Unhealthy “Foods”: Huge Whole Foods Parking Lot Will Discourage Walking

A Whole Foods slated for a site on Third Avenue in Brooklyn will include a 248-space surface parking lot. New research shows the surface lot will discourage local residents from walking to the supermarket. Image: ##http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20101129/REAL_ESTATE/101129919###Crain's##

The proposed Gowanus Whole Foods is moving forward after eight years of planning and debate, following a vote by the NYC Board of Standards and Appeals today. With it will come a 248-space surface parking lot: a semi-suburban design plunked down amidst some of Brooklyn’s most walkable neighborhoods.

According to new research by University of Pennsylvania planning professor Rachel Weinberger, whose work on parking minimums Streetsblog highlighted earlier today, putting those spaces in a surface lot will discourage people from walking to the grocery store.

Weinberger’s research, conducted with Donald Maley of the Parsons Transportation Group, compared how local shoppers reached six Philadelphia supermarkets [PDF]. Each store was located in a neighborhood with the fundamental components of walkability: rowhouses or apartment buildings that meet the sidewalk, a street grid without major arterial roads, no big box stores.

Three of the grocery stores, however, had large surface parking lots in front of the entrance, while the other three had a front door on the sidewalk and parking in structures above the store or in off-site structured garages.

Surveying residents living within a half-mile walk of each supermarket, Weinberger and Maley were able to show that residents near the groceries with surface parking lots tended to drive to the store, even though they had a lower car-ownership rate overall. “Controlling for distance, number of children, store loyalty, auto ownership and other factors, residents of study areas near auto-oriented supermarkets are more likely to drive, even though they are less likely to own automobiles, than their counterparts living near pedestrian-oriented markets,” the authors wrote.

Weinberger and Maley found that the presence of a surface lot did not draw more local people to shop at a store, though they didn’t measure whether the lot attracted customers from further away. They concluded: “The results of this survey and modeling effort suggest that surface parking lots at urban supermarkets in Philadelphia, PA induce vehicular access without encouraging increased use of the supermarket among nearby residents.”

Based on that research, it seems that by building an enormous surface parking lot on its front door, the Gowanus Whole Foods will encourage people to drive to get their groceries. Renderings of the project show entrances to the store from both the sidewalk and the parking lot. Weinberger guessed that the “hybrid-style” design would affect shoppers coming from different directions differently. “The people who are coming from the side that is more pedestrian-friendly are going to be more inclined to walk,” she said. “Those coming from the other direction are going to find that it’s built for automobiles.”

Weinberger and Maley’s findings only cover the structure of supermarket parking, not the size of the lot. Two years ago, the size of the Whole Foods parking lot was shrunk from 430 spaces to 248 based on community concerns; at the same time, it was also changed from a garage to a surface lot.

Of course, neither a surface lot nor a parking garage is particularly positive for the pedestrian environment. Far better would be less parking, or structured parking wrapped by more retail or housing. The site, however, is zoned for low-density manufacturing and is a former brownfield, complicating development plans.

  • M5m008

    Unfortunately, that part of Brooklyn just doesn’t have the density right now to work for something of Whole Food’s scale, without lots of parking. It’s a real schlep from most of Park Slope, not to mention CG, BH, CH.

    Plus, it’s a really unpleasant area to walk…crossing 4th Ave. or the Gowanus, etc.

    Personally, if I want to drive, I can drive to Fairway in the same amount of time. If I want to  walk/bike, I have Union Market and other small-format retail or the farmers’ markets. Plus, Trader Joes if I’m near BH.

    That said, I like WF and I’d like to see them. But it’s kind of a bummer that we’re getting one more reason to drive around like we’re in a suburb.

  • I hate renderings. Sure, its a pretty watercolor of the site but there are more trees than cars in the image, and realistically… with a lot that big, that just won’t be the case. If the customer base defies proven studies and the parking lot winds up empty most of the time, then the image will still be just as ugly, a barren swath of asphalt. I don’t mind Whole Foods coming here… but wish they planned for a city store, not a suburban one.

