Minneapolis considers ban on new drive-throughs

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Next Thursday, the Minneapolis Planning Commission will discuss a proposed ordinance from Council President Lisa Bender that would prohibit new drive-through facilities throughout the city.

If adopted by the City Council, it would prevent the construction of new drive-throughs for banks, drugstores, and fast food restaurants (or any other “facility which accommodates automobiles and from which the occupants of the automobiles may make purchases or transact business”).

Drive-throughs have been a frequent topic of concern for Minneapolis policymakers in recent years. Planning Commissioner Sam Rockwell, speaking of a proposed McDonald’s drive-through expansion last year, said that achieving city goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions means that “we need to stop investing in car infrastructure.” Drive-throughs are also known for contributing to dangerous, car-centric environments for people on foot.

When reached for comment via tweet, Bender said “We started working on this three years ago or so because of community opposition to new drive-thrus in several locations.”

In 2016, plans for a new Walgreens on a pedestrian-heavy stretch of Hennepin Avenue near Uptown prompted local outcry and the strengthening of rules intended to promote safe, walkable environments. A pedestrian overlay expansion eventually banned drive-throughs in that location, but it was too late to prevent Walgreens from building one.

Rockwell, who is the city’s most prominent foe of drive-through banking — and who recently became President of the Planning Commission — said this about a plan for a new Wells Fargo drive-through in 2015:

“We’ve got a Wells Fargo with many, many drive-through lanes about a mile away at, incidentally another very high-frequency transit intersection, right by Nicollet and Lake Street. So those desperate for a drive-through can scoot up Lake Street a little bit.”

According to the planning department staff report: “While a prohibition on new drive-through facilities can be supported using existing comprehensive plan policies, pending policies provide an even more explicit basis for adopting such a regulation.”

The soon-to-be officially adopted Minneapolis 2040 comprehensive plan includes language “prohibiting the establishment of new drive-throughs and gas stations.”