Will New Trader Joe’s in Nob Hill Bring More Car Traffic?

The current Cala Foods on Hyde Street is fronted by a parking lot. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Trader Joe’s announced last week that it is moving into a new location on Nob Hill, at the southwest corner of California and Hyde streets, where the lease for Cala Foods expires in late December. It’s a dense, transit-rich neighborhood that sits along the California cable car line. Given the popularity of TJ’s four other San Francisco locations, which cater largely to motoring shoppers, will it bring more cars and congestion to the neighborhood?

“The plan is to keep the parking configured exactly as it is right now. There will be about 80 spaces total after we’ve re-striped the garage and complete the work,” said Dan Safier, the president of the Prado Group, the developer. “Plus, you have a lot of people who live in the area who just don’t live with cars, so shoppers will be using public transportation or arriving on foot.”

Trader Joe’s recently abandoned plans for a Castro location because neighborhood groups courageously pushed for no parking. The chain ultimately pulled out, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, because “the location was not going to work for its business model, one that is fairly reliant on automobile visits.”

Safier said Trader Joe’s plans to occupy a little over half of the 25,000 square foot building on Hyde and will begin construction in early 2012. Because the change in tenancy doesn’t require a change of use, it doesn’t trigger a Planning Department review, similar to the process for the Whole Foods that recently replaced another Cala Foods location in the Haight. (Update: According to the SF Planning Department, because Trader Joe’s is formula retail, it will actually require a conditional use permit. It’s possible the Planning Department could require that Trader Joe’s take measures to prevent a vehicle queue and address pedestrian circulation at this location).

The traffic queue on Masonic Avenue. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/33744584@N00/2215232120/sizes/z/##SF Citizen##

It’s hard to tell what the demand for parking might be at TJ’s Nob Hill location, but the Planning Department has begun to require that large new stores prevent traffic queues like the long line of cars frequently spotted at TJ’s Masonic Avenue location.

For the planned Whole Foods/condo project at Market and Dolores streets, also being developed by the Prado Group, the Planning Department requires implicit measures “to ensure that vehicle queuing does not occur.” However, some advocates doubt that Whole Foods will be able to prevent a traffic queue without charging for parking to properly manage the supply, and are frustrated that there’s really no mechanism in place to enforce the measures.

“Right now the MTA (Municipal Transportation Agency) isn’t required to do planning code enforcement, nor is Planning empowered to do traffic enforcement, so it could very easily fall through the bureaucratic cracks,” said Tom Radulovich, the executive director of Livable City.

At TJ’s Nob Hill location, one concern about making it more attractive to people on foot is the parking lot that fronts the store. The entrance has a substantial setback from the sidewalk, notes resident Michael Jacinto, who lives nearby.

“You kind of have to dodge cars sometime,” said Jacinto. “I think there will be more cars than there are now.” He hopes, however, that the new store will lead some neighbors who might normally drive to the other TJ locations to walk instead.

  • Anonymous

    There are a couple of guys who run around and wave their arms at the Whole Foods in Noe Valley, but that doesn’t stop cars from waiting on 24th to get into the full lot. Unlike Masonic, there isn’t a second lane and this causes all sorts of trouble. Take heart, I see plenty of people walking up the hills and getting on the 48 with their reusable grocery bags full of WF goodness.

  • mikesonn

    -The chain ultimately pulled out, according to Supervisor Scott Wiener, because “the location was not going to work for its business model, one that is fairly reliant on automobile visits.”
    Are they really reliant on automobile visits or do they just *think* they are really reliant on automobile visits? What makes TJ’s customers more auto dependent? If anything, you could make an anecdotal case that it is actually the opposite because TJ shoppers buy less per visit then, say, Safeway’s.

    -“Plus, you have a lot of people who live in the area who just don’t live with cars, so shoppers will be using public transportation or arriving on foot.”

    AND BIKES! You are two blocks off Polk on a flat part of California, they should provide at least a couple parking spaces worth of bike corrals in the garage.

  • Mike

    The Trader Joes in Manhattan and Brooklyn have no parking at all, and they do a tremendous business.

  • Anonymous

    I used to live not far from this location when it was (thankfully) not a TJ’s. Despite the alarmist reactions of a few, this area is very dense. Most buildings do not have parking, and most people do not have cars. It’s a resource for the area and many people take cable cars (!) to this location, mostly seniors, because of the hill. While TJs isn’t as affordable or as comprehensive of a store as the one there, this alarmist rhetoric about traffic before its even moved in is a bit much. Just because the crappy Masonic location has a problem doesn’t mean TJs is a blight. 

  • jon

    and they have one in back bay in boston without parking. the parking lot will just bring in cars from outside the neighborhood to clog up the nob hill streets for local residents.

