Counterpoint: Expanding the Existing Drive-Thru Ban Won’t Hurt Minneapolis

Minneapolis Council Members Lisa Bender and Lisa Goodman have introduced a change to city ordinances to broaden the coverage of Pedestrian Oriented Overlay districts. This includes a ban on drive-through fast food, banks, pharmacies, and other businesses. Eric Roper at the Star Tribune gave a pretty good run-down of the situation, followed by about 500 commenters raising the pitchforks and lighting torches at yet another sign of the war on cars.

Image taken from original Star Tribune story.

Image taken from original Star Tribune story.

The Star Tribune Editorial Board seems to side with the angry masses, releasing a short piece stating the city should re-think this strategy, citing the necessity of drive-throughs, questioning public safety arguments, and arguing for economic flexibility in recovering from the dark times of the Recession.

Clearing Things Up

PO_Overlay_DistrictsBefore I challenge any of the comments made in the editorial, I’d like to clear up a few things that seem to be an underlying cause of consternation.

  1. There is already a ban on drive-through uses in Pedestrian Oriented Overlay Districts across the city, as well as most downtown zoning districts. See the image to the right for locations and sizes of the PO Overlay districts, shown in blue.
  2. This ban has existed for quite some time: the PO Overlay districts have existed for over a decade, and the current downtown zoning districts were written in 1999.
  3. Most important: The proposed extension will not apply to every parcel across the city. While we don’t know exactly how much the city will recommend extending the PO Overlay districts, here is what Bender and Goodman’s recommendation says:

…amending Pedestrian Oriented Overlay District regulations and expanding Pedestrian Oriented Overlay Districts to include additional properties along and in the vicinity of Hennepin Ave, Lyndale Ave S, Nicollet Ave, and W Franklin Ave.

The proposal is to extend the existing districts in the Uptown and Eat Street commercial areas to include more of Hennepin, Lyndale, Franklin, and Nicollet–places with the highest pedestrian activity outside of downtown. Random commercial areas, even major ones like much of Lake Street, Central Avenue, and University Avenue Northeast, would still allow drive-throughs under this proposal. If you live in a sleepy part of Minneapolis and like to get your pills and burgers by car, you’re probably good to go!

Yes, An Actual Safety Benefit

The Star Tribune claims the public safety benefits are flimsy. I suggest they read up on transportation safety research that resoundingly says that commercial driveway frequency and vehicle volume are correlated with higher pedestrian collisions. In fact, commercial areas with access points fronting the arterial roadway were correlated not only with higher pedestrian crashes rates, but also higher multiple-vehicle and fixed-object crash rates, benefiting drivers and property owners in addition to walkers and cyclists. Pedestrian-scaled commercial areas fare better according to one study linked above:

While pedestrian-scaled retail uses are similarly associated with higher levels of walking, and are thus locations where more vehicle-pedestrian crashes would be expected to occur, they were nonetheless associated with significantly fewer crashes involving pedestrians.

What should be pointed out here is that drive-through facilities will almost always require two, if not three or more, often very large curb cuts for vehicle access management. You’re almost guaranteed to have an entrance along the main street.

Drive Thru Access Examples

By contrast, a more pedestrian-oriented building with a parking lot can easily get by with a single access point off a side-street, alley, or at worst a single curb cut along the main street in addition to a back or side entrance. Limiting drive-throughs will cut back on vehicle-pedestrian conflict points, and therefore enhance safety for all users.

The Star Tribune editorial suggests “Safe, well-lit streets with a vibrant business life and pleasant greenery will do far more to coax drivers out of their cars than edicts.” This completely misses the direct relationship of a street designed with multiple large curb cuts (and the required clear zones in the boulevard space) has on these desired outcomes. How many street trees do you see here? Does a parking lot feel safer to walk by than a building with windows and customers? What is the correlation between land-use intensity and demand for high-quality pedestrian lighting? Is there a negative feedback loop associated with pedestrian activity and the convenience of driving to the same destination, even if it’s already within walking distance to many?

Ignoring Health Benefits, Marginalizing Users

Of course, no one is claiming a ban on drive-throughs will solve our pedestrian safety issues alone. Most writers are actively pushing the city, county, and state to reform transportation designs to make streets less dangerous. The Star Tribune Editorial Board assumes the obstacles and dangers we face daily should remain the status quo, whether in quiet neighborhoods or on busier commercial areas. They place the burden on pedestrians to simply stop and look both ways, or to be more aware of our surroundings, as if doing those things would prevent the type of tragedies that occur all too frequently at no fault of the more vulnerable road user.

