Pedestrian Friendly Ralphs Needed for Pasadena

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Back in Jan 2010, I wrote about my disdain for the current suburban-styled Ralphs supermarket that sits in the middle of Pasadena’s urban downtown financial district along Lake Ave. This particular Ralphs that many of us Pasadenans shop at is surrounded by anti-pedestrian characteristics that actually harm the built environment as it pertains to pedestrian activity. The potential for creating a better community in this section of Pasadena sits tragically unfulfilled. That’s why I’m still not happy with it.

Along Lake Ave, the market is fronted by a large surface parking lot, which we should all know by now is not the best way to induce pedestrian activity. In fact, surface parking lots are so anti-pedestrian, most drivers would rather circle around and around, wasting time and gas, just to be a few parking spots closer to the store entrance (we have all been guilty of this). Not only that, but the fact that the Lake Ave Gold Line station is just two short blocks north of this Ralphs means that this particular section of Pasadena is “supposed to be” pedestrian oriented, right? But it’s not.

To make matters worse, the side of Ralphs facing Mentor is nothing but a blank wall and perimeter fencing with zero interaction with the sidewalk. This situation becomes such a waste of potential because hundreds of new urban dwellers have moved into the new Lake@Walnut mixed-use development, which borders Mentor. The whole point of mixed-use development is to promote walking. With great attractions and stores just two short blocks south of this new mixed-use development–like Ice House Comedy Club, Boston Court, and many restaurants like Noir–you would think more residents would be WALKING to and from these amenities. But for those who understand the urban context as it pertains to pedestrianism, the answer is quite obvious why that is not the case today.

Ralphs could be redesigned to be a better neighbor for the community. It could feasibly become the glue that binds the Lake Ave Gold Line station in the north to the shopping and dining, not only along Mentor, but to the South Lake Avenue district, which is only a quick 10-minute walk from the  Gold Line station. If I were a stakeholder on South Lake Avenue, desperately thinking of ways to help generate interest and foot traffic to a struggling district to increase property values and revenues, I would be contacting Ralphs and Pasadena City Hall asking them to support this idea because we must all prepare for the near future as Los Angeles’s rapidly expanding metro system (made possible by Measure R and Villaraigosa’s 30/10 plan) will begin to reach a critical mass that will finally jump start a “culture of pedestrianism” in the region.

Communities that serve that new constituency of pedestrians and bicyclists will be rewarded greatly by being economically competitive, attracting the new young talent that are attracted to walkable communities and access to good public transit they’re used to in cities like New York, Chicago, SF, and even new surprising upcoming cities like Salt Lake City and Denver that have jumped on the transit bandwagon. Pasadena is on the right track in that regard, but we are far from perfect.

  • D. X. Blink

    That Ralphs actively discourages elderly, disabled, and non-driving residents from shopping there. Do you know how to get to the front door from the sidewalk in a wheelchair? It involves dodging traffic at the Mentor entrance.

    You should try walking there when it rains, too. The drainage, especially at the Lake entrance, is so full of dirt it has plants growing out of it, resulting in a huge puddle that can’t easily be crossed (and gets splashed on pedestrians when cars roll through there without looking).

    I can only assume it’s intentional. That Ralphs does not want my business.

  • wanderer

    Never assume malice until incompetence has been disproven. Isn’t that Ralph’s a longstanding remnant of the “bad old days” when it was believed that nobody walked? That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be changed, just that it isn’t necessarily a plot. It certainly seems overdue for pedestrian improvements, especially if they could be done in conjunction with surrounding properties and up to the Gold Line. Maybe the city can play a role.

  • DanaPointer

    Exact same here in Dana Point ralphs, also in San Clemente, even the Laguna Beach isn’t much better, basically, it’s clearly a lack of corporate focus on the non-motorized customer, they are clearly leaving alot of money on the table.

    In the meantime I am patronizing the 2 mexican markets here with great pedestrian access and nice streetfront with fruit stands set out etc. We are lucky here here in soCal that our neighbour to the south hasn’t forgotten about pedestrian oriented business.

