Proposed Drive-Thru Ban in Comox, BC: Cognitive Dissonance and the LEED-certified A&W

***Update, July 17: The Comox bylaw received first approval from the town council.***

Have you ever wished that your least favourite form of development could be simply banished? In the Vancouver Island town of Comox (pop. 12,000), the town council is considering just that.

Drive-thru A&W in the City of Coutenay, in the Comox Valley. Thanks to Brian Chow for the Creative Commons picture.

Drive-thru A&W in the City of Courtenay, in the Comox Valley. Thanks to Brian Chow for the Creative Commons picture.

A current resolution, meant to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support sustainable development, would amend Comox’s Zoning Bylaw to prohibit drive-thru services like restaurants and banks throughout the town. Existing uses would remain but no future drive-thrus could be developed.

Howls of protest and approval arose at once, represented by rival websites. In April, the town council delayed  a vote because of a councillor’s possible conflict of interest: Councillor Patti Fletcher, who supports the ban, is the co-owner of a bicycle shop. (The town’s lawyer has since advised that Ms. Fletcher can consider the issue impartially; it seems that a ban on future drive-thrus would not sufficiently imperil local car culture to result in mass purchasing of bikes.)

Delivered amid this tempest, an initial planning report advised the council that “drive thrus conflict with areas where a pedestrian orientation is desired or exists.” Nonetheless, the authors supported only a partial ban, with future drive-thrus allowed in certain locations.

One reason for the planners’ conservative position is fractious municipal jurisdictions, an issue that has plagued town planning initiatives far and wide. The town of Comox is contiguous with the neighbouring city of Courtenay. Unless accompanied by similar legislation there, a ban in Comox would risk directing new investment to its neighbour. Furthermore, car-dependent residents of Comox might actually adjust their travel patterns to visit unincorporated areas along the highway to purchase hamburgers and doughnuts directly from their vehicles. This, the planners argued, could actually increase local greenhouse gas emissions.

A second planning report, submitted last week but apparently not available online, stops short of recommending a full ban but proposes to “ensure any environmental impacts [of drive-thrus] are mitigated” by requiring that all future drive-thrus be LEED certified.  This recommendation, presumably meant to placate supporters of a full ban who cite environmental concerns, represents a headache-inducing misunderstanding of the environmental impacts of automobile-oriented development.

Adherence to green building standards decreases the impact of a  building’s construction, maintenance and operations. However, if the fundamental use of that purpose-built structure encourages automobile dependence, with attendant consequences for land use and public health, the building’s environmental impacts have not been mitigated.

Auto-oriented services in Courtenay. Thanks to Brian Chow for the Creative Commons photo.

Auto-oriented services in Courtenay. Thanks to Brian Chow for the Creative Commons photo.

A drive-thru, with its queue of idling cars, is one of the most obnoxiously car-oriented forms of development. However, visitors to the Comox Valley now discover a rich menu of drive-thru and eat-in fast-food restaurants alike forming islands in seas of asphalt. Whatever the town council’s decision on the drive-thru ban, it may be that the greatest achievement here is local decision-makers’ recognition of the problems of automobile-oriented development.

Stay tuned for the Comox town council’s decision about the proposed drive-thru ban, coming in mid-July!

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3 Responses to “Proposed Drive-Thru Ban in Comox, BC: Cognitive Dissonance and the LEED-certified A&W”

  1. Vanessa said:

    Jun 30, 09 at 10:55 pm

    Concern about the environmental impact of drive-thrus seems to be spreading. Salt Lake City, Utah, is considering closing the city’s drive-thrus on days with bad air quality.

  2. Vanessa said:

    Jul 14, 09 at 9:45 am

    The Comox situation seems to resonate across the province. Here’s an article from the Whistler Question:

  3. Ted Walker said:

    Oct 15, 09 at 2:20 pm

    The Drive Through Ban is totally unnecessary when you have a practical and responsible Town Council – each drivethru application should be looked at from a practical perspective not legislative.
    When you look at the Comox Ban in particular under the microscope you will see that it grandfathers those existing Drive-Throughs which are two, Tim Hortons, McDonalds but does not comment on an existing Car Wash across the street – another idling area! It also protects a property immediately across the road which is being developed and is slated to have Drive-Thus so this is not really a ban. Just who is the new developer that seems to have the clout to construct a new drive through IN THE SAME SILLY intersection of this Community making it all that more saturated with traffic.
    Forget not that busy working people USE DRIVE-THRUS because they are busy! Consider also the Handicaped people who also need them, young parents with young children who just dont have the time to stop in the parking lot and unload etc.
    At a recent public hearing on a Wednesday evening on this issue the crowd was stacked with the local RENT-AN-ACTIVIST crowd who are intent on imposiing their screwed-up standards on the rest of the community. Little people who have had no authority in their lives and who now wish to impose their will on the rest of the community. They are the same dolts who would ban campfires on our beaches, in our back yards, create curfews on beaches, ban clothes lines in our yards, ban weiner roasts in our back yards. They had the termerity to ignor the handicapped people who spoke at this meeting to encourage the community to not ban Drive-Thrus. The activist crowd had the audacity to suggest that drive-thrus be constructed for the sole use of the Handicapped – how inpractical!
    Don’t let this issue catch hold in your community – it is anti-business and based on poor or non-existant scientific data.
    There are other issues which are of more value such as an “Idling Ban” which makes far more sense to control idling emissions in the entire community!