McDonalds at the Planning Commission
I had not paid any attention to the proposed McDonalds expansion before it came to Planning Commission. I saw the item on the agenda, but didn’t even bother to read the staff report. After all, the big item at the meeting that night was the Victory Court stadium EIR, and I was mostly focused on that at the time.
But as I waiting for that item to come up, I watched the meeting and found myself completely fascinated by the conversation they were having about this McDonalds expansion, wishing I had read the report beforehand so I could have gone to speak.
Basically (and you can read more in the staff report (PDF) from that meeting), the owner of the McDonalds at 4514 Telegraph Avenue wants to rebuild the restaurant for a bigger store (currently, the building is just over 3,000 square feet, and the new building would be a little less than 4,000). They also want a permit to operate their drive-through 24 hours, which they have been doing anyway for years even though it they were not allowed to do so under the law.
At issue — well, let me step back a second. There are actually a lot of issues with McDonalds. A number of letters from nearby residents (PDF) submitted in advance of the Planning Commission hearing object to an expanded McDonalds (and seemingly the presence of McDonalds at all) due to concerns about litter, noise, blight, unhealthy food, the 24 hour drive-through and so on.
Those are not my issues. I don’t particularly care one way or another whether there is a McDonalds on Telegraph, or whether there is a bigger McDonalds on Telegraph than exists currently or whether they have a 24 hour drive-through. I am not really a fan of the “food” served at McDonalds, but I recognize that other people like to eat there and that’s fine if that’s what they want to do. I don’t live nearby, so I really don’t know enough about the situation to determine whether the litter concerns are real.
My concern, and the reason I donated to the appeal of the decision, is with the design of the expanded McDonalds, specifically the placement of the drive-through.
What they have proposed (and the Planning Commission approved) would situate the drive-through in front of the building, rather than behind or on the side like most fast-food restaurants. So when you’re walking down Telegraph and walking past McDonalds, you would be walking next to the drive-through, and the building would be on the other side of the cars. At the meeting, staff noted that this was chosen out of a number of different designs because it worked the best for moving cars through McDonalds.
John Gatewood of ULTRA spoke at the December meeting, and his comments really do a good job of explaining the concerns I have as well.
The biggest problem we have with this design is that the sidewalk is this isthmus, really, between Telegraph and the drive-through lane. So the building itself is completely cut off from Telegraph Avenue by the drive-through lane. And we know the owner has numerous different plans that actually bring the building to the sidewalk, and that does impact how the drive-through works. We understand that.
But we really, really think that the building needs to meet the sidewalk to make it more walkable, make it more pedestrian friendly. So our hope tonight is that you will ask staff and the applicant to meet and revisit this design and redo it so that the building does meet the sidewalk.
This isn’t some crazy, out-there idea. It is a well-established goal of the City to create vibrant, pedestrian-friendly commercial districts. Encouraging walking and creating walkable neighborhoods is part of Land Use and Transportation Element of the City’s General Plan, the Pedestrian Master Plan, the recently adopted new citywide zoning, and the recently adopted Energy and Climate Action Plan.
Going to McDonalds
So one big problem with the design is for anyone trying to walk into McDonalds (at the Planning Commission hearing, it was noted that local schoolchildren often eat lunch there). The design approved by the Planning Commission forces pedestrians trying to get to McDonalds to walk through the lane of traffic where cars are leaving the drive-through.
On her blog yesterday, Becks posted some really good illustrations of just what the pedestrian access to McDonalds looks like, both right now and under the redesign. She has kindly agreed to let me share them here.
Here’s how that flows now.
And here’s what it looks like under the redesign.
Forcing people to walk through the drive-through lane to get to McDonalds, especially after people have completed their transaction, creates a serious safety problem.
I work very close to a McDonalds right now, and frequently walk past the drive-through exit on my way to work. This is where the cars are waiting to go back onto the street after they’ve paid and taken their food. Presumably, at this point, while they’re about to merge with traffic, they are paying more attention to the world outside their cars than when they’re just sitting in the drive-through lane. I can tell you, from watching those cars day in and day out for more than two years — those people are looking everywhere but in front of them. They are fiddling with their change, or pouring ketchup or their fries or checking their order or what have you. The street or people passing by is clearly the last thing on their minds.
