So many Americans drive today — 86 percent of us to work each morning — because we've made driving incredibly easy in this country. We've built gobs and gobs of parking. We don't charge much for it. We don't expect users to pay for the true cost of maintaining our roads. And in dozens of subtle ways — how we design streets, construct buildings, fund infrastructure, subsidize commuting — we've prioritized cars over just about every other way of getting around.
And then there is the drive-through, the ultimate symbol of how we've built into the world around us the deeply held belief that you should be able to do everything you want, as conveniently as possible, by automobile. Grab coffee without leaving your car! Do your banking at the driver's wheel! Pick up your lunch from your front seat — and then eat it there too!
The allure of the drive-through makes it a fascinating place to begin thinking about car culture and how we might change it. Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune's Eric Roper, is weighing this now, with potential new regulations aimed at curbing the proliferation of these things:
Some Minneapolis leaders want to clamp down on drive-throughs in favor of people traveling the city on foot. A change to city rules in its early stages would likely further restrict where drive-throughs could be installed in the city.
“The streets where a lot of people are walking, on our transit corridors, maybe we don’t want to have drive-throughs at all,” said Council Member Lisa Bender, who sponsored the proposal with Council Member Lisa Goodman. “If we do, we may want to strengthen our controls of them and minimize their impact on people walking.”
Drive-throughs essentially turn sidewalks into roadways, making them incompatible with good environments for people on foot. And, as officials in Minneapolis point out, idling cars contribute to pollution, too (which also isn't that great to walk through).
In some cases, drive-throughs may still make sense; as one Walgreens developer argues in Minneapolis, they make access to medicine easier for the elderly and overwhelmed parents at drugstores. And they're less problematic on the kinds of wide commercial streets, far from residential neighborhoods, where few people walk and bike.
Broadly speaking, though, the idea is fundamentally a product of the belief that we should design communities around cars — and at the expense of people who can't or don't want to use them. If a city is rethinking the drive-through, that's a sign it may be ready to reconsider that more deeply entrenched idea, too.