Cities mull drive-thru bans to combat pollution

Jordana Huber, Canwest News Service

Published: Sunday, June 22, 2008

TORONTO – The debate over drive-thrus continues to simmer across the country as communities ponder whether doing business through the car window is still a good idea in the wake of air quality and traffic congestion.

Municipalities in Ontario, British Columbia and Nova Scotia have pondered banning new drive-thrus as a way to deal with idling cars that environmental advocates say contribute to smog – but so far no jurisdiction has passed an outright ban.

Sarnia, Ont., city councillors will likely put the brakes on further talk of a ban on drive-thrus next week after a staff report recommended the city create new guidelines rather than a moratorium.

City council agreed to look at the issue as part of a review of its official plan but the staff report, to be tabled at a council meeting today, suggests amendments to clarify where new drive-thru businesses should be located.

“We got a lot of feedback from the public,” said Mike Bradley, mayor of Sarnia. “Anyone who has a disability was concerned about a total ban. The point was also made over and over again that if you are going to ban drive-thrus then you better be willing to give up more green space to allow more parking.”

Bradley said the report will strengthen the city’s ability to ensure new drive-thrus have a minimal impact on the environment. He said the debate will hopefully put pressure on the fast food industry to reduce wait times he said cause congestion on some city streets.

A ban on new drive-thrus was debated in the city of North Vancouver but was rejected in March by city councillors.

Coun. Sam Schechter said he proposed the ban as one step towards orienting his city towards more sustainable design.

“It was simply part of better urban design for building cities that are less car reliant,” Schechter said. “You’re orienting your community away from the automobile and towards pedestrian and more sustainable transportation.”

Tonight, town officials in Kentville, N.S., – about 90 kilometres west of Halifax – will debate establishing an anti-idling bylaw.

But Coun. Eric Bolland, chairman of the town’s environmental advisory committee, would like to see his colleagues consider a prohibition on future drive-thru development.

“Drive-thrus encourage the idling of vehicles, discourages parking, turning off cars and saving gas,” he said.

A public meeting to discuss limiting new drive-thrus was postponed Tuesday evening in London, Ont., after too many people tried to pack into council chambers.

Proponents of a new bylaw in London argue it is one step towards reducing car emissions but the association representing restaurants in Ontario dismisses the argument as misleading and has launched its own petition and website.

Michelle Saunders, a spokeswoman for the Ontario Restaurant Hotel and Motel Association said a peer-reviewed study commissioned by the organization found eliminating drive-thrus would not have any environmental impact.

“Air quality is either the same or worse if the drive-thru is removed because the customers move to the parking lot and you have other issues to contend with like congestion or driving to look for a parking spot, and shutting the car off and restarting it,” she said.

Moreover, she said, drive-thrus are a response to customer demand and provide an important service for the disabled, elderly or parents with children in car seats.

Meanwhile Dr. Richard Stanwick, Vancouver Island’s chief medical health officer, says that once a proposed anti-idling bylaw is given a test drive in the Victoria region, it could be expanded to include all of Vancouver Island.

“Once . . . we basically get the kinks out it, it would be something that I hope would serve as a template to be shared with other medical health officers on the Island,” Stanwick said.

Under the proposed bylaw, recommended to the Capital Regional District by Stanwick, people won’t be allowed to idle their vehicle engines for more than three minutes in a one-hour period.

Given the price of gas, the bylaw likely will just reinforce behaviour people will be taking on their own, he said.

“At this stage, when gas is approaching $1.50 a litre, in essence when you sit there idling your vehicle and burning gas at four litres an hour, it may not be a huge impact on your pocketbook, but over a year I think people would be actually quite surprised at how much of their hard-earned money is going, literally, out the tailpipe unnecessarily.”

CRD is expected to pass the bylaw this summer and forward it to the province for approval and implementation this fall.

The bylaw generated little controversy -_only nine members of the public bothered to voice opinions in three public information sessions held recently into the proposed no-idling bylaw.

No fine amount has yet been specified for violators.

with file from the Victoria Times Colonist


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