Calm down about the downtown Jimmy John’s drive-through

12/11/2013 12:39 PM

12/11/2013 6:31 PM

With admirable spunk and a can-do spirit, many Kansas Citians are campaigning for a more walkable and transit-friendly downtown that features a streetcar line and new bicycle lanes. These are great ideas worthy of public support and even taxpayer dollars.

And then there’s the overwrought rumpus over the planned Jimmy John’s drive-through in the 900 block of Broadway.

From some passionate critics on Twitter: A drive-through fast-food sandwich shop will “destroy” the historic Garment District. It will “imperil” pedestrian safety. And so on.

I understand the purists’ point of view. Many don’t like our car-centric downtown, for good reasons. Publicly subsidized parking lots scar the area, and the freeway loop separates the core from the Crossroads Arts and River Market districts, all of which make up the downtown area.

I rode a bike to and from work for much of the early 1980s, rode buses all around the city into the early 1990s, and appreciate the recent emphasis on improving the bike, transit and pedestrian experiences in downtown.

Yet much of the opponents’ rhetoric on the Jimmy John’s situation is overheated. Drive-throughs exist in downtown. Heck, two are within a block of The Star at a bank and a gas station. Current city law allows the Jimmy John’s store and its drive-through, though City Council members are being pressured to change that situation.

Keep a few other facts in mind.

• The drive-through isn’t close to being the highest priority for downtown’s future.

Others deserve far more attention: Attract new jobs to replace the thousands that have left in the last decade. Build even more housing. Stop subsidizing every downtown development, and build up the city’s overall tax base. Replace surface parking with redevelopment. Get new tenants for the many long-abandoned buildings. Reduce the crime rate. Woo more suburbanites to the Power & Light District and other downtown amenities.

Notably, many detractors of the Jimmy John’s drive-through also are working on these priorities. But getting irked over little things like the sandwich shop issue still takes valuable time away from working on more crucial matters.

• A new drive-through wouldn’t add much if anything to pedestrians’ woes.

Take a walk north or south on Broadway within the freeway loop — as I did Tuesday — and what do you see? Pedestrians already have to pay attention to the traffic from 6th to 14th streets. There are nine intersections and at least 18 vehicle entrances to parking lots and service areas on that stretch.

And that doesn’t count the vehicle entrance that existed for the now-destroyed empty building where the Jimmy John’s is planned.

• The new restaurant will bring some life and variety to the Garment District.

Yes (ouch), that 900 block doesn’t exactly scream “historic.” The long-empty fur shop on the southern end and the rather bland buildings on that stretch are depressing reminders of how far downtown’s core has fallen in the last few decades.

Many young and old residents alike praise downtown’s eclectic nature. Adding a drive-through is convenient for motorists who pay taxes and also support downtown in their own ways.

• Taking transit, walking and biking are not for everyone.

The overwhelming number of people who are downtown most days drive vehicles to get to and from there for a reason.

They may not live on or near bus lines. They are older and have physical limitations. Or, most likely, they have time constraints in their life.

If the Jimmy John’s project becomes reality — or doesn’t — life will go on. With all of downtown’s challenges, though, fighting a drive-through is low on the priority list.

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