A Fix for Bad Roads: Don’t Make More

Matt Yglesias linked to this Streetsblog interview with John Norquist (this is a great one, read the whole thing if you can) about efforts on the Federal level to improve road planning. Both pieces are very interesting, Norquist knows what good roads are and Matt Yglesias understands what good policy is. They also both include this graphic, from here.

Street comparison, from Congress for New Urbanism

Street comparison, from Congress for New Urbanism

It’s clear that in the first image, you can’t cheaply build effective bus service for all residents of the culs-de-sac: no one bus stop can serve all culs-de-sac, and if you build many bus stops, the service slows and the bus becomes a poor alternative to driving. What may not be as obvious at first glance is the hidden costs of the roads pictured in the for image for local governments. Those culs-de-sac roads go no where, and therefore dump all drivers and pedestrians onto major arterials. Short trips like the one above can no longer be easily made on foot, and then even more cars are pushed onto the arterials. Those arterials become more congested and require more maintenance, more traffic mitigation infrastructure and the occasional widening project.  Other hidden costs are the problems ambulances would have getting out of the culs-de-sac, and the costs of salting and paving these semi-private roads.So that second image is better not just for pedestrians, it’s also better for cars and much better for taxpayers.

Yglesias rightly points out that the place to make changes in the rules that allow for the creation of these “bad” roads is in the state or local level. Well, Virginia has made a huge move here, stating that it will only provide maintenance services for roads in new sub-divisions that meet new guidelines for narrower roads and more connections to the larger road grid. For the state of Virginia, it has become too expensive to continue widening and the maintaining the major arterials and has developed a “connectivity index” framework for judging whether a new development will get maintenance help from the state or not. Virginia will not only refuse to fix pot holes on new roads that don’t fit within their system, they will refuse to plow those roads for snow. The Greater Great Washington post linked to has details on the specifics.

Personally, I’d be happy if no new exurban developments whatsoever were started in Washington State, but I know that’s not realistic. We need to find a similar street-design framework for Washington State that encourages or requires new subdivision developers to build roads that connect commuters and are accessible by bicycle and pedestrian traffic as well as cars. Of course NIMBYs and developers will complain, but that’s their job, and we’ve done it their way long enough. If a relatively conservative state such as Virginia can pass legislation like this, we can do it in Washington, too.  It wont be easy, considering that even the Democratic leadership in Olympia is beholden to the irrational subdivision developer group the BIAW, but with the state look at an ever widening deficit, the time may be right to pass progressive transportation legislation that saves the taxpayers, and their local governments, money.

Comments

  1. John says

    So how do we go back and fix the decades-long collection of existing development that looks like the picture on the left?

    One thought: Suburban cities should adopt a policy that says each year they connect two cul-de-sacs with each other via bike/pedestrian facilities. Small cost, small initial benefit. But if you look at what Kirkland’s done over the years, gradually shifting the focus has enormous benefits for the long term, and the network value increases with each connected node.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I think we can address that when we come to it – for now, the issue is not building more of them.

  2. says

    The number that is missing from this piece is the relative proportion of land dedicated to roads in each of these examples. As a visual guesstimate, let’s say 25% more for the fully gridded option.

    There is a quick pedestrian fix to the cul-de-sac problem and that is between lot trails taking relatively small portions of property. As a practical matter of neighborhood politics this is easier said then done, but FWIW, a group that could do it would be a place I’d find attractive.

    There are certainly cases of too large cul-de-sac tracts where you spend as much time lost as in driving around the grid, but at the scale presented here I’m not convinced.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      The grid streets don’t have the large cul-de-sacs, and the grid streets can be much narrower. The amount of pavement is a wash.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Exactly, many of these cul-de-sac developments have extremely wide streets for the traffic on the order of a city arterial with parking on both sides, two travel lanes, and a center turn lane. Inside these developments the wide streets with no cars parked along them encourage speeding.

        With a grid system there is nothing that says you have to have the maximum number of streets in each direction. It is easy enough to have streets every block (roughly the depth of 2 lots) in one direction and say every 5 in the other.

    • Gary says

      And the added road surface have the disadvantage of creating more stream runoff impacting salmon etc.

