Limits on drive-throughs are eyed

St. Paul could become the latest city to limit new drive-through sales and services if a proposal is adopted this […]

Man taking cup from drive through restaurant

St. Paul could become the latest city to limit new drive-through sales and services if a proposal is adopted this summer. The St. Paul Planning Commission hosts a public hearing at 8:30 a.m. Friday, June 7 at City Hall on the proposal. 

 If the regulations are adopted, St. Paul would join other cities including Minneapolis in such restrictions. While some cities have adopted outright bans on drive-through services, the capital city is taking a more nuanced approach. 

While drive-through traffic can pose hazards to people crossing them on foot or with mobility devices, using a drive-through service is a way many people with disabilities get their medicine, do their banking and get their food. Restrictions typically raise red flags and calls for compromise. 

As of Access Press deadline, the St. Paul Mayor’s Advisory Committee for People with Disabilities and the Minnesota Council on Disability had not weighed in on the proposal. 

City Planner Bill Dermody told the commission recently that drive-through sales and services can negatively impact walkability and active streetscapes. That is seen as being in conflict with the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan goals and policies for pedestrian-friendly environments along city streets. 

Drive-through services are typically found at fast-food restaurants, coffee shops, banks and pharmacies. A Planning Commission study found that St. Paul has more than 77 of businesses with drive-throughs, including 36 restaurants, two coffee shops, 31 banks, and eight pharmacies. 

That’s out of a total of about  640 restaurants, 51 coffee shops, 40 banks and 17 pharmacies in the city. 

But the city staff report notes that demand for drive-through services may be growing, as some suburban grocery stores and big-box retailers have experimented with drive-throughs. If that is successful, it could spread. The COVID-19 pandemic prompted a surge in demand for drive-throughs nationwide. 

Since March 2020, St. Paul city officials have approved site plans and/or conditional use permits for three new drive-throughs, for two banks and a coffee shop. Also approved are at least five drive-through reconstructions or redesigns, all for fast food restaurants. 

One drive-through service was removed in 2022 after a Starbucks coffee shop at the corner of Snelling and Marshall avenues generated considerable controversy with long traffic backups, blocking of a sidewalk and bike lane, and a few accidents. 

Motor vehicle off-site queuing that blocks sidewalks, bike lanes, or traffic lanes was cited as a reason to restrict drive-through services. Exhaust from idling vehicles, noise and challenges with pedestrian access in reaching a business were also cited. 

Some cities have banned new drive-through services outright. St. Paul officials proposed a more nuanced approach, with new drive-through services banned in some parts of the city and still allowed in others. 

Existing drive-through services would be grandfathered in. A staff report also notes that:  “Banks and pharmacies provide valued services to St. Paul residents in addition to employment and tax base benefits.  Also, notably, pharmacies play an important role in public health.” 

The proposed regulations focus more on specific areas and specific types of businesses 
New drive-through services would be banned in the downtown central business district.

In areas zoned for traditional neighborhoods use, including several arterial streets, drive-throughs would be limited to banks and pharmacies. These land uses are seen as more necessary than fast-food restaurants and coffee shops, and having fewer negative impacts. Also, restaurants and coffee shops can more easily offer curbside pickup. 

Design requirements are also proposed, with additional motor vehicle waiting or “stacking” spaces shops and design of businesses’ pedestrian access in a way that shields pedestrians from crossing a drive-through lane on foot or with a mobility device. 

The Planning Commission will also be asked to prohibit drive-through lanes and their driveway access points in traditional neighborhoods district within 300 feet of transitway stations.  Transitways include light rail, bus rapid transit, arterial bus rapid transit and modern streetcar, but not regular route bus lines. 

Comments are being taken on the study. Go to Current Activities and look for the zoning study. The city has posted a specific set of questions and answers, and also gives information on how to submit written or in-person testimony. 

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