These guys are good.)

The iWheel is a comfortable Segway. Kick back in your chair and go all over town, indoors and out. But, what makes this different is that it is a socially networked scooter / chair / car thingy. When you want coffee, it calls out to all the other iWheels in town and says its going for coffee, and invites them to join you. I suppose it will be easy to determine who sent out this Tweet as its unlikely that there will be more than one iWheel at Greenberry’s at Barracks Road in Charlottesville at any one time in the near future.

Anyway, if you wondered if TwitterBerry could fit on other devices than the BlackBerry, now we know. It absolutely can. Your car is going to tell the world what you are doing. Scary, but oh so cool.

Choosing a Home for Safety Sake

Originally Published February 2, 2009

Most of my clients will at one time or another (usually early on in the buying process) will ask me if a neighborhood is safe. It’s that wonderful Realtor Trick question we are not allowed to answer. Rather than tell them yes or no, I direct them to web sites that have stats on crime, stats on the child predators, and more. But I have never thought to provide them with stats on teen fatalities behind the wheel. Well, a UVa professor, William H. Lucy, thought to ask that question, and what he found is that driving through the Country is far more likely to lead to death than is living in the center of an urban area with high crime. Read on.

I always give out this crime site and this sexual predator site as places to start your search into crime. Now, I will give out this article as well.

I grew up in the City of Richmond. Just about a mile from the Carrilon, Byrd Park, the Boulevard and other areas that at the time had shady reputations. And yet, none of my friends ever got shot. I don’t think any of them ever got mugged in Richmond either.

However, in my small private school, we buried four students in four years as the result of car accidents. In addition to that four year period, my senior year, we buried one of my dearest friends, who died on a country road, along with her best friend. The year after I graduated, four students from my high school, in two separate cars, heading in opposite directions, hit one another, killing two.

So, the question is: where is the safest place to live? I suppose people think of safety as being criminal. You don’t want to be mugged. Traffic accidents are things you can control. But maybe not as much as we would like to.

This article by William H. Lucy, a UVa professor of urban and environmental planning, looks at the number of deaths in a county or city from car accidents and homicides and comes up with a very different take on safety.  This study does not state that we should put our families in harm’s way inside dangerous neighborhoods, but it does raise the issue of safety on roads. While I don’t think this trumps all other considerations for buying a home, it should at least play a role.

Over the years, one thing has remained the same — “outer metropolitan counties” are the most dangerous places to live, Lucy said. Rural roads simply prove more dangerous than more heavily traveled roads in more densely populated areas, according to Lucy. “Generally where there’s more traffic, there are fewer deaths,” Lucy said, noting that drivers in more urban areas go slower and pay more attention. Albemarle Sgt. Peter Mainzer Jr. said one of several fatal accident causes is inattention. Charlottesville has consistently been one of the safest places in Virginia, according to the study.

Greene, aside from a relatively low death rate in the 1993-97 study, has consistently remained one of the most dangerous places to live, Lucy said. The ranking surprised Maj. Randall Snead of the Greene County Sheriff’s Office.
Snead said there has been one homicide in the county in the last three years, and he found it hard to believe that so many people have died on Greene roads. Lucy said Greene officials didn’t believe it back in 1993, when the county’s death rate peaked at 47, but then they checked the traffic statistics and saw the study was right. The professor uses statistics from the Virginia Department of Transportation and the state police.

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