Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

What Does Research Reveal About Street Access and Crime?

Researchers have argued that closing neighborhood streets and alleys can prevent crime because there is a relationship between street access and crime rates. The details of the argument are as follows:

  1. Offenders find targets in familiar territory. They gain knowledge about vulnerable areas and potential opportunities through their contacts with other offenders and through their daily routines, such as hanging out with friends, traveling to work, and going to the movies. This means that frequently traveled streets are more vulnerable to crime.
  2. Offenders are quick to recognize a closely knit neighborhood and the presence of people who might notice them. From litter and other signs of neglect, they can judge whether they are likely to be challenged if they deal drugs or solicit for prostitution.
  3. Burglars avoid cul-de-sacs and prefer corner sites where neighbors are less likely to see them. Offenders look for heavily traveled streets and locations near major highways, where there are many potential victims and where they can easily escape.
  4. Reducing through-traffic by closing streets or alleys means that
    • criminal outsiders are less likely to become familiar with the area;
    • residents learn who does not belong in the neighborhood, which helps them to more effectively keep watch on the streets near their homes;
    • residents committing crime in their own neighborhood cannot so easily blame outsiders and thus deflect suspicion from themselves;
    • burglars cannot so easily gain access to properties, especially from alleys behind houses;
    • escape routes for robbers are blocked off ; and
    • drive-by shootings are prevented because cars cannot easily enter a street, or because they have to backtrack to escape, exposing them to retaliation from those shot at.

Research findings are generally consistent with this theory:

  • Areas with street layouts that permit easy access experience more crime than areas with restricted access and complicated street patterns.1
  • A study in Vancouver, British Columbia, found that the more entrances to a street, the more crime on that street.2 Most research supports the idea that burglars avoid houses in cul-de-sacs, unless these abut wooded areas or wasteland affording access from the rear.
  • A study of 86 Norfolk, Va., neighborhoods found that those with high burglary rates had a larger number of access points from arterial roads.3
  • An early study comparing adjacent high- and low-crime neighborhoods found that the low-crime areas did not have major thoroughfares.4
  • Reconstruction of a major highway led to the closing of all cross streets in Pompano Beach, Fla., at the highway's right-of-way. An unexpected side effect was a dramatic reduction in drug dealing, robbery, assault, and other crime in the adjacent neighborhoods during reconstruction. Side streets were reopened after the work was done, but Pompano Beach made traffic modifications and adjusted police patrols to control access to neighborhoods.5

Ornate gated entrances to private streets

Ornate gated entrances to private streets

Ornate gated entrances to private streets, such as these in St. Louis, can effectively control crime problems, but are not feasible for most crime prevention initiatives. Photo credit: Michael S. Scott