Drive Thrus in the Mile Square

Have you been to McDonald’s lately? Been to the drive through? Have you been baffled by the dual drive through design that McD’s seems to be employing to shuffle customers through as quickly as possible?

Pulliam Square (image credit: City of Indy)
Pulliam Square (image credit: City of Indy)

If you are like me, you have probably become confused by this design. With two ordering microphones, it doesn’t make sense that there should only be one window to dispense products to customers. What then, is the intended emotional connection by this design? Is it merely a placebo so that customers can feel as if they are getting served quicker? I wonder, does McDonald’s have a metric that tracks a decline in reduced drive-offs due to the new design? Are Big Mac sales on the rise?

As confusing as this concept is to me, it appears to have captured the imagination of some local developers because the same concept is up for a zoning variance request (hat-tip to the IBJ) attached to the forthcoming√ā¬†Pulliam Square development downtown at the site of the soon to be vacated Indianapolis Star headquarters. The variance is requesting a drive through for a potential drug store which will anchor the first phase of the redevelopment of the property. Code, as weak as it is, still prevents drive through windows in the mile square. Not only that, as if one drive through wasn’t enough, it appears that two are in the attached site plan and coupled with the parking garage access will result in 3 adjacent automobile ingress points to the property via Delaware Street.

Pulliam Square (image credit: City of Indy)
Pulliam Square (image credit: City of Indy)

Why is the potential tenant requesting this? Is it to tap into the thousands of people who will be commuting home on a daily basis from the central business district? One of the core benefits of building in the urban core is to maximize the land use for people (who spend money) and not in designing it for automobile oriented uses.

While the potential traffic mess that this could create is only one part of this mess that frustrates me (along with potentially upending the excellent pedestrian environment of Vermont Street), I think what really bothers me is that the potential tenant has little faith in the economics of increased human activity as a basis for funding this store and is still relying upon economics that prioritize automobile based utility.

Again, Indianapolis continues to lose at the expense of catering to our automobile addiction.

Comments 36

  • I hate repeating myself BUT…is this a joke? Do these developers realize where this is located? Right between Mass Ave and The Circle, I believe? Never mind the Central Library, the Fieldhouse or Canal. Unbelievable!

    Well, not really.

    • Seriously. Don’t we already have a few CVS’s that are doing just fine without a drive-thru pharmacy downtown? I know the one on Illinois and Ohio is pretty busy throughout the day with people getting everything from prescriptions to photos to a cheap bottle of wine for a last minute white elephant gift (okay, that last one is just me).

      Plus, I think there’s a pharmacy in the Marsh right there already. I’m not against a Walgreens storefront going in there, but with so many other pharmacies doing just fine downtown, I don’t see how this is anything but a waste of money and prime real estate.

    • Here’s where you need Chicago’s Pedestrian streets ordiance. No drive thrus on A-streets, period.

  • Regarding the dual ordering stations at McDonald’s: it is all about bottlenecks to the assembly line. They can take money and deliver food extremely fast, but taking the orders was the slowest process by far. So by doubling the amount of orders able to be taken, it halves the bottleneck of ordering and allows for much faster drive through lines.

    Never underestimate McDonald’s for examining every last aspect of how to bring in a penny faster.

  • I’m actually less offended by this than the CVS/Walgreens at 16th and Meridian. While including their drive through, at least it has been camouflaged (if we can believe the rendering). Even with the increase in residences and pedestrian activity, downtown businesses are still beholden to commuters.

    • Even with the increase in residences and pedestrian activity, downtown businesses are still beholden to commuters.

      They are beholden to commuters by design though. If Pennsylvania and Delaware weren’t 4-5 lane one-way behemoths, traffic would be slower resulting in more foot traffic and less likelihood of a drive thru.

      I’ll keep saying it: Indy needs to stop kowtowing to suburban commuters. Same with the Split, it needs to focus solely on downtown residents who pay taxes here, regularly attend cultural functions here, reduces their carbon footprint in downtown, have their home/school/work here, and are invested in the core of Indy. Suburban commuters do the opposite of that. They destroy ambiance, environment, streetscape, safety to promote wasteful living.

      • As long as there are 100,000 or so more jobs than workers in Marion County, it’s a good idea to be a little accommodating. That daytime population helps support Circle Centre and a host of downtown restaurants.

        I’d rather tax ’em than be openly hostile to commuters.

        • Then tax them. Currently they are barely taxed. And any taxes they pay, downtowners pay too.

          So now we have a chicken/egg thing going on here. If it is comfortable for them to rush in and out of the city, they will rush in and out of the city. If we have all the jobs and make it difficult to get in/out AND more comfortable to stay downtown (calmed traffic), wouldn’t that be better? So which comes first, make it comfortable or make it more difficult to ingress/egress? Why not both?

          People are already moving downtown; slowing traffic would just speed that up and make it more appealing.

