Wednesday, June 29, 2011

The Shopping Experience

Over the past few weeks and months the natives of Redbridge have been restless because of the new car parking regime proposed by the Council. First we had the extended hours and increased charges around Barkingside High Street. Then the introduction of pay and display in Wanstead High Street and various other small shopping parades as well as complaints about Green Lane.

But sometimes we have to challenge accepted conventional wisdom and the paradigm of business as usual. Sometimes we have to think outside the box to find out what is really going on. The proposition I am about to work you through is that it is not supermarkets that have ruined our High Streets – it is the car. And that we can revive our High Streets by removing the cars from them.

The big question is, if the shops are local why do we need to go by car. The argument that you need a car to get heavy shopping home is countered rather graphically by the use of a personal shopping trolley, the sort of thing you use in a supermarket to get the shopping to your boot. The booze run foot passengers on the cross-channel ferries seem to manage quite well.

Most, if not all, supermarkets and Trading Estates offer free parking except when they are located in Town Centres like Ilford or Romford. There was, I am told, a furore when Bluewater started charging for parking and people started parking for free at Lakeside and getting the bus. And do you think there will be free parking at Westfield Stratford when it opens? I think not. The point is that we pay for parking in places like Ilford and Romford, they have shopping Malls and in Romford a street market.

Now consider. When we go to one of these places we don’t park directly outside the shop we want to visit or in the relevant supermarket isle when we just want a newspaper. So, why do we expect to do it in the High Street? We park some distance away and there is a WALK to where we want to go. And it’s not the amount of walking either. Some of these places are huge. Have you considered just how far you walk when you visit a supermarket or shopping mall? They are actually ‘health centres’ that encourage exercise.

Now think about the High Street as it used to be. In the era when cars were a luxury and owned only by a few. The High Streets I remember as a boy were bustling with people on foot and there were very few cars around.

So what is it exactly that makes these places a pleasant place to shop? What is the common denominator? Could it be that the environment where the shopping actually takes place is free of cars? Where you can zig-zag between shops [or isles] without crossing a road, don’t have to worry about the kids running off or getting squashed by a 4X4 trying to park in a space the size of a mini. And no fumes.

Where would you rather be? In a typical pedestrianised area as pictured above, or on Ilford Lane, Green Lane, Barkingside High Street or Wanstead High Street?

There is plenty of academic reaserarch to back this up (but unfortunately it is behind a pay wall) and it’s been around for years. But the same old barriers are preventing our High Streets from the kind of action that is really needed. And ironically it comes from the very people who have most to gain.

Here are some factets:
  • Whenever there is a proposal to pedestrianise a High Street the traders go ape-sh1t. But after it is introduced they love it.
  • People who arrive at the High Street on foot or by public transport spend more.
  • A car free environment increases footfall by between 20% and 40%.
Further reading:
Bicycle infrastructure is good for business
Pedestrian Zone
Making the case for investment in the walking environment
economic benefits of pedestrianising a street
Economic growth in a historic city-the transport challenge (2005) - Paywall
Regulating Cars and Buses in Cities - the case of Pedetrianisation in Oxford - Paywall
The effect of urban quality improvements on economic activity (2006) - Paywall

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