, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 317-346

Local shopping as a strategy for reducing automobile travel

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Abstract

Suburban development in the US is widely criticized for its contribution to automobile dependence and its consequences. Not surprisingly, then, a return to more urban-style development, where potential destinations are closer to home, is often put forth as a strategy for reducing automobile dependence. This paper evaluates the possibility that providing local shopping opportunities will help to reduce automobile dependence by exploring how residents of existing neighborhoods make use of the local shopping opportunities currently available to them. Using both quantitative and qualitative evidence for six neighborhoods in Austin, TX, we address two sets of questions. First, to what degree do residents choose local shopping over more distant opportunities and why? What are the implications for vehicle travel? Second, to what degree do residents choose to walk rather than drive to local shopping and why? What are the implications for vehicle travel? The results of this exploration suggest that local shopping will not prove a particularly effective strategy for reducing automobile dependence in the typical US city by either reducing travel distances or encouraging alternative modes of travel. Residents of such places choose more distant stores enough of the time that they increase total driving significantly, and they don't choose alternative modes enough of the time that they reduce total driving significantly. But while local shopping may not do much to reduce driving it does give residents the option to drive less and this option is something residents clearly value. Local shopping does not show great promise as a strategy for reducing automobile use, but it does show promise as a strategy for enhancing quality of life in neighborhoods, at least partly by making driving once again a matter of choice.