Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectors are Necessary, but Not Sufficient

By Dom Nozzi

A large number of residential neighborhoods can substantially reduce the highly inhibiting large travel distances bicyclists and pedestrians must travel to get to and from destinations. For example, the end of a cul-de-sac or dead end street may be very close to an office park or a shopping center, but the bicyclist or pedestrian must often back-track and get onto a major road in order to get to such a destination because the direct route would require a person to cross over private property.

The solution recognized by many is to create a publicly-accessible bicycle/pedestrian “connector” path that provides such a short-cut link to these nearby destinations. Many, however, are convinced that such connectors are sufficient, in and of themselves, to create a large increase in the amount of bicycle and pedestrian commuting.cul-de-sac connector

As a vigorous advocate of increasing bicycling and walking trips (and reducing car trips), I am a strong supporter of such connectors.

However, bicycle and pedestrian commuting much more importantly depends on streets being connected. Adding bicycle/pedestrian connectors in a disconnected cul-de-sac neighborhood will help somewhat, but connected, gridded streets without cul-de-sacs or dead ends are much more effective in reducing travel distances for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Connector paths AND more connected streets in neighborhoods are essential, and we must work to create more of each. But connected streets are far more important than connector paths. Connector paths are necessary but not sufficient.

Connector paths, alone, are not a silver bullet. We will never see more than a pitiful amount of bicycle commuters in disconnected, cul-de-sac’d neighborhoods. It matters not a whit whether we have three non-street connectors or hundreds in such neighborhoods (not to mention long-distance off-street bicycle and pedestrian paths). By building disconnected streets, people living in such a neighborhood are inexorably doomed to be utterly dependent on car travel. The only salvation for such a neighborhood is to figure out how to incrementally connect the streets in the neighborhood.

Again, I’m a big supporter of connector paths (and will be on the front lines fighting for them). But installing such paths in an existing neighborhood almost always results in vicious, angry opposition by neighbors who fear such a path will deliver “undesirable” people. Even if we can succeed in winning the ferocious political firefights that nearly all of the connector path retrofit projects promise, we’d still find that they are not the limiting factor for bicycle and pedestrian commuting. Like a motorist, a bicycle or pedestrian commuter needs to get to thousands of destinations — not just the one or two that a connector can provide — which means that there is no way around this conclusion: Unless the streets are connected (and the traffic calmed/slowed, and the car parking prices/limited, by the way), bicycle and pedestrian commuting ain’t going to happen in a meaningful way.

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1 Comment

Filed under Bicycling, Urban Design, Walking

One response to “Bicycle and Pedestrian Connectors are Necessary, but Not Sufficient

  1. In existing neighborhoods like mine, a connector path is the only feasible alternative. We have really, really long blocks and to try to improve the grid in our neighborhood would literally require buying homes and tearing them down. You think this was difficult during the Urban Renewal era of the 60’s and 70’s, I think today it would be impossible. I would prefer a better grid for all of the benefits it would provide, but I will start with a connector path for now and am actively pursuing one to our neighborhood elementary school as part of new sidewalk project. I fully expect it to be fought by people worried about “undesirables” using it.

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