Posts about Clarendon
Earlier this month, the Clarendon Whole Foods kicked off a new weekly food and wine event. If you drive and park in the Pottery Barn garage across the street, you get a $1 discount on the $5 cost. Anyone else, including those who walk, bike or take transit to the store, pays full price.
At first, I thought the discount was designed to offset customers' cost of parking in the Pottery Barn garage. But, it turns out, Whole Foods already subsidizes that cost, validating for up to 2 hours in the garage.
With the discount, Whole Foods effectively pays people to drive to their store. As a company ostensibly committed to sustainability, they should figure out a way to reward people who don't bring their cars at all.
I was puzzled by this peculiar incentive and asked the store about the rationale via Twitter. Whole Foods sent this explanation:
Our parking lot is well known for being crazy. Trying to encourage people who drive to use the garage.I reached out to the management at the Whole Foods store in Clarendon via email for additional comment and explanation, but did not receive a response.
No doubt, Whole Foods is smart to encourage customers to park somewhere other than the store's small and crowded parking lot. The store has a limited supply of a valuable resource, parking spaces, and wants them to turn over as quickly as possible.
Unfortunately, this discount policy specifically incentivizes and rewards driving and parking. This type of incentive is out of character for a company that espouses environmental sustainability as one of its values and has a "Green Mission Report" that praises employees who use public transportation and bicycles to get to work.
Besides, if keeping store-owned spaces available is the goal, Whole Foods could accomplish this far more effectively by encouraging people not to drive at all. Once a customer has driven to the store, they may still choose the convenience of the closer lot to the $1 discount and the more cumbersome garage.
If Whole Foods gives people a reason to leave the car behind altogether, these customers are guaranteed not to take up space in the coveted parking lot. What's more, given the cost of subsidizing customers parking in a garage, Whole Foods could probably save a bundle as well.
Clarendon is a textbook example of a walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible neighborhood. Nonetheless, parking, especially for grocery stores, has historically been a topic that has touched a nerve in the neighborhood.
Whole Foods could charge a small fee to park, thereby encouraging customers to use their parking lot sparingly. This idea is likely a non-starter, as many businesses are terrified of losing customers to stores where they don't have to pay for parking.
Whole Foods could also extend their discount to customers who arrive by any means without a car. This is a logistical challenge, since it's very difficult to prove that a customer walked to the store, or if they use a SmarTrip card to arrive by Metro, rather than having parked on the street or even in the store's own lot. Producing a ticket to prove that they parked across the street, on the other hand, is easy.
Still, Whole Foods could at least level the playing field. When customers come in, Whole Foods could give them two options: a free parking validation or a $1 discount on the Wine:30 price. This approach would require Whole Foods to control access in or out of their own lot, but given the major issues they have, perhaps its time to consider this anyway.
With better controlled access, the store could still provide free parking to any driving customers, encourage people to park in the larger garage, and reward those who don't drive, all at the same time. For instance, at checkout, a customer could choose between a lot validation, a garage validation and a 1% discount, or no parking validation and a 2% discount.
Ultimately, Whole Foods needs to find a better way to decrease congestion in their parking lot without incentivizing driving and parking. For the Clarendon neighborhood, fewer driving customers mean less traffic and a stronger, safer, walkable urban fabric.
The store, meanwhile, would better adhere to Whole Foods' espoused corporate values and become a better community member. In a walkable, transit-rich neighborhood, it's time for Whole Foods to stop paying its customers to drive.
Excitement is building around the arrival of Trader Joe's in the heart of Clarendon. Before they move in, the grocery chain wants Arlington County to guarantee reserved parking spaces. But handing over free dedicated spaces isn't the only option.
Construction at Clarendon Center. Photo by author.
Last week ARLnow confirmed the long-standing rumor that Trader Joe's is interested in occupying retail space in the brand-new Clarendon Center mixed-used development. When construction is complete, the new development will contain residential and office space, ground floor retail, and will be located literally steps away from the entrance of the Clarendon Metro.
Trader Joe's knows that their store would be a welcome addition to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, and they're using parking as their bargaining chip with Arlington County. Rebecca A. Cooper reports that Trader Joe's submitted a site amendment to the County, requesting up to 72 dedicated parking on the first two floors of the Clarendon Center garage. These spaces were originally intended to be available to the paying public.
The grocery business is, understandably, more parking intensive than other types of retail. People may be inclined to walk, bike, or take Metro or a cab when visiting Clarendon's bars and restaurants, or even when shopping at one of the many stores. By its nature, grocery shopping often requires hauling around heavy bags of food.
Of course there will always be people who drive everywhere, and others who do all their grocery shopping on foot or by bike. And there are perfectly reasonable people who want to take a car with them grocery shopping because it's the easiest way to carry everything home.
Clarendon is a dense urban neighborhood. Applying a parking model that works at suburban shopping centers isn't necessary. Trader Joe's needs parking spaces, but reserved spaces aren't the only option available.
Arlington County and Trader Joe's should explore a few alternatives:
Parking Validation. Assuming the Clarendon Center parking garage is to be a privately operated and utilize a "pay by the hour" system, validation would allow Trader Joe's customers to share spaces in the garage with the paying public.
Shoppers would have their parking ticket validated at the register for a free or reduced parking rate for the first 60, 90 or 120 minutes. A number of urban grocery stores the region already use this system. During peak hours, shoppers at the Clarendon Whole Foods can have their ticket validated at one of the nearby parking garages.
Meter Enforced Spaces. If the garage instead utilizes meters, spaces closest to the Trader Joe's could be configured to allow a button press for the first 30 or 60 minutes free; and a fixed rate for additional time. Spaces farther from Trader Joes but closer to the entrance of the garage could be set at a fixed rate at all times.
High Turnover Enforcement. Alternatively, meters could be used to enforce high turnover at the spaces closest to Trader Joe's. A button press would allow each vehicle to be parked 60 or so minutes while the driver shops. After 60 minutes the meter would expire and the vehicle would have to be moved. A similar system is already in place at the Harris Teeter garage on Capitol Hill.
Trader Joe's request for such a large number of dedicated parking spaces is arguably the result of a messy parking situation down the street at Whole Foods, which has 71 dedicated spaces in its lot. There are a few notable differences, however. Trader Joe's is set to occupy significantly less retail space (12,000 square feet at Trader Joe's versus over 30,000 square feet at Whole Foods) and the garage at Clarendon Center could more easily accommodate any parking overflow during peak shopping periods.
Granting reserved parking to individual retail stores often leads to an inefficient over-allocation of spaces. Trader Joe's has better options available in Clarendon, and they should use one or more of them.
Here are a few of our favorites from the Greater and Lesser Washington Flickr pool this week:
Join the Flickr group and submit your own photos! Photos will ideally depict either great or not-so-great features of a part of the Washington, DC region, showing people, roads, parks, stores or buildings as beautiful and lively places filled with people, or unsightly or desolate places that could be greater.
Chinese New Year (February)
Clarendon Mardi Gras (February)
Arlington has a remarkable diversity of neighborhoods. Clarendon is one of the most successful, lively, mixed-use parts of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Shirlington is demonstrating that you can have Smart Growth even without Metrorail. And in much of the county, even just a short distance from Metro stations, are many quiet single-family neighborhoods.
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