GUEST COMMENT: City should stop catering to fast-food drive-thrus

Eliminate drive-thrus to improve safety and health and reduce emissions, says guest columnist

The city should stop allowing new drive-thrus to be zoned to improve safety and health and reduce emissions, says guest columnist. (Stock photo)

BY MARGOT THOMAIDIS

Lately I’ve been hearing a lot about how Nanaimo wants to become better at safely moving people around, meaning we want convenient and safe routes for pedestrians, cyclists, bus-goers, and drivers alike. It isn’t too much to ask. The downtown mobility hub project is part of this, as it seeks to improve intersections, cycling routes, transit, and parking in the downtown core. This is all fantastic stuff, but I think Nanaimo should consider removing one notorious culprit from the bigger picture before moving forward on mobility initiatives: drive-thrus.

I am not suggesting that we get rid of existing drive-thrus. However, we should prohibit the development of any new ones. This isn’t difficult to achieve. It would mean amending the definition in the zoning bylaw to remove the provision for a drive-thru window. It is a low-hanging fruit that could have immensely positive impacts on the future of our city.

Perhaps the biggest case against more drive-thrus is that they are unsafe. Numerous transportation studies have proven that the extra driveways required at most drive-thrus increases the likelihood that crashes might happen between vehicles, pedestrians, and cyclists. The urban design of drive-thrus lulls drivers into a false sense of being in a vehicle-only space, when in reality there are many potential points of conflict between pedestrians and cars in these plazas.

A newer Canada-wide study also suggests that drive-thrus have serious impacts on public health. They increase traffic congestion, air, and noise pollution, and they contribute to unhealthy eating and inactive lifestyles. Some studies suggest that up to 70 per cent of all transactions at fast-food restaurants happen at drive-thrus, and as mobile-ordering apps increase, that percentage is predicted to grow. It is also becoming common for drive-thrus to increase their capacity to two lanes, in order to accommodate more customers and their vehicles.

All that extra idling contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. If all Canadian motorists avoided idling for three minutes per day (often half the amount of time spent at a drive-thru), CO2 emissions would be reduced by 1.4 million tonnes annually, which seems like a drop in the bucket, but is not insignificant in the long run. Even if every vehicle somehow becomes electric in the next 20 years, those pesky traffic congestion problems, unhealthy consumption issues, and awful streetscapes will remain.

You might wonder what all the huff is about – why can’t we have our hamburger and eat it, too? Drive-thrus could still be built in the outer rings of the city along the highways and arterial roads, and we could allow for fewer drive-thrus in our walkable urban core.

But if we are trying to address past urban planning issues through this downtown mobility hub project, why would we allow for the development of more spaces in the city that are unsafe and unhealthy, while at the same time embarking on a project to try to transform it to be more safe and healthy? Why not focus our efforts on removing the possibility that these types of developments ever get built in the first place?

Nanaimo is increasing in density. In 50 years, all those areas along the outskirts of downtown (where we think drive-thrus are ‘harmless’) will become denser with residential and commercial development. In fact, this is already happening in many places across the city. These drive-thrus are another urban planning obstacle to overcome, yet we still allow for their development.

Many other municipalities across Canada have bans in place, including Central Saanich, Comox, Ladysmith and Vancouver.

Council needs to send the message to fast-food restaurants that drive-thrus are no longer welcome in our city.

Margot Thomaidis is a master of community planning graduate degree candidate in her final year at Vancouver Island University.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

U.K. press wonders if Nanaimo bars lured Prince Harry and Meghan Markle to Canada

‘Prince Harry’s favourite snack revealed,’ trumpets tabloid

LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Let’s have a referendum on auto insurance in B.C.

We need a wide open debate that lets the people most affected have a say, says letter writer

Ice chunk from truck crushes vehicle windshield near Nanaimo

None injured, but Nanaimo RCMP say fines for accumulations of ice and snow

Astronomer discusses search for life in oceans of moons of Jupiter and Saturn

Jon Willis will present at Nanaimo Astronomy Society meeting Jan. 23

Regional District of Nanaimo to consider HandyDart bus fleet replacement

New light-duty, gas-powered buses sought by funding partner B.C. Transit

‘Like an ATM’: World’s first biometric opioid-dispensing machine launches in B.C.

First-of-its-kind dispensing machine unveiled in the Downtown Eastside with hopes of curbing overdose deaths

Canucks extend home win streak to 8 with 4-1 triumph over Sharks

Victory lifts Vancouver into top spot in NHL’s Pacific Division

BC Green Party leader visits northern B.C. pipeline protest site

Adam Olsen calls for better relationship between Canada, British Columbia and First Nations

Nanaimo theft victim confronts suspects with baseball bat

Nanaimo RCMP seek identity of two people alleged to have used a stolen credit card

Clerk bruised, traumatized after armed robbery at Quarterway Liquor Store

Few details on male suspect in Wednesday incident, says Nanaimo RCMP

B.C. society calls out conservation officer after dropping off bear cub covered in ice

Ice can be seen in video matted into emaciated bear cub’s fur

Blue Monday is a myth but seasonal affective disorder and the winter blues are real

Canadian Mental Health Association says weather can affect mood

City of Nanaimo reaches settlement with fired chief operations officer

Brad McRae had launched human rights complaint after being fired while on medical leave

Most Read