Obviously, everyone loves a nice strip mall. The parking lot, the low-slung, cheap-looking buildings, the pedestrian walkways that no drivers pay attention to.
And big-box stores! The lots! The long walks down busy parking lanes! The Brutalism-meets-Brady-Bunch aesthetic! What’s not to like?
So it pains me, truly, to be the bearer of this bad news. There’s a slight (actually, not-so-slight) correlation between strip malls and big-box stores and increased deaths among the elderly.
A recently released report [PDF] from the Texas Transportation Institute at Texas A&M is the bearer of this bad news. Anticipating that some 10 percent of the population would be 75 or older by 2050, they set out to study how the design of traffic flow within a community related to accidents involving pedestrians and drivers at that advanced age.
Some findings were not a surprise: that, for example, slower streets resulted in fewer accidents involving the elderly (and, presumably, everyone else). Arterial streets, with more traffic and higher speeds, saw more accidents for the group, including more in which an elderly person was killed or seriously injured (KSI). And then there are our commercial friends:
For older motorists, arterial thoroughfares, strip commercial uses, and big-box stores — the common features of contemporary suburban design — were associated with significant increases in total and KSI crashes. Pedestrian-scaled retail uses, which are associated with lower operating speeds, were associated with significantly fewer of these crashes.
How significant were the increases? For older drivers:
Each strip commercial use was associated with a 2.5 percent and 1.9 percent increase in total and KSI crashes, respectively, while each big-box store was associated with a 7.2 percent and 3.9 percent increase in these crash types, respectively.
And for older pedestrians:
Each mile of arterial thoroughfare was associated with a 28 percent increase in total and KSI crashes, while each big-box store was associated with an 8.6 percent increase in these crash types.
After the economic downturn, several major big-box chains shuttered completely; many others closed locations. Those spaces are generally still sitting empty. Given that they are closely associated with an increase in accidents that kill and seriously injure older people, that’s maybe not such a bad thing.
We all love the sophisticated elegance that comes with buying perishables in bulk. But sometimes we have to put our grandparents first.
And you can order that stuff online anyway.