It is in this point the Star Tribune shows another blind spot. It’s easy to just assume all users have the mental and physical capability to be alert and able to avoid a vehicle turning at 15 mph or exiting a drive-through lane behind a corner. In reality, Minneapolis is the home to many people with disabilities, in part because one can get around to daily needs without a car. 1.7% of residents aged 18-64 and 7.8% of people 65+ have a severe vision disability, both of which are higher than our regional average (1.1% and 4.9% respectively). Telling them to simply “watch out!” is a slap in the face to the challenges they face on a daily basis. The derisive language of “walk dreamlike, headphones in, Zen in place” ignores the 2% of 18-64 year-olds and 15.5% of 65+ residents with a hearing disability who won’t hear that car coming behind them. And, even if you’re a person with perfect vision and hearing, 5% and 22.5% of those same age categories have “severe difficulty walking or climbing stairs”–the kind of physical impairment that prevents someone from jumping out of harm’s way. This all assumes the pedestrian has the cognitive capacity to make quick and logical decisions, something many elderly residents struggle with. These people represent a significant portion of our population and, like the rest of us, deserve to use walking as transportation with minimal threat from vehicles.

The editorial also makes an point regarding public health by advocating drive-throughs prevent spreading illness via entering a store. It’s interesting the board went with this angle considering they had an opportunity to advocate on behalf of stopping the spread of illness at the workplace when it weighed in on Minneapolis’ proposed sick-leave policy as part of the broader workers’ rights agenda–no public health claim was attempted. Regardless, it’s disingenuous to claim public health benefits while not at least mentioning drive-through impacts from idling cars, fast food, and the growing prescription drug abuse problem across the United States (particularly in our car-oriented suburbs).


Despite the economic fear-mongering, downtown and many of the Pedestrian Oriented Overlay districts that ban drive-throughs in Minneapolis are the areas that have boomed post-recession. Think the thousands of units added along the Greenway in Uptown, downtown and the North Loop growing like gangbusters, Stadium Village’s dominance, downtown Northeast’s skyscrapers, and even less-publicized commercial areas like Eat Street have all proven economic vitality can be had without new drive-throughs. Businesses like pharmacies and fast-food joints will manage to survive in a less car-oriented world, trust me.


Image from Nathaniel Hood.

While the Star Tribune may consider drive-throughs a “convenience for some…a necessity for others,” the reality is that driving to pick up prescription drugs, fast food, or pull cash out of an ATM–even if it allows you to keep the kid in the back seat–is a luxury, not a necessity. It’s a bonus that makes driving just a little more attractive, factoring into every residents’ complicated decision on how to leave the house for the day. Considering the real public safety benefits of reducing conflict points and getting a few people to choose to walk or bike, this is a luxury Minneapolis can stand to lose in a few key highly-pedestrianized neighborhoods of our city.

49 thoughts on “Counterpoint: Expanding the Existing Drive-Thru Ban Won’t Hurt Minneapolis

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Nice article, Alex. I’m surprised you didn’t mention the air pollution or noise issues. Although the traffic safety is an important consideration, I think these are a bit harder to dismiss with condescension like “look both ways”. Banks aren’t terrible in this regard, since there’s no speaker and less likely to be a queue — but fast food and drive-thru coffee are guaranteed to leave cars idling for some time, and the speaker can pierce into homes and apartments nearby.

    One question I have is about the number of driveway cuts needed. You almost never see a new parking lot with a single in/out — nearly always at least two, even with no drive-thru. Is there a reason for this? Is there a certain threshold at which one isn’t going to cut it?

    (The most ridiculous example that comes to mind — Holiday at 36th and Cedar, which has three, three!, curb cuts onto Cedar, in addition to another wide curb cut onto 36th.)

    For somewhat more obvious reasons, you rarely see a commercial use that has primary access off an existing public alley. I actually can’t think of any example built in the last 30 years. Closest that comes to mind is the new, private alley on the building with Starbucks and Jimmy John’s at Franklin and Nicollet.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini Post author

      We don’t have many examples of new single-story commercial to go off, and I guess I don’t think it fair to compare a drive-thru Wells Fargo or Walgreens to a 4-6 story mixed use building with a much greater need for car ingress/egress. Many of the bigger mixed-use structures have gotten by with just 2 curb cuts. The CVS at Franklin/Nicollet has one on each side of the block, serving a drive-thru & parking lot, with another right next to the eastern lot entrance for the residential parking access. The mixed-use development at Lyndale/77th in Richfield has 2 entrances that are basically private alleys plus another along Lyndale that, if we’re being honest, could probably go.

