Don’t pass us by when it comes to the drive-through service issue

Having a safe, walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood is a goal most of us share. Such a goal is often found in […]

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Having a safe, walkable, pedestrian-friendly neighborhood is a goal most of us share. Such a goal is often found in community comprehensive plans. It’s a goal most if not all of us can enthusiastically support. 

The caveat with so many community goals bring to mind the old adage that one person’s ceiling is another person’s floor. Living together in community can bring forward conflicting needs as we strive toward the same goals. 

That is the case with drive-through services. Drive-through services often conflict with the goal of a pedestrian-friendly community. Too many of us have had the experience of walking or wheeling along, only to have a near-miss with a vehicle entering or exiting a drive-through lane. The lanes all too often lack visibility features such as mirrors or sight lines that keep people on the sidewalks safe.  Those of us with mobility issues find ourselves dodging vehicles that enter and exit drive-through lanes. The size of many vehicles today makes it harder for motorists to see us if we are using chairs, walkers or scooters to get around. 

Yet for many of us in the disability community drive-throughs help us live more independent lives in our home areas. We use drive-throughs to get our medications at pharmacies and to obtain some of our meals and beverages. We use drive-throughs for our banking needs. We may also use drive-throughs to pick up dry cleaning, get other goods, and have other services provided. 

Many cities have banned new drive-through services in recent years, citing their conflicts with walkable neighborhoods. Greenhouse gas emissions generated as motor vehicles idle in line are another issue such bans address. 

St. Paul is the latest city to consider revisions to its drive-through services regulations. Our May issue featured a story about the proposal. A public hearing before the St. Paul Planning Commission is set for June 7 at the St. City Hall/Ramsey County Courthouse. 
The Planning Commission’s recommendations go to the City Council for a final public hearing and vote this summer. Changes could take effect this fall. 

We appreciate that St. Paul in recent years has had very challenging issues with a couple of Snelling Avenue businesses. One was a Starbucks drive-through service that tied up a very busy intersection. Long traffic back-ups and a blocked sidewalk and bike lane presented problems. Off-duty police officers had to direct traffic during business times. The business earned the nickname “Carbucks.” Its Snelling-Marshall intersection was nicknamed “Snarlshall” in honor of snarled traffic. That drive-through has been removed. 

Another business with drive-through challenges is a Taco Bell in the Midway area. That fast-food restaurant typically has long lines of cars at meal times and at bar closing time. It’s been a huge disruption for neighbors and Snelling traffic. Taco Bell took the city to court and won in its quest to rebuild its Snelling restaurant. The restaurant owners were able to retain its drive-through service.  We appreciate that St. Paul has considered a more nuanced approach to how it regulates drive-through services. In its initial recommendations, city officials didn’t propose banning new drive-through services outright as other cities have done. But now some neighborhood district councils are calling for a ban on any new drive-throughs. 

St. Paul officials are trying to get ahead of potentially more demand for drive-through services, as some grocery stores and big-box retailers in other cities have added drive-throughs. It’s a huge convenience and for many of us with mobility issues, it makes shopping much easier. Could that become a service where vehicles idle in line to wait for purchases?  One proposal on the table would ban new drive-through services in some parts of St. Paul and still allow such services in other areas. Existing drive-through services would be grandfathered in.  The downtown central business district, which is increasingly becoming more residential, is a place where new drive-throughs would be banned outright. Areas zoned for traditional neighborhoods mixed use would have new drive-throughs limited to banks and pharmacies. 

A number of technical design changes are proposed to keep pedestrians safer. These changes would allow space for vehicles to line up or “stack” as they wait for service. That could deter the problem of vehicles backing up and blocking sidewalks. 

We at Access Press have a familiar plea for St. Paul city officials: Don’t forget us. We are pedestrians with disabilities who need safety. But we are also consumers who need access to goods and services. Losing that access makes it harder for us to stay in our communities. Consider how to balance these needs. Help us stay in our home communities and help us stay safe. 

Learn more about the St. Paul study at stpaul.gov

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