Beyond Retail

Monday, September 03, 2007

Back at ya, pedestrian advocates!


Where I am currently living has a very limited selection of retail. Extremely limited. The city put up a fight in the early 1990s when Burger King wanted to come to town, more recently it was Costco that got the thumbs-down. More annoyingly, I'm without a car here.

It's been relatively warm during the past week in Chicagoland, and I ended up going through an entire case of water in that time. Luckily, there is a grocery store about a mile (actually, 1.3 miles) from where I am, and I was able to get a lift over there. Once I got there, I contemplated how easy it would be to transport two-24 packs of water. They didn't seem too heavy in the store, but I didn't want to push it, so I just went for one box. Since Illinois does not have a bottle deposit, and the Ice Mountain brand was on sale, it was a reasonable $4.50. Everything seemed good so far, and as I walked toward the doors at the grocery store, a blast of air conditioning made it seem like it would be a perfect walk back.

By the time the grocery store was out of sight, the box of water began to change shape, and the temperature was not a comfy 60 degrees but rather 83 degrees of dry heat. The community that I am in is actually very well designed for pedestrians, but that didn't make the walk any more enjoyable. Dog walkers and stroller-pushers looked at me like I was an idiot, and who knows what any of the passing cars were thinking. By the time I turned onto a side street, the box was not only embarrassing but was also becoming quite painful. Eventually I got back, but only with the personal assurance that I would never do that again.

Now, for the connection:

At no time in this story did I have any problems with actually getting from the store to my residence. As I mentioned, the city was clearly listening to the pedestrian advocates of the world when they were laying out sidewalks. The problem lies entirely in what I was trying to pick up: a box of water. It really isn't all that feasible for John or Jane Doe to commute to a grocery store by foot, purchase everything that they need, and then take it back home. Nor is it really all that feasible to purchase a ladder at Lowe's and then walk to your car at Stop & Shop, even if Lowe's was forced to put in a nice walkway with benches. It also is not all that feasible that anyone would buy a 7 foot by 2 foot by 6 inch (unconstructed) BILLY bookshelf at the proposed Somerville IKEA, then drag it down the street to an MBTA Orange Line stop, get on the train with it, get off the train with it, and walk home.

The problem with many proponents of a society without automobiles is that they forget what people are actually doing at the proposed developments. Walking to an establishment such as an office, a restaurant, or a 7-Eleven, is perfectly acceptable and should be encouraged. Additionally, if a supermarket were to open at either the Cloverleaf Mall or Sam's Club sites, it would also be expected that residents of the adjacent condo complexes be able to access the store without needing to hop in their cars. But when IKEA and Lowe's are forced to throw tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars into walkways that will NEVER be used, one must ask whether pacification of the advocates is really necessary.

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