Sunday, October 13, 2013

When backage becomes frontage and frontage backage

One suburban design flaw discussed far less often than the cul-de-sac or the strip mall is the “backage” road – a road that provides vehicular access to the rear of properties that otherwise have “frontage” along an arterial road. The backage road optimizes vehicular operations on the arterial by limiting access and reducing turning movements. This improves the arterial’s capacity and, some say, its safety. Indeed, this arrangement is much safer than 1950s-era arterials, where a constant barrage of driveway openings create turning conflicts for people driving, walking and cycling.

However, backage roads have unintended consequences. By providing direct property access for vehicles, backage roads have encouraged land uses to “front” them. Front doors, windows and parking for businesses and homes are oriented toward the backage road instead of the arterial. In effect, the backage road has frontage, and the arterial frontage has backage. Zounds!