  • Sasha

    I just came back from a visit to Boston, where I encountered yet another TJs with no parking (on Boylston St.). I even walked a circuit of the building to verify there was no parking lot entrance. I live 3 blocks from the aborted TJs location in the Castro. I’m bummed they pulled out, but happy the neighborhood held its ground against car-centric development. I don’t think TJ’s understands that instead of loading up our cars, we can just carry a single bag home a few times a week when we’re within walking, biking, or transit distance. It’s what I do right now with the Noe St. farmer’s market and other small stores in the area.

  • JamesF

    I don’t often agree with Mike but he’s right here. The argument that a new TJ’s will involve a lot of vehicular traffic doesn’t seem valid to me. At least not in locations like Nob Hill (or for that matter, Market Street either).

    The other TJ locations are more remote and more suited for cars, e.g. SOMA and Masonic/Geary. But I doubt that this new TJ’d will have more than a marginal impact on traffic.

  • Anonymous

    From what I’ve seen …

    TJ on Masonic has a small number of bike-shoppers and insufficient car parking for the majority of automotive shoppers at that inconvenient location. I do not know how many of their shoppers are riding, or can ride, the bus.

    TJs at 9th Street has insufficient bike parking and the majority of the customers appear to be automotive.

    By comparison, Rainbow Grocery near there has a similar breakdown, with slightly better bike parking.

    Unfortunately, no major grocer that I know of has made a complete commitment to bicycles in a big way, especially cargo bikes. I expect the same amount of parking space would have higher turn-over with bikes/cargobikes, with similar overall sales for a like-number of automotive customers.

  • jon

    “we can just carry a single bag home a few times a week when we’re within walking, biking, or transit distance”

    and thats exactly what I do at my TJs in Portland which is where I shop for almost all of my groceries. if only they would redevelop their huge parking lot which is twice the size of the store building (located at the heart of the densest part of oregon).

  • Masonic will be the death….

    The Masonic Trader Joe’s is poorly designed and should bring extra scrutiny to the Nob Hill plan. Few people ride bikes to this location as Masonic is a well established death trap of a road. However, the one rack they have is regularly full of bikes, and I have had to lock mine to the fence more than a few times. BTW this is my local Trader Joe’s and I always make my once weekly trip by bike. (The only way to make Masonic safer for bikes until the Blvd. is finished is to ride it. Take the right lane and make cars accept that we are there. End tangent.) The automobile parking situation however is even worse. I have never ridden into the lot without seeing a significant cue that usually runs long enough that I cannot see the end from the bike rack’s vantage point.

    With regards to the Haight Whole Foods, it has already become a junk show. Every weekend Stanyan is screwed. The southbound traffic turning left into Hole Foods blocks the northbound lanes to try and get in sooner, and autos exiting are regularly blocking the sidewalks at both Haight and Stanyan. The exiting traffic also blocks both northbound lanes of Stanyan trying to get out and head southbound. Heaven forbid these folks make a few right turns around the block to get going south.

    The traffic minders employed at both sites only manage traffic once it is inside the lot. This isn’t quite as bad at the TJ’s as you cannot make left turns into the lot so the cue is just a form of traffic calming by removing a lane. The Hole Foods is a completely different story. What adds to the frustration at the Haight location is due to the Hole Foods we now have more police walking the area (this is good), but the police don’t seem to care that cars are blocking the sidewalks, or two or more lanes of traffic. There is nothing worse than watching a cop watching someone else break the law and do nothing about it.

    I have a long standing hate for Hole Foods as it is, and the inconsiderate nature of the customer base they have attracted make me hate the store even more. So basically I traded a bunch of smelly, sidewalk blocking rude gutter punks for a bunch of rude inconsiderate self entitled jerks in smelly MB/Volvo/BMW’s who block the sidewalk and the roadways.

    Awesome.

    Nob Hill residents take heed, if you do not demand a well established plan for traffic in writing you WILL have more traffic clogging your streets, and sidewalks waiting to get into the lot.

  • I was disappointed Trader Joe’s couldn’t see their way to being parking-free at the Castro location, too, since a store there would have been dramatically closer to my house.  I often shop at the Trader Joe’s at Ninth and am able to carry home five bags of groceries on my Xtracycle.  My husband and I may do occasional fill-in shopping at Whole Foods in Noe Valley, a store that should limit their small amount of parking to the handicapped and the elderly so as to reduce the ridiculous congestion their tiny lot causes on 24th Street.  (We always walk or take our bikes.) 

    Trader Joe’s on Masonic is scary, scary, scary by bike because you actually have to ride on Masonic for a stretch to get there.

  • I was disappointed Trader Joe’s couldn’t see their way to being parking-free at the Castro location, too, since a store there would have been dramatically closer to my house.  I often shop at the Trader Joe’s at Ninth and am able to carry home five bags of groceries on my Xtracycle.  My husband and I may do occasional fill-in shopping at Whole Foods in Noe Valley, a store that should limit their small amount of parking to the handicapped and the elderly so as to reduce the ridiculous congestion their tiny lot causes on 24th Street.  (We always walk or take our bikes.) 

