Credit: Paul Wellman (file)

The Santa Barbara City Council will decide this Tuesday whether to schedule a hearing that could potentially declare the Chick-fil-A drive-thru on upper State Street a public nuisance. 

Since opening in 2013, the popular fast food restaurant has consistently generated public outcry for allowing its drive-thru line to spill precariously into one of Santa Barbara’s busiest streets, creating frequent traffic backups, countless near-misses, and the occasional collision. Officially designating the drive-thru a public nuisance would grant city officials the legal authority to shut it down.

Previous attempts to remedy the situation have been unsuccessful, said city streets manager Jim Dewey in a staff report published ahead of Tuesday’s meeting. “It is unlawful to stop in the travel lane, and there are traffic control signs posted advising motorists not to stop in the travel lane, but Chick-fil-A customers routinely ignore those signs,” he wrote. 

Chick-fil-A, Dewey acknowledged, has tried various ways of reducing the traffic backups by reconfiguring its on-site queuing and by stationing mobile order-takers along the line of cars, but none of the strategies have worked. 

On January 11, 2021, Dewey said, the company submitted an application to the city’s Community Development Department to expand the drive-thru from one lane to two to increase capacity. “However, Chick-fil-A has been operating the drive-through with two lanes for several years by manually taking orders,” Dewey said. “Despite the two-lane drive-through operations, the queuing persists. Staff believes that a permanent two-lane drive-through will not eliminate queuing.”

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According to a recent traffic analysis prepared by chief traffic engineer Derrick Bailey, the right lane of eastbound State Street is blocked by Chick-fil-A customer cars for up to 91 minutes on weekdays and 155 minutes on Saturday. The restaurant is closed on Sundays. 

The line also blocks access to nearby businesses, the analysis showed. Rusty’s Pizza next door is blocked an average of 15 times a day on weekdays and 16 times on Saturdays. Educated Car Wash another door down is blocked an average of seven times and six times, respectively.

There are also significant risks to pedestrians and cyclists, the report says. “Of all the increased risks of collision and injury to the various modes of travel, I believe that risks to cyclists is highest due to the persistent queues,” Bailey said. “It is likely that some cyclists have stopped using State Street due to the conditions created by queuing.”

Police Chief Barney Melekian also weighed in before Tuesday’s meeting, writing in his own letter that several enforcement campaigns conducted by the department over the years, including warnings and tickets, have not been effective. “Attempts at educating the public about these safety concerns have also had no effect on solving this problem,” he said. “There are several large, clearly posted signs explaining the legal ramifications for blocking traffic or stopping on the sidewalk, and drivers still fail to obey the educational signage.”

Tuesday’s meeting will take place at 2 p.m. at City Hall. If the council votes to hold the public nuisance hearing, it would be scheduled for March 1 at 4 p.m.

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