25 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: How We Got Cul-de-sacs”

  1. Very good Twitter thread by Jarrett Walker why we transit riders should tap every time we board a transit vehicle. I generally agree, but would rather have some way to just transmit from the cell phone I paid for an all day pass right to the transit vehicle.

    For those with civil liberties concerns – and I share some of those concerns; all for a recycled transparent farebox and a paper all day pass initialed by a transit operator or station agent. There you go.

    1. Thanks for this one, Joe. Wonder what the actual stats are as to people being located, identified, and prosecuted due to a card-tap. Especially somebody completely innocent “nailed” by mistake.

      What I’m seeing out of this country’s politics and administration these days, between change of generations- older talent retiring about ten years early because they can’t stand their workplace, and younger people whose work-load’s been rendered staggering from short staff, poor training and misbegotten new equipment…

      I’d be a lot happier to use a card traceable by time and location, but not to me personally. Pretty much like money used to be, but without the handling expense. But Jarrett and I are on same wavelength as to the “feel” of active cooperation with the transit system whose part-owner I am. Same reason I try to make sure my elected representatives all share frequent e-mail exchanges.

      However, my present liability to criminal charge and penalty over a wrong number of “taps,” multiplied by the pig-headed stubbornness of the people who uphold this system, makes it my goal right now to see every one of them lose their jobs. For what they’ve done to an otherwise perfect fare system, let alone to me.

      I’m furious I can’t afford either the court challenge or the political campaign this matter really deserves. Would rather discuss it on the radio with Dave Ross rather than Dori Monson, but… beggars-and-choosers. Think State Senator Bob Hasegawa and I agree about Bernie.

      Refusal, or worse inability to fix this is cut from same blanket of habits that got those passengers killed at Dupont. It and all its supporters have got to shape up or get off my payroll. Suggestions to make it happen?

      Mark Dublin

    2. I think most of us want to give ST good ridership data by tapping and showing our origins-destinations. But Jarrett also said, “I do not defend steep fines or discriminatory enforcement. I agree that the process should be more frictionless.” That’s what we have here. Even devoted tappers like us sometimes forget, and the positioning of some of the readers makes it easier to forget than remember. I’ve gone out of Beacon Hill Station on the surface and forgotten to tap out because the readers are off to the side out of eyesight. Likewise, I occasionally ride Sounder to Kent, and I’ve forgotten to tap off there because the readers aren’t visible in your path and I’m unfamiliar with the station. By the time I remember I’m already on the 268 or 269 heading east so it’s too late. Tapping in is so unconscious I don’t remember if I did so, so sometimes I go from the platform or mezzanine to the surface to tap twice more to make sure. And there’s always a low-level anxiety that maybe I forgot or maybe it won’t show up on the inspector’s reader even if I did tap. And the constant threat of a $124 fine and being banned from Link, when it’s impossible to tap 100% of the time even if you try very hard to.

      And average riders won’t put up with all this; they ask me on the platform how much it is and I tell them they should go up and get an ORCA card or ticket and they say that’s unreasonble to go back up and down so they don’t. Or they don’t understand the reader’s beeps and think it registered when it didn’t, and I try to explain it to them but they don’t understand and they go down anyway. I worry that they’ll get a stern lecture from an inspector but what can I do, I tried to explain it to them. Or sometimes I don’t say anything because I don’t want to be a pedant.

      All of this except the refusing to go back up if you haven’t paid is honest mistakes, not willful fare violation. The design of the system should make the easiest and most intuitive thing the right thing, and that’s what Link fails on. It’s not the passenger’s fault, it’s the design of the system, so ST should treat all these people like they’re tresspassing and stealing service and deserving of a fine. Especially when they have a monthly pass covering the fare.

      1. Indeed.

        It’s why we should get faregates for Sound Transit.

        In the interim, lower fines.

    3. One issue is Link’s distance-based fares. If you don’t tap, how can you prove you’re going from Beacon Hill to Westlake and not from SeaTac to UW? That’s an issue with whether people’s passes really cover the fare. But again, the problem is the workflow design. In NYC and Chicago you walk through a turnstyle, and it won’t open unless you tap. In BART you stick the card in and it opens the gates entering and exiting. The fact that we don’t have those is what makes accidental mistapping so prevalent, and thus no ability to prove what distance you’re traveling. But ST wouldn’t have to know the distance if it were a flat fare like Chicago or NYC. On the other hand, the reason it’s a distance-based fare is it will eventually extend to Federal Way, Everett, and Tacoma, and Sounder is included in it. If Link were shorter and Sounder were outside the system, then there would be no need for distance-based fares. Or we could flatten them anyway and make people pay $3 for Westlake to Capitol Hill, although I wouldn’t advise it.