      I guess I’m not a traffic modeling expert at an engineering firm, but the number of single in/out parking access for older commercial buildings seems to work just fine, when taking into account broader social goals like safety, etc. Utilizing public alleys for primary parking access more often in pedestrian areas would be a huge win IMO.

      I’d also like to point out that the CVS I discussed above could be a good template for allowing drive-thrus in pedestrian-heavy areas with some serious conditions from the city. The impact is pretty minimal compared to many other drive-thru examples out there.

    2. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      The new Goodwill on Griggs and University tried it for their donation drop off. Neighbors (rightly) through a fit. The Goodwill had to redesign it so the drop off runs parallel to the alley and is separated by a fence. There is a big sign at the alley that says “No Goodwill Access.”

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        That drive-thru required a conditional use permit from the city, and Goodwill made a case for it that convinced many of the Planning Commissioners. They claimed it would be only very lightly used. Other drive-thrus have been a bit more controversial, including the recent CVS proposal on Grand and Fairview which the Commission denied.

        1. Matty LangMatty Lang

          I used it once with my Danish cargo bike. It worked a lot better than their Charles Ave location where I had to sit and wait for a car to arrive to trip the automatic door opener.

    3. Rosa

      that Holiday sparks the WORST driving-safety pullouts and pullins, even before you consider pedestrians. People waiting to turn left off of Cedar, all the traffic just veers around them without even slowing down. And to come out, it’s so hard when Cedar is busy, people just go ahead and pull out perpendicular to traffic and block a whole lane til they get a tiny gap to pull into. Or tear out as fast as possible when there’s no chance they could actually see what was coming.

        1. Rosa

          only within about 8 blocks of my house, but this specific spot is!

          It’s actually not terrible as a pedestrian (not terrible = assume someone’s just going to run you down as you cross the driveway, as with all businesses) and I don’t bike on Cedar, but I drive that chunk of Cedar during rush hour at least once a week and it’s not good to drive near.

  2. jeffk

    I find it so bizarre how, when pressed, the car-first apologists will dial in on a single narrow benefit, for example, “people who are too old to walk need drive-throughs” or “drive throughs prevent spreading the flu”.

    If they stepped back and looked at the forest for two seconds it should become pretty apparent that in a healthy society more people need to walk in old age than drive, and the sedentary car lifestyle kills about a billion times more people than the flu. It’s not as though sprawling development has done wonders for our health, or that people living in countries that are friendlier to bikers and pedestrians aren’t considerably healthier.

    1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      I’ve noted a few times that The Netherlands sometimes seems like a giant old folks home. It’s not that they have a lot more old folks than we do (though since they live longer they do have a few more) but that all the old folks are out and about on their bicycles riding to the store, for their morning cappuccino, or simply to enjoy some fresh air.

      Old folks in the U.S. are cooped up inside houses and cars nursing the ailments they have from lack of activity.

      Which came first, sitting on our duff or poor health?

  3. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    If it is such a necessity to drive then we should be giving cars to the poor, give them a fuel allotment, etc.

    Driving is a luxury.

    1. Dana DeMasterDanaD

      That’s been done quite a few times. It swings in and out of fashion in the cash assistance/welfare to work world. Minnesota last did some small scale car programs for welfare participants in 2002. Mostly this was in rural areas where there are no other realistic options. They were like Habitat for Humanity for a car where participants had to do some sort of work in exchange for a free car. McKnight Foundation also used to (late 1990s) have a zero interest loan for purchase of a car. If I recall, participants had the loan forgiven if they maintained employment for a certain amount of time. They’ve never gone large scale, anywhere. Although typically successful in the sense that participants got jobs, it just isn’t politically palatable to give stuff to women on welfare, no matter the practicality or need.

  4. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Two additional points:

    – You’re still going to be able to find whatever you want to buy at a drive through window. Maybe you’ll need to drive a few more blocks to get it, but it’s available. And the whole point of your car is that it’s meant to make traveling longer distances more convenient.

    – Let’s keep the context in mind. We’re talking about high-density/high-value parts of the city. Drive-throughs are inherently low-value land uses, because they take up a bunch of space for waiting cars. Do we really want our most valuable land used that way?

    1. Monte Castleman

      What if drugstores, banks, and restaurants decide that they’re simply not going to build in areas if they can’t have a drive thru, and instead are going to build the several blocks away? You’ve now made pedestrians walk several blocks from a pedestrian district into one that isn’t and one that still includes a drive-thru?

      1. Peter Bajurny

        Step 1: Have a slavish devotion to suburbs and cars and driving everywhere
        Step 2: Decide that a society that caters to your devotion is ideal
        Step 3: Form every opinion backwards from that conclusion rather than forwards from facts and evidence

      2. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

        Businesses locate themselves based more on customer base and the bottom line than by whether they can put a drive through in or not. For example, not being able to have a drive-thru didn’t stop Taco Bell from locating at Franklin and Minnehaha.

      3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        I’m pretty confident that there will be business who want to be where the people are.

        For some, that will mean building both. For fast food restaurants, that may mean building only in the car areas. That’s okay too.

      4. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

        They will. This is the highest-value land we’re talking about. Grand Avenue is a good example. There’s a less-than-10-year-old CVS store without a drive thru at Oxford Street.

        1. Rosa

          there are drive-through free drug stores in Dinkytown too, right? I’m pretty sure the Walgreens and CVS that are right by each other on University are drive-through-free.

          1. Holly Weik

            Plus there’s no impulse buying at a drive thru. When you have to walk into a store, you are more likely to pick up a few more things as you wander through the aisles…Not having a drive thru option may actually increase overall sales for a given location.

      5. Justin

        Dense, walkable areas like Uptown, Downtown, Lowry East, Lowry Hill, St. Anthony/Nicollet Island, Loring Park, the University, Dinkytown, etc. are teeming with customers, business like that are not going to avoid them just because they can’t have a drive thru.

    1. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

      To be fair, more parking could be provided without an increase in lot size if the drive-thru is taken out. It could even be argued that more customers could be served by the increase in parking than by having the drive-thru (given how long it often takes one to get through a drive-thru).

  5. Adam FroehligAdam Froehlig

    Without even bringing pedestrians into the mix, MnDOT has long-established for years that a higher driveway/access frequency also increases vehicle crash rates. Fully agree with Alex that the Strib’s “safety argument” is hogwash…

  6. Kele

    Thank you for the article. I just wanted to let you know that the way pages appear when shared on Facebook isn’t working correctly. It just show “” with no article title, synopsis, or picture.

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  8. robsk

    It’s 10 degrees outside. Riding a bike to a business isn’t always practical. Sometimes it rains. Sometimes life happens.

    I’m not buying any “safety” arguments from either side. A drive-thru can be engineered safely to account for pedestrian access and proper traffic flow. Yes, curb cut-outs are dangerous and should be designed with pedestrians in mind. There is no need to have additional curb cut-outs just because there is a drive-thru.

    I don’t use drive-thru to purchase anything. I find them impersonal and inconvenient. I can usually get in and out of the bank quicker by walking inside.

    It may be that the consequences of expanding the ban outweigh the benefits: Larger barren parking lots, inconvenient locations, more driving around.

    Instead of a zone ban, why not tax the drive-thru and incentivize the type of pedestrian friendly development you seek? Are we sure the motivation for expanding the ban isn’t from of a dislike for franchise “fast food, banks, pharmacies and such”?

    Most discouraging are comments like “driving is a luxury”. This shows an out of touch bias that doesn’t get more people walking, doesn’t bridge the rifts between gas guzzlers and transit, bicycle, or pedestrian traffic.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

      I get your point, but while “driving is a luxury” might seem a bit much, “drive-thrus” are certainly a luxury. It’s quite literally a luxury to not have to get out of your car to receive your prescription or a big mac or to deposit your check. This luxury comes at a cost, though, of changing the buildings and street around it, often making them worse for people nearby. (Here’s an example from Grand Avenue: Like it or not, the privilege to be able to drive entirely around a building and idle one’s car comes at the expense of others’ quality of life, either safety, noise, or maybe just the opportunity cost of having more asphalt on our streets instead of buildings. It seems wise for cities to be judicious about where these are placed, and to push for better designs and better options in places where there’s good demand and a quality pedestrian fabric.

  9. robsk

    Almost as soon as I hit “Submit Comment” I wish I didn’t. My problem was I read the Strib editorial, but neglected to read the actual article from Eric Roper. A little trigger-happy.

    Bill, I agree completely. A blind drive-thru like that one on Grand is a poor, unsafe, and unacceptable design. It gets even worse when the contractors opt to angle the sidewalks to accommodate the vehicles. That creates a slippery surface and a launchpad for the cars to pounce.

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  11. Blair

    I notice that the vast majority of people who seek to ban drive-throughs are healthy, able-bodied and typically don’t have a number of small children.

    For someone with a serious physical disability a drive-through means the opportunity to get a simple cup of coffee without a tiring 15 – 30 minute ordeal. For some members of our society a vehicle really is the great equalizer. It allows the physically challenged the opportunity to enjoy the simple things in life the rest of us take for granted. The drive-through offers them similar freedom.

    1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

      Good news! There will be drivethrus a few minutes drive away. Since you’ll be in a car you can get to them really fast, too. Just not everywhere, hopefully not where lots of people walk around a lot.

      I have young kids, fwiw.

    2. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

      Since the drive-thru was developed and popularized, there have become vastly more options for getting things to people who are unable to get them for whatever reason. For the food category of drive-thru, we now have:

      1. Ubiquitous grocery delivery service (via Instacart, Prime Now, Lunds, and Coborns Delivers)

      2. Ubiquitous restaurant delivery (via Bitesquad, plus Jimmy Johns, Dominos and others who deliver themselves)

      3. Ability to use credit and debit cards and EFT for nearly every sort of payment, versus having to use cash and checks. Plus, mobile deposit for checks.

      4. Prescriptions by mail, ordered online

      With so many options that provide all the things drive-thrus provide — to your door, often in an hour or less — why are we making our cities worse to provide even more drive-thrus?

      1. Monte Castleman

        1) I wasn’t aware of any grocery stores that had drive-thrus in the first place.

        2) Isn’t there normally a minimum order, plus the requirement of tipping the driver or a delivery charge? The Burger King near me was/is offering delivery, but they wanted a $10 minimum order. Maybe if you have a family to feed, not so much if you live alone and just want supper.

        3) It irritates me, but there’s still things you need to pay cash for, and you need to go to a bank to get it unless there’s a gasoline station or something with your brand of ATM around.

        4) You can order your monthly prescription, but when you feel under the weather and have just visited your doctor for antibiotics you don’t want to order it by mail. The other people in the store would probably appreciate you not going inside too.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          In general, my thinking isn’t that getting these items in person eliminates all trips to the places ever. Just that a lot more options exist, and if you really want to avoid getting out of your car for whatever reason, there are lots of ways to do so.

          1. Not a direct analog to drive-thrus. My point is that the delivery system actually brings you yet more options than we had with drive-thrus for getting food.

          2. Depends on the place. Jimmy John’s just charges a dollar per sub ordered. Bitesquad and some pizza places have minimums. But again, this more emphasizes that there way more options than there ever were before — after all, you could never get drive-thru Darbar or Bad Waitress, but you can get them through Bitesquad.

          3. I’m not saying you never need to touch cash, but it’s much less common than it was even ten years ago. You can also get cash back at the grocery store, or bank with a place that refunds fees for using out-of-network ATMs (most online banks do). Or pay the fee. Or get out of your car, on the now far-less-common trip to the ATM.

          4. I’ll concede this point; online ordering doesn’t replace medications on the spot. Still think it’s the minority of pharmacy visits, though.

        2. Justin

          I think the point is that between drive-thrus that still exist in non-pedestrian overlay districts AND other ways to get goods to people…everyone is covered, more or less.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I’ve notice that the vast majority of people objecting to these small restrictions on drive throughs are healthy and able bodied as well.

      People with disabilities are also among the most vulnerable users of sidewalks. I’d be interesting in hearing from people who face mobility challenges about what they think about the proposal and the net effects on them as both drivers and sidewalk users.

      Not being among that group, I really don’t know what they would say.

  12. Keith Morris

    Keep the city in the city and the suburbs in the suburbs. I lived in Granada and Santander in Spain and saw plenty of elderly people and not a single drive thru. How did they ever survive?

    1. Justin

      I live in Field, lots of elderly and disabled people in the general area. Closest bank? No drive thru. Closest pharmacy? No drive thru. Fast food? None nearby. I don’t think there is any relationship between proportion of elderly and/or disabled and need for drive thrus. Also, I imagine many of my elderly and disabled neighbors use the bus or some other kinda of service.

      I think drive thrus are for people who are passing through the area, not the locals.

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  14. Scott

    Great post Alex. You’ve done a nice job of refuting the arguments from that editorial. I find it so strange people are so passionate about keeping drive-thrus on every commercial street in Minneapolis. We have a sprawling, car-oriented region with countless drive-thrus. News flash: The City is growing and becoming more dense and walkable. It will become slightly less convenient for drivers, but cars are welcomed and encouraged everywhere else.

    Also, what happened to the Star Tribune Editorial Board? I used to think they made logical arguments.

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