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

A grocers market in market in Heathrow Terminal 5. Photo credit: Jan Kringels. From:

David Murphy is President of Angelenos Against Gridlock (, 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 ( to read other recent columns by David, who also blogs at 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: ## ##

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 ## 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.

  • I totally agree. However, Hows market across from the North Hollywood Station didn’t last. Although I think there were multiple issues with the market itself (price, visibility, economy) not necessarily the location. While looking the property owners were looking for a new tenant for the space, residents nearby were hoping for something more affordable like a Fresh and Easy or Trader Joe’s. Didn’t happen. It’s now 24 Hour Fitness, which seems to be doing well. But the space seems better suited for something else.  

    I wrote a brief write-up about it this summer:

  • Indeed — and good post on on your NoHo Fo Sho blog. Indeed it’s too bad Hows closed and rumors of a Fresh and Easy ( proved untrue. Perhaps Fresh & Easy will reconsider the area around there now that they have their smaller Express store concept, or perhaps another company will consider the area, too.

    Of course, the NoHo Art Wave project (Lowe Enterprises’ $1 billion development on Metro land) with its 562 housing units and three office towers would help provide sufficient demand, one imagines, for  some sort of transit-friendly market there among the 1.72 million square feet of retail planned. But that project, announced in 2007, has been on hold during the recession. I’m sure you, J. Ryan, are familiar with all this, but other readers might be interested in this update from NoHo Patch in May:

  • Anonymous

    Sorry, David. Neither building out the rail transit system nor making bicycling infrastructure safer will end gridlock. These only provide (much needed) transportation alternatives when a real gridlock ending solution is put into place. “Two University of Toronto professors…show that transit expansion doesn’t help cure congestion… if somebody gets out of their car and gets on the bus, it’s bringing up a little bit more room on the roads, and there’s somebody out there waiting to use it.”

    Someone who claims that expanding transit will end gridlock is no wiser than someone who claims that expanding roads will end gridlock.

  • I hear what you’re saying. But — and this is key, with rail transit, you have options (other than a car in gridlocked traffic) to get where you need to go, quickly and reliably. I grew up in Washington, DC — which, like LA, often comes up high on the most congested regions ranking lists each year. But the key difference is that you’re able to hop on the Metro subway and reliably get somewhere, zipping underneath the gridlock with predictable speed. (And imagine what the gridlock would be like without Metro )

    In my personal experience, for instance, that meant I could commute from my home in Maryland to an internship at Space Adventures in Ballson, Virginia, easily and quickly because driving in gridlock wasn’t my only option. I could take the Metro and emerge a block away from their office, grabbing a bagel and coffee at Cosi cafe along the pedestrian-friendly walk. Then, at the end of the day, I’d emerge back home at my metro stop (Friendship Heights), getting off the subway and taking my pick of which exit to take — to the bus station and adjacent to a Giant Foods supermarket & CVS/Pharmacy, or to Chevy Chase Pavillion shopping center (bookstore, food court, restaurants, Borders, Linens & Things), or the Mazza Gallerie shopping center (Nieman Marcus, Footlocker, movie theaters, etc.). Everything you’d want, right there on top of the subway station. (Since I left and moved to Los Angeles, they’ve built even more — including a development referred to as the “Rodeo Drive of the East” with luxury retailers )

    And when it was time to go home, purchases in hand, I could hop on the Friendship Heights shuttle bus to get the “last mile” home to my family’s highrise condo, or simply walk. The free shuttle bus, which runs continuously between the Metro station and the residential highrises, is funded by a special residential tax district.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, rail transit and other alternatives to driving gives people the ability to avoid gridlock. They don’t actually “end gridlock.” If the goal is to end gridlock, there are ways to achieve this *much* more cost effectively than building transit.

  • Personally, I think it’s going to be tricky to add much more to L.A. Union Station without affecting the attractive, historic nature of the station, which I like the way it is.  (It needs a replacement for Union Bagel, and the old Harvey House restaurant can be so much more than it is now).

    Famima!! may not be large, and it may not be British, but it does provide quick grocery shopping for people who are passing through. (It’s a branch of Japanese convenience store chain Family Mart).

    What IS needed is more convenience stores or grocery near OTHER subway/ train stations throughout Southern California, and Amtrak in general.

  • Marcotico

    In reply to your last comment, I think the same types of studies (sorry, didn’t look at your link, but am familiar with other similar studies) support the idea that there is no end to congestion.  Cost of congestion, is the flip side of connectivity.  I lived in London for 4 years, and everything was congested:  roads, transit, sidewalks.  I don’t think transit reduces congestion, and it is a habit of transit supports to go back to that old thinking.  It isn’t meant to reduce congestion, it is meant to absorb additional growth that would make congestion even worse. 

    It used to be said in jest that the only real way to end auto congestion is a prolonged economic depression.  Unfortunately, in many parts of the country we are seeing that borne out. 

  • Mark Elliot

    Great piece! There’s a great argument here for using these smaller markets as anchors of nascent bike-friendly districts. For some areas like on La Cienega, there is an environmental disincentive to walk any distance to access a market. Most folks will drive elsewhere. But with better facilities for cyclists (as pointed out above), the on-wheels customer catchment area expands from a few blocks to a mile and beyond. These retailers see the synergy in density & foot traffic but haven’t yet recognized the potential of rollin’ traffic.


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