The Good, Bad and Ugly of the New Trader Joes at Third and Fairfax

The grand opening of the new Trader Joe’s near the famous Grove and Third Street Farmers Market took place in mid-May.  The intersection is now a welcoming site! The grocery market certainly pleases the eye more than what stood on the site previously: a vacant lot, and occasionally Christmas tree field.

All pictures by Alexander Friedman

Los Angeles is flourishing with new developments, transforming the once-blighted spots into upscale, walkable, family-oriented communities, and promoting pedestrian and transit usage, ultimately leading to healthier lifestyle. This pattern is often referred to as “Smart Growth” or “Sustainable Developments.” However, did the new Trader Joe’s truly follow the guidelines of “Smart Growth?” If not, what did the developers and city neglect?

Last week, I photographed the site, now also including a restaurant.  Here is my “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” of the new Trader Joe’s development.

The Good

As you can see, the developers did a good job on Fairfax Avenue: widened sidewalk, planted trees (and those trees are planted correctly, i.e. between the walking area and the roadway, to serve as a “buffer zone”), and attractive landscaping.

Bicycle parking has also been provided, although more racks are needed to meet the growing demand.

Additional bicycle parking has been provided on a convenient, pedestrian friendly walkway that connects Fairfax Avenue with the Trader Joe’s rear entrance and parking lot. Again, more racks should be installed, as most times all racks are filled to capacity. But – as they say – a few racks is better than none at all.

The Bad

While the developers gave full attention to Fairfax Avenue, 3rd Street has been neglected. No trees, barely any landscaping, and narrow, primitive concrete sidewalk.  No wonder you don’t see people walking on 3rd Street.

At least, a “buffer zone” between pedestrians and the vehicle traffic could have been created by planting those greeneries on the right side.   3rd Street in the Farifax area is a busy street.  This design pattern does little to encourage other users.

The Ugly

The western end of the Trader Joe’s development has nothing except a primitive concrete sidewalk – with no trees or landscaping that would attract pedestrians. Not a single human being was seen on this naked unwelcoming sidewalk during my visit.  This area also features a typical old-fashioned parking lot.

This is, where the developers messed-up. By now we have learned that Los Angeles is facing open-space issues, and we have to build upwards to economize space (not sprawl outwards).  The most economical way to provide parking is to build a subterranean garage, as most new developments do.

However, the Trader Joe’s developers, chose the cheaper and faster method, by just creating a primitive ground-level parking lot, small enough to fit only about half of the store visitors. As they say, “Penny-wise, pound-foolish,” and sadly this proverb is applicable to the developers in this case.

Building a parking lot next to a new development is becoming a thing of the past.  Parking lots are an eyesore, a very wasteful use of space, and induce car usage. While an underground parking would save tons of street-level space, something that could be utilized for a much better need, such as another market or a residential complex, and is never an eyesore to pedestrians.

I also noticed the parking was completely full, costing Trader Joe’s many customers. I saw cars circling around in search of a parking spot. Again, a two-level underground parking lot could fit at least twice the number of vehicles as the current design.

This is another view of the parking lot just west of the Trader Joe’s. This scenery is all too familiar to Angelinos: lack of any landscaping or aesthetical appearance, no architecture, but just lots of concrete, lots of cars, and no human beings on the street.

Is this “Smart Growth”?

Hardly.

The developers have yet to learn that times in Los Angeles have changed.  We are now in an era of the city’s major transition: from being Car City to becoming a transit-oriented city, with vastly improved bicycle and pedestrian conditions.

Building the same old-fashion parking lots the same that they were built in the 1960’s, while providing barely any conditions for pedestrians, will bring us back to square one: car dependence, continuous urban sprawl.  This will lead to even more road congestion, degradation of our social lives, and our declined health due to sedentary lifestyle that car usage promotes.

That is why we all have to work with cities to encourage approval of projects that improve our quality of lives.  While a vast majority of new developments have indeed demonstrated a big step away from favoring the automobile, there are still some exceptions exist.  This new Trader Joe’s is an unfortunate example.

The community certainly embrace the new Trader Joe’s.  The market offers healthy, nutritious, natural food.  It’s rather ironic that the configuration of the development lures us back into our cars.  This busy corner (3rd Street and Fairfax) is a major transit connection, where buses stop every few minutes throughout the day, seven days a week.  The soon-to-bebuilt subway station at Wilshire & Fairfax will further increase pedestrian and transit usage.

Finally, The Grove is a major tourist attraction and a family-friendly, pedestrian destination.  It’s only logical to build a large transit-oriented development at 3rd Street and Fairfax Avenue. It’s a shame that instead of creating an upscale multistory mixed use project at this popular location, only a single-story retail project has been built with a single story parking lot.

Nevertheless, we shall be thankful for what we have.  The new Trader Joe’s, along with a restaurant, looks way better than an empty parking lot that sat vacant for years. Perhaps, in the near future the City could look into the site, and a major mixed-use development (with a large underground garage) could replace the current street parking lot. Knowing that our city is going in the right direction, I shall stay optimistic and look forward to additional developments in this popular location!