      I’m all for connecting cul-de-sac’s with bicycle/footpaths, I’m not for having all the through roads for cars. The reason developers favor cul-de-sac’s is because those properties sell better, which means regular people, unlike transit wonks, like to live on quiet streets. Which means if you grid the streets, you need to add lots of traffic calming amenities, like speed bumps and jogs in the road, as well as narrow the roads with only one side for parking etc.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Houses in walkable communities with gridded streets sell for much more than houses on cul-de-sacs. Suburban street systems were an engineered solution to automotive travel that has failed. The reason they’re repeated over and over is because it’s what developers are used to and what modern codes all but require.

        Check out the book Suburban Nation, available at the library. It’s filled with detailed discussion of the issues involved between the two models.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        So don’t make the through roads for cars – or make them very narrow, so they lend themselves to pedestrians and bicycles. Complete streets, minus the cars, would be fine for half of these. Use permeable surfaces.

        And hold on here about road surface.

        When we’re looking at these maps, the left map holds half or fewer people than the right map. You can’t compare a 1km*1km square and say “well, this one has more road surface, and this one has less” – coming from that angle will make you prefer options that have the lowest impact per unit area, meaning the *lowest density* and the most sprawl.

        Look at this per population, and even if eyeballing a map shows you more roads, it’s fewer roads per person. It represents less total runoff, because you’re housing more people in that smaller area.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Inside those suburban developments unless you are someone who is lucky enough to live near the end of one of the cul-de-sacs you find people tend to speed through the development due to the wide empty streets. If you are unlucky enough to live near one of the entrances you have everyone in the development speeding by your house at highway speeds.

        If people really want the cul-de-sacs fine, but they need to pay the extra costs of road maintenance, school bus service, garbage service, policing, and fire service.

  3. Chaz says

    Being from Virginia myself I can add a little to the discussion. Part of the reason for this shift and the result thus far is that housing size goes down and density up. That is, those pictures aren’t complete without taking into account this change. In norther VA developers are building on ever smaller plots smaller homes which evens out the road to house ratio. And that is what is important, not the percentage of land used for roads.

    As for VA being conservative, it is, but VA dems have gotten great at selling things to conservatives.

  4. chriswnw says

    How about a compromise? I wouldn’t mind the version on the left so much if the four subdivisions within the superblock connected up at the middle point. As a cyclist, I don’t need a perfect grid. All I need is at least one low-speed route (25 mph) that runs roughly parallel to every busy arterial street.

    I don’t have a problem with off-street paths, but they aren’t my preference, as I don’t like having to deal with the dog-walkers, joggers, baby strollers, and slow bikers. I’d rather force the motorists to deal with me, although I’d rather not do it under highway-like conditions on the arterials :)

    I agree that the state should not fund the construction or maintenance of the private asphalt playgrounds for kids that are cul-de-sacs. They should only provide funding for transportation thoroughfares that benefit the metropolitan area as a whole.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I also prefer actual streets to paths – with paths, you lose some of the visibility benefits of streets. There won’t be shops aligned to them nearly as much, so there are fewer eyes to deter crime and make people feel safer.

  5. says

    The above two maps can’t be compared because as Ben pointed out the density is completely different. It also fails to make any allowance for topographical features. The reason so many of the county roads are not laid out in a grid is because we have steep banks, streams, lakes, etc. which don’t work well with a grid. Seattle’s answer was the Denny Regrade, That’s eco friendly? Sure you can lay out roads in a grid, minimize pavement and maximize the efficiency of transportation. It’s called barracks. Most people don’t want to live that way.

    The idea one of the two maps is more walkable and better for transit doesn’t wash. The distance shown for the walk to school is just as long as anyone in the cul-de-sac walking out to a bus stop on the arterial. And there’s no real bus route through the “grid” if it’s narrow roads and parked cars.

    As several people have pointed out the ideal “subdivision” has walking and bike paths connecting neighborhood streets that discourage drive through traffic. That’s the current planning model for Bellevue and Redmond. While it would have been nice to keep Snoqualmie Ridge as timber land the homes with greenbelts and connecting trails is very walkable and provides excellent cycling.

    You can’t have walkability without a good number of places to walk to.

    Yes you can. People are walking, jogging and riding bikes in my neighborhood all the time just because they want to do it. The same is true for Snoqualmie Ridge. People like to get outside and do if for fun when it’s not on a concrete sidewalk with traffic buzzing by.

