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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Traditional Neighborhood Shopping Districts: Patterns of Use and Modes of Access

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This dissertation examines patterns of usage and modes of access to traditional shopping districts. Environmentalists and designers have advocated a return to “traditional neighborhood development,” with higher densities, mixed uses, pedestrian amenities and transit service, to reduce auto dependence for shopping and other trips. Critics have countered that proximity only partly explains shopping destination and mode choice, but draw their evidence mostly from auto-dominated shopping centers, not traditional ones. Whether shopping districts predominantly serve local residents and support trip reduction has remained to be examined.

This dissertation examines customer characteristics, patterns of use, and modes of access in six traditional shopping areas in the Oakland-Berkeley, California, area. The six districts are surrounded by middle class, moderately dense residential neighborhoods with transit service and pedestrian access consonant with neo-traditional design. They vary in scale and mix of uses across the range proposed by neo-traditional designers.

Surveys, counts, and observations reveal that all six shopping areas draw a mix of residents and non-residents. The non-residents’ share increases with the scale of the shopping area and the share of comparison shopping. Distance is the most important factor in the mode choice to these shopping areas; most non-residents drive, whereas only half the residents do. Younger customers and those with few or no autos walk more than average. Those shopping for groceries or making multiple stops for specialty food typically drive. Non-resident shoppers are more likely to purchase comparison goods than residents. Both groups are attracted by specialty foods.

Trip generation rates in the six shopping areas are higher than conventional methods predict, but auto shares are much lower. The result is parking demand close to conventional estimates.

The dissertation reveals conflicts among the needs of residents, the needs of shopping districts, and traffic mitigation objectives. Many uses that serve residents and add interest and vitality to traditional shopping areas also attract a high share of non-residents, mostly by car. Trip generation can be very high, even though the auto share is relatively low. If other neo-traditional shopping districts follow suit, their benefits will stem more convenience than from trip reduction per se.

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