A Pig In A Parlor

Michael Lewyn's picture
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The state of Virginia's decision to limit the use of cul-de-sacs in residential subdivisions(1) will no doubt create a torrent of commentary, both pro and con.  In the residential context, cul-de-sacs do have certain advantages: they limit traffic near homes, thus allegedly creating quieter environments for homeowners.    So perhaps there is a case for the residential cul-de-sac.

But in a commercial setting, the cul-de-sac may be the "right thing in the wrong place--such as a pig in a parlor instead of a barnyard."(2)   In such settings, the cul-de-sac has the same disadvantages as the residential cul-de-sac, with few of the advantages.

I work in an office park that is infested with small cul-de-sacs (3) and is cut off from all streets to the east by an interstate highway.  As a result, students and employees of my 1500-student law school and of numerous nearby institutions all crowd one street that is the major means of going east or south - which in turn means that during rush hour, this street is so clogged that it can take fifteen or twenty minutes to drive a mile.  This example suggests that a disconnected muddle of office-park streets is as inconvenient for drivers as for pedestrians.

None of the traditional rationales for cul-de-sacs justify this sort of layout.  Residential cul-de-sacs benefit from low levels of traffic- but a building with hundreds of employees by definition will have lots of traffic nearby, and businesses inhabiting such buildings crave exposure as well as privacy.  Denizens of residential cul-de-sacs claim that children can play more easily near their houses - but there are no children playing near most office parks.  

The answer to this problem is simple: streets that are lined with offices instead of houses should be on a grid.  Period. 

Michael Lewyn is an assistant professor at Touro Law Center in Long Island.
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