    It’s true there were a number of badly unplanned subdivisions built over the years. Not all of them though. My Bridle Trails neighborhood for example has lots of cross connections that are not through roads because home owners insisted on it as the area was subdivided.

    • John Jensen says

      Yes you can. People are walking, jogging and riding bikes in my neighborhood all the time just because they want to do it. The same is true for Snoqualmie Ridge. People like to get outside and do if for fun […]

      That’s not what walkability means. Walkability means you can walk to grocery stores and banks, interesting things like bars and movie theaters, maybe to a jobs center, and hopefully to a fixed-guideway transit stop.

      So do you walk to the grocery store? Likely not. But that’s not your “fault” and it’s not your neighbor’s “fault”. You probably just don’t have the option to. What’s responsible for that is a lack of strong planning in Bellevue and Redmond that at one point let pretty much any type of development get erected as long it was single-family and sufficiently away from commerce. No one here wants to change the quality of your life, but I think there is something to be said about single-family homes near clusters of commerce and multi-family housing. It is ridiculous that things got to the point where people are often not given the choice to walk to school, or the choice to walk to the store, or walk to the bar, or walk to the movies, or walk to the park.

      The idea here is to give people these choices, because as you allude to people often enjoy walking! I know I am no more connected to my neighborhood when I’m walking past the apartments, bars, theaters, restaurants, and all the construction on my way to get some potatoes at QFC. But it’s no secret that people will walk even more when there are interesting things to walk to besides “around the ‘block'”.

      As several people have pointed out the ideal “subdivision” has walking and bike paths connecting neighborhood streets that discourage drive through traffic.

      But where are those paths, usually? At the very edges of the developments, often poorly lit and not very comforting at night. Not only that, but the paths are often hard to find since their placement isn’t standardized. They’re not near every cul-de-sac, so it’s not really a good analogy. In gridded development, every house is near these “paths” that can be ideal for walking and biking. With subdivisions, a house can be at the other end of the development and have a very poor connection to someone just a half-mile away.

      The idea one of the two maps is more walkable and better for transit doesn’t wash. The distance shown for the walk to school is just as long as anyone in the cul-de-sac walking out to a bus stop on the arterial. And there’s no real bus route through the “grid” if it’s narrow roads and parked cars.

      The idea is to completely avoid any form of motorized transportation — bus or car. Any walking in the opposite direction to catch a bus, in your example, would take a much longer time than the gridded walk. So long that most people would just drive.

      What’s the problem developing in such a way that lets people walk to the places they want to? Is subdivision development good just because you happen to live in one? You need better evidence than that! You’re pretty good at critical analysis, as I’ve found out with some recent comment conversations with you. I implore you give that same critical look at your neighborhood and think what you’d do differently with a blank slate… I can think of many ways my neighborhood could be improved to be more walkable.

      Also, bus routes go through relatively quiet residential areas in Seattle all the time. Not for the full route, of course, but they do. They’d do it in Bellevue more often too, I’m sure, if there were a better grid pattern.

      • says

        Walkability means you can walk to grocery stores and banks, interesting things like bars and movie theaters, maybe to a jobs center, and hopefully to a fixed-guideway transit stop.

        It’s a lifestyle. What the Capitol Hill crowd doesn’t seem to get is that most people who live out in the ‘burbs come home from work and don’t want to go anywhere. It’s largely a lifestyle built around being home. Tend the garden, maybe take the dog for a walk or go for a bike ride, maybe plunk down in front of the big screen TV and watch a DVD. One of the great things about riding through the neighborhoods off of Avendale or through Beux Arts or Medina is that out side of the morning and evening commute there’s virtual no traffic.

        The ideal about walking everywhere sounds good but really it’s dependent on public transit. The desire to have rail within walking distance is a huge investment in infrastructure and only makes sense when you take into account that the world exists outside your definition of a walkable neighborhood. I’d argue that you’re ideal is actually a much more mobile society dependent on transportation.

        I do ride my bike up to the Red Apple for small things. Generally when we shop it’s for a much larger quantity than I can carry. Shopping trips are typically two maybe three times a week and almost always combined with other trips. Walking or taking the bus to grocery shop works fine for one or two people that go out most of the time anyway. It doesn’t work when your cooking full meals for a family every evening.

