Democracy on the Front Lines
City Administrator’s Blog
August 4, 2006
In the past few weeks, there have been three articles addressing the possible death of the cul-de-sac in residential subdivisions. The Wall Street Journal printed an article about it on June 2 (“The Suburbs Under Siege”), the Belleville News Democrat ran a piece on July 16 (“Cul-de-sacs May Face Elimination Soon”) and the O’Fallon Progress had one on July 20 (“End of road for cul-de-sacs?”). Is there a groundswell of opposition against cul-de-sacs? What evil lurks behind the humble cul-de-sac?
Critics state that cul-de-sacs create traffic congestion and increase service costs such as snow plowing, trash removal, and public safety response. They also complain that cul-de-sacs discourage social activity by separating neighborhoods and forcing auto traffic. Because most cul-de-sacs are not connected by sidewalks, they only way for people who live there to run errands is to get in their cars and create more traffic.
On the other side of the debate, home builders and real estate agents will tell you that houses cul-de-sacs are prime properties. Studies indicate that homes on cul-de-sacs can sell for up to 5% more than houses on a through street. People prefer cul-de-sacs because of the lack of traffic and isolation. They contend that cul-de-sacs promote social activity because residents allow their children to play in the cul-de-sac together.
Where does O’Fallon fall in this great debate? The City Council discusses cul-de-sacs on virtually every new subdivision, so we are well aware of the issues. Our subdivision ordinance encourages “connectivity,” which means we want subdivisions to have access to other subdivisions so that there is not just one entrance/exit. However, we understand that terrain and property configuration can prohibit connectivity and cul-de-sacs are reasonable. During the plan review process, City staff often advises developers to remove cul-de-sacs and increase connectivity before the plans are reviewed by the Planning Commission and City Council.
The O’Fallon City Council also has had an ongoing debate about how long a cul-de-sac should be. How long is too long? It is inefficient for snow plows, trash trucks, and emergency vehicles to drive deep into a cul-de-sac, only to turn around. Our subdivision ordinance says that cul-de-sacs cannot be longer than 800 feet, but that restriction can be waived by the City Council if topography justifies a longer length.
A few cities have prohibited all cul-de-sacs, but most impose restrictions on their use. Some restrictions include:
-- Narrower street widths to encourage walking and reduce traffic speed.
-- Shorten cul-de-sac lengths.
-- Require pedestrian paths at the ends of cul-de-sacs to connect to other areas within the subdivision.
-- Create more green space and allow for greater density within the subdivision.
-- Widen the turnaround at the end of cul-de-sacs to create a greater turn radius for fire trucks and other large vehicles.
The City of O'Fallon has considered all of these restrictions in the new subdivision ordinance. Our street widths were reduced from 37 feet to 30 feet, cul-de-sacs are limited to 800 feet, turnarounds must accommodate fire trucks, and green space is required through park land dedication.
In addition, we are in the process of refining our subdivision standards. On Monday’s City Council meeting, there is a Resolution to approve a Visual Preference Survey. The survey will be a public process where interested individuals (residents, developers, home builders, elected officials, staff) will have the opportunity to tell us how they want their future neighborhoods to look like. We will look at things such as residential design standards, street layout, lot density, sidewalks, green space, and yes,
Don’t miss out on your opportunity to weigh in on the great cul-de-sac debate. We will hold a public meeting to collect input and we will also have an online survey on our web site. (And in case you wondered, the word “cul-de-sac” comes from a French word that means “end of the bag.”)