by Marlene Berlin
Chick-fil-A still doesn’t get it.
Representatives of the restaurant chain were out in full force at the April 19th ANC 3F meeting. Corporate Chick-fil-A showed up this time, along with franchise owners from the Columbia Heights and Bowie, Maryland locations. An engineer and transportation consultants were there for backup. This would be their third presentation before the ANC about their plans to take over the present Burger King site and drive-thru. (View the Livestream here, presentation begins at 1:10:30)
They came to address issues raised by the ANC and community members when Chick-fil-A’s traffic consultants gave their report to ANC 3F in February. So one might think they’d talk about pedestrian safety – which had been left out of the original plan entirely. But no. Again, the presentation focused on vehicle traffic control. It was as if pedestrians did not exist or were such a minor factor, they were not worth considering.
As I listened to them explain in great detail how cars could be handled efficiently in the queue, I realized they were still viewing this location through one lens – a car-centered one – and in an urban area, no less.
But in addition to attracting more motorists (200 to 300% more), the new restaurant presumably would also attract more pedestrians. Chick-fil-A has mentioned in great detail how many cars they expect through the drive-thru at peak times. However, the company has not mentioned how much walk-in traffic it hopes to attract.
So I decided to ask about their expectations in generating pedestrian traffic. I did not think this was an unreasonable question since we have more than 30 high-rise residential buildings lining Connecticut Avenue in ANC 3F, and most are within a ten-minute walk of this site.
John Martinez, Chick-fil-A’s development manager, responded that the pedestrian traffic along Connecticut Avenue currently could not support this restaurant. I tried again. He said this was proprietary information that they could not reveal. This I did not quite understand since they provided projections for drive-thru traffic. I tried a different tack, asking about comparisons to their other urban models. They responded that they could not make comparisons given this location was so unique. I countered that with that fact they had compared this location to suburban areas that also are unlike Van Ness.
Finally, Nathaniel Coates, Chick-fil-A’s architectural design manager, admitted they did have high hopes for pedestrian traffic. Chick-fil-A plans substantial renovations – almost a complete tear-down of the existing building, and adding an outdoor café. It would not be making this kind of investment unless it expected a substantial number of dine-in and take out customers. But in the end they could not or did want to provide the numbers of pedestrians they expected to generate.
Whether pedestrians will feel welcome is another question. Increased pedestrian and motorist traffic will lead to an increase in pedestrian and motorist conflicts where the drive-thru meets the sidewalk.
DDOT’s Public Space Committee is scheduled to decide the drive-thru question at its meeting tomorrow (April 28th). Several community members, including our ANC commissioners will be giving testimony and presenting a petition in opposition to the drive-thru.