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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Nov. 25, 2014

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The drive-through at BMO Harris Bank in Downtown Milwaukee.
The drive-through at BMO Harris Bank in Downtown Milwaukee.
Would a drive-through restaurant work on Wells Street?
Would a drive-through restaurant work on Wells Street?

A Downtown drive-through?

I've heard some rumblings that a new drive-through restaurant proposal for Downtown Milwaukee could be announced soon. 

Yet, there's a bit of unwritten rule about drive-through in Downtown areas.  Most city planners don't like them, and here in Milwaukee – well – you can't find one. 

Several years ago, the Dunkin' Donuts on West Wisconsin Avenue wanted to build a drive-through in concert with a renovated restaurant. It didn't get the necessary support and approval, and ended up moving a block away into a smaller space at 622 W. Wisconsin Ave.

Many have told me that the reason for the lack of a new and improved Walgreen's Downtown has its roots in the fact that the company doesn't have a drive-through at its Grand Avenue location and that people tend to get prescriptions filled close to home rather than close to their work. Yet, with more than 20,000 people now living in and around Downtown, this argument doesn't hold a lot of water. 

Yes, there are a banks in Downtown that have drive-through tellers and lanes. They work very well. But, food places? Zero. Should there be more food drive or walk/bike-through options? I say, yes. 

Trust me, I'm all about a more pedestrian-focused, walkable and transit-friendly Downtown that features more cabs, the coming soon streetcar line, better way finding, new bicycle lanes and a hopeful rerouting of a few of the bus lines. But, convenience drives decisions and drive-throughs provide another option for people. Sure, logistics play a role. Wisconsin Avenue's probably too dense for a drive-through, but other streets and areas would work. 

I spent more than 10 years "fighting" for Wells Street to go to full two-way street.  The possible obstacles and opposition was strong, vocal and at times hilarious.  Since the change, life has gone on and traffic, both automobile and walkers/bikers, are safer. My point? Change can be good, and at the right place, a drive-through probably won't kill Downtown.

I asked Beth Weirick, executive director at Milwaukee Downtown, for her thoughts and she told me, "I completely understand why there are not drive-through establishments on Wisconsin Avenue. I met with Dunkin' Donuts and the City to see if we could make a drive-through work and it just couldn't at that current location.

"I don't know why we couldn't make one work if we had more two-way streets and off/on secondary streets. I always thought that the location of the former Greyhound (station) would be a good spot."

Now, which drive-through should it be, Milwaukee? And where? Park East?  Hmmmm.  Your thoughts?  

Talkbacks

TheyThink | Feb. 27, 2014 at 4:43 p.m. (report)

How *dare* someone be able to drive thru a downtown coffee shop like Colectivo, Starbucks on their way to work! We MUST make them find parking, pay for the parking, walk to the coffee place (especially when it's below zero), buy their coffee, walk back to their car, and then drive off. That really is wicked efficient and inviting!

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pfan | Feb. 27, 2014 at 2:45 p.m. (report)

Yes, let's encourage even more driving and less walking in our city center. Let's also make walking more dangerous at the same time by encouraging more active curb cuts over sidewalks. And finally, let's hope anonymous chains proliferate.

Makes all sorts of sense.

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Crew_Dat | Feb. 26, 2014 at 7:37 p.m. (report)

Why would you possibly consider cars as the proper transportation downtown? It limits foot traffic, which makes spending less likely at more businesses. Promoting additional traffic in a congested area is nonsensical. Drive-throughs are heavily associated with chains, especially fast food.

So, is the point of this that we need to eat crappier food, support less local business, walk less, and be generally lazier? Sure... that's great for all.

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TheyThink | Feb. 26, 2014 at 2:53 p.m. (report)

If Downtown Chicago can do it with a Portillo's, Milwaukee should be able to handle it. Problem is, many of our elected officials are anti-car so they would rather make it more difficult to drive downtown and actually make things easier. They'd prefer traffic, overzealous parking checkers, and people walking long distances in the cold. A drive-thru is counter to all those city-held beliefs.

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