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How close are you to a grocery store?

Walk Score has a tool to generate heat maps showing how far you have to walk to reach things like a grocery store. Here's DC's grocery access map:

Image from Walk Score. Click for interactive version.

According to the Walk Score blog, 41% of DC residents are within a 5-minute walk of a food store, placing it 5th among US cities of half a million residents or more and just below Boston (45%). New York is tops, at 72%.

DC's sustainability plan (which gets a special mention in the WalkScore post) calls for 75% of people to have a food store within a 5-minute walk by 2032.

Southern and southwestern cities rank the worst, with Indianapolis, Oklahoma City, Charlotte, Tucson and Albuquerque all or at or below 7%. Tucson is an interesting case in that the city has done a lot to make it safer to walk, such as adding pedestrian signals to help people cross its wide streets, but everything is very spread out making many walks quite long.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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Their map is missing a big one - the Giant at the corner of Riggs and Eastern.

Would plug a big gap in their data.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 27, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Where are the grocery stores? This map has my house within a 5 minute walk of a grocery store.... I have no idea what they're talking about. 15 minutes, maybe, but defintely not 5. What qualifies as a Grocery Store?

by the totten. on Mar 27, 2014 2:14 pm • linkreport

It sounds like other cities have it rougher, but when I first moved to U St our food store was a dusty joint w/overpriced, sometimes expired groceries. It's taken 7 years for us to get a Harris Teeter, Yes and -finally!- a Trader Joe's.

Now that I can get fresh food quickly, however, my rent's risen so much I've got to move. To another bodega ghosttown, no doubt. Yes yes, first world problems, but still - hrmph.

by yup yup on Mar 27, 2014 2:15 pm • linkreport

In Downtown Silver Spring, I am literally across the street from the Blairs Giant.

For all the people that thing anything in Maryland or Virginia (i.e. without a DC zipcode) is like living in either farm country or suburbab sprawl, my fiance and I have one car between us. We both take public transportation to work. We do most of our errands by foot, and the ones we can't do by foot we do by either bus or metro. The car is really only to visit our families, who live out of state.

I know this is a total rant, but recent comments on this blog, which I love to read, prompted this.

by Paul on Mar 27, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

What counts as a grocery store? Is this data current? For example, in my neighborhood, Anacostia, there is no grocery store near the corner of Good Hope Rd SE and Minnesota Ave SE, like the map shows.
Also, Fairlawn Market is at the corner of Minnesota and Pennsylvania SE, but it is not shown on the map.

by AAAA on Mar 27, 2014 2:19 pm • linkreport

The dataset that they select "grocery stores" from has a pretty lax definition of "grocery store." Many are just corner stores.

by MLD on Mar 27, 2014 2:23 pm • linkreport

What grocery store are at Rhode Island + Eastern Ave, the Mall, Connecticut Ave north of UDC but south of the Safeway and East Capitol ST east of Benning RD according to this map ?

Are they counting 7-eleven, Wallgreens, CVS & Liqour stores that happen to sell some food.

Why is Bolling AFB counted regular resident cant get on the base that skews results.

by kk on Mar 27, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

In NOVA I'm close to a couple of ethnic specialty stores which is fine for most staples but some times there are weird gaps. One time I had the hardest time finding mozzarella cheese at either one.

Then I realized I had a local food store that operates out of a space that's about half the size of a typical 7-11 and I was fine. So I have lots of food options near me but no safeways or other "mainstream" stores.

But a Harris Teeter is being built that will render all of this moot anyway.

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 2:27 pm • linkreport

Walk Score data is often hilarious. According to them, the industrial laundry next to my condo qualifies as "shopping."

by jimble on Mar 27, 2014 2:29 pm • linkreport

Yes, their definition of grocery store must be pretty broad, as their page says that there are 386 grocery stores in DC.

by npm on Mar 27, 2014 2:46 pm • linkreport

It lists the Haitian microfinance place near my house as a bank...

by MLD on Mar 27, 2014 2:53 pm • linkreport

They used Google Maps to find grocery stores. If you type "grocery store" into Google Maps, you get a bunch of stuff that you'd never call a grocery store. I believe 7-11 appears in Google Maps when you search for "grocery stores". So I bet you get a similar score if you find how many people are within a five minute walk of a 7-11.

by jh on Mar 27, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

Why only a 5 minute walk? 10-15 minutes isn't an unreasonable distance to walk to a grocery store. I'm 10 mins from a couple of grocery stores and consider that very lucky.

by Falls Church on Mar 27, 2014 2:57 pm • linkreport

My apartment (rented condo) building is connected to a Giant by means of four connected underground parking garages. Nice to not have to go outside during the 5-month-long winter of '13-'14 to get to the grocery store. Was also particularly clutch during Snowpocalypse/Snowmaggedon.

by Dizzy on Mar 27, 2014 3:05 pm • linkreport

I did a lot of work on this topic at university and we, of course, found that, when discussing "full service groceries," there were an absolute dearth East of the River.

