Food for Thought: Denver’s 175 Drive-Throughs Overlap With Denver’s Deadliest Streets

Imagen: Google Maps
Imagen: Google Maps

Here’s something to sink your teeth into: Denver has more than 175 drive-throughs and most are located on the city’s deadliest streets to travel on.

Check out the overlap between this map of Denver drive-throughs (it doesn’t include banks)…

Image: Community Planning and Development
Image: Community Planning and Development

…and the city’s “high injury network” — the streets where half of Denver traffic deaths occur despite accounting for just 5 percent of its roadway mileage:

Image: Denver Public Works
Image: Denver Public Works

Like Colfax Avenue, Federal Boulevard, Broadway, and other deadly Denver streets, drive-throughs are built around convenient motoring to the exclusion of other modes of transportation.

They’re terrible for pedestrians because they chop up sidewalks. One drive-throughs typically has two curb cuts — an entrance and an exit. Those are two points along the sidewalk where people on foot have to worry about dodging drivers turning off or onto high-speed streets.

Meanwhile, every drive-throughs is typically attached to a surface parking lot that degrades the pedestrian environment and spreads destinations farther apart, so there are fewer places you can reach on foot.

It’s a vicious cycle where the land use that has developed around car-centric streets makes it even more difficult to get around by walking and transit.

And yet, the potential for a different model of transportation and development is hiding in plain sight. The same streets where drive-throughs dominate are the busiest transit corridors in the city, which also makes them magnets for pedestrians.

Denver needs to play to its strengths and prioritize walking and transit on these major streets — the East Colfax bus rapid transit project is a start. But that’s not all.  As the Hancock administration looks to overhaul its land use and transportation plan, Blueprint Denver, we also need to adjust land use rules to foster walkable development instead of drive-throughs and parking lots.

Hat tip to Eric McClelland for digging up the drive-through data.

  • TakeFive

    I am not surprised by the correlation between drive-thrus on busy streets that also experience crashes.

    Certainly drive-thrus are popular. Yesterday I had an 8:00 a.m. appointment to fix some leaky tubing for my windshield washer system. After dropping off my car I walked across a busy street to reach a breakfast restaurant. After a couple of eggs over medium, bacon and tomato slices devoured I head back to check on my car. On the corner where I need to cross the street was a McDonalds. I quickly realized that McDonald’s likely served more people in the drive-thru lane in ten minutes than the restaurant served in one hour. It’s sad that people will no longer take 30-40 minutes to sit down, relax, eat some fresh food, chat with friends or the person next to them at the counter. We now live in a grab-and-go world.

  • JZ71

    Duh . . . In other news, water is wet . . .

    • MT

      I think the point was that the drive thrus degrade the pedestrian environment in places that do have a lot of pedestrians. Even if there were no crashes related to them (unlikely), they still put more distance between destinations, and make the walking environment more hostile. The message we give by allowing all those curb cuts is that you’re not welcome unless you’re in a car. These are busy transit routes, and streets full of businesses, people should be able to access those places comfortable and safely on foot. Theses are already our most dangerous streets, this is just one more way they are built for cars at the expense of people.

      • JZ71

        Yes, curb cuts do degrade the pedestrian environment. The alternative, however, usually isn’t much better, since fewer curb cuts usually equals more internal vehicle circulation, which pushes buildings even further back from the public sidewalk (because the drive-thru ain’t going away).

        Yes, in a perfect world, drive-thru’s would not exist / be banned, forcing people to park their cars, get off their fat asses, and walk inside. Guess what? We don’t live in a perfect world! These businesses are providing their customers with something that they want, and seeing more business from doing so.

        If pedestrians were truly the majority (“important”), the designs would change, and drive-thru’s would fade away. The reality is that few of these pedestrians are actually stepping foot inside any of these businesses, so why should they care if the peds are being “inconvenienced”?! (Money talks!)

        • MT

          Pedestrians aren’t the majority because of street design that prioritizes cars above them.

          There’s no reason we can’t ban curb cuts or drive thrus, if we decide that pedestrians are important.

    • MT

      “Drive-thru curb cuts are no more deadly than those for single-family homes on residential streets.”
      Really? Wouldn’t they be “deadlier because there are more vehicles AND more pedestrians”

      • JZ71

        The difference is that most drivers are conditioned to look for pedestrians at curb cuts and driveways. Most of the pedestrian fatalities occur at the intersection of two public streets or when pedestrians are jaywalking, and usually at night.

        • MT

          Thanks for the victim blaming, but that’s just not true.

          • JZ71

            Ahh, playing the old “victim” card, again . . . show me the statistics and prove me wrong!

          • MT

            I pointed our a gaping hole in your logic. You responded by blaming pedestrians for being killed by cars.
            No one ever said that the majority of pedestrians hit by cars are at these driveways. Doesn’t mean they aren’t dangerous. They are harmful to the walkability of the street, that much is undeniable.
            The degradation of the sidewalk environment is enough for me to want to ban them, but some actual numbers on crashes would be great to have too. An interesting next step with this would be to try to find how many crashes do happen at these locations.

  • JZ71

    Many residential streets have just as many, if not more, curb cuts, where many drivers are backing out, not driving forward (which IS more dangerous), yet not many people are getting worked up over their potential danger . . .

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