Highways, Interchanges and Auto-oriented Retail

Growth management strategies often focus on land use patterns. Less attention is given to the ways in which interventions designed to limit the expansion of city-regions affect transportation (Buliung and Kanaroglou, 2006). The past 15 years (the period immediately preceding the release of the Growth Plan) have been characterized by the production of vast spaces for consumption, primarily (but not entirely) located in suburban areas, close to high-capacity roads and highways (see Figure 16). These developments have been organized around well-established infrastructure, particularly the roads and highways built since the Second World War.

Placing auto-oriented retail and other "destinations" at these locations, improves the "reach" of retailers into the auto-oriented and auto-dependent segments of the market.20 However, this accessibility advantage, which consumers associate with convenience and low retail prices, is incompatible with the design goals of the Growth Plan, which promote the mixing of uses and the placement of sites for everyday activities closer to where people live, work, and play.

The Growth Plan proposes the long-term development of an alternative "value-added" landscape around highway interchanges (as well as ports, rail yards, and airports), a landscape that includes, "areas for manufacturing, warehousing, and associated retail, office and ancillary facilities, where appropriate" (MPIR, 2006, 19, emphasis added). However, since many of these areas already contain power retail and associated parking lots, the opportunity to establish manufacturing or other types of employment use in some of these places may have passed. A land use inventory that documents what is currently in place in these locations is needed to support the Growth Plan's policies in this area.

The on-going expansion of unenclosed power centres at the intersection of major arterials, and around highway interchanges essentially forces consumers to use their cars more, not only to get to these centres, but to also navigate their way around these islands of retail activity surrounded by parking lots. Similarly, recent mall development (i.e., Vaughan Mills) and re-development has added external big-box retailers and services to the periphery of enclosed shopping venues, thereby turning the malls "inside out," and entrenching auto-dependency. Nevertheless, the on-going redevelopment (and re-use) of existing retail locations provide substantial opportunities to encourage more sustainable development, provided that these opportunities can be seized.

Figure 16: Power retailing ('00s of retail square feet) and the 400-series highways

20. An individual can be auto-oriented (i.e., favouring the automobile) without being auto-dependent. For example, and insofar as neighbourhood density is an acceptable indicator of the potential for "auto-independence," Turcotte (2008) has shown that fewer than half of residents of urban neighbourhoods take at least one trip per day by car as the driver.