Time to ban drive-thru windows

Dan Kellar  Feb 06, 2008

There is a growing movement in Canadian cities to ban the "drive-thru" window option at fast food restaurants, banks, coffee shops, beer stores, hair salons and university parking lots.

For instance, North Vancouver has been discussing a moratorium on any new drive-thru windows in their city. Though they only have a few to start with, city councillors do not want the service to proliferate, citing environmental concerns linked to vehicles idling for minutes at a time.

The cities of Mississauga and Hamilton are considering similar bans, and the city of Kitchener, a city notorious for drive-thru windows and poor air quality, has recently heard the issue at council meetings. A vote is expected after a fast-food industry-financed study is released. I fully support a ban on new drive-thru windows, but it is not a progressive idea: the city of Santa Cruz, California enacted anti-"drive-thru" legislation in 1979.

The City of Kitchener’s planning department has already denied or reversed decisions on drive-thru locations on the grounds that they were not conducive to pedestrian safety. Now, the city is looking at the larger picture of public and environmental health.

Kitchener has the opportunity not only to implement a ban on new drive-thru services but also to phase-out existing locations over several years.

When combined with a program that will educate drivers about the negative environmental effects of idling (and the associated adverse health consequences), this wasteful use of finite petroleum resources will reduce beyond the drive-thru lane. A more aware citizen would be moulded and the city would become a cleaner and healthier place.

There are several main arguments against banning drive-thru services that have come up in the news and in popular discussion; these are listed below.

They are good for people with special limitations, such as the elderly, who often find it difficult to get out of the car and walk across a parking lot; cab drivers who apparently are not allowed out of their cars; parents with small children in the car who will eat with one hand, talk on the phone with the other and drive with their knees.

They increase safety for late-night eaters, who are comforted by being trapped in a drive-thru lane between a wall, two other cars and a curb.

Firing up a cooling engine is more harmful than letting your car idle for ten minutes.

People are used to them. Taking them away would cause psychological issues; plus, they are responsible for such a small fraction of the overall emissions that it would not make a difference to the environment if we banned them.

Drive-thru services reduce pollution, as people no longer have to spend time circling around the block looking for a parking spot.

These are not strong reasons to continue a wasteful and damaging practice. People adapted to the drive-thru; they can adapt to a life without them.

Most of these reasons are not truthful: university-funded (as opposed to industry-funded) studies have found that idling your car for more than 10 seconds creates more pollution than does turning it off and restarting it.

We have to start somewhere, and something as easy as turning your car off and entering a store is a simple start that could help raise the level of ecological-system awareness in our society.

Of course, the issue of why we even need these unhealthy fast-food and drive-thru services instead of an appreciation for slowness and of real "slow-food" could be argued, though that is another point entirely.

A ban on drive-thru service windows would be a great complement to the anti-idling by-laws that are also gaining momentum in Canada and the enforcement of such rules would be the next step in the battle. We cannot have a by-law that restricts something yet also allows the infrastructure for that activity to take place. A restriction on idling would, in all logic, automatically ban the drive-thru.

The only solution I can come up with to allow drive-thru services, while at the same time enforcing an anti-idling by-law would be to create a sort of conveyor belt – like they have at car washes – that could ferry turned-off vehicles through the drive-thru lanes and still allow people their vehicular addiction.

It is up to the citizenry, and through them the governments, to stand up and enact rules that harm no one, but will save our limited petrol resources for driving (instead of just burning them away while sitting around), clean up our dirty and unhealthy air and free people from their vehicles.



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