Thursday, March 15, 2007

Whole Foods parking lot

Whole Foods has a petition pending before the Land Use committee (#164-06(3)) to expand parking to the former Mobil lot at the corner of Walnut and Beacon. The petition is set forth in the Land Use committee's notice of a 3/13/07 public hearing (PDF).

This is a very bad idea for the neighborhood and for Newton.

The effect on the immediate neighborhood is obvious. A bigger parking lot in a mixed residential/commercial zone is not the right land use. In a word: blight.

The effect on Newton is, perhaps, less obvious: more parking = more traffic. Beacon and Walnut Streets don't need more traffic. And, more traffic on Beacon and Walnut has effects on side streets.

Parking follows the principle of induced demand. The more parking you create, the more demand there is for the parking. Increased demand for parking means more cars on the streets that lead to the parking. More traffic volume.

The flip side is that parking is a mechanism -- a valve -- that can be used to help control traffic volumes. In this case, we can't close the valve. Whole Foods already has 85 spaces. But, the city can prevent it from adding 45% more spaces and the attendant traffic.

I have created a Whole Foods page on the wiki. The page includes the text of the petition and my letter to the Land Use committee urging them to reject the petition. I'll add to it over time.


Chuck Tanowitz said...

I don't have a problem with the parking lot getting bigger. In fact, I expected that to happen when the station closed. My problem is with the location of the store and traffic flow. Wouldn't it make more sense for the Whole Foods to be where the CVS is going on Route 9? Of course, why move a store when it's that successful.

The other day I happened to be coming up Walnut St. around 4:30 and got stuck at the police detail there. I know the police do the best they can at moving traffic, but I've never understood why certain locations get priority. There's a similar situation in Waltham on Totten Pond Road. But the police detail basically says to me "the people coming out of this lot are more important than the people on the street." Whenever I'm there I get stopped even as the light just a few feet away is green, then when it turns red I'm left to move forward a few feet... then stop. I'm not sure if there's a solution here for that location, but maybe that's the point.

It's not the size, but the location that's the issue.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you Sean. I think part of the traffic problem in that area is directly related to the lack of necessary spaces in the Whole Foods parking lot. How many times have you been stuck in a line of cars trying to pull into that parking lot. There are far too few spaces in that lot for the volume of business that Whole Foods does and it is have a huge negative impact on traffic flow. I saw let them build more spaces.

Sean Roche said...

Intuitively, it seems like adding capacity (in this case more spaces) will cure congestion. It is almost never the case. The lot would have to be ginormous before it could begin to satisfy potential demand.

The real reason it's tough to find a space is that there is no market for the spaces. Free parking is a terrible way to allocate use of land.

If they (somebody) charged a rate for the spaces that led to 85% occupancy:

1. There'd always be a free space
2. Congestion would decrease
3. People who were able to shop at different (cheaper) times would
4. You'd make money

It's not the way we approach parking, but it ought to be the way.

Chuck, the police detail is paid for by Whole Foods. They are not there because it's a Newton priority. They are there because it's a necessary traffic mitigation that Whole Foods has to perform.