California fast-food connoisseurs know there are at least two restaurants where hungry motorists can expect long drive-thru lines, often extending into the nearest street. Namely, Chick-fil-A and In-N-Out Burger.
And while these lines generally move rather quickly for customers, the impact on local traffic can go on for hours.
That’s why the City of Santa Barbara is considering declaring its local Chick-fil-A drive-thru a public nuisance.
The last several years, the City says it has received several complaints about cars backed up onto State Street causing traffic problems, including auto collisions and cyclist safety issues.
“State Street is one of the City’s most important streets for moving people and goods,” City Transportation Engineer Derrick Bailey told the Santa Barbara Press News earlier this month. “It was never intended to operate with significant blockage.”
A report conducted by the City’s Public Works Department stated that on weekdays, cars lined up for the Chick-fil-A drive-thru can block one of the lanes on State Street for up to 91 minutes. That number grows to 155 minutes on weekends.
“They are so successful, they have outgrown their site. It’s possible they were oversized for that site to begin with,” the S.B. Press-News reports Council Member Kristen Sneddon as saying.
For now, the City Council has postponed the nuisance designation and granted Chick-fil-A additional time, until June 7, to find and present solutions.
However, if the City Council is not happy, and declares the restaurant a public nuisance, Chick-fil-A could lose its nonconforming use status for the drive-thru facilities.
“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,” Santa Barbara Chick-fil-A owner-operator Travis Collins told the S.B. Press-News.
Past attempts at reducing drive-thru traffic backup, including reconfiguring its on-site queueing and stationing mobile order takers, have not worked, the City stated in its Council agenda report.
Santa Barbara’s own policies may be contributing to the problem as well.
In 1979, the City enacted an ordinance prohibiting new or expanded drive-thru facilities. The restaurant at 3707 State Street was originally permitted to open with a drive-thru in 1978 as a Burger King. The drive-thru status was grandfathered in when it became a Chick-fil-A restaurant in 2013.
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.
One solution may already be in the works, however. The Los Angeles Times reports that Chick-fil-A is in the early stages of applying for a permit to open a new location in an unincorporated part of Santa Barbara County, about 2 miles away.