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Wal-Marts on freeways: bad idea

I've been participating in comment threads on austinist and metroblogging Austin on this issue in general and probably ought to write a full crackplog on the whole thing - but for now, just the traffic point:

The latest reason opponents of the Northcross Wal-Mart are attaching desperately to is the fact that Wal-Mart's proposed new location is not directly on a freeway, unlike the two other projects of larger size in our area. From a transportation perspective, this is exactly the wrong reason to oppose Wal-Mart; it's far better for the city for major destinations like Wal-Mart to be on city arterials rather than on frontage roads. In cities in states which don't have this obsession with highways as economic development tools for politically connected landowners, frontage roads typically aren't part of the project, because frontage roads end up generating their own traffic - so every big box retail site is located on arterial roadways, not freeways. Somehow, Brewster, these towns continue to thrive.

In short: it's impossible to deliver good transit service on frontage roads. I'll talk more about WHY this is in a future crackplog; but for now, just take it as a given. The service along US 183 in Northwest Austin is very very bad -- were it not for the useful nearby 2-way Jollyville Road, it'd be even worse. Long, long, long walks for transit patrons to businesses on the other side of the freeway. The workers at this proposed new Wal-Mart on the other hand can walk there quickly from the Northcross transfer center which attracts a dozen or more bus routes from all over the city, no matter from which direction they arrived.

There are lots of defensible reasons to oppose Wal-Mart; just like there were defensible reasons to push the McMansion Ordinance. Like then, latching on to something you think will be effective but you know is dishonest is a bad move in the long-run.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation , Urban Design


Fascinating analysis, and one I agree with. Good luck convincing the masses now that the Statesman has described the area as "the middle of single family residential." Ummm, then was the last time they drove around the corner of Anderson and Burnet?

I think your point about the proximity to bus routes is a good one. How many people are just a 10-15 minute bus ride from Northcross? I'll bet it's a very large chunk of North Austin.

A large percentage of people in my NG (SLNA) oppose this development, too, even though they won't be affected by the traffic. My sense is the objections are largely classist: when I pointed out that some people count on Wal-Mart's low prices, one writer actually suggested that the people "counting on" those prices might do without some of the things they don't need, "like Vin Diesel DVDs or reindeer-shaped hand soap dispensers."

There must be class issues lurking here somewhere; I don't know how else to explain the emotional debates, even among people who won't be affected. (I've even been invited to move to Houston, which, among the Northern-California-wannabe crowd, is the ultimate insult.)

AC, you are exactly right. I'll quote myself from the last thread after it went offtopic with the posting claiming that all the anti-Walmart people really want is to assure something more New Urbanism-ish:

"For many (not all) of those anti-redevelopment people I've seen speak at meetings thus far, you don't have to scratch very deep beneath all the classic code words before you find the racism and elitism. Just look on the site to see all the code words about fears of the people going to WalMart causing increased crime, loitering, etc. The statements made at public meetings and on neighborhood lists have been even more explicit and shameful - and not just by a stray crank or two, but by many.

I am amused by the attempt to claim that the anti-revitalisation group isn't reactionary and is interested in real mixed-use development: ask them what these anti-development neighbors have said thus far about Lincoln's desire to rezone the extended-stay suites (between the planned dense-commercial and the bus transit center) and build a dense multifamily residential project there..."

Here are some Campo traffic counts: http://www.campotexas.org/Excel/24HourMid-Block3-2006.xls

It's just a two-day sample, but Anderson west of Northcross carries only about 75% of S. Lamar's traffic between Manchaca and Barton Springs.

Here's a classic of one of the more overt in the barely-concealed racist code words genre, quoted via In Fact Daily. Sadly, I've heard worse verbally at these meetings.

This gem was part of a letter to council from Liz Clare:
"In addition to the horrific effect it would have on traffic, I am deeply concerned with the crime that a 24-hour discount store would attract the area. (sic) Let's not kid ourselves. This type of store does not attract a good element. Wal-Marts are big dirty stores selling cheap junk at cut-rate prices to pack in people with little money or education, and no amount of cute advertising can change that."

Hmmm, well, this IS my neighborhood, and it IS "the middle of single family residential." Just because there are several businesses at and around the intersection of Burnet and Anderson doesn't mean that statement isn't true.

I don't oppose development of the site in question. I DO oppose something going in that will be larger than that monster Cabela's store on I-35 (http://blog.erdener.org/archives/001089.php). The HEB just down the street is one of the smallest in town, and that's just fine with my neighbors and me. It's a similar story with other businesses in the neighborhood. We neither need nor desire a "supercenter" from Walmart or any other company. There are several stores of this type within a 10 minute drive (at most) that we can visit if so desired.

AC, you said the intersection carries 75% of the traffic that flows between Manchaca and Barton Springs. Are you saying that means we aren't at capacity at this intersection? That is a very simplistic way of looking at, and I'm sure there is more to traffic analysis than comparing two totally unrelated intersections (although admittedly I know little about this type of thing).

Unfortunately, I don't have any data to support my point of view, but I travel this intersection frequently, and at times it can get a bit backed up (which is the most traffic I want to deal with). You're naive to think that putting in a store of this magnitude won't have a large negative impact on traveling through the area. I don't want my neighborhood to end up like so many areas in Austin that have to deal with several light cycles before they get through an intersection. There are several reasons I chose to live where I live, and the absence of too much traffic was one of them!

Marty, I have lived in this neighborhood for over seven years now, and there has always been significant traffic and noise. You probably have to go back to before Northcross was built to find a time when there wasn't.