From DCCK:
"DC boasts a “food store for every 1,589 residents, but in Wards 7 and 8 the ratio is one for every 2,585 residents.” "

According to their data/the research my team did (granted this is probably 3-4 years old):

43 stores citywide (non-corner/convenience/specialty)
11 in Ward 3
2 in Ward 4
4 in Ward 7
3 in Ward 8 plus one that is just outside the city in PG county.

DCCK has had quite a bit of success with its "Healthy Corners" initiative, which essentially upgrades (now) 30 stores in low income neighborhoods into small scale full markets.

One of the biggest barriers to getting corner stores to stock healthful and fresh food is the cost. Suppliers often have very large minimum orders that would be impractical for corner stores to buy and sell within the shelf life of the product. DCCK acts as an intermediary supplier, pooling orders for multiple stores and dividing/delivering.

by PotomacAveres on Mar 27, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

I also think it's amusing that the Parks data appears to be based on points or centroids and not on the actual extents of the park.

Some of the only areas of DC that are more than a 15-minute walk from parks are within Rock Creek Park or the National Arboretum.

by Peter K on Mar 27, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport


There is a Giant catty-corner across Veazey Terrace to the north of UDC right at the east Van Ness metro station entrance.

by John on Mar 27, 2014 3:38 pm • linkreport

and yet they're not counting my (surprisingly useful) corner store.

Still, even if using what Google counts as a grocery store is problematic, it's probably not confounded with variation across cities. So even if they're not accurate at picking out whether YOU are within 15 minutes walk of a grocery store, it's pretty safe to say that people in Indianapolis and Oklahoma City have it rougher than we do.

by alurin on Mar 27, 2014 3:57 pm • linkreport

junk data, like most of the walk score.

by charlie on Mar 27, 2014 3:59 pm • linkreport

@ John

I know of the Giant across from UDC I said north of UDC the Giant is not north of UDC; the map shows a blob north of UDC that would be way more than 5 minutes away from either the Giant or the Safeway on Connecticut Ave

by kk on Mar 27, 2014 4:10 pm • linkreport

walking to and from a grocery store sucks. Groceries can be heavy and those rolling carts are a pain in the a**. Biking to a grocery store is so much better and faster. I can bike to three grocery stores within 5-8 minutes. All would take more than 20 minutes on foot (two are about 1.25 miles away, the other, a Walmart which I won't shop at, is 0.75 miles away).

PotomacAveres -- the problem with the 5 minute walk metric is that isn't how the supermarket industry decides to place stores. They are more on a 3 mile retail trade area. On that basis, if you include nearby PG County locations, there are plenty of "drivable" grocery options.

And regardless of the common wisdom, most people have access to a car, even in poor areas. It might be a pain, but they have access. Plus there is the Congress Heights Giant in any case, plus Good Hope Marketplace and Safeway both on Alabama Ave. SE.

Pan-Am International Market on 14th St. NW will drive customers home so long as they spend at least $50. DC could easily subsidize a similar service from the Giant Supermarket in Congress Heights.

Doing a 3 mile radius for both the Safeway and the Giant stores on Alabama Ave. SE covers virtually all of the East of the River area.


Rather than do a neighborhood shuttle seriously underused for a farmers market:


do it for the Safeway and Giant.

I don't see why the buses used by UPO for senior mobility couldn't also be used for that.

... problem solved.

by Richard Layman on Mar 27, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

I think 10 minutes is a more reasonable distance considering most people do it maybe 2-3 times a week. And I agree while this is a good first step, it would be interesting to see a map of the walk sheds of all the major full service grocery stores like Safeways, Giants, Whole Foods, Yes, Harris Teeter, Trader Joes etc

by BTA on Mar 27, 2014 4:35 pm • linkreport

R. Layman,

I think the idea of the store driving you home is kind of brilliant. That'd be a good tool for any sort of Age in Place initiative as well.

by drumz on Mar 27, 2014 5:01 pm • linkreport

FWIW, I promoted it as a transportation demand management "requirement" for Walmart in the report I co-authored for ANC4B, but DDOT and OP didn't pursue it.

... and this idea more generally is encapsulated in part in my concept of intra-neighborhood transit service, or what I call the "tertiary network" in my writings. The idea is that you can move between major activity centers in your neighborhood and to transit stations, without having to drive yourself. The model is the Tempe Orbit bus system in Arizona.

The Tempe service is free, and in my conceptualization, intra-neighborhood transit services would also be free.

