January 16, 2006

Ikea Traffic Nightmare

So my husband and I decided to head down to Massachusetts' first Ikea store today to see what all the fuss is about. And I must say, from a retailing point of view, it's an amazing store. It's ENORMOUS - close to 350,000 square feet (in contrast, the big Jordan's Furniture on the hill in Natick is around 130,000 square feet). It was absolutely packed with people (at least on this Monday holiday), and filled with interesting merchandise. I was particularly impressed with the lighting choices; and in general, it appeared that Ikea was offering mid-tier quality at low-tier prices.

But in terms of planning and community, the store is just this side of an abomination. And I don't mean simply that it's yet another ugly big box that encourages sprawl (although it's certainly that). I'm astounded that a world-renowned "design" company would set up shop in such a poorly designed parcel, so customers are all but guaranteed to sit in hideous traffic bottlenecks. I don't know whether the fault lies with Ikea or Stoughton planning officials, but the on-site traffic flow is a mess.

How bad was it? We pulled out of our parking spot in the Ikea parking garage at 1:39 p.m. We finally managed to exit the Ikea property at 2:17 p.m. That's right: It took us 38 minutes to crawl through the Ikea gridlock and get off the store's property. And this wasn't the Friday after Thanksgiving or the weekend before Christmas. There were no special sales going on. It was just a Monday holiday where, yes, people were out shopping; but Rtes 9 and 30 in Framingham were flowing fine, while mall parking lots looked like they were moving.

At one point, I got out of my car and took a walk up the traffic-choked road to try to find out what was happening. I asked one of the "security" guys in the parking lot why nothing was moving ( he was occasionally directing traffic or answering a question, but otherwise apparently doing not much of anything except freezing). He said the problem was that there were 3,000 cars but only 2,000 parking spots. Well, that was certainly part of the problem; but it's also a hideously designed parking area in a bad location, the very last parcel in what might best be described as an industrial park for retailers. What's needed is a grid with multiple, parallel paths and several different exits. Instead, numerous feeder roads converge on a few main parking arteries that all merge into one clogged road with just one way in and out of the Ikea parcel.

If this is how Ikea deals with the traffic mess it generates, I can't say I blame people in Somerville for being concerned about Ikea coming to town.

Update: I'm told there are actually two entrances/exits into the Ikea parcel, although there was only one available to us from where we were parked. They still need more, and they still need some kind of grid so that large numbers of cars aren't funneled into a bottleneck to only one exit.


  1. Same kinda deal for the Ikea in Emeryville, CA (just across from SF and next to Oakland). Really interesting store, but terrible for sprawl.

    Sacramento's mostly blighted neighbor across the river, West Sacramento (sorry, but I'm pulling for you guys to turn the corner with all of neat mixed-use and high density projects going on) gets an Ikea soon. Should be interesting to see what happens to this city. My guess is that it's going to be booming in a couple of years, as bad as it is now.

    What I don't understand is how they plan to balance their big box development (Super Wal-Mart and Ikea coming in) with all of their mixed use, neighborhood friendly projects. For a city with 33 mostly pay-by-the-hour motels on one street alone, going to be quite a change.

  2. Stoughton is a Zoning nightmare, with residential mixed with commercil
    all over the town. Nothing new there, but maybe the residents
    don't know any better because they're used to it.

  3. That location has always been horrible for driving and parking. I remember when the Christmas Tree Shop went in and it made the entrance on that end almost unnegotiable. My family said that the first week Ikea opened it seriously impacted road traffic for miles, not just on Rt. 24 but on Rt. 139 as well.

    My guess is that as much as a company wants to design "ample" parking and have good flow, they also do not want to have a big lot with tons of spaces that remain empty most of the time, that looks bad (kind of like the Kohl's on Rt. 30 or even the Jordan's in Natick - every time I go there there is so much parking it feels like the store must be empty!). Being crowded must in some way fuel the desire for the brand, even as it scares some people away for good (or maybe, more likely, to come back on a work day or early in the morning).

    I would love to see how accurate they were with the traffic estimates from the planning.

  4. 38 minutes, you were lucky!!!!! We left the register at 3:18 this afternoon (Saturday the 21st of January), and didn't get out of the parking lot until 5:06. 108 minutes. Absolutely insane. I can honestly say, as a real estate attorney who handles a significant amount of commercial development, this is without a doubt the worst case of urban planning I have ever seen. They may not have to worry about not having enough parking spaces, if enough people have the same experience that I had today. When I got home, I told my wife that IKEA is a four letter word that will never be spoken in my house

  5. [...] I had the same experience at Atlantic Station recently, where the entire Northside Drive end of the development is congested on a weekend afternoon with traffic trying to get in and out of the garage through the one entrance.[...]

    Note: This is a trackback to another blog post that references this one. You need to head to the other blog to read the full post.