A few weeks ago I wrote about an idea for a small coffee stand in the clock tower at the Centrum on Oak Lawn and Cedar Springs. Most of the response was positive. However, the question did come up of why a coffee shop so close to the existing locally-owned Oak Lawn Coffee was needed.
Need is of course in the eye of the entrepreneur and the consumer.
Then last night plans were presented to the Oak Lawn Committee for a Starbucks proposal to build a store with a drive-thru almost adjacent to Oak Lawn Coffee. The truth is, in a walkable area, it’s hard to have too much coffee or too many coffee shops. (I do wish more local entrepreneurs would see these opportunities before national chains).
But is Oak Lawn, and more specifically, Oak Lawn Avenue walkable?
Judging from some of the response at the meeting, it’s not walkable enough. And a Starbucks with a drive-thru won’t help that. But it’s not completely auto-oriented. The design places the store properly on the corner with parking behind. It is designed to serve pedestrians and motorists. Most of the opposition was aimed at preventing traffic backups brought on by the window orders from motorists. I might point out that these concerns are from the point-of-view of drivers. There was no mention of motor cars impeding pedestrian traffic.
But coffee drive-thrus are a thing now. And coffee orders can be complicated, and complicated coffee takes time, which leads to lines of cars. It reminds me of a woman in a small coffee shop (walk-in only) in Taos, New Mexico. Tall, blonde, with big sunglasses and high heels, she explained she wanted a chocolate mocha, but with vanilla instead of chocolate and several other ultra-specific alterations. She had to have been from Dallas. It’s these orders Dallasites are prone to which could create a traffic cluster that spills out onto Oak Lawn Avenue.
But let’s not take aim at Starbucks or people with complicated orders. If Oak Lawn Avenue were designed to be walkable, then Starbucks may have brought forth a different proposal. The sidewalks on Oak Lawn Avenue are very narrow and dangerously close to traffic. With four traffic lanes plus a turn lane, it’s also dangerous to cross the street. Crosswalks are few and far between and not necessarily noticed by motorists.
Of course, people here will want to use the drive-thru! The proposed design has pedestrian amenities which surpass those at the surrounding businesses. I don’t think traffic from the drive-thru would be substantially different than a store with parking, but no drive-through. This is what we designed for; this is what we get.
Can we get to the point where Oak Lawn can support a coffee shop that doesn’t have parking or a drive-thru? If we want the businesses on Oak Lawn Avenue to be walkable, we have first to make Oak Lawn Avenue attractive to pedestrians.