Cul-de-sacs; they are bad your health

Grids – its all about the grids

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The slideshow above shows some examples from my Sim City 4 region of me having a strong preference for using the grid system rather than the cul-de-sac system when building the road network. For those interested out of the 31 “tiles” that have development on them in the region, 10 of them are “walking” “cities” (meaning mass/active transits make up more that 60% of total tile commutes) (I do not expect all of the tiles to be however, owing some include rural areas or urban fringe areas).

Commercial area expanding southwards. New Plaza's both above  and underground there. Also note the commuting trends too
Commercial area expanding southwards.
New Plaza’s both above and underground there.
Also note the commuting trends too

So why am I mentioning the grid system? Because of this post about cul-de-sac’s caught my attention:

Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health


Award-winning Canadian journalist Charles Montgomery’s fascinating new bookHappy City: Transforming Our Lives Through Urban Design examines how lessons from psychology, neuroscience, and design can help us fix broken cities and improve our quality of life in an increasingly urban-centered world. Here at the Eye, Montgomery shares an excerpt from the book.

Of every 100 American commuters, five take public transit, three walk, and only one rides a bicycle to work or school. If walking and cycling are so pleasurable, why don’t more people choose to cycle or walk to work? Why do most people fail to walk even the 10,000 daily steps needed to stay healthy? Why do we avoid public transit?

I was naive enough to ask that question of a fellow diner I met in the food court of the bunkerlike Peachtree Center in downtown Atlanta. Her name was Lucy. She had driven her car in that morning from Clayton County (a freeway journey of about 15 miles), pulled into a parking deck, followed a skyway a few dozen paces to an elevator, and then a few more to her desk. Trip time: about half an hour. Total footsteps: maybe 300. She flashed me a broad smile.

“Honey, we don’t walk in Atlanta,” Lucy told me. “We all drive here. I can’t say why. I guess we’re just lazy.”

Lazy? The theory doesn’t stand up. Lucy’s own commute was proof. She could not have made it to work any other way. Suburban Clayton County suspended bus service in 2010. (The service had carried 2 million riders in 2009 before it was shut down.)

Nobody walks in Atlanta.
Courtesy of Steve Hardy via Flickr

No, the answer to the mobility conundrum lies in the intersection between psychology and design. We are pushed and pulled according to the systems in which we find ourselves, and certain geometries ensure that none of us are as free as we might think.

You can read the rest of the of the post over at the Slate blog site

The post essentially goes over the difference between grid systems (prevalent on pre-1960 urban built areas – although they are making a come back) and the American cul-de-sac system that came to the forefront with the car post 1960 (note I said American cul-de-sac not the Dutch Cul-de-sac system which I might blog on later).

A pictures say a thousand words and this one from the Slate blog article pretty much sums up a pile of text in this particular post:

The diagram below helps illustrate how a white male living in Midtown (left), near Atlanta’s downtown, is likely to weigh 10 pounds less than his identical twin living near Mableton (right), a sprawling suburb. This is partly owing to road geometry and land-use mix: a 10-minute walk from a home amid the traditional grid in Midtown will get you to grocery stores, schools, bus stops, cafés, a bank, and the glorious lawns of Piedmont Park. But the spread-out and homogeneous system of Mableton pushes destinations beyond walking range, which means residents are likely to drive whether they like driving or not. (Each bullet represents a school, church, grocery store, dry cleaner, bank, day-care center, police station, transit stop, or hospital. If restaurants, cafés, bars, and other services were included, the Mableton map would not change, but the Midtown map would be sprayed with dozens more bullets.) 

How street shapes can affect our own shapes
Courtesy of Erick Villagomez, Metis Design Build

Our responses to distance are quite predictable. Most of us will walk to a corner store rather than climb in and out of the car if it’s less than a five-minute walk—about a quarter mile—away. We won’t walk more than five minutes to a bus stop, but we will walk 10 to a light-rail or subway station, partly because most of us perceive rail service to be faster, more predictable, and more comfortable. This is the geometry perfected by streetcar city developers a century ago. It’s now being rediscovered by planners who find that simply introducing regular high-quality light-rail service can alter the habits—and the health—of people nearby. Less than a year after the LYNX commuter light-rail line was installed in Charlotte, N.C., people living near the line had started walking an extra 1.2 miles every day because the system changed their daily calculus. People who switched to the LYNX for their commute lost an average of 6½ pounds during that time.

Source: Why Cul-de-Sacs Are Bad for Your Health

There is a reason why in my Sim City 4 mega city region why I achieve walking city tiles; the grid system that allows:

  • Efficient handling of road traffic
  • Easy to build and connect the mass/active systems to the developed areas
  • Easy to walk and access other areas of the city tile by walking
  • Low commute times
  • Good health amongst the populace (health improved by 15% looking at the charts) – which is also helped by lower pollution owing to a efficient and accessible transit system

Something Auckland especially new developments can rediscover