        Bus service on the eastside has nothing to do with the roads being or not being on a grid. Areas like Rose Hill, Education Hill and others are laid out on a grid. There’s just never been the density or the demand for transit. Buses don’t get your kids to a soccer game. Grocery shopping on the bus isn’t practical. You can’t take it up skiing. People that move to the ‘burbs are seeking a fundamentally different lifestyle than what transit can provide.

      • John Jensen says

        Come on Bernie, going to get groceries and cash a check aren’t about a lifestyle. Nor is seeing a movie! And the Eastside has bars too! :)

        Walking isn’t dependent on public transit, that’s my point! If you have to take public transit or your car to “walk” then you’re talking about the type of development that I’m arguing against. Certainly, more people would walk to grocery stores and soccer games and movie theaters if they had the option. And it is a lot easier to have something to guide your development around. Often that’s been a highway. Clearly this blog believes it’s better to have development guided by transit.

        Based on the massive quantities of restaurants and bars and malls and movie theaters and fast food joints and parks, I don’t think the suburban lifestyle is quite as simple as sitting in front of the TV or walking a dog around a cul-de-sac. I lived in the suburbs all my life until recently — last in a cul-de-sac in Bellevue — so do we have to pretend like the downtowns on the Eastside don’t exist? Or that people who live three blocks from a grocery store won’t walk there because they like watching DVDs?

        It’s a false choice, really. People who don’t want to live in urban areas like Capitol Hill, should still have the option to live in walkable neighborhoods like Wallingford or Queen Anne for a more reasonable price. Those neighborhoods aren’t the model of density, but they are less much auto-dependent for the day-to-day tasks.

        Suburban planning has a problem: This swath is residential. This swatch is commercial. In between is a street that no one wants to navigate on foot and a parking lot the size of three football fields. There are ways to fix this so that trivial tasks don’t require CO2 emissions. But the first step is of course admitting that there’s a problem with being basically forced by local government’s social engineering into driving your car to every destination one can imagine.

        As for things like groceries being too heavy to carry: When the option is there, people find a way. It’s not like everyone who lives in a city just eats less. You can think of a million ways it won’t work; all these things about your life that would be subtly altered if you moved to this new type of development, etc. But we didn’t reach the state of cul-de-sacs on good intentions and intelligent analysis of our shopping patterns. The primary motivator was cities increasing their tax base without strong governance, developers making lots of money, cheap gas that didn’t hurt anything, and a massive investment in highway infrastructure that linked more and more distant suburbs with job centers.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Sorry to bring this off on a personal experience tangent, but I live on Queen Anne and I haven’t driven to buy groceries in months. There also isn’t traffic outside of rush hour (and even then only on the Counterbalance and the Aurora on-ramp), and there are three soccer fields within an easy walk. When my nieces lived with me they both walked to school, and to the park, and to the community center, and to the swimming pool. They had autonomy that doesn’t exist in the suburbs under the age of 16, and I didn’t often have to play the role of chauffeur.

        Why couldn’t this exact neighborhood exist in the suburbs? It can. There are fairly dense, gridded suburbs in many parts of the country that have all of these amenities. Queen Anne itself was a suburb back in the days of streetcars.

      • says

        going [walking] to get groceries and cash a check aren’t about a lifestyle. Nor is seeing a movie! And the Eastside has bars too! :)

        I think it’s very much about lifestyle. My mom grew up in north London. Back then you shopped almost every day because refrigeration was not wide spread. You didn’t go to the grocery store either. You went to the butcher, the fruit stand and all of the other merchants. Of course “you” generally meant the wife because it took the better part of a day to do the shopping. I spent a couple years growing up at my grandparents and this was still largely the lifestyle even though everyone had refrigerators and there were supermarkets.

        When I went back to visit in Ireland a couple of years ago shop keepers in small villages still existed but you can tell it’s a dieing breed which is too bad. The younger generation is all about driving and the problem is the “roads” (I use the term loosely) were built for walking or horses. There’s no sidewalks, for the most part there’s no shoulder. There’s a stone wall. The development of the farm land is suburban sprawl without any infrastructure to support it. It makes me very thankful that we did build the highway system we have.