I am always super careful when I walk past that drive-through exit, because like I said, the cars certainly are not. And that’s when they’re going onto the street! Think of how much less conscious of their surroundings they’ll be when they’re fiddling with their order and still in the drive-through lane! So from the perspective of pedestrian access to McDonalds, I see this design as unacceptably dangerous.
Going past McDonalds
Putting the drive-through lane at the front of the restaurant additionally creates a hostile pedestrian environment for people walking along Telegraph. Basically, when you walk past McDonalds, you would be on the sidewalk sandwiched between a line of cars on one side in front of the restaurant and the cars driving past on the street.
I don’t care if most people drive to McDonalds. They are welcome to do so and use the drive-through. What I care about is how the building design impacts everyone walking on Telegraph, whether they are going to McDonalds or not. If we are serious about encouraging pedestrian activity in Temescal, it is imperative that we consider the impacts to pedestrian activity in the neighborhood of newly design buildings.
Commissioner Madeliene Zayas-Mart’s comments at the meeting did a really good job of summing up my concerns:
Every project in Oakland, I see it as an opportunity to revitalize Oakland. There’s a lot of revitalization that Oakland needs, and every project — we are in such desperate need to make sure that we can claim our streets back for people and less for the automobile that some small details are really important at a policy level.
And that’s why I think that these small details — what may sound like a small detail is actually a big policy issue. It’s about the General Plan saying that we want to move towards — away from auto-oriented and to more transit-oriented, pedestrian-oriented neighborhoods.
Telegraph actually has been identified in our General Plan as being one of our major transportation corridors in the city. And I think that for every project that we want to approve in here we want to say okay, this is a grow and change area, this is a place where we forsee a lot of activity, is this the kind of project that is going to support that vision?
I do agree with Mr. Gatewood saying that ideally what should go here in terms of what the vision of the city is, and the community as expressed in our General Plan is a mixed-use development, but in the economy that we are, we have to scale back those goals and say what can we actually reasonably expect from the developer. So that’s where I’m coming from. I want to work with the developer and try to find a place where we can actually meet and make you have a profitable business and also give the city and the community something that we need — desperately need, which is more pedestrian oriented — you know, trying to bring our streets and sidewalks back to the pedestrians.
City Council decides tonight
By a vote of 4 to 2, the Planning Commission approved the application, and the decision was subsequently appealed to the City Council. The Council will be hearing the appeal tonight. City staff, predictably, recommends denying the appeal and allowing McDonalds to proceed with their proposed design.
- The approved design is the worst proposal McDonald’s initially proposed, for pedestrian experience, pedestrian safety, and the overall look and feel of this vibrant part of Temescal.
- The approved design creates a moat of cars around the entire lot, placing the drive through directly next to the sidewalk on Telegraph, which has heavy pedestrian traffic at nearly all hours of every day.
- Advocates do not oppose a redesign of the McDonald’s — we just want to find a design that works both for McDonald’s and the community.
- Telegraph is designated as a “Growth and Change” corridor in the Land Use and Transportation Element (LUTE) of the General Plan. The approved design does not offer growth (Except more cars) and could disincentivize future growth by making the corner less pedestrian friendly and by increasing blight
If you can’t make it tonight, but would like to express your support for the appeal, you can find contact information for all the Councilmembers on last week’s post about McDonalds from Living in the O, as well as a couple of excellent sample letters in the comments on that post.
For my part, I’ll be at the Council meeting tonight to speak on the issue along. If you’d like to speak as well, come to City Hall tonight. You can fill out your speaker card either in person at the meeting or beforehand online. If you do the online speaker card, make sure to print out your confirmation and bring it with you to the meeting. The item number is 9.1.
The full video of the December Planning Commission meeting where this was discussed is available below.