City officials and business leaders looking to increase economic performance and attract new residents recognize the benefits of having a strong local retail environment. Money spent at a local retail is more likely to stay in the community (Civic Economics, 2008; Patel and Martin, 2011) and sell goods that are sourced locally (Clark & Banga, 2010). A commissioned study in Grand Rapids, Michigan, found that locally owned restaurants spent 56% their revenues locally, compared to only 37% in the case of national chains (Civic Economics, 2008). Many cities have prioritized attracting Millennials, who, as a market segment, exhibit a strong preference for supporting local retail (Henderson, 2012). According a study conducted for the National Association of Realtors, across generations there is a strong preference for housing locations that offer access to a variety of local retail establishments, including shops and restaurants (Belden, Russonello & Stewart, 2011).
It is likely that local businesses begin at a disadvantage when vying for consumer attention in the cluttered landscapes of busy commercial corridors, especially because they often compete against national chains with enormous advertising budgets and iconic, easily recognizable logos. Based on what we know about the effect of increased speed on diminishment of peripheral vision, ability to perceive detail, and response time (Bartmann, et al., 1991; Gehl, 2006; NACTO, n.d.), we hypothesize that higher travel speeds further exacerbate the impacts of this competitive challenge for local retail.
This pilot study investigates whether higher driving speeds decrease the ability of drivers to recognize local retail establishments relative to national chains. Using data from eye tracking technology and participant responses in a simulation-based experimental study design, we will investigate whether speeds of 45 MPH disproportionally benefit national chains when compared to speeds of 30 MPH. This pilot will establish a platform for further research on the connections between travel speed, local economic development, and support for local business. The results from this research will provide planners and policy makers with new tools and evidence for evaluating the impact of speed limits and design speeds on local business and a strong local economy.