Plans for drive-through on Milwaukee Avenue

McDonald’s revealed its plans for the 2707 N. Milwaukee Avenue property at last month’s community meeting.

The alderman began the meeting touting the changes as supporting the corporate McDonald’s concept of hip and its desire to appeal to a new breed of customer, one who lingers in the restaurant and enjoys the Wi-Fi access.  I think these are customers who would embrace a pedestrian orientation and would gladly do without the drive-through.  The drive-through plans and flaunting of the “pedestrian street” designation (see Save Milwaukee Avenue’s pedestrian orientation) appear to conflict with the new McDonald’s concept.

The plan shows that the west/Milwaukee Avenue side of the building will stay where it is now, several feet from the property line.  (Unfortunately, McDonald’s Corporation’s representative has not returned repeated calls requesting a rendering of the plans to share here.)  The north and south sides of the building will also stay, while the east side will accommodate the expanded building, moving several feet to the east.

At the time of the community meeting, what should be the front face of the building with its bright yellow awning was oriented toward the drive-through rather than toward pedestrians on the street.  Instead, the Milwaukee Avenue face would be the typical side façade of McDonald’s redesign.

The former “pedestrian street” designation calls for buildings to be built to the sidewalk, not several feet back, but at the point of last month’s meeting, McDonald’s would not entertain bringing the building to the sidewalk.  The construction manager stated that they could not build to the sidewalk because of accessible requirements with the two exit doors to Milwaukee Avenue.  Yet other businesses have met the requirements by recessing only their doors.  One meeting attendee raised the good suggestion that they use sliding doors, but the construction manager countered that they could not because of mechanical maintenance issues.  That seems odd to me as local drug stores with arguably as much traffic as McDonald’s use sliding doors.  I’m guessing it’s probably more about cost.

Another attendee stated that he liked the building set back because he could take shelter under the awning while waiting for the bus.  Of course, a bus shelter could address that need just as well.

The drive-through lane will shift slightly only to accommodate the expanded building footprint, but the order point changes from the east side to the south side.  Planned are two drive-through speakers/microphones on the south side–one behind the other–which pushes the drive-through waiting traffic even closer to Milwaukee Avenue than under its current configuration.

The McDonald’s franchise owner had previously made the argument that the new drive-through would reduce traffic that was backing up to Milwaukee Avenue and sometimes blocking the sidewalk.  I have not seen drive-through traffic blocking the sidewalk, but, if it exists, I think placing the order point even closer to Milwaukee Avenue will exacerbate rather than ameliorate the problem.

Another attendee suggested altering the sidewalk material or otherwise marking it to enhance its visibility to drivers.  This treatment is a requirement for private “pedestrian walkways” that intersect with drive-through aisles, but I don’t think the city extends the requirement to public city sidewalks.  Hopefully the city would allow it.

There does exist a conflict between drive-through traffic and the parking adjacent to the building on the south side, but the plans do nothing to ameliorate that conflict.  Drive-through traffic will still block the cars parked adjacent to the building.

The parking lot configuration also changes in order to accommodate the expanded building.  Currently, there is two-way drive traffic on the south and east sides of the building.  The plans call for one-way drive traffic entering on Milwaukee Avenue and exiting on Sawyer Avenue.  Existing parking along the south and east property lines will be angled, which discourages cars from going the wrong way.  The alley access cut will remain.

Some additional landscaping and bicycle parking will be added to the site.  These are neither niceties nor concessions on McDonald’s part, but city requirements.

Unfortunately, the city is also requiring a board-on-board (not quite solid) wood fence along the alley.  I have yet to be able to find this requirement in the Chicago Zoning Ordinance, but it is apparently related to drive-throughs.  I find it unfortunate because it is detrimental to pedestrian safety in the alley.

While these were the plans that were presented, McDonald’s was still working with the city to fine tune them.  Once they’re substantially firmed up, McDonald’s will formally present its request for the drive-through before the Zoning Board of Appeals, probably at the April 20 meeting.

The alderman stated that he supported the special use and that he would not insist on any community or pedestrian benefits as a condition of granting it.

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