    4. If only our society required drivers to tap on every time they start the ignition, to be sure they are:
      1. authorized to drive the car
      2. sober
      3. alert and prepared to safely drive

  2. Been advocating for a long time that Sound Transit subdivide land on the outer fringes of its present map, add streetcar hardware, and let the development community find itself surrounded. No rule I can find that says “Streetcar Suburbs” have to all be in the past.

    Mark Dublin

  3. The video: I do think it’s important to mention that many areas did not have strong regulatory power over how subdivisions of land were laid out, and that the development cost savings is a bigger factor than the video states (less street to build + more lots to sell). Many areas of the country developed on the belief that as long as basic codes were met, there was no valid legal reason to deny a subdivision of land.

    There is also a lifestyle irony. Boomers that were raised in suburbs had many more siblings and neighbor playmates as kids than the later generations did, and bedrooms were smaller. The suburbs did not feel so isolated to them as they do to an only child living with few to no playmates within walking distance in houses that sprawl. Hence, many young adults today find suburbs with circuitous roads socially limiting not unlike a prison, where aging boomers hardly felt that way.

    It’s hard to edit a video script to be pithy yet cover all the points, and this one does a good job. Still, the video is missing the larger point that societal values expressed in the (housing) marketplace likely drove our development patterns more than FHA or ITE singularly ever did; they were merely responding more than influencing suburbanization. Trying to ignore market and societal forces and instead blaming an agency or professional group is unfairly assigning “scapegoat” status to values which were more broadly held in my opinion.

    1. It’s also noteworthy that at least in Western Washington many/most of the worst subdivisions, from a disconnected cul-de-sac standpoint, were developed in unincorporated areas without municipal government that were later incorporated or annexed. It’s not like they resulted from any sort of vision, they were a way to make a buck and found willing buyers. I’d hope that we could at least start requiring bicycle and pedestrian connections (greenways) in new developments even if we’re unwilling to take three feet of someone’s back yard by eminent domain so their kids can walk to school.

      1. Clearly you are talking about older developments and subdivisions when you talk about condemnation actions to take three feet of property owners’ backyards. Many newer developments don’t really have backyards anymore, including here in my area in unincorporated SW SnoCo where townhomes are popping up everywhere on redeveloped older suburban parcels.

  4. I’d rather live in the neighborhood on the right side of the post picture. It’s sunny, everyone has a pool, no dangerous through traffic, the majority of people own their home, and you have neighbors with names like Ward and June. The left side seems dark and scary. Looks like something out of Bladerunner. I see a couple of sketchy parks. People are afraid to go in them. So they lock themselves in their apts and rant in comment sections about the neighborhood on the right.

    1. Wallingford, Mt Baker, Greenwood, the Admiral District, Ravenna, Magnolia, Shoreline, and north Kent seem dark and scary? Granted, you don’t have a pool in every yard. And if you drive everywhere you wouldn’t notice how difficult it is to walk anywhere.

      Jane Jacobs notes that cul-de-sacs were touted to deter crime because non-residents would stand out, but they did the opposite because fewer eyes on the street means less monitoring.

    2. – The naturalised English term “cul-de-sac” literally translates from the French as “bottom of [the] bag/sack.” –

      Life is peachy for the guy at the bottom. It’s the people at the neck that get to enjoy life in the fast lanes.

      Interesting trivia: Back when I was living in Bothell, (1990’s time frame), and was a groupie at the city council meetings, the planning manager told me that as each neighborhood development was constructed, one property at the bottom of the bag was required to be left vacant, in order that the next housing development could be tied into an eventual grid system.

      Reality intervenes, and the “Screw you, I’ve got mine, you can go screw yourself” policy prevailed.

  5. Most new subdivisions eliminate the wall of fenced off property and require multi-use trails. I’m thinking of the Redmond Ridge developments in particular. Some older neighborhoods, Compton Green in Bellevue for example were also platted with this in mind but over the years people encroached on the easements and it’s a difficult legal battle to recover. FWIW, I see the suburban houses in Bellevue starting to house larger families once again as shown by increased school enrollment across the district.

