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The Role Neighborhood Markets Can Play in Making Public Transportation Convenient: Lessons from London

9:20 AM PDT on November 4, 2011

Photo credit: Jan Kringels. From: http://www.23hq.com/jk1812/photo/4875840

David Murphy is President of Angelenos Against Gridlock (http://www.endinggridlock.org), which is working to support a fully built out rail transit system and safer bike infrastructure, and striving to help make transit and biking cool. Clickhere (http://www.endinggridlock.org/press) to read other recent columns by David, who also blogs athttp://endinggridlock.org and tweets at @EndingGridlock.

On Wednesday night, I stopped in at the new Fresh & Easy Express store on La Cienega, which had its grand opening just hours before.  Great little store: a compact, upscale 3,000 square foot neighborhood food market. It got me thinking. Stores like this would be great for locations near transit hubs and would be an important part of fostering walkable communities. Europe has a great tradition of small neighborhood markets that one can access easily near transit, on your walk home.

In London, Tesco Express stores (owned by the same company as Fresh & Easy) can often be found right across the street from London Underground (subway) and National Rail (commuter rail) stations. Whenever I'm in London, I often stay near the Russell Square Underground station, an area my father grew to love while attending the London School of Economics. We'd never think of needing a car in London.

When you get off the tube station at Russell Square, literally immediately across the street from the exit, there's a Tesco Express. You can stock up on anything you need and carry home your provisions.

Seeking a broader trend, I opened up the Tesco store locator, typed in "London," and behold, the results showed this Underground-adjacent strategy is indeed common:

Meanwhile, Marks & Spencer has its Simply Food grocery stores in transit-friendly locations like London's St Pancras International train station, home of Eurostar high speed rail, commuter rail, and the Underground. St Pancras is an incredible station, with everything from summer concerts to a champagne bar, Hamleys toy store, Thomas Pink clothing shop, florist, and food options to satisfy lovers of gastropubs and sushi alike.

CAPTION: London's St Pancras International Station -- home to high speed Eurostar trains to Paris, local commuter rail, subways, and...shops like Marks & Spencer Simply Food. Photo: ## http://www.flickr.com/photos/stripeyanne/2079941251/in/photostream/##StripeyAnne/Flickr ##

Why should London have all the fun? Imagine if our own Union Station in Los Angeles had a full range of stores and conveniences, as well. Transit would become a whole lot more appealing.  Decades ago, Washington, DC's Union Station transformed itself (you can find everything from Barnes & Noble to Godiva Chocolatier there today) -- and here in L.A., Metro is now starting to prepare a new Union Station Master Plan after recently acquiring the property, although there are questions just expansive the agency's plans are.  In the short term, there is some hope, as the word around town is that a wine bar and a Ben & Jerry's are coming to Union Station. These, along with the relatively recent additions of Famima, Starbucks, Subway, and Wetzel's Pretzels are progress in the right direction, even if more dramatic changes are needed, too.

Even London Heathrow airport has an M&S Simply Food in the Terminal 5 arrivals area, a few feet from the elevator down to the Underground station at Terminal 5.  When you arrive home on a flight or a train, you can drop in, reload on milk and perishable fruits and vegetables, and take the tube home. Talk about trip reductions.

The M&S Simply Food store couldn't be any more convenient for those traveling home from Heathrow T5 on transit or the ##https://www.heathrowexpress.com/##Heathrow Express trains.##

Back to Los Angeles: it'd be great to see Fresh & Easy expand its Express stores to travel hubs like Union Station and the LAX area. But the chain (or other competitors) should also consider locations near subway and light rail stations or dense walkable communities.  Perhaps downtown or adjacent to stations like North Hollywood?

Currently, Fresh & Easy is planning to test four more Express stores, opening in Hermosa Beach, Seal Beach, Laguna Niguel and San Pedro before before March 2012. In Supermarket News, Fresh & Easy spokesman Brendan Wonnacott said "these stores will all be located in very walkable neighborhoods, with a lot of foot traffic, which is part of the Express model." But, honestly, how much foot traffic will the La Cienega location get? La Cienega is a major auto thoroughfare and not on the top of any walkable community list I've heard of. The store, located about four blocks north of the 10 freeway, may attract a lot of customers in cars, but La Cienega is hardily a pedestrian oasis, and the immediate area on either side of La Cienega is single family residential. Meanwhile, the store is off to a poor start catering to bike riders, with its inferior rack that makes it difficult to secure a bike frame and prevent theft:

Hopefully Fresh & Easy, or a competitor, will realize the value of bringing "Express" markets to truly walkable communities, near transit and pedestrian hubs. The concept is proven for that type of use in Europe, and it'd be great to see it catch on in Los Angeles and also help make riding transit more convenient.

But the ball is in the court of corporate location pickers on this one. Here's hoping they choose wisely.

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