One measure of Chick-fil-A’s success, at restaurants across the country, is the line at the drive-thru. DDOT’s planners have concerns about that.
This company would not be making a substantial investment in what’s currently the Burger King at 4422 Connecticut Avenue if it did not see the new restaurant doing a brisk business at this location. But one thing Chick-fil-A has not revealed is how it intends to manage all the vehicle traffic it will attract.
A Chick-fil-A that opened at a busy intersection in Bellevue, Washington, last April was still snarling traffic a month later.
From April 16-30, off-duty Bellevue police officers put in nearly 297 hours in overtime costs providing traffic control for the restaurant, at a cost of $23,122 for Chick-fil-A owner Valerie Artis….
“How many of you thought it would take more police officers to open a Chick-fil-A than to open a marijuana dispensary?” said Councilmember John Chelminiak.” – Bellevue Reporter
A few weeks later, another Chick-fil-A opening 20 miles to the north of Bellevue had area police and residents bracing for “chicken chaos.”
Imagine what it might do along a major commuter route through the District. DDOT has estimated more than 37,000 cars travel down Connecticut on any given weekday, and Chick-fil-A expects more than half of its business will come through the drive-thru.
Complicating the traffic issue is the Flagship Car Wash next door, which struggles to manage the vehicle traffic it attracts. Its weekend and rush-hour business already gums up the works at the intersection of Connecticut and Albemarle Street, especially when the line of cars winds around onto Albemarle. Those cars force other vehicles to use the left hand turn lane to drive through the intersection or make right hand turns.
DDOT’s Public Space Committee will consider these factors and more as it looks at whether to grant the permits Chick-fil-A needs for the drive-thru.
Ryan Westrom is the DDOT planner in charge of vetting the Chick-fil-A traffic plan and public space elements for the site. Among his concerns:
- The Chick-fil-A drive-thru and car wash traffic blocking traffic lanes during morning and evening rush hours.
- Northbound drivers on Connecticut attempting to make left turns into the drive-thru, and then making another left from the drive-thru exit.
Westrom explained to me that when there is a change of use at a site, curb cuts are not grandfathered in. Chick-fil-A expects to continue to use the drive-thru, so that’s not a change, but Westrom should investigate whether attracting more traffic, much more than Burger King does or has done in the past, constitutes a change of use in this situation.
A change of use finding could require Chick-fil-A to bring the driveway into compliance with current engineering standards. The regulations state:
“When changes occur at a property due to redevelopment and when the proposed principal use for the property will be different from that prior to the redevelopment, all existing driveways shall be restored with new curb and gutter, tree space and sidewalk to current DDOT standards. Any existing attached curb cut proposed for the new use shall be applied for as a new curb cut and driveway at the DDOT public space permit office.” (Section 126.96.36.199 of DDOT’s Design and Engineering Manual)
Current DDOT standards require that curb cuts be at least 24 feet apart on a major arterial such as Connecticut. The curb cut on the north side of Burger King is only four feet from the car wash entrance.
Westrom has requested that Chick-fil-A do a traffic study to address these concerns and to explore the option of entering the drive thru from the alley running parallel to Connecticut behind the property. He acknowledges that the alley presents constraints, as well. It is not clear whether it could handle the additional traffic.
DDOT is working with the company on a scope of work for the traffic study, and is committed to seeking the safest solution possible. Westrom expects that it will take about two months for Chick-fil-A and his office to reach a recommendation.
The DDOT Public Space Committee can choose whether or not to follow the recommendations put forth by the various stakeholders. For now, it’s scheduled to discuss Chick-fil-A’s permit applications at its January 28th meeting. Westrom thinks February or even March is more likely.
The community can follow the permitting process on the TOPS (Transportation Online Permitting System). Use the tracking number 116016.