Denver City Council May Ban Drive-Throughs Near Rail Stations

The proposal would prevent new drive-throughs from degrading walking access to train stations, but it wouldn't apply to bus stops.

Image:  Google Maps
Image: Google Maps

Transit works best when people can walk to it. And walking to transit is a lot better when you don’t have to deal with drive-throughs, where drivers can cut across your path at any moment.

Denver has more than 175 drive-through businesses, and each one contributes to a less walkable city by disrupting the pedestrian environment. Later this year, Denver City Council members will have a chance to prevent more drive-throughs from popping up near RTD stations.

The Denver Department of Community Planning and Development recommended Tuesday that the zoning code ban new drive-throughs within a quarter-mile of rail stations in “urban” areas.

The zoning change would affect “areas of our city that are really intended to be the most vibrant, the most pedestrian-friendly, the most active,” Senior City Planner Sara White told council members yesterday. “The thought here is that… drive-throughs would not contribute to that desired character, particularly from a pedestrian activity standpoint.”

Council Member Kendra Black, who wants to make her district more walkable around its RTD stations, prompted the discussion within CPD.

New drive-throughs would still be permitted around stations in areas zoned “suburban,” which include pockets around the Alameda, Colorado, Yale, and Southmoor stations. But a more stringent building standard would apply to these drive-throughs — no drive-through lanes allowed between the building and the sidewalk, for example.

The zoning change also fails to recognize the importance of good pedestrian access to bus stops. In 2016 RTD carried almost twice as many bus riders as rail riders. Council Member Jolon Clark said it would be “backwards” to think people only walk to rail stations, and that the planning department should consider regulating drive-throughs on high-frequency bus routes, like Broadway and Colfax Avenue.

“I think we are struggling as a city to recognize buses, especially where there are dedicated lanes, future [bus rapid transit], and high-frequencies,” Clark said.

White called the new rules around rail stations “a first step” and that expanding them to bus stops is “definitely something that down the road we could consider.”

The amendment will go to the Planning Board for a public hearing on March 21. City Council will vote on the change in May.

  • TakeFive

    I think I think this is silly but I’ll have to think about it.

    My knee-jerk reaction is that aging has increased my allergic reaction to nannyism and I’ve always had a high regard for property rights and the free market. That being said there always been a legitimate need and purpose for zoning.

    Your one photo example appears to be the bus stop at 6151 E Colfax. Looking at the street view it occurs to me that this is actually a good site for a bus stop. Many owners would rather NOT have of a bus stop right in front their business but in this case there’s a comfortable distance between the Good Times and the bus stop.

    Light rail stops are a different kettle of fish and a quarter mile would be about 4 blocks presumably. I would think that in an urban area that the land value would generally go to a 5-8 story building so I’m not sure such zoning is even necessary. But tbh I’d think a case by case assessment could vary from stop to stop.

    Conclusion: I don’t ‘think’ it’s a bad idea but it seems unnecessary and a bit silly. Why not let the free market and the neighborhood determine what is best? Tell Nanny to find more constructive things to worry about.

    • MT

      If we were to allow drive-thus with no limits, we sure better stop requiring parking.
      Free market and whatnot.

      Also, if you want to let whatever be built on the private land, ok, but to have a drive-thru you’re going to need a curb cut. The city can definitely say no to the curb cuts, no driving cars across the sidewalk, sorry.

      • TakeFive

        This proposal feels like a solution looking for a problem that doesn’t exist. You live there so when was the last drive-in even built in central Denver that you can think of? The more likely issue is wanting to buy a drive-in for the land to redevelop but needing a zoning change to build more than the current allowable three stories when neighborhoods aren’t wanting all that density. 🙂

        • MT

          There’s still a lot of room for development near stations. The Broadway and Alameda stations for example. There are already drive-thus on Broadway within a quarter mile of the Alameda station, a Taco Bell and a Wendy’s. Not hard to imagine more of those type of things going up there if they are allowed.
          Something is being built where the old model train shop was that involves Starbucks.Can’t find any details on what exactly is being built, could easily be a drive-thru.

          There’s at least two drive-thrus right across Colfax from the Auraria stop, and space where more could go.

          Unfortunately, a lot of the rail stations are not in the most walkable areas. I do think this is needed to help those areas become places that benefit from and support the rail, not detract from it.

    • Amerisod

      The problem is that a lot of people don’t care about the quality of life in the neighborhood their business is located in. They would happily locate a fast food drive through where other people live and walk. They don’t care anything about aesthetics, or pedestrian safety and comfort.

  • JZ71

    How about the inverse / law of unintended consequences? Don’t locate a bus stop within a quarter mile of a drive thru, new or existing . . . if safety is that critical, it shouldn’t be, pardon the pun, a one-way street!

    • MT

      Why should people walking and taking the bus be the ones inconvenienced?
      The cars are the ones causing the danger, not the pedestrians.

    • Bernard Finucane

      Because drivethroughs are a waste of space. American cities need to start thinking about the financial health. Growth by annexation is a dead end. Infill is the only way to raise revenues. If farmers wasted as much of their farmland as American cities do, they’d go out of business immediately.

      • JZ71

        Drive-thru’s may be “a waste of space” in your world, but have proven to be highly profitable for those businesses that have installed them. Consumers have voted and they apparently like them!

        • Bernard Finucane

          Not really. markets are not a democracy, so “voting is a misnomer. But anyway, it is zoning laws that lead to drive throughs, not the market.

          • JZ71

            Wrong. Zoning either allows or prohibits drive-thru’s, but in no way requires businesses to either install or to use one. The decision to invest in a drive-thru is driven entirely by a business’ desire to increase sales!

  • Chris

    I would support this 100%. It’s smart thinking and drive-throughs cause a lot of headaches for increased frequency of crossing the sidewalk. Creating a safer space for pedestrians and reducing the potential accident of a car hitting someone is a win-win.

    Businesses with open parking lots or parking garages is still a concern, with the new development around these stations we should see more walkability and less car centric developments.

  • The biggest problem with drive-throughs and other driveways is that snow and ice remain packed down on them. They also tend to break up, possibly related to the freeze-thaw cycle. As they often have a slope, they’re tricky to navigate.

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