By: Emily Houtler /The Daily Cardinal – September 16, 2008
Recent proposal to ban drive-thrus in Madison deserves greater consideration
I wonder why much of the world considers Americans lazy. Maybe it is because dead batteries in a remote control have reduced some to tears. Perhaps it is the fact that nearly a quarter of American adults are completely physically inactive by choice. Or maybe it is because they simply do not have the decency to get out of their car to order and pick up their venti iced vanilla latte.
If it were up to a Madison planning committee, no one would need to worry about that last one. If some in the committee could have their way, Madison would be a drive-thru free city, and life would subsequently be better for both the environment and residents of Madison.
Late this past June, Eric Sundquist, a member of Madison’s Plan Commission, proposed the idea that the city of Madison should consider banning restaurant drive-thrus. Several Canadian cities have implemented similar measures because of their environmental impact, and recently San Luis Obispo, Calif., followed suit.
Such a proposal is a smart plan for numerous reasons. First, there is the environmental aspect. Vehicles, whether idling in a fast food drive-thru lane or rushing down the Beltline, release harmful gases and exhaust. However, when a car is moving, these gases at least achieve the objective of moving a vehicle toward a destination. Automobiles that sit idle in drive-thrus, sometimes for more than 20 minutes, are simply polluting. There is no other excuse. Imagine if the pollution created from the hours spent in drive-thrus every day was eliminated. It certainly would likely improve the quality of the city air at least a modest amount. Additionally, with the rash of hurricanes hitting the southern United States recently and through the rest of the season, oil refineries all along the coast have been forced to shut down. With a minor gas shortage, it is far more important for our domestic fuel to be put to better use than waiting in line for hamburgers.
Exiling drive-thrus would also save many people large amounts of frustration. Having been on both sides of a drive-thru speaker, I know how aggravating the system can be. No speaker, electronic or human, is flawless. It always seems that more mistakes are made on drive-thru orders than on counter orders due to many reasons, including the inability of many Americans to articulate properly further distorted by a faulty microphone system. It is also more difficult to rectify errors made while in the drive-thru lane owing to the volume of idling cars and the nearly impossible speed expected of employees of said establishment.
Further, in today’s volatile market, some might worry that taking away drive-thrus would be bad for business. Although it is true that drive-thrus usually do have a steady supply of customers, these people would likely still frequent these establishments, especially if everyone in the city closed their drive-thrus. With gas prices as they are, no sane person would drive outside of Madison just to use a drive-thru to get their meal. The manner of service, not the product or employees, would be changed by the exclusion of drive-thrus.
Several questions still surround the issue, such as grandfathering current drive-thrus and accommodating drive-thru pharmacies. Nonetheless, this subject deserves serious consideration, and the issue was swept aside by the committee far too quickly. In a city known for its progressive measures for both humanity and the environment, this is a ban that should be passed in Madison. At the very least, Madison would be wise to implement a restriction on the number of drive-thrus allotted in a city that lacks the infrastructure to support a large number of automobiles.