The argument that connecting new neighborhoods to existing ones causing cut-through traffic is only true if there are limited street connections in the transportation network in the first place. If a community has a well-planned, interconnected transportation network then more route options become available to drivers and they no longer have a reason to search for or take cut-through routes.
The grid street network pattern (or modifications thereof) offers the most route options to drivers. Each time a part of the grid is de-coupled or disconnected, the number of route options is reduced and traffic is forced through a more congested network. The more self-contained neighborhoods, cul-de-sacs, loops, dead-end streets, or vacated roadways, the greater the chance for increasing cut-through traffic. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy that honors the car instead of the human.
This is why it is imperative for transportation planners and community leaders to take long-term view and not fall prey to NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) concerns about connecting neighborhoods. Other benefits of an interconnected street network beyond reducing cut-through traffic include:
- Less congested/concentrated traffic on primary routes as more options are available.
- More efficient usage of roads instead of concentrating wear and tear on the primary roads.
- Quicker and more efficient access for emergency services, school buses, garbage pick-up, mail delivery, and snow removal.
- Shorter trips between neighborhoods, which increase pedestrian and bicycle trips.
- Lower overall community carbon footprint.
- Lower energy usage as non-motorized options become more advantageous and drivers do not have to follow circuitous routes to get from one neighborhood to another, even an adjacent one.
- Improved health and fitness as cars become less necessary for short trips.
- Reduced urban sprawl.
The best way to start healing a broken, disconnected street network is to stop allowing disconnected residential developments. Reversing past mistakes is harder, but can include buying properties and then adding new street connections. The important thing is to take a long-term view and to not expect overnight healing of a broken transportation network. Eventually, the system’s connectivity will improve and the benefits will become visibly apparent.