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Banning drive-thrus won't solve the real problem

A movement in London is seeking to place a moratorium on new drive-thrus. Guelph's debate on the topic is getting under way, and it is no doubt on the minds of many more communities across the country. But drive-thrus are a symptom of the larger problem, not a problem in their own right. What is the difference between a car going through a drive-thru and the one stopped at the traffic light beside it? Banning drive-thrus is like pinching your nose to get rid of your cold.

Drive-thrus are more of an optical problem than anything. A busy drive-thru might have a constantly changing 15 or 20 cars idling at it for hours on end, but the traffic light beside it does, too. As does the one on the next block. And the next. The drive-thru is nothing more than a symptom of the true problem we have in today's cities: our car dependency. If we resolve that problem, the drive-thru will go away. Without many cars to drive through them, they will be redundant and disappear from our landscape. Eliminating drive-thrus, on the other hand, won't even begin to address the car culture problem.

Cars are a problem for all the reasons enumerated in anti-drive-thru screeds. They pollute the air, they take up space, they are an eye-sore, they are a major contributing factor to smog days and to pretty much every other environmental problem we are facing, and they make people who live next to them particularly unhealthy. A lot more people live next to traffic lights than drive-thrus. Drive-thrus are turning into little more than a proxy fight over our car culture.

That said, I would not miss drive-thrus if they all disappeared tomorrow. I may use a drive-thru bank machine as much as once or twice in a year. Their disposition does not affect me a great deal one way or another. But fighting drive-thrus is a distraction. Banning drive-thrus would not even establish a beachhead in the war against car-culture. Land use demands at the facilities that provide drive-thrus would go up, not down, as people park and go in. The number of cars on the road would not change in the least. Resentment toward environmentalists would increase from people who miss their drive-thrus and when the real fights come along, those people will be more ready to fight it out to preserve our car culture.

Ontario is planning to build a new highway corridor from Kitchener to Guelph, another from Guelph to Brampton, another from Guelph to Fort Erie, another through Windsor, another off the east end of the 407, and three more north-south highway corridors between Guelph and Peterborough linking the new northern/407 corridor to the 401. And that's before we count highway realignments and widenings. Yet more people show up to a City Council meeting in London to demand a ban on drive-thrus, based on this morning's local radio newscast, than at any of the provincial workshops, hearings, advisory groups, and information centres about any of these highway projects. Which one is the real problem? Where are the activists on the common cold called the automobile, rather than on its runny nose the drive-thru?

When we build and maintain roads, we are subsidising automobiles and all that that entails. In essence, the construction of all these new highways is a direct subsidy to the drive-thru industry, along with many other industries. If we are serious about solving drive-thrus, why don't we start by placing a moratorium on the construction of new highways? There is plenty that we can do for travelling in our society for fewer tax-dollars using mass-transit solutions, an approach as old as Confederation itself. Were transit solutions funded as well as cars and drive-thrus, we could sell coffee, donuts, and burgers on board, and it would even be safe to drink or eat them while travelling.

Let's address the real problem, not the symptom. Roads, not drive-thrus, are the problem. Solve our car culture and drive-thrus will solve themselves.

Posted at 07:52 on June 18, 2008

This entry has been archived. Comments can no longer be posted.

Highway 7 broken thinking | environment transit | Hanlon upgrade PIC #3 looks familiar

Joseph writes at Wed Jun 18 10:07:39 EDT 2008...


Not just for this, but for the previous two entries. These are all arguments that the railroad companies should be making publicly. If they are doing so, I have missed them.

Sandra D writes at Mon Jun 23 18:26:42 EDT 2008...

I have waited 3x longer at a railroad crossing for a train than at a drive thru. I am stopped by more trains weekly an my drive thru visits. The shortest time I have waited for a train to pass is 4 min - the longest is 7 min. The shortest I have waited in a drive thru is 2 min. I do agree that places should stop the " open late drive thru only" while they keep their dining rooms closed. Unfortunately our city is building building on top of each other and there is less and less room for parking spaces.

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