Highway rest stops are the quintessential break area for anyone that drives long distances. In the United States, rest stops, also called travel plazas, service or rest areas, are located along main highways like interstate roads. These areas often include: gas stations, restrooms, picnic areas, fast food and other restaurants, parking, lodging, truck/auto services and convenience stores. They are often a mixture of government-owned and private owned developments that together provide amenities for people as they travel to their destinations.
The government typically owns the non-commercial public space, which includes: the parking, restrooms, information kiosks, vending machines, and picnic areas. The land owner and developers then purchase land adjacent to these government facilities to service the traveler’s other needs: fuel, food, and lodging. These developments are not public-private partnerships, but do appear to be to the end consumer.
If you think about it, travel plazas are great examples of transit-oriented development, certainly not by today’s definition, but these areas do offer a variety of land-use in a centralized location built on the foundation of the inflow and outflow of people in transit. Everything you need is conveniently located in one place; you don’t have to park your car in one location, and walk a great distance or take other means of transportation to get to where you need to be.
It’s all about convenience. Why did these rest areas get built to begin with? They were built to satisfy the need of the consumer. When traveling long distances, drivers need fuel, become hungry or tired, or may face an emergency in which they need to stop for a while and perhaps get help. It started with gas stations and temporary parking areas, but as the needs grew, so did the amenities offered – which transformed these areas into to true mixed-use developments based around transport.
Private travel plazas that serve specifically as truck stops are a $171 billion dollar industry in the United States alone – which highlights the financial viability of creating value around human transit nodes. The lessons we can learn from this industry as we embark upon creating more true transit-oriented developments by today’s definition in the United States are:diversified land use, centralized development, appropriate location, public-private cooperation, and prioritizing the end consumer’s needs.
2. Gordon Dickson, “Government Work Zone,” Fort Worth Star-Telegram, 4 August 2003, sec. Metro, p. 3.
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