Meadowford Glen Estates vs. nth & Main

A popular device among anti-drug educators is to show the webs that spiders under the influence of various psychoactive substances weave. I doubt the spiders notice or care what judgments we make of their webs from our god’s-eye view, especially as long as the drugs are flowing.

Similarly, I don’t expect people driving around suburbia to find much wit or point in comparing the street patterns characteristic of pre- and post-automotive development in the US:

webs and grids

How many paths are there between two points on the pre-car streets? How many in the car maze, and which paths are longest? Why does UPS charge more to deliver to residential than to business addresses? Will the drugged spider starve before it can sober up and rebuild?

16 thoughts on “Meadowford Glen Estates vs. nth & Main”

  • Jim

    A few days ago, the Mpls Star-Tribune had a little story about how traffic engineers and urban planners are now including fewer cul-de-sacs in new subdivision designs. The reason is obvious, as cul-de-sacs are little more than dead-ends that serve to make navigating the streets more difficult, and traffic to flow less efficiently. The local right-wing talk-radio types picked up on the story, and, predictably, misinterpreted the engineers’ intentions and blew the issue way, way out of proportion. Now I realize this plan to not build as many cul-de-sacs is a liberal scheme to be cruel to suburbanites. One of the on-air personalities went as far as to describe American suburbanites as the “most discriminated race in the country”. Laughable Man!

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  • Jim

    Sorry, that should have been “the most hated race in the world.”

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  • Erik Sandblom

    The LSD version could become a bike paradise if you put bike paths between the car road lobe loop things.

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  • Spence

    “The LSD version could become a bike paradise if you put bike paths between the car road lobe loop things.”

    Indeed that would be cool, but you’d have some trouble getting access right through all the backyards…

    I lived in one of those horrid, intestinal BurbClaves down in Oceanside, CA. Compeltely impossible to live in with a bike unless you work/shop/play right next door, which, due to the nature of these things, would be PizzaHut/WalMart/PizzaHut.

    Great post Todd. Cool comparison of drugs.

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  • Rian Murnen

    I have mentioned the idea of Carfree Cities here before, but your post points out one of the most aesthetically interesting parts of the carfree design.

    The basic idea of the Carfree City is to arrange the city in such away that cars are unnecessary to move about the city and can be eliminated as a design constraint. The city is rearranged into six lobes connected by an underground metro / subway.

    The the subway system is composed of 3 routes, each route looping through a two-lobe circuit so that the train never has to turn around. Above ground, this same subway routes is the main road of the city, a wide boulevard that loops through the city.

    Along the main road are neighborhoods or districts each only 1/2-mile in diameter. Why? So that you can walk from any point in the district to the subway in 5-minutes or so.

    The interesting part that relates to your post Todd, is how varied the street layouts in individual districts can be. The samples provided resemble spider webs in terms of their organic diversity. The cul-de-sac insanity of suburbia is replaced with private courtyards within blocks Of course someone could still design a district with cul-de-sacs, but since the normal rational for cul-de-sacs is traffic calming or elimination, the lack of cars makes the cul-de-sac unnecessary.

    You can easily move through any of these district arrangements by bicycle; moving throughout the entire city along the carefree corridor above the subway. Now if only there where an easy way to rearrange a city …

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  • Scott

    I really love the Carfree Cities website. The webmaster, J.H. Crawford has also written a book by the same name which goes into even more detail than the website. I heartily recommend this book to anyone with an interest in car free living and/or urban design. While reading the book, it was very easy to imagine myself living in such a city, if only someone would build it.

    The biggest problem with Crawford’s Carfree City reference design, is it is difficult to see how to retrofit existing cities to this design, or even to organically grow a new city according to this design. However, many of smaller ideas, including the design of the carfree districts centered around a transit stop probably could be retrofitted into existing cities.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Spence, if it’s impossible to live in BurbClaves with only a bike, that must be because there is no transit for longer trips. But even the CarFree city has a subway, so why couldn’t the BurbClave have some kind of rapid transit? A BikeClave might not be as fine as the RealThing CarFree City, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t lots that could be done, or that those things wouldn’t be worth having.

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  • Spence

    Erik: Actually, after reading my post, I realized that I could almost make a car free life work in the ‘clave I lived in with a StokeMonkey™. The coastal train system worked pretty well and they allowed bikes on it. The only impediment would have to be the cagers trying to run me off the road which happened at regular intervals…

    Let me know when you find the magical city of CarFree, I’ll immigrate!

