Cul-de-sacs, roads and more

I have been meaning to write about this article in the WSJ concerning the planning perils of cul-de-sacs; I started a post on the 5th and then Jonathan Miller at Matrix beat me to it. For some local context, read Charlottesville Tomorrow’s post last year.

For many families, cul-de-sac living represents the epitome of suburban bliss: a traffic-free play zone for children, a ready roster of neighbors with extra gas for the lawnmower and a communal gathering space for sharing gin and tonics. But thanks to a growing chorus of critics, ranging from city planners and traffic engineers to snowplow drivers, hundreds of local governments … have passed zoning ordinances to limit cul-de-sacs or even ban them in the future.

For all the criticism aimed at them, cul-de-sacs do seem to have one last defender: the free market.

In short, planners don’t like them, but the buyers do. Where does one find the compromise?

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  1. Ray Hyde June 8, 2006 at 14:57

    I wonder how many planners live on cul-de sacs?

  2. JF June 9, 2006 at 16:55

    “In short, planners don’t like them, but the buyers do.”….this should read “planners don’t like them, but DEVELOPERS do.”

    Homebuyers don’t seem to have a choice. There isn’t a large development in Albemarle that isn’t dominated by cul-de-sacs. It’s funny how developers claim that by building them, they’re only responding to market demand for cul-de-sacs… wonder….there’s nothing else to choose from! Jim, this logic is so rediculously self-fulfilling, it’s comical….

  3. Jim Duncan June 9, 2006 at 17:04

    JF –

    I have to agree with you to a certain degree regarding the circuitous logic of it all. A clear majority of my clients would rather live on a cul-de-sac than not – for all the reasons highlighted above. So long as those properties with the cul-de-sac location bring more than those not on cul-de-sacs, then there will be a premium for those properties.

    Developers will build what they can sell (the last 5 years being somewhat of an exception). If nobody was buying them, logic dictates that developers would change their product.

  4. UVA08 June 12, 2006 at 08:53

    Speaking of development…. there appears to be some movement over at the Albemarle Place site. I notice them clearing trees today on the way to work. Have they been approved yet? or just very close? I guess to be on topic it will be a development that lacks the traditional suburban cul de sac

  5. JF June 12, 2006 at 10:34

    I understand your point about your clients prefering cul-de-sacs but, I would wager that city/non-cul-de-sac neighborhoods have increased in value faster and more than cul-de-sac neighborhoods in this area. The fact remains that developers have not provided buyers of new (or relatively new) homes a choice. Claiming that a preference for cul-de-sacs has been expressed by consumers when only cul-de-sacs are offered is no different than having a taste test between Coke and Coke and then claiming that people prefer Coke. Your point that “if nobody buys them…developers would change their product,” is also a bit disingenuous. Where else is a family going to live when they don’t have a choice…?

  6. Ray Hyde June 13, 2006 at 11:14

    I seem to recall seeing somewhere that a cul-de-sac layout can enerates more lots in a development for the same street area than a grid. Anybody know if this is true? It seems to make sense. You get three or four houses around the end of the circle where you would otherwise have an intesection.

  7. JF June 13, 2006 at 12:20

    I don’t think that’s true. Generally speaking cul-de-sac developments have larger lots, from 1/2 acre to 2+ acres in size. I live in a grid layout neighborhood (Belmont), and most of the lots on my block are roughly 1/10th of an acre…..So, from a sheer land efficiency standpoint, a gridded street layout makes more sense.