This past Saturday, I was shopping at the Safeway in Laurel Lakes. Upon checkout, I received a surprise: $9 worth of gas at any BP station, a figure based on the amount of money I had spent on groceries over my last few trips. I was completely unaware of this program until the cashier handed me a gift card. The program gives $1.50 in gas for every $100 spent at Safeway. For me, 9 bucks is about a third of a tank, which will get me to and from work for an entire week.
This is a powerful sentiment presented by Safeway. To me, this implies that Safeway's business model assumes that consumers MUST use an automobile (and a gasoline powered one, at that) to use their stores, and therefore ought to subsidize automobiles. Personally, I would prefer imrpved crosswalks on Rt. 1 and better passage through the monstrous parking lot in front of Laurel Lakes Shopping Center. I would never drive to Safeway again. This furthers the notion that large grocery store chains ignore walkable urbanism in their business models despite its success in denser areas. In less dense places like Laurel, I'd like to see the two concepts at least coexist.
This has other implications. Since such grocery stores tend to be far fewer in areas with lower average incomes, this implies that a gas subsidy is the best way to get less fortunate people to the grocery store. In the automobile paradigm, this is somewhat of a charitable act on Safeway's part. However, not owning a car could save working class individuals a very significant percentage of their monthly take-home salary (25% for me!) , a savings that would far supercede the buck and a half I save on gas every time I spend a hundred dollars at Safeway.
I don't want to demonize the automobile. I own one, I use it daily, and I enjoy the freedom that driving provides. However I live 1600 feet from the entrance of the Laurel Lakes Safeway, and the only "safe way" for me to get there is to drive. I don't want to impose any major paradigm shift on anyone, nor do I want to take away their free gas or the parking in front of the store. For this particular shopping trip (which was rather large), I probably would have used a car no matter what the pedestrian facilities were. However, the simple fact that I can't walk 1600 feet from the grocery store to my house without risking my life in the process is inexcusable, and I really wish my local grocery store would acknowledge that this is a problem.