People just don't realize how much extra tax money must be spent because of the sprawling development patterns, not just in Charlotte and North Carolina, but around the country. Consider connected streets, and their role in easing expenditures for roads and for emergency services.
It's clear that connecting streets – whether with a rigid grid or more curving street patterns such as Charlotte's John Nolen-designed Myers Park neighborhood – relieves thoroughfares of some portion of their traffic. Yes, each neighborhood street gets a bit more traffic. But if they're well-designed, narrow enough to discourage speeding, have adequate sidewalks, bike lanes and/or on-street parking (or all of the above) traffic moves slowly and poses little burden for residents.
Meanwhile, thoroughfares need not carry as much traffic (or be widened or resurfaced as often). When there's an accident or other problem on a thoroughfare, motorists have plenty of options for alternate routes.
Yes, it costs developers a bit more to build a street grid than a cul-de-sac subdivision, and the extra streets reduce the number of lots and buildings a developer can squeeze onto the land. But for taxpayers, it ought to be a no-brainer.
But connecting streets can have some other, unexpected benefits for municipal coffers. Here's an intriguing study from Charlotte’s transportation and fire department staff that finds fire station costs sharply lower in parts of town where streets connect.
The study analyzed eight stations and found those in connected neighborhoods can serve more square miles because they can reach more homes within acceptable response times. The Dilworth station can serve 14 square miles. The station in the cul-de-sac-laden Highland Creek area can cover only 8 square miles.
The study found the annualized per-household life cycle cost of the Dilworth station to be $159. The equivalent cost for the station in the Highland Creek area was $740 – almost five times more.
Charlotte Department of Transportation staff who worked on the study included Matt Magnasco, Steven Castongia and Katie Templeton. Fire Department staff included Benny Warwick and Rachel Pillar. Magnasco tells me it hasn't yet been published or peer-reviewed, but they're working to get it into shape for that. The PowerPoint presentation linked to above was for a Congress for the New Urbanism transportation conference in Charlotte last last year.