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.