Drive-through lane debate raises accessibility issues 

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, debates over drive-through services are playing out in different ways. The issues are being watched […]

Starbucks drive thru lane

In Minneapolis and St. Paul, debates over drive-through services are playing out in different ways. The issues are being watched closely by people with disabilities who fear losing accommodations. 

In St. Paul Starbucks has opted to remove a drive-through service lane that has been closed since 2021. In Minneapolis the fate of two closed fast-food restaurants remains up in the air since city officials rejected a request to restore drive-through use at both. 

The issues put a spotlight on drive-through services, which are often criticized for causing excessive motor vehicle emissions and hazards to pedestrians. The COVID-19 pandemic gave a boost to restaurants and other businesses that provided goods via drive-through services. But with city policies around the nation geared toward addressing climate changing and reducing motor vehicle miles driven, drive-through services could still be an endangered species. 

Banning drive-through services has a direct impact on people with disabilities who often must use the windows to get their food and beverages, obtain their medicine, do their banking, pick up dry cleaning and laundry, and complete other everyday tasks. 

In the St. Paul case, a few people with disabilities aired their viewpoints on social media. While most area residents praised the closing on social media, some reminded others that they rely on drive-through services. “While it will be nice to have a patio there and it was poorly designed for a drive through, closing that drive through was a loss for those of us with disabilities and compromised immune systems,” said one neighbor. 

Another added, “I’m not entirely opposed to drive-throughs. For someone with a disability, they can be a true godsend.” 

Members of the Minneapolis Advisory Committee on Disability and the St,. Paul Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities have historically raised concerns about the loss of future drive-through services, as has the Minnesota Council on Disability. 

Minneapolis in August 2019 banned new drive-through services of any type, for restaurants, coffee shops, banks, pharmacies and other businesses. The plan followed years of gradually placing limits on the businesses through zoning overlay districts and other measures.  

The ban was called for in the city’s comprehensive plan and was touted as a way to make walking safer and reduce vehicle emissions. 

Businesses that have found themselves caught in the ban include two former Burger King restaurants. The two were among nine operated a franchisee that filed for bankruptcy in 2016, and closed its restaurants in 2018. Court records indicate that the franchise agreement with Burger King and leases were terminated, according to court records. 

Burger King was granted an exemption in February 2020 to provide more time to find operators and reopen the restaurants. But that didn’t happen, in part because the bankruptcy case went on. Minneapolis zoning officials in 2021 told Burger King that because the restaurants were closed for more than a year, the company has lost the right to use drive-throughs.  

Burger King issued a statement saying that it is continuing to work with the local community and officials to resolve concerns over these locations. 

One south Minneapolis location has been the target of legal action by a neighbor who is determined to keep the drive-through service closed. The north Minneapolis location has run into questions from area business leaders wondering when it will reopen. 

A request for permission to reopen the drive-through lanes could go to the Minneapolis Board of Zoning Adjustment. A hearing would be in March at the earliest.  

In St. Paul, a controversial drive-through service at the St. Paul Snelling-Marshallavenues Starbucks will be permanently removed. Removal and replacement with a patio will end debate that began after the coffee shop opened in early 2017. 

The removal ends a problem of vehicles traveling on Marshall Avenue and blocking traffic lanes, a bike lane and the sidewalk. The Snelling-Marshall coffee shop and caffeine-deprived traffic jams were quickly dubbed “Carbucks” and “Snarshall” by irate area residents.  

Starbucks submitted a new site plan review application to city staff in mid-January, said Suzanne Donovan, city spokesperson. The plan was reviewed with staff from several city departments on February 8. Based on the review, Donovan said that city staff expect to soon issue approval for the proposed site changes. 

Starbucks closed the drive-through in April 2021. Under a special permit, Starbucks was required to have a traffic control officer at the Marshall entrance and exit. Starbucks paid for the police officer. 

After the shooting of Daunte Wright by a Brooklyn Center police last year, Starbucks employees indicated that they and BIPOC customers no longer wanted police officers there.  

Unlike Minneapolis, St. Paul has not banned new drive-through services, however, city zoning policy discourages them. 

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