    1. Mill Creek is generally the epitome of suburbia planning hell, but they also have interconnected walking trails throughout the city, making it far more walking and biking friendly that it may appear from a quick glance at a map.

  6. You can keep the culdesacs if you also require a streetcar station at the center of the development, and walking paths from all corners that cut through the culdesacs and go straight to the streetcar station.

    1. Then its not really a traditional cul-de-sac. As the video points out, the biggest weakness to traditional cel-de-sacs is the indirect path required to walk anywhere. Newer subdivisions — even ones with cul-de-sacs — avoid this by connecting the streets, but with walkways. If the subdivision is small enough, you can then put bus stops on the main street (on all four sides) enabling a grid. You are still likely to increase walking distances compared to a straight grid, but not nearly as much as with a traditional cul-de-sac.

      Of course if the entire area (for miles) has curvy-swervy roads, it is hard to create a grid of any sort (e. g. https://goo.gl/maps/DdVARTn5SoBh89Ec7). You could connect ever dead end and it still be extremely difficult to come up with a decent transit network.

      In our area, we also have areas that struggle with very steep hillsides. The eastern part of Seattle, for example (https://goo.gl/maps/4fdCJmhyFacGGDZG6), is not a cul-de-sac design, but the grid is shattered because of the deep ravines. You can’t run easily go in any direction without inevitably curving around, making a straightforward grid impossible.

      1. Your second link showing disrupted street grid in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood doesn’t show the pedestrian walkways with timber bridges crossing some of the ravines.

        I also like 20th Ave. NE where a no longer acceptable automotive bridge was retained as the only pedestrian and bicycle crossing of the Ravenna Park ravine between 15th Ave. NE and 25th Ave. NE.

      2. If you zoom in, you can see some of the pedestrian walkways. Google doesn’t show all of them, but it does show a bunch.

        20th Avenue NE has a couple of interesting walkways. The bridge crossing of Ravenna you mentioned is spectacular — one of the nicest walks in the city. The other is much further north, between NE 98th and NE 100th (https://goo.gl/maps/KFi23BdTGtiAqbUg6). That involves walking down into the ravine, going across a small bridge, and then back up again. That area is unusual. It was stripped down to bedrock a few years ago. Then they planted native plants, as well as artificial snags. It all looks fairly natural now (it helps that there were a handful of bigger trees) but if you look closely you’ll notice the snags aren’t quite “real”.

      3. In the Bellevue example, getting from a house on the “Road A” loop to a house just 100ft away at the end of 145 Pl requires a 3.5 mile drive. Insane.

  7. I think the cul-de-sac craze didn’t really get popular until the 1970’s, when the FHA bias towards suburbs was waning. Many places developed between 1945 and 1970 don’t seem to have many cul-de-sacs. I do wonder if the video’s chronology and thus reasoning about cul-de-sacs specifically is out of whack.

    1. https://www.oregonlive.com/news/2020/02/they-signed-their-own-death-warrant-jeremy-christian-told-police-after-max-train-stabbings-detective-testifies.html

      Incident on Portland MAX did New York one better, Sam. Made me write my State Representative about how I’d rather we keep “Life Without Parole.” Still not quite at “Shoot Him When He Surrenders” but approaching.

      News out of DC makes my own worst fear that if present High-Places pardons for war criminals continue, star of this flick from Portland will be commanding the unit that captures me for the crime of DML: “Disrespect for Mandatory Lies . ”


      Has this been remedied yet? You know, fiscal discussions keep taking me back to my mystical image or The Balance Sheet. This one goes in same ink-color as the dozens of rotten wood power poles that’ve lately been collapsing around Seattle. Color is “Feed Lot Floor Brown”, to represent unspent money that kills people.

      Even Public Radio keeps missing this when they go “Let’s Do The Numbers!” (Music always goes WHEEEEE”)Consumer spending. The stock market. Think your subway car and my MAX scene are perfect example of the truth about the multi-trillion dollar deficit this Administration and Congress have delivered.

      So next set of East Side interviews, you might want to ask your fellow passengers how much tax money they’re ordering their Representatives to spend on countermeasures like a new Western State. And see to it we get a link to the resulting video.

      Mark Dublin

  8. Logging this comment from Brooklyn where MTA is single tracking the L under the East River so they can repair stations and tunnels. Trains run every 15 minutes with real time arrival. Just sayin’.

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