The engineered society is a fantasy that dies hard for some. In Minneapolis, the well-intentioned urge to encourage more walking has manifested itself in a proposal that would go a step further and force people out of their cars by banning drive-throughs.
Bad idea. Minneapolis is not a city that abounds in drive-throughs. They are limited mostly to fast food, banks, pharmacies and such. They are aesthetically unassuming, highly functional add-ons to businesses looking to provide an extra measure of comfort for customers: A woman driving home late at night, hungry, who can get food in the safety of her car; a young dad with a sick child in the back seat who can pick up a prescription without disturbing his passenger or, not incidentally, infecting unknowing patrons in the pharmacy, who have their own maladies to contend with. And does anyone really want to walk up to an ATM on a bitter winter night and stand, exposed, waiting for cash to be dispensed?
The objections to drive-throughs are flimsy. A danger to pedestrians? No more than any other obstacle pedestrians face in a busy city. Even on residential streets, walkers must be alert to intersections, driveways and, yes, bicyclists. Is stopping to look both ways when approaching a drive-through really so burdensome? City-dwellers know that staying aware of surroundings is part of the bargain that comes with urban life. If you want to walk dreamlike, headphones in, Zen in place, find a park path. Delivery, a drive-through alternative suggested by one council member, can be a time-consuming and costly option some residents can ill afford.
And while Minneapolis is recovering from the recession, it is not so healthy that it can afford to chase away viable businesses on a whim. In a newly robust phase of development, Walgreens has been modernizing and building new facilities across the Twin Cities, nearly all of which feature a drive-through. Minneapolis needs such retailers in its neighborhoods, particularly since they have taken on the dimensions of a convenience store or mini-grocery mart. Pedestrian safety can be addressed through speed bumps, stop signs and heightened penalties for failing to yield to a walker. As noble as their intentions are, those who would ban drive-throughs in an effort to limit vehicles might consider voluntary inducements. Safe, well-lit streets with a vibrant business life and pleasant greenery will do far more to coax drivers out of their cars than edicts.