The Feb. 9 editorial (“A silly red light on Mpls. drive-throughs”) argued against a proposal before the Minneapolis City Council to ban drive-throughs. This argument was misleading, dismissive of safety concerns and defensive of a built environment that prioritizes driving.
First, describing this proposal as a ban on drive-throughs is misleading. At this point, we do not know what the final proposal will be. Council Members Lisa Bender and Lisa Goodman have introduced subject matter of an ordinance to potentially update the city’s regulations on drive-through facilities. Simply, this was a procedural step that allowed city staff to begin working on the issue. However, it is highly unlikely that the final proposal will be an outright ban on future drive-throughs.
Drive-throughs present legitimate safety concerns for pedestrians. In fact, this push to update drive-through regulations originated with the Pedestrian Advisory Committee, one of the city’s many citizen advisory committees. It is common sense that the greater the number of curb cuts and drive-through facilities along a street, the greater the risk of pedestrians getting struck by cars. There is a lot of research to support this. To say that it is the pedestrian’s responsibility to look both ways when approaching a drive-through in response to these safety concerns is irresponsible. Yes, the editorial’s suggestions of installing speed bumps and stop signs would increase safety. However, the best way to make walking safer is to reduce the number of points where pedestrians and cars have to interact, thus reducing the number of points where collisions could potentially occur.
Finally, there is nothing wrong with limiting drive-throughs in an attempt to encourage walking. It is far too easy to condemn as societal engineering the use of public policy to encourage walking while discouraging driving. The truth is that the car-dependent society that we live in today is the result of decades of societal engineering. It is a result of decades of public policy that encouraged driving while discouraging walking.
When we design roads with the simple purpose of getting cars from point A to point B, we encourage driving. When we provide excess supply of free parking, we encourage driving. When we liberally allow for the installation of drive-throughs, we encourage driving. As a society, we either prioritize driving, or we prioritize walking and other alternative modes of transportation. Either way, we still use public policy to enforce those priorities. It is just a matter of values.
In Minneapolis, our values are shifting toward the latter, and it is something that anyone who enjoys city living should be excited about.
Andrew Degerstrom, of Minneapolis, is president of the East Isles Residents Association.