Saturday, November 10, 2012

"Make everyone miserable" retail development

The Sacramento area seems to have a thing with making retail developments as inaccessible as possible.

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The Woodland Gateway shopping center has big long roads whose only purpose seems to be to get people to drive more. The only entrance is on the west side. However, the main big-box retailers are situated on the far north and eastern sides, behind a big parking lot. Now if you switched the stores to the east side, you could still have the big parking lots, and car accessibility would be similar. But it would make things much more accessible for pedestrians.

An irony is that they do attempt to be some pedestrians facilities in, but make them very unusable. There are your typical sidewalks to nowhere, and one sided pedestrian crossings. If a resident of an apartment complex across the street from In n Out has a hankering for a burger, he would need to go on a long detour, because they chose not to put an official ped crossing there. (Though they would probably be safer with the illegal median crossing.)

You would think that all this inconvenience for pedestrians is the name of making it convenient for cars. But alas, you would be mistaken. To get to the In-N-Out, they would need to go down to the intersection and make a U-Turn. (Or slog all the way down towards Costco and around.) Getting out is more problematic. Medians block most of the logical ways, forcing you to make a right turn on to the main street. Ok, you think you can just make a u turn? You would be mistaken. The next few streets are signed no U-turn, forcing you to cross over the freeway and go a ways out of the way just to turn around to get back home. The other alternative is to go way out of the way back to costco (but make sure you don't hit a median).

I had thought this was just one aberration in bad shopping center design. But alas, this is not so. We stumbled across Notomas crossing in Sacramento, which has a similar layout. The design principle seems to be:
1) Set retail as far as possible away from people, thereby preventing pedestrians from accessing.
2) Funnel all cars through a single chokepoint, thereby increasing congestion and making it more annoying.
3) Limit options for cars. You don't want them to think. They need to go on a the long route to ensure they don't do anything bad.
4) Put up lots of grassy medians and trees to give it a faux-natural look - and help others to conform to the approved behavior.

If the shopping center is so evil that it needs to be drastically separated from the surroundings, why build it in the first place? And if cars cannot be trusted to make simple turns, why allow them there at all? Why not just provide a bus for everyone? (That would keep all the cars out for you.) But, who would expect rationality in zoning? Instead, we have have blind NIMBY appeasement, with everybody worse off.

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