Sprawl Madness Redux: Driving 17 Miles to Go 500 Feet in Phoenix

These two houses in Phoenix are 500 feet or 17 miles apart depending on your mode of transportation. Image: Google Maps

Last year, Angie posted an unfortunate map of two houses in Orlando that share a backyard but are seven miles apart if you take the disconnected local street system. That’s quite a distance to ask your neighbor for a cup of sugar.

Well, reader Sean Horan just sent this mind-blowing sequel: two houses in Phoenix, Arizona — yes, inside the city limits — that are about 500 feet apart as the crow flies but an amazing 17 miles apart if you drive on streets.

The street network also allows you to take this amazing route, which is half a mile shorter, Google Maps helpfully tells me:

The shortest distance between two points is not this. Image: Google Maps
The shortest distance between two points is not this. Image: Google Maps

You may have noticed in the first map that to drive between those two addresses, you have to go around around a big, mountainous, roadless area. Just to be clear: The point is not that we should build a nice, connected street network across the Sonoran wilderness. The point is that there wouldn’t be crazy disconnected streets encroaching on the desert foothills if Phoenix didn’t have so much spread-out, low-slung development like this everywhere else:

Just to clarify: The mountainous, roadless area isn't the problem. Design like this is the problem. Image: Google Maps
Just to clarify: The mountainous, roadless area isn’t the problem. Development like this is the problem. Image: Google Maps

If you’ve got a sprawl contestant that can top this, please send it. Until then: Congratulations, Phoenix, the champion of sprawl.

  • Adam

    Honestly, it doesn’t seem like the spread out sprawl is the problem here either. Don’t get me wrong, sprawl is the problem with our urban planning. I’m not disagreeing with that; but checking out the specific spot in question it seems that West Revina Lane and North 9th Ave were designed to connect. There’s even a vacant lot between 910 and 820 W Revina Lane where it seems they were supposed to connect; but for whatever reason it hasn’t happened. It appears that one community is made up of mansions, and the other made up of McMansions. I’d guess the mansion owners pulled strings and obstructed the construction of the connector to keep the McMansion riff-raff out. https://www.google.com/maps/place/W+Anthem+Way/@33.8680293,-112.0857114,113m/data=!3m1!1e3!4m2!3m1!1s0x872c9dfb83fd4f35:0x86d689b9502c9145

  • neroden

    This is actually misleading; there appears to be a connection between Desert Hills Drive and 9th Avenue/Meridian Road, which Google isn’t routing across.

    The fact that there are quite literally two parallel roads 200 feet apart with nothing in between them except a trail… is odd to say the least, and shows an obsession with asphalt-laying.

    You can see some other weird artifacts of historic urban “planning” here. There are a bunch of sprawling subdivisions which are built on a giant grid, which was clearly intended to link up… but they were built out really really loosely with huge open spaces between buildings and nlots of entirely vacant lots.

    Then there’s the “Anthem” subdivision with McMansions packed cheek to jowl, which was built on the cul-de-sac model. You can’t get from the “Anthem” subdivision to the rest of the area; it’s been cut off. This may be deliberate, as Adam says.

    By the way, these are all outside the actual city limits of Phoenix, though not by much.

    The Phoenix metro area still is the winner of any sprawl contest, of course.

  • Jsalsa740

    If you zoom in closely, there is actually a gate blocking the service road that connects Desert Hills Drive and 9th Avenue/Meridian Road.

  • BlueFairlane

    On the upside, in another generation or so nobody will live anywhere near either of these houses.

  • If you change the directions to bicycling or walking, the gated connection between Desert Hills Dr and Meridian “opens” and the route is reduced to… 7 miles. Still really stupid.

    I think Adam probably has the answer. If you zoom in, you can see that all the houses around Point B (the bigger, fancier sprawl-burg) have fences, including fencing the west side of N Bradon Ct and the back of the houses along W Ravina Ln. Gotta keep those people with small swimming pool away from your big swimming pools.


  • If you walk it is only seven miles.

  • oooBooo

    Indeed. There’s also a dirt road from Honda Bow to Bradon ct. The dirt road if paved could also connect Bradon Ct. to what may be a private (and unnamed) road that branches off of 9th. Both the path you highlight and the dirt road allow quick travel by bicycle but deny it by car. This is an intentional design to block travel by car and truck between these two neighboring areas. That’s a design feature, blocking motorized traffic, that is usually celebrated around here.

  • C Monroe

    So this makes it only a couple of blocks between the houses by foot or bike, but miles by car. .

  • what_eva

    If you go to street view from Desert Hills, you can see signs that say “Emergency Vehicles Only”.

  • what_eva

    I’m wondering if that might be an emergency vehicle access (like the one mentioned above between Meridian and Desert Hills). There’s no street view, so it’s hard to tell for sure, but it looks like the shadow is constant along the back wall (ie if there’s a gate, it’s a solid one).

  • what_eva

    No. Blocking motorized traffic when there is no alternative route that isn’t 17 miles is asinine and can be dangerous if there is no route for emergency vehicles (there may or may not be here).

    when blocking motorized traffic is celebrated here, it’s usually because that traffic is routed to more appropriate arterial streets that are usually within a couple blocks, not 17 miles.

  • These houses are not within Phoenix city limits. One is a so-called master planned community known as Anthem and the other is in an area known as New River. Neither is incorporated. It is possible that Phoenix may one day annex both. For a variety of reasons, I hope that doesn’t occur, but if it does, I hope the city would provide for better connectivity between these two areas.

  • oooBooo

    Quite evidently not since arterial roads are the ones targeted to reserve road space for transit and bicycling. That’s the direct opposite of what should be done to encourage drivers to use arterial roads. If the desire were to have drivers use arterial roads at the very least the bicycling efforts would be directed to using side streets to carve out very fast and efficient bicycle travel routes rather than complex bike lane designs on arterial roads.

    What is celebrated here is making driving more difficult, time consuming, and expensive by whatever means possible including economic limitations. Forcing someone who drives to go 17 miles while a bicyclist would go a few blocks fits in with the theme nicely.

  • Sundaysacoustic

    “Anthem” is not in Phoneix at all. It’s 20 minutes outside of Las Vegas, NV; encroaching on the city limits of Henderson. It’s one of the most pleasing suburbias Las Vegas and really the entire southwest, has to offer. You need more money than someone should reasonably have in order to live there, though.


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