There’s nothing a restauranteur dreams of seeing more than lines of hungry patrons stretching as far as the eye can see, but if you’re Chick-fil-A in Santa Barbara, the dream may become a nightmare.
The restaurant is so popular, its drive-thru is causing chaos on the roads, as waiting cars spill into traffic and back up lunchtime motorists for as much as 91 minutes during the week and a mind-exploding 155 minutes on weekends, according to a report from the City of Santa Barbara Public Works Department.
In a memorandum issued Jan. 11, Principal Transportation Engineer Derrick Bailey stated, “Queuing from the Chick-fil-A drive-thru is routinely observed blocking the sidewalk, bike lane, and number two (outside) traffic lane of eastbound State Street.”
“I have reviewed traffic data and conditions caused by queuing from the Chick-fil-A drive-thru. The queuing increases the risk of collisions and injuries, and decreases mobility for all modes of travel by creating a condition that State Street was not intended to accommodate.”
“State Street is one of the city’s most important streets for moving people and goods,” Bailey told the Santa Barbara News-Press.
Councilmember Kristen Sneddon believes the restaurant may have simply outgrown its location.
“This is not about the goodness of the company or the goodness of the owners and certainly not about the goodness of the employees,” Sneddon said. “Chick-fil-A has a good problem here. They are so successful, they have outgrown their site. It’s possible that they were oversized for that site, to begin with.”
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Representatives for Chick-fil-A have presented a plan to the council which includes adding a thru-line, rearranging the parking lot, and forcing drivers to turn right when exiting the restaurant.
“On behalf of myself, Chick-fil-A and the many team members, we sincerely regret that this traffic situation has come to this point and heartily wish to work in good faith with the city to resolve this matter once and for all,” said the restaurant’s owner and operator, Travis Collins. “We believe we do have solutions, several of them.”
Sneddon isn’t convinced, noting that “there’s a tolerance of the patrons of Chick-fil-A for how far back they’re willing to queue.”
Assistant City Attorney Dan Hentschke cited the dangers the drive-thru poses to pedestrians, bicyclists, and drivers.
“There is no constitutional right to operate a business in a manner that creates a public nuisance,” Hentschke said. “People do not have to die because of a traffic accident before you declare it a public nuisance.”
At stake for the restaurant is its nonconforming use status for the drive-thru facilities, according to KTLA, and drive-thru options are already severely limited in Santa Barbara, thanks to a 1979 ordinance that prohibits new or expanded drive-thru facilities. Chick-fil-A’s location was originally that of a Burger King which opened a year before the ordinance passed.
“The drive-thru status was grandfathered in when it became a Chick-fil-A restaurant in 2013,” KTLA reports. “So, after more than 40 years with no new drive-thru businesses, the ordinance has drastically limited options for those in search of a quick meal. The result is even more cars trying to squeeze into an already popular destination.”
The restaurant now has until June 7 to present the city council with a viable solution.
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