Do restaurant drive-throughs generate more carbon dioxide emissions than parking lots? NY Times

Do restaurant drive-throughs generate more carbon dioxide emissions than parking lots? NY Times

KATE GALBRAITH reports in the New York Times Canadians are debating whether or not the drive-through lanes at Tim Hortons, a doughnut and fast-food chain, should be part of an anti-idling ordinance in Kingston, Ontario.

According to Bill Glover, a councilor for the city, Kingston plans to restrict development of future drive-throughs. Tim Hortons, he said in an e-mail message, “seems to be rather belligerent about this” and is threatening to appeal the plan.

Tim Hortons, unsurprisingly, argued that its drive-throughs should be allowed. “Drive-throughs are better for the environment than parking lots are,” Michael Polowin, a lawyer represting TDL Group, the parent company of Tim Hortons, told The Kingston Whig-Standard. “That’s the bottom line.”

Tim Hortons commissioned a report last year from RWDI Air, which describes itself in the document as the “leading wind engineering consulting services firm in the world,” to look at air quality issues. The executive summary of the report — dated May 2008 — found “no air quality benefit to the public from eliminating drive-throughs.”

The report stated:

For a Tim Hortons store with no drive-through, the congestion that occurs in the parking lot, together with the start-up emissions and emissions from the extra travel distance to get to and from a space, all contribute to produce somewhat higher emissions per vehicle compared to a store that has a drive through.

For smog and carbon monoxide, the emissions are 40 to 70 percent higher in a parking lot as compared with a drive-through; for greenhouse gases it is up to 30 percent higher, the report found.

In an e-mail message, Mr. Glover disputed those findings:

In support of their case, they have prepared a report suggesting that drive-throughs are more environmentally friendly than parking lots. Unfortunately, at their presentation to the Planning Committee last Thursday, they said it was based on a sample of 52 cars, which does not seem to me to be a sufficiently large sample to carry much weight. By contrast, the city’s by-law against idlling vehicles was based on the science available from Environment Canada. The presentation also seemed to incorporate a number of assumptions that may not be valid.

In the United States — where Cambridge, Mass., has become the latest city to crack down on idling — the Federal Highway Administration comes down on the side of parking in a lot and ordering inside. Its Web site states:

Idling gets 0 miles per gallon, so turn off your engine in drive-thrus — or better yet, order inside. It will probably be quicker and you’ll reduce CO2 emissions.

New York Times