        In areas where you have the density this lifestyle can still exist. If you want to walk to a movie or bar great. I don’t want a movie theater and I especially don’t want a bar within walking distance! Shopping at the Pike Place Market is great. People love to do it. Not me, shopping is something I want to get done as quickly as possible all at one place and only want to do it as often as I need to to have fresh vegetables. I rather spend my time cooking than shopping. Nothing against restaurants but by and large when we “go out” it’s to family or relatives or we host a gathering.

        The problem I have with “the big city” is that even if it is “walkable” there’s still way more cars and traffic. Street parking sucks. It’s like the mall parking lot dribbled out in front of everyone’s home. Riding a bike you’re constantly worried about getting doored or squeezed out by a bus and that wonderful grid is a constant stop and go for traffic control. One of the few good places to ride in Seattle is along Lake Washington Blvd because it’s not a grid!

        I do think there are a lot of things that can be done to improve the ‘burbs. The old model of having relatively small swaths of retail as islands in a sea of residential only is dumb. Small scale stores and higher density can be made to blend in with neighborhoods of single family homes and work very well. I don’t understand the model of setting stores back from streets and separating sidewalks from shopping with a giant parking lot. Pushing the retail out to the street and parking in the center would make more sense (underground or multi level garages is even better). Where possible mixed use retail/residential or retail office space is a great idea and since we built so many strip malls out in the ‘burbs there’s plenty of room for this type of development.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Having a grocery store within walking distance means you don’t have to make huge trunk filling trips to the store a couple of times a week. It means you can stop in on your way home from work and pick up what you need or make a quick trip to the store when you forget something.

        Having a bar in the neighborhood means you have a place where you can pop out of the house for a drink or to meet some friends without having to worry about killing someone on the drive home.

        Having a park in the neighborhood means you have someplace to go play frisbee or toss a football without having to drive there first.

        On the other hand having all of this does not mean you have to live in a noisy, traffic filled neighborhood. There are many neighborhoods that are quite walkable but still are quiet with little traffic. Say Maple Leaf for example.

        I’ve ridden my bike all over both Seattle and suburban areas of the Metro area. For the most part I’d far rather ride in Seattle. Many of the suburban arterials aren’t exactly bike friendly. There is rarely a parallel non-arterial to ride on when going uphill. If you happen to be going through a commercial area the roads are clogged with traffic and you have to deal with all of the idiots darting in and out of the various parking lots.

        The key to not getting “doored” is like anything else when riding (or driving for that matter) and that is being aware of your surroundings and always leaving yourself an out. I look for people in parked cars when passing and generally ride more than a door width away when possible.

      • John Jensen says

        Bernie, the reason so many grocery stores and bars and movie theaters and restaurants and everything else exist in the Eastside is because people use them. I can understand for some reason if you do not use them, but a lot of people do. Putting everyone in a position where they have no choice but to drive to these amenities is poor planning.

        I do think there are a lot of things that can be done to improve the ‘burbs. The old model of having relatively small swaths of retail as islands in a sea of residential only is dumb. Small scale stores and higher density can be made to blend in with neighborhoods of single family homes and work very well. I don’t understand the model of setting stores back from streets and separating sidewalks from shopping with a giant parking lot. Pushing the retail out to the street and parking in the center would make more sense (underground or multi level garages is even better). Where possible mixed use retail/residential or retail office space is a great idea and since we built so many strip malls out in the ‘burbs there’s plenty of room for this type of development.

        Why would that stuff make sense if people in suburbia have no interest in walking to places? I agree with your points, but I think this is a contradiction. Parking is given primacy because walking is in the shadows. It’s not part of the suburban lifestyle.

        Again, I lived in the suburbs all of my life until 2007. I walked to the grocery store in downtown Redmond even before I had this ideology. I walked to the Bella Botega movies. It’s not because there is something inherently better about me — as there is not. I simply lived within walking distance of these things.

        There are a lot of cars in the city, you’re right. I find that they’re driving at a much calmer pace, though. I bike commute often during the summer and even a street like Denny Way never feels like 148th Ave NE & NE 40th.

      • says

        Putting people in the position where they have no choice but to drive to bars is not just poor planning, it’s dangerous planning.

      • says

        Queen Ann/Magnolia is a nice neighborhood. Most of the houses have driveways and the streets aren’t lined with parked cars. It’s quiet in the evenings, like the suburbs, because although it enjoys being close in it’s isolated by the geography. I think it’s a stretch to consider most of Queen Ann to be walking distance to shopping. And once you get most of the way up the Counterbalance it’s not particularly high density.