  • Anonymous

    Since The Lorax is shilling for both Whole Foods and Mazda SUVs this entire project seems very environmentally friendly to me.

  • Anonymous

    They should size down the lot (think Lowes and how empty that lot is most of the time) add some waterfront park space and add a bike share station. I would not know the exact numbers but there is a sizable population within a 2 mile radius that location. not to mention the bike lanes that pass by there too.

  • Anonymous


    I share your sentiments.  However, I think you identify another issue It’s a real schlep from most of Park Slope, not to mention CG, BH, CH.

    All those neighborhoods have on-street parking and are famous for having “not enough on-street parking.”  Can you imagine the circles people will be driving looking for parking when they come back from Whole Foods.

  • Mark

    Another Lorax tie in:  http://supermarketnews.com/latest-news/whole-foods-ties-tree-lover-lorax

    Let’s see if Whole Foods is prepared to walk the walk.  

  • Reggie

    “…amidst some of Brooklyn’s most walkable neighborhoods.”

    “…in an industrial area located between two densely populated neighborhoods” would be a more accurate description.

    Then you go on to reference a study that surveyed residents living within a half-mile walk of a couple supermarkets.  Anyone want to estimate how many residents live within a half-mile of the Whole Foods site?  I bet it is well below 1,000.

  • Station44025

    I find the Lowes parking lot is a great place to leave your car for extended periods, like out of town trips.  Pro-tip: if you’re moving, you can park a rental truck overnight there without getting a ticket too.  How much of the Whole foods thing has to do with the brownfield status of the land? Isn’t that what’s held the project up for so long already?

  • Anonymous

    that watercolor reminds me why architecture is a sad, sad profession.

  • kevd

    I’m not going to argue that they shouldn’t have any parking….
    But 1/2 the lot? Jesus, it looks like Jersey.

    Ideally a mixed use building would have been built. A bunch of Apartments in a 4 or 5 story building, a big honkin’ supermarket underneath them, and a bit of parking out back. The bike share station is also a very, very good idea.

    I’ll count it as a big win if they have ample, covered bike parking since this is such a crappy way to develop the site. Not that I ever really shop at Whole Foods…..

  • Jeff Brauner

    this is definitely an upside of a whole foods parking lot http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2UFc1pr2yUU 

  • fj

    Might be a terrific opportunity to investigate a more advanced bikeshare public-private system accessible to everyone,

  • J

    Great. NYC is now replicating the type of development typical of LA.

  • carma

    A few points.

    1.  Yes, you DO need parking.  It is not near any accessible walking subway.
    2.  Your clientele does not consist of ONLY transit/walking folks.
    3.  No, you do NOT need that huge of a parking lot.
    4.  A bikeshare station in the massive lot is an EXCELLENT way to bridge the gap in walking from further areas while reducing the massive asphalt space.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Rather than having a surface parking lot, they should structure in the parking.  The could develop the entire lot to look like a traditional urban neighborhood, with housing above and retail facing the sidewalk on the ground floor.  But they could have a couple of levels of parking in the center of the block. 

    That would provide parking for the supermarket, but it would look like it belongs in Brooklyn, not in some suburban strip mall. And it would create an environment that encourages people who live in the neighborhood to walk to do their shopping.

    Here is a picture of my local supermarket, Trader Joes in Berkeley, which does something similar.  http://berk94708.blogspot.com/2010/11/trader-joes.html

  • If they had a brain in their heads, they would make the parking lot a NICE park with lots of trees.  I watch people run in & out of Wholefoods from Union Square Park all day long in the summer.  It would be a WIN WIN WIN.  Come on people!

  • The grocery stores has lots of parking space.They  had large surface parking lots in front of the entrance.While they also have 
     in off-site structured garages and a front door on the sidewalk. 

  • Guest

    How are people going to carry all the groceries?

  • Philly supermarkets have tons of unhealthy items!


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