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04.15.2009
Cul-de-Sacked!
Virginia to promote connectivity, curb dead ends

The Commonwealth of Virginia has introduced new requirements for secondary roads, with the goal of promoting connectivity and reducing stormwater runoff. The new rules effectively ban cul-de-sacs by calling for streets in new subdivisions to be designed as through streets, connecting both within new developments and to adjacent subdivisions. The rules, which also call for significantly narrower streets, represent a watershed moment in what is emerging in planning circles as a connectivity crusade.

“There is a growing concern about cul-desacs nationwide,” said William Lucy, a professor of urban and environmental planning at the University of Virginia. “But Virginia is the first state to take such an action. It will greatly reduce, if not eliminate, cul-de-sacs.”

Virginia is unique in that it owns and maintains all roads in the state, giving state officials greater control than municipalities in setting road-related land-use policy. Governor Tim Kaine pushed for the new regulations, which were drafted and implemented by the Virginia Department of Transportation, on the grounds that greater connectivity on secondary roads would reduce stress on primary roads, as well as make them easier to navigate for emergency
vehicles.

The Virginia Home Builders Association, which represents many suburban builders, opposed the new rules, arguing that they will be difficult, if not impossible, to implement. “We support connectivity, and in an academic world, the idea works,” said Michael Tolson, spokesman for the Home Builders Association. “But in the real world, there is a thing called politics.” Tolson believes that connecting subdivisions, which are often developed by different builders, will be impractical, and run counter to the desires of many buyers. “These regulations were not designed for suburban
America,” he said.

Lucy argued that the new rules will reshape Virginia’s suburban landscape for the better, even if there is more work to be done. “Singleuse zoning and a lack of connectivity are the two biggest proponents of sprawl,” he said. “This will improve access, but it does nothing to change single-use zoning.”

For its part, the Congress for New Urbanism lauds the decision. “I can’t understand why the home builders are against it. It’s the culture wars. They are operating on the transportation ideology of the Heritage Foundation,” said John Norquist, the conference's president. “There is a change going on around the country. People want an alternative.” Norquist believes it will be a model for other states, and possibly for changes in federal policy.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Home Builders Association has vowed to continue to challenge the new rules. “We only have one-term governors in Virginia,” Tolson said. “We’ll push to have it revisited.”

Alan G. Brake