    Trader Joe’s on Masonic is scary, scary, scary by bike because you actually have to ride on Masonic for a stretch to get there.

  • I was disappointed Trader Joe’s couldn’t see their way to being parking-free at the Castro location, too, since a store there would have been dramatically closer to my house.  I often shop at the Trader Joe’s at Ninth and am able to carry home five bags of groceries on my Xtracycle.  My husband and I may do occasional fill-in shopping at Whole Foods in Noe Valley, a store that should limit their small amount of parking to the handicapped and the elderly so as to reduce the ridiculous congestion their tiny lot causes on 24th Street.  (We always walk or take our bikes.) 

    Trader Joe’s on Masonic is scary, scary, scary by bike because you actually have to ride on Masonic for a stretch to get there.

  • Sfsolo

    I think the bigger problem facing lower Nob Hill residents is the closing of the Cala foods store, many elderly shoppers are going to be drastically affected. TJs is more of a boutique store than a true supermarket.

  • Sprague

    It sure does appear that Trader Joe’s and other stores under appreciate the role of existing and potential non-motorized customers. Car parking and car access dominate their character and bike racks often are, at best, an afterthought.
     
    More often than not, I bike or ride transit to Trader Joe’s stores. Recently I opted to drive instead, hoping to buy a lot of heavier items, and I was surprised how small their shopping carts are. Unlike Costco, it seems as if they are already serving customers who aren’t making huge purchases each visit (and who therefore often may not need a car to haul their groceries home). This meshes very well with customers traveling by transit or bike. Surely the Castro location would have been a success. (The nearby Safeway, at an admittedly even transit friendlier location, appears to have a significant share of its customers not traveling by car.)

  • Nobber

    Won’t the Trader Joes will require a Conditional Use authorization from the Planning Commission, because they are a new chain store?  In that case the commission should require TJs to make sure they don’t have vehicle queues block the sidewalk or street, like they required for the Whole Foods on Market St.

  • Bob Davis

    “…make cars accept that we are there.”  That should be “….make drivers accept that we are there.”  Cars can’t accept anything. (brought to you by the “Accuracy in Comments Bureau.”)

  • DMurray

    I live about 3 blocks from this location.  I’ve been living car-free for 9 years and do all of my grocery shopping on foot with a backpack at Big Apple and Real Food.  I’m actually stoked that TJ’s is moving in.  The under ground parking garage will be accessible via California St and Hyde.  California is a four lane road, two in each direction.  To access the garage cars will need to be in the East bound California lane (headed towards downtown).  Hyde is a three lane one-way street.  Hopefully the two lanes on Cali & three lanes on Hyde will ensure traffic flow will remain relatively unrestricted if cars queue up as they try to enter the garage.

    I’m not too concerned about TJ’s adding more car traffic to an already car-saturated area.  Whole Foods just up the hill at California and Gough seem to have sufficient parking.  Do they provide 80+ spots?  Can’t say.  

  • Update: According to the SF Planning Department, because Trader Joe’s is formula retail, it will actually require a conditional use permit. It’s possible the Planning Department could require that Trader Joe’s take measures to prevent a vehicle queue and address pedestrian circulation at this location. I’ve updated the story to reflect this.

  • Update: According to the SF Planning Department, because Trader Joe’s is formula retail, it will actually require a conditional use permit. It’s possible the Planning Department could require that Trader Joe’s take measures to prevent a vehicle queue and address pedestrian circulation at this location. I’ve updated the story to reflect this.

  • Yes, Nobber. Trader Joe’s will actually require a CU. I’ve updated the story to reflect this. I checked with the Planning Department initially and they said no but then got back to me with the correct answer. 

  • It sounds like, based on parking-free stores in Boston and New York, that TJs is willing to do stores without parking, that their business model can in fact handle it just fine.  The problem, it would seem, is with their perception (and the reality) that SF is still a car-centric, largely car-dominated city and too many residents even within short driving range of the Castro or other similarly dense neighborhoods own cars and will drive to the store rather than transit, walk or bike.  So maybe it’s the Bay Area’s fault! 🙂

  • Charles_Siegel

    Not true of the new Trader Joes near downtown Berkeley.  It has housing above, a relatively small amount of parking  for shoppers structured into the building, no surface parking lot at all, plenty of bike racks on the sidewalk.

  • Anonymous

    Please spare us your class war rhetoric and thinly-disguised envy.

  • Craftsheaven

    Why are Polk St Merchants telling residents TJ’s will remove 57 street parking spots on the 4 sts around the new store to hold their traffic queues?  Please! CA is 2 lanes east, 1 is reserved for the CC only, no cars.  Residents here will ingest car exhaust from 9-9 7 days a wk?  It will be a traffic & noise disaster…

  • Theresa

    Jacinto is silly for “dodging cars.” There is a ramp from the sidewalk on California Street directly to the entrance of the store. 

  • Mango

     Yes that would be nice, although am not sure what Whole Foods do you mean (there is none on Market st)

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