          • The reality is that middle-aged people with kids at home choose to live outside downtown (but work there) for a whole list of reasons way more significant than whether traffic is calm downtown.

            Which is to say that calming or choking traffic downtown (and making parking harder) will not attract the majority of people who currently commute downtown.

            It would have the opposite effect: those folks would be badgering their bosses to move their jobs out of downtown.

          • This is a defeatist attitude Chris. You will not create better habits by rolling over.

            I too have observed urban designed CVS & Walgreens in other cities as well. Simply designing to the status quo without examining the “why’s” (which IMO are the bedrock of why we need to change) we will continue to receive mediocrity.

            Places like Portland used to have the same design as we do with wide multi-lane boulevards but look at what hard work has got them these days? Zero parking demand developments downtown and parking garages that were torn down. That takes some chutzpah to pull off but simply catering to “the easy” now will never improve the future that many of us (clearly) desire.

  • I love the second story “apartment” windows to nowwhere at the 16th and Meridian Walgreen’s; as if it is some sweet mixed-use building with graphic designers living above it. Didn’t that used to be an IHop? If only they’d have had fake apartments above… But I agree. Can we have one square mile of the city that doesn’t allow drive-thru windows?

  • Kilroy is correct with his McDonald’s comment. Since McDonald’s started the double-ordering concept, several others have followed (Burger King for example). Ordering takes 2 to 3 times as long as the payment/delivery process.

  • The drive-through doesn’t bother me as it is designed. If you look at most fully-developed urban blocks, they have access for trash and deliveries in alleyways. Effectively, the drive-through area is an enlarged service alley entrance. As a rule, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, as well as banks, all have drive-up access in their new developments. These are prime long-lease tenants to have anchoring a development.

    Looking at the plan, I am more concerned by ground-level apartments on Pennsylvania Street. That seems like a huge missed opportunity where a storefront could engage the street and adjacent park.

    • “As a rule, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies, as well as banks, all have drive-up access in their new developments.” True, if the rule excludes downtown locations. CVS & Walgreen’s develop plenty of pharmacies all over the country in highly urbanized areas without drive throughs. The fact that the majority of their stores are in auto-oriented areas and those locations have drive-throughs, is not a good argument for granting a variance to the zoning ordinance to have one in this location which is clearly in an area with a development pattern that is very different from most of their locations.

      Simply put, areas that are supposed to be inviting to pedestrian traffic don’t benefit from additional places and reasons for cars to be entering and exiting across the sidewalk in the middle of a block. This is why the zoning ordinance prohibits drive-throughs in the regional center/ central business district. It’s a good development standard that achieves a positive outcome for the built environment and the vibrancy of downtown. It should be upheld.

      • Paul, your logic falls apart a little. Craig is right: that’s not the middle of the block…it’s the middle of The Star’s created Superblock. The entry is Talbott Street. And the exit is via Tippecanoe Street. Pedestrians already have to look both ways there. Whitsett is returning the historic street grid to public use, removing The Star’s gates across it.

        • I think my logic is okay. I said that you don’t improve the environment by creating additional locations and reasons (drive through) for cars to be crossing the sidewalk. Yes, you can argue that it’s less offensive to have the drive through entrance use the same access point that other traffic might use from Delaware Street, but I’d be willing to bet that when Tippecanoe Street previously existed, it was never three lanes wide and probably had a sidewalk on both sides.

          I’d say it’s actually a bit disingenuous for the site plan to label this access point as a presumed public street and then use more than half of it as a private drive-through facility which relegates pedestrians to one side of the street.

          • In a densely populated urban area such as downtown Chicago, walk-ins can support the business model of a pharmacy without a drive-through. I wish this block were being developed as a $100m+ mixed-use mid-rise worthy of it’s parkside location. But it is not, and there will not be enough walk-in traffic to make this viable for a pharmacy. That’s the bottom line. You get the tenant with their actuarial and demographic projections and requirements or they don’t locate in your development. I have worked with and designed projects for pharmacies and companies like Target and Whole Foods – favorites of blog commenters in the “we need this here” category. These companies are highly successful because they put tremendous effort into studying what works, applying the appropriate prototype to the location, and making a successful business with low risk of failure. Concessions are often required to develop these types of projects.

            Again, the greatest challenge of this development seems to me to be completely changing the anti-human megablock of the former star into a block which interacts on the street level, primarily on Pennsylvania Street. The drive-thru as designed is an acceptable concession to the positive aspect of bringing a long-term storefront business to the corner of New York & Delaware.

          • If Petaluma, CA (population 58,000) is demanding Walgreens build without a drive-thru, so should DOWNTOWN INDY.

          • Craig,

            As has been pointed out elsewhere in this comment section, there are currently two CVSs within two blocks of each other doing bumper business without a drive through.

