Wisconsin city takes aim at cul-de-sacs

Cul-de-sacs dominate Woodbury subdivisions as shown via Google Earth.

A big battleground is developing in Wisconsin — the cul-de-sac, the uniquely suburban dead-end.

In Fitchburg, Wis., Mayor Steve Arnold has proposed that his city “privatize” cul-de-sacs and let the people who live on them pay for their upkeep, the Wisconsin State Journal says.

He says it’s not a plan, it’s just a “conversation starter.” But they’re a design dead-end that cater to a car culture and if people want to live in the aura of exclusivity that cul-de-sacs create, they should pay for them.

Madison, the State Journal notes, bans them outright.

Aside from their annoying bourgeoisie mystique, cul-de-sacs serve as mirages of escape for lost motorists and are more time consuming for garbage trucks and other public service providers to navigate, among other practical and logistical problems.

Those of the New Urbanism school of neighborhood design are especially critical, noting that cul-de-sacs are effectively built to cater to the car culture, with houses set on cul-de-sacs set in subdivisions set off from the rest of the community by only a couple of main access points.

About the only good reasons to dead-end a street are if it risks running into a body of water or off a cliff or through railroad tracks or into some immovable object. Better for walking, biking and the commonweal in general are neighborhoods with narrow streets, numerous possible routes from Point A to Point B and a multitude of uses.

Columnist Chris Rickert says cul-de-sacs are of little use to anyone but the people who live on them. The mayor wonders why the city should repave what is basically an extended private driveway.

“If you don’t want to spend the taxpayers’ money on this, what do you want to do instead?” Mayor Arnold told an upset City Council. “So, I throw out these obviously terrible ideas so they have some comparison of what their other options are.”