Bump and Grind

An urban design trend rattles tempers and suspensions

Not everyone, though, is thrilled with the dead ends. Jay Warmington, owner of the Vend-A-Wash laundromat on Chicago and Lake, says the dead ends seem to create a new safety hazard: "People turn where they can. They barrel into the U.S. Bank drive-through lane the wrong way. Or they cross our parking lots and exit onto Chicago Avenue.

"About a third of our customers arrive on foot, pulling wagons or carts," Warmington adds. "I had one guy in a dogsled one winter. We're very concerned with our customers with kids who could get hit as they go out the door."

Some critics have raised more philosophical concerns about street closings. The U of M's Martin says cul-de-sacs are "really about trying to privatize what is essentially public space. It's part of cities trying to achieve a level of privacy that is more typical of suburbs." In some cities, advocates have also charged that the barriers serve to keep poor people out of more affluent neighborhoods, or to segregate races. "You have to be careful about that," confirms Herron. "People can think that blocks are becoming gated."

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In some places, the barriers have already worn out their welcome. In 1993 Bridgeport, Connecticut, installed dozens of cul-de-sacs, but all of them were removed last year. Residents said the barriers were ugly and tarnished the image of their neighborhoods.

Whether the orange roadblocks at Chicago-Lake will be replaced with more permanent barriers is still up in the air. At the moment, says Herron, no one knows how much such a project would cost or how it would be funded, though there is talk of using NRP and local economic-development monies. Either way, adds the council member, "I don't foresee any more of these. We get more requests for traffic circles and speed bumps."

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