June 25, 2006

Pedestrian Friendly: Absolutely Opaque on the Concept

Talk about unclear on the concept of what pedestrian friendly development should be! In yesterday's Boston Globe article about an outdoor "lifestyle center" shopping center coming to Burlington was this gem of a quote from Steve Rice at Patriot Partners , Wayside Commons' developer:

"It's pedestrian friendly. You can pull your car up right to the front of a store."

Is this what our auto-centric couch-potato society has come to? "Pedestrian-friendly" is now a definition of a drive-up window? Argh! "Pedestian-friendly" does NOT mean creating an environment where you don't actually have to do any walking! "Pedestrian-friendly" means creating an environment that is attractive and welcoming to people on foot.

Got that, Mr. Rice? Newbury Street is pedestrian-friendly, even though you usually can't pull your car right up to a store. The Burger King drive-through window is not pedestrian-friendly, even though you can pull your car right up.

Amazingly, the Globe article continued on Rice's theme:
The Burlington Mall has the traditional ocean of spaces -- 5,700 of them -- with the stores forming an island in the middle. It's a hike from the space farthest away. Stores in Wayside Commons form a horseshoe, with most of the center's 800 spaces in the center, making for a much shorter walk.

The problem with traditional mall parking is not that you have to walk; it's that you have to walk in a particularly unappealing ocean of asphalt. Shoppers happily walk much longer down Newbury Street or in Quincy Market, without feeling the need to have a car drive them from one end to the other.

It's not about distance. It's about ambiance, and streetscape, and good design.


  1. The description of stores surrounding a parking lot, sounds like the "new Shoppers World" which is about as unfriendly to shopping as it might be to pedestrians. Not like the old Shoppers World, where one could park, and spend a day shopping from store to store, or just sit on a bench in the middle. Where did planners get the idea that pedestrian friendly means a U-shaped assortment of big-box stores surrounding a parking lot?

  2. Dave, you captured my exact thought when I read the original Globe story. Somehow the
    New Shoppers World's "parking in the middle" model is even worse than the "traditional"
    strip mall, since there is no acceptable way to get from one side to the other. So
    unappealing is the prospect of walking from Toys R Us to Best Buy, that I may have on
    occassion actually driven from one side of the parking lot to the other!

    I admire more creative approaches like Mashpee Commons, which may be a bit too pre-planned
    to be a real town center, but at least gives much of the same feel.

  3. The U-Shape with small stores follows the old Shoppers World design, and parking surrounding is a good thing. The original Malls had the right idea. The point is, keep the cars AWAY from the pedestrians.
    The new Shoppers World invites driving from one side to the other, since the distance between those stores doesn't invite the walking. (if they had wider median strips with vendors set up inside, maybe the picture would change.)