            As I wrote earlier, we need to stop making things so comfortable for the suburban commuter in downtown Indy. Narrower roads, converting two-ways to one-ways, and keeping drivethrus like this out would be some great first steps.

            If no one walks to this pharmacy, it will be because of those three things. Stop the kowtowing.

          • Also, if suburban commuters absolutely have to use a drive-thru to pick up medication on the way home or to work, why can’t they just use the two that are minutes away at 16th and Meridian???

    • Alleys aren’t 3 lanes wide.

    • If the drive-thru width were smaller and the traffic pattern altered, I would move to the grudgingly accepting column for this drive-thru. I find it perfectly acceptable for a drive-thru to be located on an existing alley. Even if the drive-thru isn’t allowed, that alley should remain. So the curb cut and pedestrian conflict issue is completely moot. This is a curb cut that should exist.

      However, a one-way, three-lane-wide alley is completely ridiculous. Tippecanoe should be 2 lanes and 2-way, with westbound from Delaware being for truck deliveries and general access to Talbott, and eastbound from Talbott should be for the drive-thru. An eastbound drive-thru would provide for plenty of stacking spaces.

      My opinion on urban drive-thru’s can best be summed up like this:

      Alleys are a long-established way to service buildings in a way that doesn’t detract from the primary streetscape. In otherwise urban developments, providing drive-thru service on existing alleys, while not preferable, can be considered.

      • You can certainly make an argument that a drive-through along a quasi-alley with a building above it is more urban than a conventional drive-through, if you are seeking a justification for having one. And having a one-lane drive-through which travels eastbound, with two-way traffic on “Tippecanoe Street” would certainly be much better than what is proposed, but given that the ordinance clearly prohibits it, I see no reason to have one.

        Obviously, a pharmacy at this location could thrive without a drive-through, as the two on Ohio Street have apparently done for many, many years. When the ordinance prohibits it, the law requires the developer to prove why it wouldn’t be injurious to public safety, wouldn’t adverse affect the use and value of adjacent property, and why the property couldn’t reasonably be developed without it. It’s not supposed to be incumbent upon the opposition to make the case as to why it shouldn’t be allowed.

        I’m definitely all for having and continuing this debate here. I just wanted to make the point that the burden of proof as to whether the BZA or MDC should approve the variance should be on the developer, not on those who think the ordinance should be upheld. That’s not necessarily how the system works here however. Thus, those who are opposed should certainly get involved and attend the hearing.

  • A lot of opinions here, but do any of you actually voice your opinions or frustrations? (besides those of Urban Indy) Nothing ever gets done with you just venting on this site. Think about it.

  • Voice your opinions to those that matter**

    • Since you asked, I appeared before the Metropolitan Development Commission last week to remonstrate against the granting of variances which would allow Angie’s List to pave parking lots up to the public right-of-way without the required landscaped setback.
      I come on at about the 52:00 mark, and then again a little before 1:16:00, I think.

      But, in general, I think you make a great point about many of us complaining on message boards, but not actually getting involved in the process and showing up at hearings where these decisions are made. I plan to continue to be more involved in these matters, and I hope that others will as well.

      • Didn’t watch the video, but that’s pretty ironic that AL would want to do that with their lots. Angie’s List’s campus is so pieced among a dozen+ buildings that sidewalks and setbacks are all but necessary there.

        People are walking from building to building all day long there. Taking out the setbacks would really be disastrous.

  • I assume they will need a variance for this. When will the meeting be so that I can go voice my frustration?

  • The issue is not the drive-thru itself but the excessiveness of it at the sidewalk, in addition to the ridiculous loading and trash area. You can sensitively do a one lane, alley-like drive through for pharmacies with low stacking spaces or one lane access to more tellers that can be spread out midblock rather than widening it along the street. So it’s a combination of the drive-thru and loading area taking up so much space.

  • Question: Would lack of a drive-through be a deal breaker for a CVS/Walgreens at this location? I can’t imagine it would be.

    How about instead of building a drive-through they hire bicycle-couriers to deliver to downtown residents & office workers, a la Jimmy Johns? Seems it’d be much more convenient for their downtown customers and a real differentiator.

    • That could open up a serious can of worms for patient privacy/drug theft/security in general/etc.

      Prescribed hydrocodone and a #4 Turkey Tom are two very different animals.

      However, what’s to say you can’t just pick up your prescription on your lunch break like the rest of the working world?

      • I’ve never really looked into it, but I know there are some mail-order prescription options already available. Put it in a plain brown box, courier never knows what they’re delivering.

        I’m not naive enough to think it’d really be that simple, but doesn’t seem impossible.

        • Agreed, I don’t see why a bicycle courier delivering prescriptions would be any different than a mailman/woman delivering prescriptions from a mail order pharmacy.

  • Looks like the city approved the drive-thru. I’m just dumbfounded. Wow.

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