“Cul de sac” is just a fancy way to say “dead end.”
As everyone knows, it’s the preferred street type in modern suburbia: a dead-end street with an asphalt “bulb” at the end of it, around which sit maybe half-a-dozen basically identical houses. The cul de sac discourages connectivity between streets and neighborhoods (which is actually part of the reason some people like it). It is perhaps the single-biggest factor in the stultifying, isolating character of so many suburbs and subdivisions.
And they’re even more damaging in urban settings.
In my neighborhood, some of the worst problems with crime and illicit activity tend to be centered around cul de sacs. There are only three in the entire neighborhood, and it’s no coincidence that those are the only streets around here where I think I would feel unsafe if I found myself there at night.
This is all completely predictable and utterly logical. As I mentioned before, cul de sacs eliminate through traffic, which many suburbanites regard as an unalloyed good: this way, there are no speeding maniacal drivers threatening their children when they play outside, and everyone who drives by generally has a legitimate reason to be there. People who don’t belong, stand out.
As it turns out, it is precisely those qualities that make urban cul de sacs ideal places for criminals to conduct their business. There are no random cars driving by to inadvertently shine their headlights on a drug deal. Decent people learn very quickly to stay away from those streets after dark, so criminals know that just about anybody heading their way is probably a customer (or perhaps a rival, but that’s another matter altogether). Broken streetlights go unrepaired for longer, because the kind of person who reports that sort of thing isn’t around when the streetlights are supposed to be working.
This is one of the trickier issues that I’d like to see the neighborhood plan address. But honestly, I’m not sure how it would. For one thing, one of those cul de sacs is actually a fairly recent creation – my understanding is that it was built as a way to prevent speeding through the neighborhood by preventing people from racing northward from downtown or the interstate. Another one would have to connect to the street grid at what is already a very awkward intersection, and would therefore be a traffic engineering challenge as well.
Still, there is only so much the overtaxed police department and our understaffed neighborhood association crimewatch can do. If it takes physically rerouting a couple of streets to discourage criminals from taking up residence in our neighborhood, then I think we should at least seriously consider it.
What do you think? How would you address the problem of cul de sac crime?