NOTE that the other variant is mobile markets, taking the food to the people, using buses. But they can't carry much food, and don't include nonperishables.

by Richard Layman on Mar 27, 2014 5:17 pm • linkreport

Perhaps we should give a tax incentive to grocery stores that (1) locate near a Metrorail Station and (2) are in areas not near grocery stores.

Having a store near or at a Metrorail Station is a win/win for everybody. For the store more customers due to a convient location, for residents of an area it would be an easy place to travel to since most Metrobuses would stop there and it would be on their way to/from work, school whatever else, For WMATA or a city/county that operates buses more riders.

Of all the Metrostations less than 20 are near less than (1/4 mile) from a grocery store. If you take out developments that have occurred over the past 5 years it gets much worst.

Several of the Metrorail Stations have enough land to fit a fullsize grocery store either as a standalone store or apart of a office/housing/retail mix. Shady Grove, Naylor Road, Southern Ave, Morgan Blvd, Stadium Armory, Rhode Island Ave (before Rhode Island Row or the Shopping Center development with Giant, Home Depot etc), Ft Totten, Grosvenor, Franconia Springfield, Vienna, Dunn Loring (before current developments), West Falls Church, West Hyattsville, and Greenbelt (You could fit a mall on the land) all have enough land to fit a typical Safeway, Giant, Whole Foods, Harris Tetter on their land plus enough room to still have Metro Parking.

by kk on Mar 27, 2014 5:40 pm • linkreport

Suburban grocery stores aren't likely to be too concerned about Metrorail location, except maybe in Arlington. There, the primary motivation for a company is lots of parking. E.g., the Hunt Valley Wegman's is in a location not unlike Greenbelt, at the end of the rail line.

It's more about the spatial pattern of the stations. DC has "suburban" stations too, like Fort Totten, which lack the density and opportunity for a store.

But Columbia Heights and Petworth are good examples, plus the Waterfront station and Potomac Ave. In many of those places it was about other factors too.

I think the revived Petworth store will be great because it's not just about Metrorail access, but bus access (east-west on the H8 + north-south on the 70s, plus the 60s buses).

by Richard Layman on Mar 27, 2014 6:14 pm • linkreport

@ Richard Layman

With Metrorail access you get bus access 99% of the time (Morgan Blvd being the exception with only daytime bus access)

by kk on Mar 27, 2014 6:17 pm • linkreport

One of the things that amazes me about WMATA is that they won't put supermarkets (or neighborhood commercial districts) on their maps--in the belief that it promotes individual businesses--but they do show strip shopping centers.

Among others, the Port Authority maps in Pittsburgh do show grocery stores.

by Richard Layman on Mar 27, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

Ward 5 near Brookland Michigan Park is a barren wasteland in that map

by Orgasmaddict on Mar 27, 2014 6:31 pm • linkreport


The grocery store on Connecticut north of UDC but south of the Safeway is probably Little Red Fox (and Marvelous Market before it). Or CVS.

by Dizzy on Mar 27, 2014 6:59 pm • linkreport

@richard layman:

While those little carts are a pain in the behind, they hold a lot more than most people can transport on a bike. If you're grocery shopping for a family, and strive to do one big trip a week, a bike isn't a viable option.

The Columbia Heights Giant has developed its own private pseudo taxi service for individuals who have too many bags to carry, in the form of a line of gentlemen outside on weekends who will give you a ride home, though I have no idea how much they charge.

by dcd on Mar 28, 2014 8:05 am • linkreport

I have just about decided on my pet defintion Of an urbanist: Someone who believes that anyone who lives within a mile of a transit stop should be walking to work but that no one should have to walk more than a block for a cappuccino.
All kidding aside I am a lot more concerned about the dearth of grocery stores in lower-income areas than I am about how many corner grocery stores there are elsewhere. For most people and especially families it is a far more efficient use of their time to drive to a grocery store once a week and buy purchases in bulk than it is to walk to a store three to four times a week.
And those grocery store trips are not the ones clogging our streets and filling the air with fumes. It is those 30-mile and hour-long commutes by car, often with just a driver, that this blog correctly targets.
I do understand that the lack of a nearby grocery store creates a hardship for people who choose to live without a car. But there are cabs and zip cars grocery delivery services and eventually the market responds. In downtown Silver Spring there is a Giant,Safeway and Whole Foods and soon a Harris-Teeter.

by Woody brosnan on Mar 28, 2014 8:13 am • linkreport

Yeah, I hate to pile on; but for me, this tool is very inaccurate. I have a grocery store around the corner--yet it said at first there wasn't one within 20 minutes. Hell there's a small market in my building. Then when I re-opened the map it changed. And there are at least two restaurants and a coffee shop around the corner. Yet it says I'm not within 30 minutes of coffee. Really, Starbucks is everywhere.

