No business can survive without customers. Most businesses will tell you there’s no such thing as too many customers. There is, however, such a thing as too much parking. This is particularly the case for malls, which are typically designed with drivers in mind.
"People living within walking distance from the mall could be enticed to shop there – just as long as the parking doesn’t itself become a barrier."
What if malls were able to welcome customers without their bulky, space-hungry cars? Parking brings a finite amount of customers into the mall, but why stop there? If customers can comfortably arrive at the mall by foot, the customer base can expand beyond the limit of how many people the parking lot can accommodate. People living within walking distance from the mall could be enticed to shop there – just as long as the parking doesn’t itself become a barrier.
What are the real barriers to walking to a real mall? Billings Bridge Plaza is a typical mall built in the 1950s (photo above 1962), upgraded in the ‘80s, and centred around automobile use. When the Transitway was built, it cleverly integrated a major station with the food court of the mall, allowing customers to come in by bus. As of today, the mall is accessible from all parts of the city, by car and by transit. But ironically, it is not all that accessible from neighbourhoods in the immediate vicinity.
"A footbridge... would be a great investment in the mall and the community alike, providing a key piece of infrastructure to link residential areas with retail."
Like many malls, Billings Bridge has surface parking which effectively blocks major entrances from the streetscape, from parks and from nearby neighbourhoods – unless you’re willing to cross several hundred metres of parking, dodging drivers trying to get in and out.
The closest residential neighbourhood to this mall is the one directly to the southeast, known as Heron Park. It is blocked, not by a parking lot, but by a sizable ravine, the Via Rail line, and the Transitway. The City of Ottawa has recognized this issue, and back in 1991 considered building a footbridge that connects to the Transitway station, and by extension the mall. Read more about this in a companion blog: "Unfortunately, Betty Is Not a Crow"
A number of Billings Bridge customers do arrive in cars and need parking. This number is capped at 619 cars at any given time, as this is the number of spots available to the driving public. The Heron Park neighbourhood next door has over 800 households within 500m of the mall, or a five-minute walk if the footbridge existed.
"As of today, the mall is accessible from all parts of the city, by car and by transit. But ironically, it is not all that accessible from neighbourhoods in the immediate vicinity."
What does this mean? It means that more households would be able to walk to Billings Bridge Plaza than there is capacity for people to park their cars in front of this mall, even if we limited the scope to those who live within a 5-minute walk of the mall if a footbridge is constructed. A number that expands considerably if you include people willing to walk 10 or 15 minutes to get to the mall. This is currently the case for many local residents who brave the austere stretch of Bank Street to access services and transit. The number of parking spots available is always limited to 619, but shortening travel time and making the route safer and more attractive for pedestrians is certain to increase levels of activity and visits to the mall.
Conclusion? A footbridge across this ravine would be a great investment in the mall and the community alike, providing a key piece of infrastructure to link residential areas with retail, and make a part of our city more walkable.
~XAVIER BRADBURY-JOST is a new blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa