Drive-Thrus are Bad for Cities and Saint Paul Should Stop Permitting Them

Earlier this month, the Saint Paul Planning Commission approved another drive-thru in the urban core, confirming a conditional use permit (CUP) for a 1,800-square-foot, one-story Taco Bell restaurant on a 16,500-square-foot lot with the vast majority of the remaining land used for parking and a drive-thru lane. The location is just over 1,000 feet from the intersection of the Green Line light rail and A Line arterial bus rapid transit (aBRT) lines, which together (in non-COVID times) have over 45,000 daily riders. I think this was a bad decision, and voted against it because approving a new drive-thru next to St. Paul’s two largest transit investments flies in the face of a whole bunch of specific Green Line plans, city-wide plans and goals.

The only rendering provided with the recent Border Foods application. | Image: City of Saint Paul

But what does this really mean? Why should you care?

To make a long story short, drive-thrus are bad for cities in general, but they are especially bad next to well-used transit. There are three main reasons why we should stop permitting them in cities like St. Paul.

The drive-thru curb cuts at the Taco Bell on Snelling. | Photo: Author

Bad for Sidewalks

Drive-thrus are particularly bad in walkable, urban areas – anywhere that a lot of people use the sidewalks. The reason is pretty simple: they generate a lot of traffic onto and over the curb cuts in the sidewalk. People using drive-thrus are often distracted, holding a bag of food and paying attention only to the oncoming traffic on a typically busy street. If there’s congestion, cars will pull up and over the sidewalk to wait, blocking it for people walking. Inevitably, cars end up driving over what should be safe, secure, and inviting pedestrian space. This is unpleasant anywhere, but doubly so for sidewalks in an urban core, or anywhere with lots of pedestrians.

The drive-thru effect is especially harsh for vulnerable sidewalks users, like the elderly, children, or people living with disabilities. When they were designing both the Green Line and the A Line, thanks to pressure from disability advocates, Metro Transit took great pains to make sure both transit lines had level boarding, making it easy for people in wheelchairs or with other mobility assistance devices to roll on and off, without having to have a bus driver strap them in (as is the case with regular buses and bus ramps). The devil is in the details when it comes to designing streets safe and accessible for people with disabilities – things like curb cuts, ramps, and reducing conflicts between drivers and pedestrians. Getting it right makes a huge difference.

This video highlights how small design details like curb cuts and sidewalk width affect mobility for people. | Video: District Councils Collaborative of Saint Paul and Minneapolis/YouTube

Another fundamental problem with drive-thru curb cuts is that they all but guarantee ice will remain packed on the sidewalk in winter. As anyone who has tried to plow a bike lane well knows, cars pack down snow into a very thick ice layer that is all but impossible to shovel or scrape. No amount of shoveling with anything other than a blowtorch can solve this problem.

Bad for Pollution

People don’t usually think about it, but drive-thrus generate all kinds of pollution. There’s the noise pollution of people’s car stereos, engines, and the squawk of the intercom box. There’s the paper and plastic pollution coming from the packaging that invariably accumulates around the line of cars.

The worst kind is the particulate pollution that comes directly from the tailpipes of a line of cars idling each day and night. I did a study a while back where I measured PM2 and PM10 particulate levels in the Rondo neighborhood, a mile or two east of Snelling in St. Paul. The basic gist is that particulate pollution is measured on the block-by-block level, and lots of idling cars trigger an increase. This is exactly the stuff that causes asthma and other lung problems that disproportionately impact poor people and communities of color throughout the city. At peak times in Starbucks drive-thrus it takes almost 15 minutes to get a cup of coffee (I’ve measured it), and that’s true for car after car, nonstop through the morning and afternoon.

An example of how particulate pollution can vary in Saint Paul, block-by-block, depending on proximity to busy streets or highways. | Image: Author

That kind of particulate pollution harms workers and people living nearby. In the case of the Snelling Avenue Taco Bell, there’s a large affordable housing development directly next to the site, one that provides affordable Single Room Occupancy apartments to dozens of people. Normally, drive-thrus are banned this close to residential zoning, but that regulation does not apply to supportive housing facilities like this one, even though we’re still talking about people living and breathing next to a drive-thru generating particulate pollution. This is a great example of how a small land use decision can impact people’s health in a very direct way, with impacts falling most especially on the poor and people of color living in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, even if they don’t own a home there.

Bad for Climate Action

I shouldn’t have to explain climate change in 2020, and I won’t, except to say that everything is much worse than we thought. Siberia has spent the entire summer melting and burning at the same time. California is on fire for what seems like the 10th year in a row. A new record for temperature — 130º — was just set in Death Valley, California. And there’s zero chance that the Federal government is going to do anything to reduce carbon emissions without a huge political sea change. (Haha, get it?) Instead, the Trump Administration is opening up the arctic for oil drilling, gutting regulations, and actively trying to make climate change worse than it already is (which is very bad).

From the Climate Action and Resilience Plan: the city has an ambitious goal to reduce carbon emissions by reducing driving. | Table: City of Saint Paul

It’s up to cities like Saint Paul to lead on climate action in this country, which is why the City adopted an ambitious set of climate action goals last December. One key to meeting those goals is reducing the fast-growing carbon emissions from transportation — mostly individual cars and trucks. They city set targets of reducing transportation emissions by 2.5% each year (!) until 2050. That will be difficult, given the recent trends in the exact opposite direction. If not for COVID-19, we already would be very far behind.

This is why permitting more drive-thrus is the wrong thing to do. Drive-thrus increase and incentivize driving, and lead us away from the ambitious but necessary reforms we’ve adopted as a city. If St. Paul doesn’t take action on climate change, who is going to?

Climate Change is absolutely an equity issue because by far the biggest impacts of climate change are on vulnerable, poor people in places like the Caribbean, Africa, Central America, India, Indonesia, and other countries with little ability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. What kind of message are we sending those people by insisting on idling in our cars while waiting for $2 tacos? Is drive-thru convenience more important than preventing floods, famines, and droughts for billions of people in the global south? Taking action on climate change means making tough decisions like having to park, unbuckle your seat belt, and walk 25’ to eat a burrito. This is the least we can do to help prevent the unfolding catastrophe harming billions of poor people around the world.

It’s the Cars, not the Tacos

Saying “no” to a drive-thru Taco Bell is not about the tacos or the hours or the people eating the tacos or whether the salsa is authentic. Everyone’s entitled to their opinions about fast food, and it’s fine to have restaurants open in neighborhoods providing affordable food for people, day and night. But at the very least, we should demand that our restaurants be designed in a way that helps Saint Paul achieve its goals. At the very least, we should recognize that drive-thrus designs harm the city’s most vulnerable people.

Drive-thrus are popular with fast-food businesses, especially corporate chains, because they allow restaurants to cut down on costs. (One estimate I heard from an earlier zoning debate: a drive-thru Starbucks provided 40% higher profits than a walk-in Starbucks.) This might seem like a moot point during COVID-19 — and it is, sort of — but with drive-thrus, chains cut expenses like having a public bathroom, having a place for people to sit and eat, or serving people on foot in their immediate neighborhood. Instead, they design their business model around a steady stream of customers coming in from elsewhere and idling in cars.

Border Foods knows how to build urban, walkable restaurants. | Photo: Getty

It’s not about the tacos, because it doesn’t have to be this way. There are lots of options for providing food to people on Snelling Avenue that do not erode our sidewalks, health and climate. My favorite St. Paul fast-food taco joint, Boca Chica Taco House on the West Side, has its COVID protocols down to an exact science, with a walk-up window, picnic tables outside, and an in-person waiting-room arrangement that makes it easy for people to get tacos day and night. There’s no reason why we can’t ask for the same or better in the Midway.

Heck, for my money, any Lake Street taco truck in a parking lot is better than a Taco Bell drive-thru with a queue of idling cars. Or, if you insist on “running for the border”, check out the urban stores that Taco Bell has built in other cities around the country and around the world (linked above). If Border Foods wanted to invest in Snelling Avenue, they could build a restaurant design that benefited the Midway instead of harming it.

Seemingly small decisions like drive-thru permits are important because St. Paul is currently trying to make a case for more transit investments, like the upcoming B Line, the Riverview modern streetcar, or the potential F Line aBRT. To justify good transit, we need walkable streets and better urban buildings. If St. Paul waters down land use with drive-thrus and other suburban development, it harms our ability to get regional and federal funding for critical investments.

The city needs to ask for more from businesses, developers, and especially corporate chain restaurants, demanding that they put community priorities before profit margins. Snelling and University is St. Paul’s primary transit hub outside of downtown, and should be more valuable than a strip mall parking lot in Farmington. We must ensure that our built environment reflects St. Paul’s values.

The CUP is being appealed by the Hamline-Midway coalition, which opposed it. If you care about this issue, please email Councilmember Mitra Jalali ( and Josh Williams ( in the Planning and Economic Development Department and share your thoughts. We can ask for more from developers and businesses at this critical spot. Snelling Avenue and the Hamline-Midway neighborhood deserve better.

90 thoughts on “Drive-Thrus are Bad for Cities and Saint Paul Should Stop Permitting Them

  1. Mike SonnMike Sonn

    This just proves that St Paul is far from “urban” even at the confluence of our two biggest transit investments.

  2. Bob Roscoe

    Yet another example of urban places in cities succumbing to force-fitting suburban “Its OK to be lazy.”

    1. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

      Read the article again. While food costs are not specifically mentioned, he has no argument with Taco Bell as a restaurant/food offering. The land use of everything being drive-up to accommodate a pandemic is not possible in cities. That is a larger question than this one article (and hopefully a relatively short-term part of the larger land-use problems we face). As has been widely demonstrated by Don Shoup and others, making enough parking to accommodate a parking oriented land-use pattern leaves little room for the reasons that people come to a place in the first place.

  3. Monte Castleman

    Is Taco Bell keeping their old building with a drive-thru superior to allowing them to build a new one with a drive-thru? Those are the only two options here since there’s no way they’d rebuild if it means losing a good percentage of their business due to not being able to have a drive-thru.

      1. Emma K. Peele

        As per this article, “One estimate I heard from an earlier zoning debate: a drive-thru Starbucks provided 40% higher profits than a walk-in Starbucks.”

      2. Brian

        A typical fast food restaurant get about 70% of revenue from drive thru service. How many chain fast food places have been built recently without a drive thru? The average customer is likely to go elsewhere that has a drive thru if Taco Bell didn’t have one.

        I personally always go inside at a fast food place when driving instead of the drive thru. I hate that inside customers get treated as second class customers in deference to drive thru customers.

          1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

            COVID-19 is a short term issue compared to the 20+ year life-span of this new building. Plus, the drive-thru is open right now. I think Border Foods is using COVID as an excuse to push through a project that has been rejected by the city twice before, which is pretty disingenous.

          1. Brian

            Your experience of faster service when going inside a fast food restaurant is different from that of most people I know. The drive thru makes up the majority of revenue for most fast food places so they tend to serve drive thru customers first. They don’t want vehicles backing up in the drive thru.

            I was going to BK for breakfast once or twice a week for while and I always went inside. It was pretty rare there was ever a cashier ready to take dine-in orders. The cashiers were all taking drive thru orders or gathering food for drive thru customers. It was a good day if there was a cashier ready to take your order within several minutes of stepping up to register.

  4. Sheldon Gitis

    I’m not a fan of drive-thrus, but I think your pedestrian hazard argument applies to any parking facility entrance or exit that crosses a sidewalk. Thanks to the idiotic rebuild of University Avenue, and the elimination of on-street parking, such pedestrian hazards are more prevalent than ever. The Taco Bell hazard is minor compared to all the other hazards the hideous road rebuilt created.

        1. KV

          MUCH higher! Especially at lunchtime, dinnertime, and around 2am when bars close. At peak hours, cars going in and out of the busiest drive-thrus number at least 30 per hour.

        1. Kyle Constalie

          Emma, even if this is not true, recall what the author explained about the problem of idling cars and how destructive this is to the environment and to everybody’s health and well being.

      1. Sheldon Gitis

        What exactly is a ” typical parking lot?” The one and only pedestrian-motor vehicle collision I experienced happened while I attempted to walk across a Wells Fargo parking lot exit. Why all the commotion about fast food drive-thrus and no mention of bank drive-thrus? Whether for banking or for fast food, the hazards posed by drive-thrus are minor compared to the hazard that is the hideous University Avenue road rebuild.

  5. Sean Patrick Kelley

    Most of the points make no sense. Take for instance his argument that the drive through make a side walk more dangerous because of people leaving the restaurant. Well how is that in any way different than if they went in to get their food? Either way they are entering a parking lot, and exiting a parking lot. By this logic there should be no business that have parking lots. He doesn’t give any thought to the traffic that drive thru’s reduce as they offer a fast alternative for people to get in and out quickly. As well as reducing parking issues for area locals. A busy fast food restaurant with a small parking lot and no drive thru ends up having it’s over flow parking on the streets around the restaurant, often into the neighborhood side streets where parking is already a problem.

    Also his “Study” seems laughable, and is at the very least spoiled by a bias he is seeking to prove. How amazing is it that he found air quality to be worse during peak traffic times! Guess what, a drive thru being removed, or not added isn’t going to help that. There have been numerous air quality studies done in some of the worst areas in the country for pollution and they all come back to the same conclusion, which is an obvious one, its the cars. On the street, in a drive through, at a light, in a parking lot; it doesn’t matter they will be there during peak hours regardless. They all found the answer is strict emissions controls on vehicles, and guess what, when California started practicing this they saw a dramatic reduction in air pollution! Currently we don’t have any emissions controls in Minnesota, so instead of focusing on one of the leaves of the weed, he may want to actually address the root.

    The author is like Don Quixote, only his windmill is driving instead of walking. An admirable cause for sure, but when you hide that behind a bunch of rhetoric that upon closer inspection makes little sense your cause is not helped.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      There are lots of ways to walk to Taco Bell. Park in the lot, park on Snelling, park around the corner… Far more customers will end up walking to patronize multiple businesses. And yes, parking minimums should be abolished in Saint Paul also. In fact, this close to the Green Line, they already are.

      And yes, I am against unnecessary driving, an admirable cause for sure. There are lots of ways to create businesses and restaurants that don’t incentivize and promote needless car trips at the expense of the urban environment.

      1. Emma K. Peele

        what about elderly and disabled people who prefer to kot have to get out of their cars (especially in the wintertime) and walk in?

        1. ALF

          You’re concern trolling. There are a lot of people who, for reasons related to (young or old) age or physical or mental disabilities, can’t drive or don’t own cars, and have difficulty navigating as pedestrians on streets designed exclusively for car access, but can get around independently on a well-designed pedestrian and transit landscape. “People who can drive themselves but can’t easily get out of their cars” is only one of the many, many subsets of people whose needs have to be taken into account in transportation planning.

          1. Emma K. Peele

            Absolutely not trolling, just trying to pose a very legitimate – and I though non- threatening- question. I would assume “people who can drive themselves but can’t easily get out of their cars” would be a substantial subset of drive- thus.

            1. ALF

              “Concern trolling” means hiding your own interests/ideology under a veneer of concern for the vulnerable. I’m sorry to be accusatory, I’m just incredibly burnt out on car-and-parking advocates in this city using elderly and disabled people and “minivan moms” as a pretext for undermining any attempt to improve our streets and transportation options, when even the most minimal observation makes it obvious that car-centric landscapes are incredibly difficult for many vulnerable people to move through. As a parent raising young kids very near the Taco Bell in question (well, closer to the Culver’s drive-through if we want to get specific), drive-throughs are exactly the kind of hazard that limit my kids’ ability to move safely and independently in their own neighborhood. Cars can be an important mobility tool for some people with disabilities, and of course that has to be considered. But letting car traffic dominate our transportation landscape puts a severe constraint on the independence and mobility of people who don’t or can’t (or shouldn’t!) drive.

          2. Jimmy

            Concern trolling? LOL. A valid point. BTW nobody is walking up to a Taco Bell when it’s 20 below out. This isn’t like a bourgh in New York, it’s not laid out like that. Most people will have to drive to patronize the restaurants on University Avenue. The studies the author cited were created to validate his and others arguments to forward their cause to remove personal vehicles. On top of every thing else St Paul needs every dime it can get to even hope to maintain it’s infrastructure, even a drive through. It’s not like there are many opportunities to shop for anything other than crack on that street now.

        2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          Hi Emma. Certainly can be an issue, but the problem is that accommodating the people with disabilities in their cars comes at the expense of making safe sidewalks for those very same groups of people getting around out of cars. You cannot have both, and in this case, with the best disability-oriented transit in the city right here, the priority should absolutely be about the sidewalks.

      2. Sean Patrick Kelley

        You are hyperfocused on your cause, and that isn’t a good thing for it. I pointed out that the elimination of drive thru’s creates a higher demand for parking that negatively effects the local population, and you not only ignored that, but emphasized it in your reply.
        I’m not against making the city more walkable, but you can’t live in a fantasy world that exists without cars, and things like drive thru’s which are a huge convenience to many, and expect to further your cause. Your effort could be going to working with the restaurant to make a safer driver thru that give it’s patrons better visibility for pedestrians for everyone’s safety. Maybe use some of your energy to push for smart pedestrian overpasses that other cities have used to improve both pedestrian and vehicle traffic and safety. I’m sure there are tons of other creative and viable options you could champion for your cause if only you could take a step back and look at the bigger picture.
        As far as Taco Bell goes, they will get their drive thru, they had one before, and they provide the city with revenue that I am sure they aren’t willing to let go of easily.

        1. Kyle Constalie

          Are you saying that it is a bad thing for an author to have too much focus on a problem? I am grateful that people like the author are willing to extend their thoughtfulness to issues like this.

          Also, I believe less car parking positively (not negatively) affects the local population by de-emphasizing the overuse of cars, which increases pedestrian safety, reduces noise pollution, kills less little critters, improves air quality, and demands less drilling in the ocean.

          Also, close proximity to fast food restaurants is probably more likely to negatively impact people’s health.

    2. Megan

      Bill’s bias is widely known, so no surprise there. And articles like this are easy fodder to drive clicks to the website.

      1. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

        Bill’s bias is to having a livable city — which is the mission of this website. The idea that a Streets post would be written for clicks (on a nonprofit site!) is… interesting.

      2. KV

        You are completely misusing the word “bias” here, I’m afraid. Do you mean “Bill’s philosophy of urban land use”?

        1. Megan

          I thoroughly enjoy when someone feels compelled to tell me what I’m actually thinking. The term still is bias, feel free to embrace it rather than sugar coat it with glitter and sparkles. We all have biases, the term itself isn’t a negative but your reaction(s) are quite telling.

          1. KV

            “Glitter and sparkle”? Please define ‘bias’ and let us know what you think Bill’s ‘bias’ is here. Yes, we all have biases. That does not make this article biased. It is a statement of what he believes, and an argument, a case being made. Please explain why you want to say that is biased. Otherwise you are just throwing around a trendy term. Do you mean “implicit bias,” “explicit bias,” some other type of bias? Why not just say: “I disagree with Mr. Lindeke. I think fast-food restaurants, including this particular Taco Bell, should be as prevalent in urban areas as elsewhere”?

          2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

            Bias is a word, I guess. My bias is that cars are destructive, locally and globally. I tried hard to make sure I cited Saint Paul’s official planning documents here, which also have the same “bias” about trying to make sure people walking are safe, and to minimize and reduce driving in the city of Saint Paul. There are lots of reasons for this “bias”, which I have pointed out here and elsewhere. So call it what you will.

            I don’t even hate cars. I just think we need to do much more to reduce their daily use, to reduce their impacts on our bodies, cities, and planet.

          3. Kyle Constalie

            What might your biases be, Megan? We are here to listen and share. Perhaps in explaining you could offer us a comment that does a little more to further this conversation. I worry your comment above may not be very productive.

  6. arch0049

    As much as I agree, a better case study would have been the atrocious Starbucks at Marshall and Snelling. The drive thru vehicles block the intersection when they are lined up. They actually pay for an off-duty cop to do traffic control – in a parking lot and drive-thru!!! – during rush hour, and the sidewalk is completely impassable. I do believe this Taco Bell will be a nuisance, but minor compared to the recently approved and open Starbucks!

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      For sure. That is an egregious example, though I’d add that this site has far more people walking than are at Marshall Avenue, which is a problem mostly because of how it affects car traffic and bike safety.

      1. Scott

        Bill – Curious if you have had a chance to take a look at the Snelling/Marshall/Selby area since Ayd Mill Road has been closed. I wouldn’t really be a good judge of it, as I’ve always avoided the area no matter what google maps tells me. I would guess it has become a little more pedestrian and bike friendly.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          I have driven around a bit. Traffic on Lexington is congested during rush hour, but it was before. I would bet that Selby Avenue is much improved.

  7. Brian

    Bill conveniently left out the part of the story that didn’t fit his narrative.

    This Taco Bell was damaged in the riots in May. The primary reason a new building is being built is the damage to the old building. It appears the old building had a drive thru so this isn’t a new drive thru. This is simply replacement of a drive thru with a new building. I suspect the choice here is either a Taco Bell at this location with a drive thru, or an empty lot.

    1. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

      Bill has demonstrated that Taco Bell as a chain has a store format that is not oriented around a drive-through. This area is in the midst of a big change, given the stadium and increase in transit. There will soon be two new apartment buildings just across University that people could walk over from, plus the whole Hamline Midway neighborhood around it. When you build a thing that is unsafe to walk to, people don’t walk to it.

      1. Brian

        Your article implied this is a net new drive thru which it is not. This is simply a replacement of an existing drive thru.

        Border Foods could apparently keep the existing building essentially forever which means they keep the drive thru too. At least, they can keep the drive thru until the city bans all existing drive thrus.

    2. KV

      Please read comments submitted to the Zoning Committee of the Planning Commission on this issue. This Taco Bell was NOT seriously damaged by the rioting. It could have reopened in the old building within a week, but instead it chose to try to exploit the minor damage and get a quick approval for a new permit, having been denied one or having rejected one several times in recent years. It is already operating again in the old building, so — guess it wasn’t a total loss. It was not set on fire. A couple of windows were broken and counters moved.

      1. KV

        Also, in city code, there is no such thing as a “replacement” when a building is being torn down and a new site plan submitted. It’s an all-new proposal at that point.

    3. Kyle Constalie

      I can think of many things I’d prefer to see in an empty lot rather than a taco bell, including an empty lot. Also, whatever happened to the previous building has no bearing on the fact that creating a building designed for cars to frequent causes harm to the environment.

  8. Samuel

    “At the very least, we should recognize that drive-thrus designs harm the city’s most vulnerable people.”

    I’m not really following this line of argument. I get the environmental issues, but the drive thru hate reaks of NIMBY. I’m low income and often in a rush, maybe this guy wants another Revival or room for another Kowalski’s to go to, but some of us depend on quick $5 lunches on our 30 minute unpaid break. There are other things that our communities need to spend time fixing, but sure let’s try and ban something that low income people are depending on. Let make healthy food more accessible, maybe there is a savy entrepreneur that has a healthy drive thru concept.

    If you ban taco bell drive thru, that just means you’re forcing us poor folk to grab a shitty frozen burrito at the gas station, but don’t worry, you will still be able to grab your $13 lunch from Kowalski’s or Lund’s.

    1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      In the article, I gave plenty of examples of how to provide affordable tacos without having a drive-thru next to our two best transit lines.

      1. Bob Kopf

        You can’t use transit and get someplace and eat in 30 minutes. 14 minutes of that time (at a 15 minute route figure you have to wait on average 7 minutes for the next bus – round trip is 14 minutes). You can’t eat on the bus.

        1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

          With transit, what you do to get food quickly is this: you eat somewhere close to a stop where you are getting on or off. If I live near Snelling and Univeristy and I’m hungry, I hop off the A Line or Green Line, grab a taco (and eat it), and then head home. I used to take the #3 bus to and from school. It came with such high frequency, I could hop off the bus at Como and Carter, pop into the bistro for a cookie, go across the street to pick up a six-pack of beer, and hop on the next bus <10 minutes later.

          Urban life is full of situations like that, where you stop somewhere and go across the street or on your way home or “trip chain” a bunch of destinations that are conveniently located to each other. That’s what city life is like, never having to park a car let alone idle in a drive-thru queue for 10 minutes. My entire life is full of examples of delis, cafés, taco trucks, bakeries, and other places I have stopped at on my way somewhere to get food quickly.

  9. Monte Castleman

    Also worth noting that a lot of fast casual chains that formerly eschewed drive-thrus are now starting to build them. Not just because of how ultra-convenient they are which drive sales, but because now in the pandemic they (along with onilne grocery pickup and grocery and food delivery) are probably the safest possible way to obtain food in a pandemic). Your only contact outside of your car is s few seconds at the pickup window as opposed to standing in line outdoors, or even worse, indoors. Restaurants have seen how the pandemic has disrupted their business and want to prepare for the next one. Chiptotle now has 70% of their new restaurants include a “Chipotlane”.
    In the future I can see fast food restaurants going back to original model of no indoor dining at all- pickup window and drive-thru only- to have to keep clean and be shut down in a pandemic and which only accounts for the minority of sales.

    The Taco Bell Cantina is not a drop-in replacement for stores where a drive-thru would otherwise make sense, but for dense urban centers or gentrified neighborhoods (like the one in Wicker Park) where there’s a lot of foot traffic and a market for a more upscale concept to include alcohol sales.

    1. KV

      With delivery services readily available, drive-thrus make even less sense in the inner city. Without transit, density, and walkability/bikeability (bikes can’t be served in drive-thru lanes), what even distinguishes the inner city from the suburbs? So sure, let Falcon Heights or Roseville give this Taco Bell a spot.

      1. Monte Castleman

        Sure, delivery services are available. Provided you’re in your house and not your car, and provided if you want to double the cost of a couple of tacos with the increased price of the food and/or delivery charge and/or tip.

        1. ALF

          I’m not really super convinced that “not everyone wants to research Yelp” is a good reason for allowing sidewalk disruptions that endanger people just trying to walk down the street in their own neighborhood. There’s a reason why chains exist, there’s also a reason why sidewalks exist, and it’s the job of city officials to make sure that the needs and wants of one particular private business and its customers don’t trample all over the needs and wants of everybody else who’s just trying to get to the grocery store, the train station, the guitar shop, the bus stop, a friend’s house, the park, or one of the many other businesses along that street (like delis! And a pizza place! None of which have drive-throughs, and all of which depend on foot traffic).

      2. Matthew

        There’s no reason bicycles shouldn’t be served in drive thru lanes besides stores not wanting to bother.

        1. KV

          The reason is liability. The stores don’t want the liability. So the corporate policy is to not serve people in the drive-thru if not in an enclosed vehicle.

  10. KV

    Interesting amount of resistance to change in some of these comments! If only the dismay about the removal of the entire Midway Center (with no real plan for at least equivalent spaces for small businesses by and for the community), which served many, many more people in much more critical ways, had reached this level!

    1. Monte Castleman

      The wealthy got their soccer stadium. If Taco Bell doesn’t build because the mechanism that they make most of their sales with is banned I’m sure another brewpub will build on the site while people looking for cheap food will go elsewhere, just like they are now that the affordable retail that was Midway is gone.

