Drive-thru ban: Some communities are banning drive-thrus to curb emissions and traffic


Drive-thru windows at fast-food restaurants, banks and other businesses have long represented the convenience for which American businesses are renowned. But the ease of idling in a vehicle while waiting for your order is now associated with another development: climate change.

As a result, some communities across the U.S. are banning drive-thrus, citing the additional carbon emissions that are released.  Minneapolis this summer banned construction of new drive-thrus, while officials in Long Beach, California, have imposed a six-month ban on new drive-thrus while they study the issue. Similar ordinances restricting or prohibiting fast-food windows have also been adopted in communities including Creve Coeur, Missouri; Fair Haven, New Jersey; and Orchard Park, New York.  

Minneapolis cited air pollution from idling vehicles as a major factor for the ban on drive-thrus, along with litter, noise and the potential of vehicles blocking sidewalks, which can increase the risk of a pedestrian accident. The order is part of the city’s long-term plan, called Minneapolis 2040, which includes a goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050.

Orchard Park, New York, a town of roughly 30,000 people just south of Buffalo, last month banned new drive-thrus in one part of town, citing traffic concerns. That reportedly prompted threats of a lawsuit by a local businessman who was interested in building a Tim Horton’s restaurant in the area.

Some cities also want to change how drive-thrus are used. Portland, Oregon, last year began requiring businesses with drive-thru windows to serve customers who arrive on foot or bicycle if other entrances are closed or inaccessible.

Fastest and slowest fast-food drive-thrus

Most of the bans are intended to curtail emissions, cut down on litter and make it easier to walk around business areas, while some towns are motivated by a desire to improve the aesthetics of a community. At other times, such bans have been touted as a means of fighting obesity by discouraging fast-food consumption. 

There’s conflicting research on whether banning drive-thru windows improves health, however. In an analysis published last year of drive-thru bans in 27 Canadian cities, researchers noted “health promotion and chronic disease prevention” as among the public health benefits. 

Yet research published in the journal “Social Science & Medicine” found obesity rates climbed following a 2008 regulation banning opening or expanding stand-alone fast-food restaurants and drive-thru windows in south Los Angeles.