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Open Access Publications from the University of California

A Cycle of Dependence: Automobiles, Accessibility, and the Evolution of the Transportation and Retail Hierarchies


This paper explores how the automobile has indirectly led to dramatic changes in patterns of accessibility to retail and service activity within metropolitan regions. The automobile instigated a greater articulation of the hierarchy of transportation facilities, as reflected in a greater differentiation between the local and the regional systems. At the same time, the automobile instigated a collapse in the retail hierarchy, by encouraging the growth of community and regional centers at the expense of local shops and the central business district. The result has been a cycle of dependence, in which suburban communities are designed for the automobile, leaving residents little choice but to drive. Access to retail activity is now dependent on the automobile but vulnerable to increasing levels of congestion that are driven by dependence on the automobile.

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