I think this sort of tool can be very useful (especially when looking for a home); but the data need to be better.

by RDHD on Mar 28, 2014 8:35 am • linkreport

Maybe I'm not reading the WalkScore website carefully enough, but I do not see where the heat map is? Anyone?

by DaveG on Mar 28, 2014 8:38 am • linkreport

There's access to grocery stores and there's access to clean, safe grocery stores. I live about a mile from the Safeway on Alabama Ave SE. I'd rather die of starvation than to go to that Safeway, because of the filthy conditions and poor customer service.

My preferred grocery store is Harris Teeter, which is a little about 2 miles away. While I can't walk there, there is a bus with 15-20 min headways (depending on the day) that takes me door-to-door.

Also, services such as Instacart also create access to grocery stores. I've used it twice. Having groceries delivered to my house at a reasonable price saves me time and money.

by Veronica O. Davis (Ms V) on Mar 28, 2014 9:58 am • linkreport

dcd -- you remind me of one of my many failures in attempts to change practice. Sitting on the Eastern Market Community Advisory Committee since 2007, always in response to vendor complaints about lack of parking and closing the street I counter with suggesting (1) shared delivery services (2) and other options which could include cargo bikes. The main vendor rep scoffs and has cast aspersions. I now realize the reason I haven't bothered to go to the last two meetings is because I was so pissed off at the last meeting I went to when we discussed similar issues.

by Richard Layman on Mar 28, 2014 11:11 am • linkreport

@ Veronica O. Davis (Ms V)

One question since you bring up the Safeway on Alabama Ave I would bet a sizable portion of the clientèle is low income and thus many would use foodstamps.

I bet all residents of the area don't have debitcards(or Bank accounts) or creditcards to use online and a good portion use Foodstamps and thus would be ineligible for many of the online and or delivery services correct?

by kk on Mar 28, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

One of the benefits of mixed income communities is definitely better grocery stores. I've noticed the Columbia Heights Giant has gotten much better over the past 9 years or so, but the clientele is still a huge mix of people. But there are enough people who are sensitive to quality and appearance that it behooves the managers to keep it rather nice (for a Giant). Personally I prefer Harris Teeter because it's less crowded usually. I havent been to the Waterfront Safeway in years but I'd guess the transformation was quite significant. Similarly I imagine the new Harris Teeter in NoMA and the new Giant on H St NE were serious upgrades to community grocery options.

by BTA on Mar 28, 2014 11:54 am • linkreport

BTA -- some of that is just newness, e.g., the Waterfront Mall store or 5th and K or Georgetown are very nice compared to stores that haven't been built within the last 10 years.

I haven't been to the stores on Alabama Ave. SE, but you wouldn't believe all the negative community comments expressed about the Safeway on Piney Branch Road on my Takoma neighborhood listserv. It's as if it were in the old Soviet Union. Maybe my quality standards are just abysmally low, or that I have more realistic expectations.

But I will stay that store-wise it hasn't been until the new Giant on O St. that we are seeing an upgrade in the store presentation and interior finishings more comparable to the newer Safeway stores. The Tivoli Giant is nothing special. But it's no different than the store on East-West Hwy. in Silver Spring, etc.

... you have to go out of town to see stores at the next level (other than Whole Foods). E.g., the Harmon's City Creek store in Salt Lake City goes beyond Whoel Foods and the local iterations.

by Richard Layman on Mar 28, 2014 12:38 pm • linkreport

Novices using data incorrectly. There are not over 300 grocery stores in DC DC chain grocery stores do _not_ get a grocery store license. That license is given to the mom & pop/corner stores. Chain grocery stores get other types of licenses--deli, etc.

by MBG on Mar 28, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

The good news is that the "food deserts" in Washington are decreasing. In fact, some areas seem to be nearly at the saturation point - e.g., Wisconsin and Connecticut corridors. That's fine, but then it's worth a healthy dose of skepticism when supermarket development projects tout a new supermarket as the "amenity" sufficient to get zoning relief in a PUD process.

by Jasper2 on Mar 31, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport

Here's a map of _supermarkets_ in DC; pretty sure that's what folks _actually_ mean when they say grocery store.

and note the 5 immediately adjacent in MD:
4801 Marlboro Pike
Coral Hills, MD 20743

5815 Eastern Ave
Hyattsville, MD 20782

1280 East-West Hwy #354
Silver Spring, MD 20910

5463 Wisconsin Ave
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

Whole Foods Market Friendship Heights
4420 Willard Ave
Chevy Chase, MD 20815

by MBG on Apr 9, 2014 6:41 pm • linkreport

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