  • LAofAnaheim

    Is this a fault of Ralph’s or the city of Pasadena for approving the project as is? My understanding is that the business presents their drawings to the Planning Commission who approves the development. If the local officials wanted a more pedestrian friendly Ralph’s, shouldn’t they have objected? Look at the Ralph’s in downtown LA, it is very pedestrian friendly and enticing. It is done superbly well. Couldn’t the same had been done for Pasadena?

    Also, when did this Ralph’s open in relation to the Lake Avenue Gold Line station? Keep in mind, the Gold Line started service to Pasadena in 2003; so if it was built before ’03, was the area really considered a “pedestrian-oriented district”? There’s freeway entrances/exits 2 blocks away! Of course they would cater to the automobile at that time.

  • Charlie Potts

    Good luck getting Kroger to make any large changes. If the city really wants that space to be pedestrian friendly, it will have to put up some $$$$

  • R

    Same goes for that Walgreen’s parking lot at Sunset and Echo Park, which takes up an entire city block and sits half empty, 24/7, in an otherwise dense and walkable neighborhood.

  • Bob Davis

    Many years ago, there was an earlier version of Ralph’s across the street. It came right up to the Lake Ave. sidewalk and had an archway through which motorists could drive. It may have been built back in the days when North Lake had streetcar service (pre-1941). I think it was demolished in the 1960’s or early 70’s and replaced by the current edition. Note that this was long before anyone (other than electric railway fans) dreamed of local rail service returning to Pasadena, and probably before the term “walkability” was created. And the whole idea of modern supermarkets is to sell groceries and non-food items in quantities that would be difficult (if not impossible) to schlep without a car. We could also consider whether the expense of modifying the store would be justified by increased business from non-automotive customers. After reading about “food deserts” in some areas, one might say, “Don’t be critical of its shortcomings; just be glad you have a full-service market within walking distance.”
    Another observation about the back side (Mentor Ave.) of this store is that it seems to be a gathering place for the “residentially challenged”–not a pleasant place to walk.

  • Wanderer

    At this point, most supermarkets need parking lots, agreed. But that parking lot doesn’t have to be in front of the store along the walking street, it can be behind the store. Some of the stores on Colorado Boulevard have this pattern, the pedestrian street frontage is maintained and so is auto access. Ironically, in this case it sounds like that would be a “back to the future” solution. Maybe it can happen if and when Ralph’s wants to expand/remodel the store.

  • Ralphs may be amenable to making a change (though no doubt they’d demand a handout before they would do it). The Ralphs near me–on Wilshire between Ridgely and Hauser–is pedestrian oriented, with a grand entrance right on Wilshire and all parking under the store. Vast numbers of customers walk (and bike) there.

    There is another Ralphs on Pico near Beverly that is similar: grand entrance right on the street, underground parking.

    Both have crappy blank side walls, though.

  • Ralph’s parent company Kroger isn’t exactly know to being friendly to pedestrian friendly developments.

    In Salt Lake City when one of their Smith stores was going to be remodeled in one of Salt Lake’s most pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, they absolutely refused to design their building to be pedestrian friendly.

    They threatened lawsuits and said if they couldn’t have the store be a standard suburban style store they would close it. Of course the city council caved in fearful of loosing some sales tax dollars and now they have a very pedestrian unfriendly store in the neighborhood with a new Walgreens across the street to match.

  • Ralph’s parent company Kroger isn’t exactly know to being friendly to pedestrian friendly developments.

    In Salt Lake City when one of their Smith stores was going to be remodeled in one of Salt Lake’s most pedestrian friendly neighborhoods, they absolutely refused to design their building to be pedestrian friendly.

    They threatened lawsuits and said if they couldn’t have the store be a standard suburban style store they would close it. Of course the city council caved in fearful of loosing some sales tax dollars and now they have a very pedestrian unfriendly store in the neighborhood with a new Walgreens across the street to match.

    I have not seen the Ralph’s in downtown LA but I know Safeway has three urban stores in Portland that I was very impressed with. Someone needs to take Kroger officials up there to show urban form can work.

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