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Reduce Car Culture to Increase Access to Healthier Food


By reducing parking space requirements, cities can reduce car culture – and encourage the development of healthier grocery stores – in underserved areas. Photo by Wenzday01

Today, the New York Times alerted me to a problem that I had no idea sustainable transportation could solve.

It’s well known that low-income urban neighborhoods are “food deserts,” where supermarkets are rare, understocked and overpriced. Greater Greater Washington ran a great piece detailing this phenomenon in the District earlier this year. What’s more, I’ve been familiar with attempts to increase access to supermarkets, including in D.C.

The New York Times, though, mentioned that one of the strategies New York City is using to attract more supermarkets into food deserts is to change the city’s zoning laws that would “free smaller supermarkets from having to supply parking spaces.” Reducing or eliminating parking minimums for new development is good urbanism. But if it can help provide affordable, accessible, and nutritious food to low-income residents of the District – which is already a District goal – the planning commission has one more very good reason to wean us off of cars.

Read more at The City Fix DC…

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  • I usually do not comment on blog posts but I found this quite interesting, so here goes. Thanks! Regards, P.

  • Def some good info here – keep it coming

  • Found your site on today and really liked it.. I bookmarked it and will be back to check it out some later :).

  • Marc

    A quick history of Supermarket Flight.

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  • Noah Kazis

    Rick, thank you so much for the detailed comments. I’m really hoping to have residents and other local experts contributing with the perspectives that only they will have.

    It seems I wasn’t quite clear enough in describing why I mentioned the Giant on Wisconsin. My point was not that that particular project should not have parking associated with it but rather that if that project is the best example that the Office of Planning can give for a supermarket with the parking requirement waived, it’s not doing what it needs to. That area, as you point out, isn’t one where a parking requirement is a problematic barrier to entry.

    I would also just add that with regards to residential parking, “too much” is further than I was willing to go. The project did include more parking spots for the new residences it built than was legally necessary; whether this is too much parking is a much broader question.

    The important point, though, is that in many neighborhoods, even this reduced amount of required parking can be too much for groceries looking to locate there.

  • Rick

    You obviously need to check your facts. The Giant PUD is one mile from the closest Metro stop, so patrons will drive. As the DC Office of Planning noted in a recent study of a commercial district close to the Giant PUD, even where a site is well-served by bus lines but lacks a Metro station, there will be much more driving than in Metro-served locations. Moreover, umlike urban cores that wer both well-served by public transportation and have smaller supermarket models, the Giant PUD site will feature a outer-suburb sized “SuperCenter” (Giant’s marketing term) of nearly 60,000 s.f. (By contrast, the current store is 16,000 s.f.) The Trader Joes in DC’s West EndThis will be the largest such grocery store west of Rock Creek Park in DC. Unlike smaller stores where walkers or transit riders might carry home one or two bags of groceries, the SuperCenter’s business model is the big SUV-filling grocery order. And the Giant PUD is certainly not going into any “food desert” where it may be necessary to waive requirements to incentivize grocery chains. There are four supermarkets located within roughly a mile of the store, and at least 8 within about 2 miles.

    As for parking, you suggest that Giant is providing too much parking for the residential component of the development. The more logical conclusion is that Giant is providing too little. The Giant developer rejected an ANC’s condition that new residences be ineligible for street parking permits, a condition that has been imposed on other PUDs in the Wisconsin Avenue area. So clearly, Giant is looking to nearby streets to assume the parking burden.

    A Northwest Current editorial recently said, while supporting the Giant PUD, that nearby streets should be rezoned for 24/7 residential parking, to mitigate the street parking impact from the concentration of new businesses and retaurants. This has long been the model in close-in Bethesda and more recently has been tried on Capitol Hill in DC. If, as you suggest, the Giant PUD will have too much parking, no one should have an issue with such rezoning.

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