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Double drive-thrus bring out the selfish in society

Driving.ca logo Driving.ca 2018-01-08 Lorraine Sommerfeld
a car parked on the side of a road© Provided by Driving.ca

In Burlington, ON, the city I live in, with a population just under 200,000, local government aims to keep business drive-thrus out of sensitive areas and downtown cores. Most jurisdictions are following suit, because we know the denigration of our air quality is a real thing with real repercussions. 

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Having said that, I’m also seeing a proliferation of double drive-thru lanes in those places that have been allowed to install them, or have had them grandfathered in. But back to that air quality thing for a moment: even though many parts of Canada began introducing idling bylaws beginning as early as 2005, drive-thrus are exempt. You may get ticketed for idling your car in your driveway for over a minute (or three; the timing may vary even if the mileage doesn’t), but you can sit for ten minutes trudging along in a lineup for your double-double or Big Mac with nary a concern.

Nuts, eh?

I’d make this column just about idling, but it doesn’t make any difference. Idling bylaws are one of those feel good/look good things that city councils do that is a hollow declaration that they’re doing anything at all. The law is rarely enforced because they hope smart, decent people will do the right thing and not let their vehicle sit there belching out particulate while grinding their teeth as their neighbour starts his truck half an hour before he pulls away. It’s bad for your car, it’s bad for the environment, but selfish is as selfish does.

I’m far more intrigued (and entertained) by the behaviour that takes place at drive-thrus. Especially those double lane ones that seem to be carved out of spaces tighter than a snail’s shell. For the uninitiated, they sport two entry lanes with two order consoles. From there, you merge to funnel to the usual pay and pick-up windows. In theory. 

Queue management, as the technique is known, is hardly new. It’s why years ago banks started making you serpentine in line until the next available teller was open. It’s why everywhere from grocery stores to airports, planners have long debated the optics versus the science of individual lines. For every time you show me a shorter line, I’ll show you someone price matching or returning a sweater with no receipt. 

The dual-lined drive-thru is a sort of halfway option, but the introduction of people being ensconced in their vehicles instead of afoot changes all the rules. I’ve often seen people exasperated when a line is plugged in a store, but I don’t think I’ve seen anyone come to near-blows. Not so in a drive-thru when there is a cruller on the line. 

I’ve written before that zipper merging on a roadway when a lane is ending has been proven repeatedly to be the most expedient way to carry out a merge. Some argue because they think science is dumb, but it matters little: people refuse to do it, and because driving is a team sport, if one person screws it up, we all pay. The double drive-thru is zipper merging slowed down. Or at least it should be.

 The “I was here first” concept is hard at work even when it makes no sense. I had a man in a pickup truck order after I did at a dual drive-thru. He’d arrived first, but unbeknownst to me, my little squawk box went off first. I just ordered and pulled ahead, figuring he must have a laundry list of an order or something, until I realized he was climbing the curb in his truck and mowing down a decorative shrub because he was gonna be first, goddamit. 

The cashier shrugged tiredly, telling me it happens constantly. They’re forever double-checking who ordered what because people like the dude in the pickup believe an Egg McMuffin is capable of doing time travel and be handed out the window before he orders it.

I use drive-thrus occasionally, and I won’t argue they were life savers when I had two kids belted into car seats and the weather was horrible. But any able-bodied person who will sit in a lineup idling for ten minutes instead of parking and going in is lazy. And anyone who orders a thirty buck laundry list of “One poppy seed bagel, light cream cheese on half, three chocolate TimBits, is there pulp in the orange juice? Four cranberry muffins, oh wait, you only have three? One sec I have to make a call, and can you do that thing where you mix half coffee with half hot chocolate?” needs to get their arse out of that drive-thru line.

If you can’t idle your car in your driveway for two minutes you shouldn’t be able to willingly take part in a drive-thru gridlock for many times that long. 

Or take out innocent shrubbery. 

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