        I agree you can have neighborhoods like Queen Ann on the eastside. While they have a different flavor I think Kirkland near downtown is similar. Meydenbauer and Old Bellevue near main as well. What’s missing is an eastside bus system. For thirty years “transit” on the Eastside has meant “transit to downtown Seattle”. That’s not set to change much in the next twenty years. Link can move a lot of people and the job density in Bellevue and Overlake can likely keep ridership high enough to make the fare box recovery goals but for a great deal of money it does little to nothing with respect to reducing the necessity of personal transportation for the vast majority of eastside residents. For the rest of us it will be a comfortable trip to take in ball games and maybe some downtown events.

        The strict segregation of all retail from residential was in retrospect a mistake. Slowly that’s being corrected. The thing is the corner grocery could never have made it financially even if they had been put it as the neighborhoods were being built. In fact, the ones that did exist for the most part went out of business. The one thing that was scattered around were gas stations with a mechanic. Even with everyone driving cars most of those disappeared.

      • John Jensen says

        Queen Anne is actually a good, though very expensive, example. It is a grid network, but many of the streets don’t connect with, say, Queen Anne Ave for cars. Many sidewalks continue past streets to a set of stairs to the retail strip. In this case, you get the calming effects of cul-de-sacs without the decreased ability to walk. If it weren’t a hill, you could see how biking would also be maintained to arterial.

        Lower Queen Anne is a lot different neighborhood than the hill.

        I just looked at a house today a block away from Broadway. I’ll try to report back on how quiet the street is if I move in there. The house definitely is single-family and it seemed like a very quiet neighborhood for its location.

      • says

        Bernie, the reason so many grocery stores and bars and movie theaters and restaurants and everything else exist in the Eastside is because people use them. Putting everyone in a position where they have no choice but to drive to these amenities is poor planning.

        I’d tend to agree but it’s hardly like they are where everyone has to drive there. Even Overlake which is sort of a model of bad planning now has quite a bit of walk in patronage thanks to the apartment and condo density. Crossroads is surrounded by apartments and single family. The big thing is you can’t put bars, grocery and movie theaters where everyone has one within walking distance. Even with density like Capitol Hill how many people are walking distance to a movie theater? Maybe a convenience store but not a full grocery or retail outlet like the Freddies. A much smaller number of patrons drive but a lot rely on buses. An option which doesn’t exist on the eastside.

        Why would that stuff make sense if people in suburbia have no interest in walking to places? I agree with your points, but I think this is a contradiction. Parking is given primacy because walking is in the shadows. It’s not part of the suburban lifestyle.

        Attitudes are changing. You’re right that you need people to want to walk but they also have to have something to walk too. Putting store at the street and parking behind doesn’t make it harder for people that drive but it makes it a lot more inviting to someone that might walk. And if the buildings aren’t butt ugly it creates a much nicer visual than a parking lot. Redmond Town Center has tried to break the mold of mall in the middle of asphalt. It would have been better if it wasn’t at the edge of town but it’s an improvement over Bear Creek.

        Again, I lived in the suburbs all of my life until 2007. I walked to the grocery store in downtown Redmond even before I had this ideology. I walked to the Bella Botega movies.

        Downtown Redmond has done a very nice job (although I think they’ve gone too far in developing the valley).

        There are a lot of cars in the city, you’re right. I find that they’re driving at a much calmer pace, though. I bike commute often during the summer and even a street like Denny Way never feels like 148th Ave NE & NE 40th.

        You are a much better city driver than I. I’ll pretty much take a pass on doing anything near downtown unless I can take the bus. 148th Ave NE is terrible for bikes (so is 156th which is new enough there’s no excuse). It’s from the day (I’m not convinced that day’s past) that planners thought bicycles belong on the sidewalk. The 520 bike trail is a good alternate as is 140th Ave NE (north of 24th anyway). Bellevue is probably the worst city on the eastside with respect to bike access. Their “Walk & Roll” plan is better than a stick in the eye but shows they still don’t really get it. It’s more than just symbolic that as I ride north on 132nd Ave NE the bike lane starts at the Kirkland city limit sign.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Kirkland with the exception of Totem Lake isn’t too bad to bike in. For the most part I hate riding in Bellevue though. Still I’ll take almost anywhere in Seattle over almost anywhere in the ‘burbs particularly in bad weather or after dark.

