Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto isn’t asking for a ban on new drive-thrus, but he is proposing a zoning change that would limit newly constructed ones, as well as other rules to benefit pedestrian restaurant customers.
The thinking behind previous bans is simple: in large and dense urban areas, many people don’t have access to cars and/or live close enough to access restaurants without driving, not to mention trying to meet goals at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
On Sept. 13, the Peduto administration forwarded legislation to the Pittsburgh Planning Commission to “promote walkable and safe neighborhoods for all by reducing the impact of vehicle-oriented uses for restaurants, with new standards for drive-thrus and updated parking requirements,” according to a press release.
The proposed zoning change would require all newly proposed drive-thru businesses within certain zones to be approved by the Zoning Board of Adjustment and for anyone proposing a new drive-thru to submit a Transportation Impact Study to the City’s Department of Mobility and Infrastructure. DOMI then will review each application and ensure that the proposal doesn’t have any detrimental impacts on the surrounding community, with a focus on improving safety for pedestrians, cyclists, people using wheelchairs, and motorists.
Peduto said these changes are to better accommodate Pittsburghers who don’t have access to cars, which make up a significant portion of residents.
“In Pittsburgh, over 20% of our residents do not own a vehicle, and a growing number of our neighbors choose to commute via a method other than driving alone,” says Peduto in a release. “This commonsense and much-needed legislation modernizes our Zoning Code, updates antiquated parking requirements, and advances my administration’s efforts to build safer streets for all users. I applaud the Department of City Planning for their work on this bill.”
In addition to these proposed rules regarding drive-thrus, Peduto’s zoning change proposal also lowered off-street parking requirements for fast-food and full-service restaurants.
For new fast-food restaurants, the proposal would require one off-street parking space for every 500 square feet of space of the restaurant. Currently, the Pittsburgh zoning code requires one off-street parking space for every 75 square feet of space. That could potentially lower off-street parking spaces at city fast-food joints six-fold. And, the proposal would implement a maximum parking requirement for new fast-food restaurants of one off-street space for every 175 square feet of space.
For all other restaurants in the city, the proposal would require one off-street parking space for every 500 square feet of restaurant space. Currently, zoning requires one off-street parking space for every 125 square feet of space for casual dining or sit-down restaurants. The proposed legislation would increase the maximum parking requirement from one off-street parking space for every 75 square feet to one off-street parking space for every 175 square feet of space.
In addition to providing better spaces for non-car customers, limiting drive-thrus may also improve air quality and fight climate change. Idling vehicle engines for even relatively short periods produces significant greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Department of Energy says that “idling for more than 10 seconds uses more fuel and produces more emissions that contribute to smog and climate change than stopping and restarting your engine does.”