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Should Minneapolis ditch the drive-through?

Minneapolis might be fed up with drive-throughs.

Minneapolis might be fed up with drive-throughs. Renee Jones Schneider, Star Tribune

Welcome to Minneapolis, can we take your order?

OK, let's see: one livable city with police and public schools, recognizable efforts at urban planning, functioning government, public services, access to clean parks, lakes, and potable water... that'll be $1.3 billion at the next window. 

Would you like drive-throughs with that?

It's something everyone should consider, as a citizen of Minneapolis. The city already is. 

A staff research memo completed in late March for the city planning commission floats a number of possible directions Minneapolis could go with halting the proliferation of drive-throughs.

Among them: tighter restrictions on what sort of zoning allows drive-throughs, which might shrink the number (and type) of neighborhoods where they can exist; regulating which drive-through designs are allowed; limiting drive-throughs so they only exist "on the ground floor of a larger mixed-used development"; or... an outright citywide ban. (DUN DUN DUN!)

Note: A "ban" would not mean the city of Minneapolis sends a steamroller out to obliterate your favorite White Castle, and refers instead to prohibiting the approval of any new drive-throughs.

In an 18-month window from September 2015 through February this year, Minneapolis approved six development projects with drive-through elements. (The trend might not yet be noticeable, as not all these projects are completed.) They include a Walgreen's on Hennepin Avenue in south Minneapolis, a drugstore and a Wells Fargo on East Lake Street, a U.S. Bank on East Hennepin, and a White Castle on Central Avenue in northeast. 

The planning document spells out the "undesriable impacts" of drive-throughs thusly: "noise, extended idling, proliferation of curb cuts, conflicts with pedestrians and traffic generation."

There is no counterbalancing list of "desirable impacts," but we can imagine that would go something like: "why go inside to wait in line when I can just sit outside, in this one," "not setting foot outside my car when it's cold," "getting a little high on the car in front of me's exhaust fumes," and "hey man, that 'noise' you're complaining about is my jams."

The conversation about drive-through placements picked up early last year, when city council members Lisa Goodman and Lisa Bender proposed restrictions on where new ones could be built. As Bender, whose ward includes the Lowry Hill and Whittier neighborhoods, told the Star Tribune: "The streets where a lot of people are walking, on our transit corridors, maybe we don’t want to have drive-throughs at all."

In a recent blog post highlighting the proposals, city planning commissioner Nick Magrino (last seen taking the most amazing aerial cell phone photos of Minneapolis... uh, ever) says some kind of change "can't happen soon enough!"

Magrino explains: "In a more abstract way, having lots of drive-throughs is also one of many things that makes a city more of a driving city and then, necessarily, less of a walking and biking and transit city."

That is: Does Minneapolis want to be like A.) Orlando, or B.) Vancouver? (Pssst: It's B. Pick B.)

Magrino says he's "skeptical" a full-on prohibition could even pass -- city staff researching the topic were unable to find similarly sized cities with such a ban -- but he seems open to any restrictions that would make drive-throughs less common, and leave Minneapolis "a little more walkable, a little safer, and a little greener."