        Downtown Seattle seems scary on a bike until you are used to it, but it really isn’t that hard to ride around in, even during rush hour.

      • John Jensen says

        Yeah Bernie, it is initially intimidating doing city biking, definitely. I have to admit I haven’t biked much on the Eastside. I biked along the 520 trail, which was pretty fun. And then down NE 8th to Bellevue… And back up. That was miserable. On sidewalks, and slow.

        I also took a pretty serious spill on the 520 trail, ha. Bloody knees and shoulders for the ride home. And no helmet. What a dumb college kid.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        “I think it’s a stretch to consider most of Queen Ann to be walking distance to shopping. And once you get most of the way up the Counterbalance it’s not particularly high density.”

        Ah, but that’s exactly why I used it as an example. Upper QA (really what I was talking about) has a very comfortable level of density for a suburb, yet most of the houses are on 30′ lots. This gives you room for a nice yard, some separation from the neighbors, yet there’s enough density to have corner stores and parks.

        Think of any cute old town and it’s probably a grid system built before cars were so important. There are probably corner stores, hardware stores, and restaurants that are walking distance from most homes. I doubt you’ll have such a town in the modern suburban street layout.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Most of the top of Queen Anne Hill is within 1/2 mile or less of the business district along Queen Anne Avenue (the counterbalance). Much of the rest is fairly close to the business district along McGraw.

        There are 4 supermarkets on top of Queen Anne (QFC, Metropolitan Market, Ken’s, Trader Joe’s), a butcher shop, several pharmacies, any number of restaurants, bars, cafes, dry cleaners, hair salons, insurance agents, etc.

        Lots of people who live on Queen Anne do in fact walk to shopping or to run errands. This is why even on a winter evening in bad weather you’ll see lots of people on the street along Queen Anne Avenue.

        Queen Anne is hardly unique. You’ll see similar activity anywhere there is a pedestrian friendly business district with housing nearby.

      • says

        This is a really great discussion, though I don’t think it should center so much around what “a lot of people” want to do. As Bernie mentioned there are a lot of different lifestyles out there. These change with age and socioeconomic status, too–I would have lived in a cheap place above a bar in college but there’s no way I would consider it now with a steady job and kids.

        One thing I appreciate about the Congress for the New Urbanism (if you’re not familiar their PowerPoint Introduction to New Urbanism is worth clicking through) is that they mention the people who are often left out: the elderly, children, young teenagers, people with disabilities that make it impossible to drive, etc.

      • John Jensen says

        I just think it’s a shame that suburban development doesn’t give the option to those families to use their feet more. Sure, some or even a lot of people won’t walk to QFC. But the lack of options doesn’t really allow for the variety of lifestyles we’re talking about.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I want to point out that in the grand scheme of things, if you’re going to build high density, regrading might be less environmentally damaging than sprawl. You’re building on the dense land entirely whether you regrade it or not – although I wouldn’t advocate dumping that mud into the bay.

  6. Max says

    Maybe Mr. Niles will join us to defend the sprawl paradigm again.

    Nice post, Andrew!

    “What may not be as obvious at first glance is the hidden costs of the roads pictured in the for image for local governments.”

    Costs? Roads are free! It’s transit which costs big money, dontcha know?

    “Those culs-de-sac roads go no where, and therefore dump all drivers and pedestrians onto major arterials.”

    The ultimate Surrey Downs NIMBY irony: they built those specific cul de sac communities to KEEP PEOPLE OUT. The resulting situation: one big messed up arterial called Bellevue Way, which isn’t exactly well suited for John Niles’ Bus “Rapid” Transit. The resulting politics: just about as surreal and bizarro as you can imagine! http://www.responsibletransportationforum.org/2009/04/john-niles-on-r8a-funding-for-center-lanes-i-90-study-by-joint-transportation-committee/

    Fixing the problem isn’t in Surrey Downs’ best interest. An effective, grade-separated light rail line would blast through their twisted “gridlock is good” politics. Yet, people like John Niles can talk to the the eastside NIMBYs, even though they are hostile to everything he supposedly stands for: congestion pricing, bus-only lanes, wider roads, etc. Surreal, no?

    “Short trips like the one above can no longer be easily made on foot, and then even more cars are pushed onto the arterials.”

