Fredericton city council voted Monday night to hold off on spending $40,000 on roadway changes to redirect motorists clogging traffic near a busy Tim Hortons.
The proposal, approved by the city’s transportation committee last week, would involve construction of a traffic circle at the end of the street and a bylaw prohibiting left turns into the restaurant’s drive-thru.
Council voted to defer a decision on the bylaw amendment until its next meeting on Oct. 15. Coun. John MacDermid, who moved to defer on Monday night, said he needed more time to review all factors behind the traffic snarl and to consider the best solution.
But the larger underlying question, according to MacDermid, is whether taxpayers or businesses should foot the bill when responding to inconveniences caused by restaurant patrons.
“My sense is that if a business is profiting off of the fact that their customers are creating traffic issues, then the business is, to a certain degree, responsible for at least part of that cost,” MacDermid said in an interview Tuesday.
He said the problem isn’t going away, nor is it limited to just one restaurant location, and it may take a culture shift by businesses and customers to resolve.
“I would like to see businesses acknowledge the fact that their model is causing these problems, and step up as responsible corporate citizens and say ‘Yeah, you know what, my bad. We’re too successful, we acknowledge that there’s a problem here, and we’re going to pay for it,'” MacDermid said.
The owner of the Main Street Tim Hortons did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Fredericton, New Brunswick’s capital, is the latest Canadian municipality forced to contend with safety, environmental and traffic concerns caused by restaurant drive-thrus.
A 2018 study by public health researchers at the University of Alberta found 27 Canadian municipalities adopted partial or full bans on fast food drive-thru service between 2002 and 2016. The reasons cited included community aesthetics and safety, traffic issues, litter, noise and concerns about air pollution.
Other Canadian municipalities and some U.S. cities are either considering, or have already adopted, similar bans.
Halifax is considering expanding limits already in place around new drive-thrus in the city’s downtown. This month, city officials there asked drivers to stay home in the aftermath of post-tropical storm Dorian, noting that cars backed up at drive-thrus were hampering cleanup efforts.
On Monday, city council in St. John’s, N.L., approved two new drive-thru businesses in a close vote, with local media reporting one councillor recommended city staff study review the issue, with the possibility of banning future drive-thrus.
Last month, Minneapolis became the largest American city to prohibit the construction of new drive-thrus, citing land-use, transportation, and environmental goals.
MacDermid said Fredericton city council has not yet formally discussed a ban on new drive-thrus, but he expects the conversation will happen.
“It needs to happen for a variety of reasons,” he said, stressing environmental concerns from a business model that benefits from idling cars.
For the time being, however, drive-thrus remain highly profitable models for restaurants: in 2017, Reuters reported 70 per cent of McDonald’s U.S. business came from drive-thrus.
But restaurant chains themselves are now seeking solutions to slower drive-thru service times, according to the latest annual study by U.S.-based fast-food publication QSR magazine.
In 2018, QSR’s survey found average speed-of-service times had slowed across major chains, with those surveyed clocking an average of 234 seconds, up from an average of 225 seconds in 2017. In 2003, the average in the same study was 190 seconds.
As a possible solution, McDonald’s Corporation has turned to automation, buying three tech companies over the past year in a bid to keep its drive-thru service appealing to customers.
This spring, McDonald’s announced its acquisition of AI technology company Dynamic Yield Ltd., saying it will improve the drive-thru experience with outdoor displays that change based on time of day, traffic, weather and the customer’s current selections.
It’s unclear if such efforts to streamline drive-thru service will stem the growing number of communities looking to curb expansions of the emissions-heavy restaurant model.