Santa Barbara Traffic Planners Scramble for Chick-Fil-A Fix

City Hall Says Beware Backed-Up State Street Drive-Through in the Meantime

A full queue, in drive-through at Chick-Fil-A on State Street | Credit: Paul Wellman

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City traffic planners are scrambling to deal with the long lines of cars that back out into State Street while going through the Chick-fil-A drive-through in San Roque. Last week, City Hall issued an unusual press release asking motorists to take proper precautions when dealing with backed-up traffic. 

In the past year, city police have reported three traffic collisions have taken place as a result of backed-up traffic, sometimes eight cars deep. City traffic czar Rob Dayton said he’s been working with Chick-fil-A management to address the issue, which he noted has become the focus of intense concern on social media sites like Nextdoor. Part of the problem, Dayton said, is that Chick-fil-A has one of the slowest but most profitable drive-through operations in the country, averaging 358 seconds per transaction. 

Chick-fil-A issued a statement acknowledging the “traffic concerns” in Santa Barbara’s, adding, “We want nothing more than to be a good neighbor.” In the past, the restaurant has dispatched employees equipped with iPads to take motorists’ orders, installed curbside delivery as an alternative, and experimented with mobile ordering. None of those, however, have made the problem go away. 

Dayton said that no traffic studies were required of Chick-fil-A when it took over from Burger King at that location because both franchises offered drive-through service. Dayton expressed concern that Chick-fil-A’s popularity might render any operational solution ineffective.

In general, City Hall does not allow new drive-through operations. When Chick-fil-A first applied to take over Burger King’s drive-through in 2012, the hot-button issue was the million-dollar donation made by the company’s founder to organizations then opposed to gay marriage. Almost from the start, however, the restaurant generated long lines that backed out into State Street. However old the problem is, it’s not going away. “This is the hottest issue the city is dealing with,” Dayton said. “We get a couple calls a week.” 

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