Kids love cul-de-sacs. My wife grew up on the one shown above, and spent her childhood on that circle of asphalt; on Christmas day our kids would rollerblade for hours. But planners have learned that there is a price for that privilege; everyone else is forced onto arterial roads, which according to one study, can have 75% more travel demand than a conventional urban grid of interconnected streets.
Those arterial and collector roads are more dangerous too, and scare away cyclists; a study of Davis, California showed a fatal/serious crash rate in the old, gridded part of town that was half that of the post-1980 sections, and the "walking/biking/transit mode share was 59 percent in the pre-1940 sections of town; in the post-1980 sections of town the walking/biking/transit mode share was 14 percent."
That didn't stop the planners and the developers from building them; suburban homeowners still loved them. But as always in America, dollars for public services are in short supply and money talks, and municipalities are learning that cul-de-sac suburban planning costs more to maintain and protect. Charlotte, NC looked at the cost of operating fire stations, and found that the least-connected areas, those with cul-de-sacs, were a lot more expensive per capita:
The least-connected service areas served 5,700 to 7,300 households; the most-connected service areas served 20,800 to 25,900 households. That means there are dramatic differences in the fiscal efficiency of individual fire stations. The stations in least-connected areas cost $586 to $740 per capita annually; the stations in most-connected areas cost $159 to $206 per capita annually.
Finally, municipalities and states are taking action. Virginia has radically limited future use of cul-de-sacs, and Austin, Portland, and Charlotte are not far behind.
The New Republic wonders if " this backlash is a growing trend or just a few isolated incidents."
I don't think there is any question. The rise of New Urbanism, the use of Walkscore as a planning tool and the end of oil all mean the end of the cul-de-sac is nigh.
Certainly anyone who rides a bike can tell you, when you have an interconnected grid, you have more choices and less traffic. When I cruise down the grid of streets on the west side of Toronto I can often go for blocks without being passed by a car; they have as many choices as I do. Three miles north in the suburbs, I would be afraid to be on the road.