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  • Todd

    Easy on the Cleverchimp® shilling, eh Spence? :^)

    I find the Carfree city stuff simultaneously inspiring and depressing. It looks like a place I won’t survive to live in, but maybe by 2100 or so?

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  • Rian Murnen

    I don’t know Todd. We could always try to start the “Commune of the Tin Foil Hat Cyclists” in Eastern Oregon.

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  • Spence

    Todd: You can send my check to the usual address…

    Interesting to note that with the exponential use of fossil fuels and the declining production of said fuels, we’re all going to be living in car-free cities – probably within our lifetimes. The way I look at it is this: Sooner or later, we’ll be living off the land again with very low-energy lifestyles, it’s up to us how we transition to that lifestyle.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    Spence, we’re already living off the land. What else would we live off of? We’re living too much off the land.

    I don’t think we’re all going to live in car-free cities. I think we’re just going to have fewer than one car per family. And I think people are going to find it much nicer than what we have now.

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  • Scott

    I’m not so sure we are going to be seeing reductions in automobile usage any time soon. Americans love their high energy, car dependant lifestyles. Peak oil and competition with China will almost certainly impact the availability of cheap crude oil. However, the United States has enormous coal reserves, and coal can be turned into gasoline through coal gasification. Both the Nazi regime and aparthied South Africa used goal gasification when they were cut off from their oil supplies. Coal gasification is expensive, but I’d be willing to bet that Senators and Congressmen would be more willing subsidise coal gasification than to take measure to reduce our our oil- and auto-dependancy.

    Of course, large scale coal gasification would be disasterous for the environment, not least because of the vast quantities of CO2 that would be released into the atmosphere.

    I hate to be a pessimist, but is there anything that can be done to get Americans to change? I think Stokemonkey is great, but I just don’t see most Americans trading in their Ford Explorers, or even their Honda Civics for a battery powered bicycle.

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  • Spence

    Scott/Erik: I’m just looking at the math. An exponential curve of increased fossil fuel usage means that at a growth rate of 7 percent per year, in ten years, we will need to extract as much oil as we have ever used in the history of fossil fuel use. Gasification is dandy if you gots something to run the plant with… unfortunately, it’s a net loss in energy, just like Hydrogen from electrolysis, and ethanol,… we either slow down or get slowed down, it’s our choice.

    In other, lighter news, I found this which reminded me of the crazy humans and their cul-du-sac’s.

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  • Scott

    Spence, I like your link. Very cute!

    As for coal liquifaction, I’m petty sure we have plenty of coal to fuel the liquifaction process as well as act as a feedstock, if we don’t care about the environmental consequences. One advantage it has over a hydrogen economy is that we already have the infrastructure for a gasoline fueled transportation system in place.

    To keep this post vaguely on topic, our enormous investment in car-oriented infrastructure, such as cul-de-sac housing developments, help to continue our car dependancy, and make it that much more difficult for people to choose other options.

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  • Erik Sandblom

    I still don’t see the problem with cul-de-sac. Just put in some bike and walking paths to connect the dead ends and loops. Then add rapid transit along the highway access thing.

    The car system’s inherent inefficiency is what will make people turn against it. And I’m not just talking about fuel, it’s also the waste of space and the associated creation of distance. Look at this map of my local airport for instance.

    http://www.lfv.se/Templates/LFV_InfoSida_50_50____2604.aspx

    The parking areas are a zillion trillion times bigger than the terminal areas, hotel, and freight hangar put together. Even throw in the gas station as non-parking, and still we’re basically looking at a giant parking lot. The map doesn’t show the landing strip and airplane areas, but airplanes are used efficiently, ie always loading or unloading, landing or taking off. Always doing something. Only late at night or early in the morning do they stand idle. Compare that to the car parking, where the whole idea is for the cars to sit there and do nothing at all.

    We might not want to build homes so near the airport, but imagine how much office space, hotels and other stuff could fit on these huge parking areas, if they weren’t needed for cars. And they’re not needed for cars — there’s an unsubsidised bus service into town. It costs $10, takes 20-30 minutes depending on where you get off, and runs every twenty minutes. Very quick & convenient. You need a magnifying glass to spot the bus stop though, it takes up so little space, but could probably accomodate all the traffic generated by the huge parking fields.

    I’m confident this crazy wasteful system will die by itself, just like the Soviet Union did.

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