Post #424: Wrap-up on posts #420-#423

Posted on October 20, 2019


This will be my final post, for now, on the Chick-fil-A-car-wash.

Recap:  The big surprise with the Chick-fil-A-car-wash is that the large transformers for the underground utilities sit in front of the building, adjacent to the exit for the drive-through, nine feet from the curb, directly next to the sidewalk.

At this point, I’m pretty sure that this is an oversight.  In other words, it’s not that key Town officials and staff were aware of and actively approved this.  It’s far more likely that it just slipped through the cracks, and got lost amid all the other details that had to be checked as part of the zoning and permitting processed.  If they’d noticed it, they’d have had them put the transformers in an underground vault.  Nobody intended to have this spoil the “MAC streetscape” at this location.

Some may care about the aesthetics of it, but I don’t.  I look at this for what it is.  It’s a grotesquely oversized fast-food joint on an urban arterial highway.  It’s across the street from a gas station and a 7-11, which, in case you’ve never noticed, has a dumpster right next next to the sidewalk.  In that setting, a couple of electrical boxes out front is not hugely out-of-place.  (Shoot, in that setting, electrical boxes practically count as decoration).  I realize the Town has higher aspirations, but it’s not as if these unexpected electrical boxes/transformers are some huge eyesore relative to what’s across the street.

In a nutshell, in terms of aesthetics, I’d say that this Chick-fil-A-car-wash achieves something I would have thought impossible:  It makes McDonald’s look great.  Side-by-side, next to the Chick-fil-A-car-wash, McDonald’s comes across as petite, unobtrusive and downright stylish.

Instead, I’m just concerned about the bike/pedestrian safety issue that the Town’s oversight has created.  As I believe I have shown in the just-prior post, this is now the worst driveway in town for pedestrian visibility, beating out the driveway next to the Vienna Mattress Firm (aka the former Sleepy’s).



The new driveway at the Chick-fil-A is a worse than the Vienna Mattress Firm/Sleepy’s exit for several reasons.

  1. The sight lines between driver and obscured sidewalk are shorter at the Chick-fil-A than they are at the intersection above (Post #423).  A car driver who stops just short of the sidewalk will have less than one second to see and stop for an oncoming sidewalk bicyclist.
  2. At the Mattress Firm (Sleepy’s) intersection above, drivers are actually looking at the obscured part of the sidewalk when they look at oncoming cars on Maple.  .  At the Chick-fil-A, by contrast, drivers will be looking away from the obscured part of the sidewalk when they look at oncoming cars on Maple.
  3. The Chick-fil-A exit will predictably be busy.  At times (such as when traffic backs up past the driveway), we should expect there to be multiple cars waiting to exit.
  4. Drivers will  predictably be distracted as they exit the fast-food drive-through, e.g., putting their change away, distributing food to their kids, eating, and so on.
  5. Drivers will be predictably unfamiliar with this unique situation.    This fast-food restaurant is likely to attract customers from a wide catchment area.  And this drive-through exit, with it’s obscured sight lines, is unlike more or less anything else in NoVA.  No reasonable person would expect a brand-new building to have such an unsafely obscured sidewalk at the fast-food exit.
  6. The new HAWK light makes this a route that can be (and is) used by Madison High School students.  (Note that Chick-fil-A serves breakfast, so it will be open as they walk to and from school.)

Since the Town played a part in creating this new (potential) hazard, my feeling is that, if the Town’s experts see this as the hazard that I believe it is, the Town should do what it can, before the Chick-fil-A opens, to mitigate it.

First, I don’t think it’s feasible to get those transformers moved.  Legally, I’m pretty sure the Town can’t require it.  And I’m also sure it would be hugely expensive to do that, at this point.  I think they are there to stay.

Second, the Town could put in signs and a convex mirror to make drivers and pedestrians/bikers aware of the hazard.  Seems like that’s a fairly minimal ask.  But, if  done properly, would make that intersection even less appealing.  Why?  Ideally, the convex mirror showing the view of the sidewalk would be in the driver’s field of vision as they look at oncoming traffic, i.e., it would have to be placed at the curb, to the right of the driveway (as viewed when facing the building). So you’d be adding a large stand-alone mirror, on a pole, in front of the building.

Third, given that this the 21st century, the Town could use a more active technology, such as putting in a pedestrian sensor and warning light.  The light would come on when pedestrians or bicyclists were approaching from the blind side of that driveway.  Obviously that’s a more expensive and extensive undertaking.

Finally, the Town could go back and correct the original sin here.  My understanding is that, originally, Chick-fil-A wanted the drive-through lane to exit across the front of the building, back to the access road that runs in front of McDonald’s.  Basically, to let drive-through customers leave that property the way every other customer does.  But the Town wanted/needed to claim the brick “plaza” in front of the building as open/gathering space.  Roadways can’t count as open space.  Hence the separate exit for the drive-through lane, and a pedestrian “plaza” in front.

I’ll note a couple of things.  First, I don’t think people are going to use that “plaza” because it’s too close to the 123 traffic to be pleasant.  So IMHO it’s there purely for looks.  And it’ll look the same whether people drive over it or not.  Second, the developers went ahead and put in protective bollards in front of the store front, as if to protect pedestrians from cars driving on that front “plaza”.  So it’s already set up to be a driveway.

In theory, then, the Town could tell Chick-fil-A that it could go back to its original plan, if it wanted to.  That would solve this issue for good, with some additional construction costs.  They’d close the separate drive-through exit where the transformers are, brick over that portion of the drive-through driveway, and have cars exit by crossing the front of the building, driving over what is now the brick “plaza”.

Anyway, at this point, I’m done.  I have no skin in the game.  I’m not going to shop there, my kids have graduated from Madison, and I have no reason to use that sidewalk.  I’m not a pedestrian safety expert, so it’s possible that I have made a mountain out of a molehill.  But I do bike and walk Maple all the time, and, in my considered opinion, this drive-through exit will take the prize as the worst entrance onto Maple.  At the minimum, I think it’s well worth having the Town have its own experts assess the situation, and, if the experts agree that this is a problem, do what they can to address the situation before Chick-fil-A opens.