    I love the irony of the vicious circle here. It explains why transit opponents and sprawl proponents are always so good at contradicting themselves!

    • Chris Stefan says

      Someone should go to that just to report on what the “sprawl4ever” types are saying.

  7. James Lamb says

    I thought L.A.’s “interior arterials” made a lot of sense, to a point.
    http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&sll=46.668065,-122.327573&sspn=5.353336,9.887695&ie=UTF8&ll=34.187963,-118.511056&spn=0.003151,0.006866&t=h&z=18

    They served to break the grid slightly to prevent people using it as a passthrough, but still allowed walkability and accessibility. Looking at the map, I wonder if some were unplanned, the need to widen some streets into thoroughfares meant eliminating some cross-traffic for speed.

    You also got these little alley-like streets between the major street and the first row of houses that allowed a safer street for children to play on and a community that still looked open and inviting (versus seeing the walled backyards of inward facing communities).

    • cjh says

      Reseda was one of the first suburbs in the Valley and was actually platted in ways that are typical for the first auto suburbs but atypical of post-1960s suburban development (i.e. the example on the left). The subdivision superblocks are literal blocks – and you can see from the map that 1 square mile is the absolute upper limit in their size. Additionally, they almost universally have multiple points of ingress and egress to the arterial roads and are more or less platted to a grid, or, at worse curvilinear streets inside the development. But there are no cul-de-sacs.

  8. James Lamb says

    Oh, and if you remove the market and put the freeway a lot further away, the one on the left looks like Twin Lakes in Federal Way.

  9. Gary says

    The other issue that gets danced around here, is that in order for a grocery store to be viable you need enough density/shoppers…. so it’s definitely a chicken and egg problem. “The Lakes” … so named because there are no lakes anywhere near it, is a planned moderately dense exburb in Auburn. But since the grocery store is on one side, and the green belt play area is between the houses and the store it’s a minimum 1/2 mile to the store for the closest person. So yep, no one buys a full week’s worth of groceries via walking.

    And walking…yeah right, I love it, especially last night. Any of you try walking around last night? I was soaked just getting to the mailbox and that’s just down the street. The bus… oh yeah another ball of fun, standing room only for the first half of the ride and everybody was soaked as well..No wonder people like to drive.

    Now my ideal neighborhood? Make 90% of the streets one way except for bicycles. Take that grid pattern and route it so that drivers have to weave a bit but bicycles don’t. You can see that usage in Berkley CA and Eugene OR. I think there is a “street video” that shows how nice it works. The impediments to one way traffic at the street ends can be driven over by emergency vehicles (fire & ambulance but not passenger cars.) I have those incredibly wide cul-de-sac streets and they are stupid but it was county code that made them that way. On the other hand it made for an easy place to teach the kids to ride their bicycles.

    • John Jensen says

      Things like heavy rain make driving more appealing at times, but come on. Walking isn’t some outdated mode of travel. It’s basic and primitive but never out-of-date or style.

  10. Watson51 says

    The one of the left reminds me of North San Diego but on the macro scale.

    San Diego is built around a bunch of canyons, and the city has not built pass-throughs for most of them. Some have trails, but for bikers, you would need a mountain bike. Others have freeways going through them, so are impossible to cross. Thus, most of the arterials are crammed by the canyon-crossing bottlenecks. The busses also get stuck in this traffic. People will also take a freeway to “cross” a natural boundary, but this route will add 3 – 5 miles to the commute, but will still be faster than stopping at the millions of stop signs and unsynchronized lights. The situation for bikes is worse, since adding 3 – 5 miles to a commute sucks, and the numerous stop-lights and stop-signs are a pain. Therefore almost everybody in San Diego is a driver, despite the great weather. Plus, the freeways are overused by people making local trips because the city infrastructure is so poor. CalTrans should be charging the city because it basically leaves a bunch of arterials disconnected to encourage people to use the freeways.

    The irony of the situation is that the density is quite high in some of these disconnected areas. And the roads are always busy. Both are also sucky for biking.

    I was always disappointed to see how much concrete had been lain out just to get a few people to their garages. If we are going to build roads, let us maximize their usefulness.

    • says

      I was always disappointed to see how much concrete had been lain out just to get a few people to their garages. If we are going to build roads, let us maximize their usefulness.

      Exactly.



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