  11. Pat ThompsonPat Thompson

    Land use, land use, land use. If we (meaning cities, in this case) make things so everyone can drive through and/or park easily for free, there is no reason to go to a place because there’s only parking lots and drive-throughs. There’s plenty of material/research to read about this that shows it’s true. Cars take up space, pollute the air, and all the things Bill said above. Yes, they’re convenient for the individual who is in them but they have many external costs borne by everyone around them.

    1. bob kopf

      Bring on more Amazon. The less convenient and more expensive (no free parking) you make it to shop local, the more you drive business to on-line merchants that do next to nothing for local employment or tax base.

      1. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

        If free parking was the key to thriving local businesses, well… Woodbury would be full of them.

        IMO walkable streets are the key to thriving local businesses.

      2. KV

        Hm, then how come the Twin Cities were so vital and thriving in the 40s and early 50s with the streetcar system? All kinds of department stores and fancy restaurants “downtown.”

  12. Shamman

    You’re quite right, Bill. The drive-thrus are a blight from any angle. Take the Starbucks at Smelling and Marshall. It’s a traffic hazard requiring continual police presence, a pollution hotspot, and a nuisance. And you really didn’t even address the health problems associated with the crap they hawk as “food.”

  13. Kuan Ski

    You have so much more freedom when the city provides freedom as opposed to requiring compliance. What is so great about getting in a vehicle to drive through a fake taco joint when you can have four real taco joints spread across the city withing walking distance?

    1. Monte Castleman

      Not everyone wants to research Yelp every time they want to eat, and some people might actually prefer the blandness of Taco Bell to a “real” taco place. But I can go to the Midway Taco Bell or the Bloomington Taco Bell in Boston and know exactly what I’m getting, and without having to get out of my car. There’s a reason chains, whether fast-food or hotels exist, as well as boutique local places.

      1. Kuan Ski

        You don’t have to research anything if it’s right there in front of you, and nobody is saying you can’t pick your level of bland.

        1. Monte Castleman

          Without research how do I know what food they have? How do I know if it’s a good place or a dump? How do I know what their hours are?

            1. Monte Castleman

              You researched by asking friends and family, or you just went and risked getting bad food / service, or you actually paid attention to the food critics in the newspapers.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      I spent a week in L.A. a few years ago and was amazed by the omnipresent affordable delicious tacos. A taco truck on every corner, as they say.

  14. Elizabeth Larey

    Why is it that everybody on this site wants to make it so difficult for any business to survive? Business pays the lions share of taxes. I don’t think there is anyone who actually drives to a specific McDonalds They are placed in areas with high auto traffic to begin with. Closing one ( which you would do if they couldn’t have a drive thru) would have no impact on car traffic in a specific area. It exists with or without fast food.

    1. KV

      I live in the Midway near that Taco Bell that has now re-opened in its old building. While they were closed, there was a lot less traffic. A lot less.

      So you are saying change is hopeless and we are stuck in an endless cycle of “build and they will come” and “traffic drives building.” Great. We are effed, then.

    2. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke Post author

      Businesses that make profits at the expense of the surrounding area is not OK. There are plenty of ways to sell tacos without making the sidewalks and city worse off.

      1. KV

        I wonder if it’d help to ask: where would it not be considered OK to have a TB drive-thru? Summit Avenue? Downtown? And what are the reasons people would give if they said, no, one should not go there? And when is it not OK to replace something — when is it better to say, this no longer belongs here?

        People seem unaware of the theory and thought behind a lot of common planning concepts. One reason new buildings even for the same use and same place do need new permits is that conditions may have changed. And if a business has outlasted a building that has been there for 40 years, it’s gotten its use of the land, has not been deprived of that use. But there’s (usually) no law that says it has an unconditional right to rebuild and reconfigure its lot and continue that old use there.

  15. John

    The Taco Bell on E. Franklin in Seward was not allowed to have a drive through, and it has recently been renovated. It would be interesting to see how profitable it is, who uses it, and what it’s traffic patterns are.

Comments are closed.