Location: Rainbow Foods, 26th Ave. (between 29th St. and Lake St., across from Target)
Time/date: 3:15 p.m., Monday, June 18
Ratio of cars to parking spots: 86 to 287
This is the last of this week’s posts about the fortress of parking lots that restrict pedestrian access to the Lake Street light rail station (click here and here for the first and second posts, respectively). This Rainbow grocery store sits directly across the street from Target, and just downwind from Cub Foods. When we visited the lot on Monday, the parking lot was less than 30 percent full, meaning that even if traffic doubled on the weekends, more than 40 percent of the lot would still be empty.
Taken all together, the lots of Target, Cub, and Rainbow make up a sea of 1,128 parking spots interrupted only by a small strip of 26th Avenue. That number jumps to 1,390 spots when you include those designated for the small business that share strip mall space with Target. And at the time of our visit, less than 28 percent of all of these spots were in use.
Two grocery stores and a super store (which doubles as a grocery store), and over 800 empty parking spots—clearly there is a lot of redundancy in the amount of surface parking here. But how does something like this happen? One theory might have to do with parking minimums—the city-mandated minimum number of parking spots that retail businesses must provide to their customers—but this excess goes way beyond the number of spots mandated by the city.
Another theory, though, might go something like this: because the burden of providing parking lies entirely on the individual businesses themselves, and because it’s in the businesses interests to make transportation as painless as possible for its customers (i.e., make it possible for everyone to drive to the store if they are so inclined), and because it is in the nature of businesses to aspire toward growth (i.e., to provide more parking than is necessary because hopefully one day it will be necessary), we get the kind of massive surface parking lots we see here. And once one of these lots is constructed, the sheer fact that they take up so much space practically requires the businesses around it to build the same kinds of lots if they actually want to attract customers because getting there by foot is now burdensome.
Though we sometimes joke about Americans driving from one side of a massive parking lot to the other in order to go to two neighboring stores, trekking across these lots is actually a major chore—they can be ferociously hot (an abundance of pavement is the reason that cities are generally warmer than their surrounding suburbs by several degrees), there are rarely adequate sidewalks to shield pedestrians from traffic, and the built environment itself—empty parking spots directly in front of every store you might want to visit—practically orders people to drive from one store to the next.
And if we can’t even reasonably expect people to walk across the lot from Target to Cub, how can we expect a significant number of people to walk across both of these lots in addition to however many city blocks it takes them to reach these parking deserts in the first place?