It’s Time We Were Thru with the Drive-Thru

Nothing is as difficult to incorporate into a walkable streetscape as a Drive-Thru. The whole concept, of course, is to be served in the car, so these places, unsurprisingly, attract lots of cars. Not to park and stay, mind you, but to go “thru”. Therefore they need to interrupt the sidewalk in at least two separate spots: in and out.

"Sadly, the Drive-Thru phenomenon is no longer limited to fast food... The pandemic saw us add Drive-Thru graduations and funerals. Let’s hope they’re not here to stay."

The signage has to be large and internally lit, in order to attract vehicles. Drive –Thrus often occupy corners, which provide an obvious thoroughfare for the flow of vehicles, and which comes at the missed opportunity of having a well-defined, attractive corner building instead.

Since food is not to be consumed on site, all packaging in a drive-thru must be disposable. This forms a large part of the garbage we pick up during our annual “Cleaning the Capital” campaign in Ottawa. As much as I commend those who make this annual effort to keep Ottawa garbage-free, I do wonder if there’ll come a day when we stop asking the Girl Guides to clean up after Tim Horton’s every spring.

"Beyond the lousy streetscape and garbage output, the most offensive element of the Drive-Thru, is that it is a constant, glaring reminder, that in the last 75 years, we have mostly built places to get THRU."

Sadly, the Drive-Thru phenomenon is no longer limited to fast food. Prior to the pandemic, we had the beginning of Drive-Thru banks, churches, weddings, legal services, art galleries, and voting. The pandemic saw us add Drive-Thru graduations and funerals. Let’s hope they’re not here to stay.



Beyond the lousy streetscape and garbage output, the most offensive element of the Drive-Thru, is that it is a constant, glaring reminder, that in the last 75 years, we have mostly built places to get THRU: get going, get away, get somewhere else, get anywhere other than the bleak, baked, treeless, concrete, neon, greasy misery of the Drive-Thru. Get on the road! Go! Get away from here!

"Could we as residents of Ottawa muster the imagination and resources to make places to be IN?"

And yet inevitably, some people get left behind in this world of desperate mobility. Many people in our cities and suburbs do not have the resources to get out of their neighbourhood on a whim, Contrary to the image relentlessly marketed by car commercials, many people spend weekends and holidays nearby, because, for a variety or reasons, they can’t get “away”.



Could we as residents of Ottawa muster the imagination and resources to make places to be IN? With tree canopy, building facades with active ground floors, public squares, live music, playgrounds, paths and green shorelines with clean water for swimming. Maybe we could finally be thru with the Drive-thru.


JANET MARK WALLACE is a regular blog contributor for Walkable Ottawa.