For months now, the pandemic-induced popularity of drive-thru meal options has created some traffic challenges at times in Statesboro, especially in front of fast-food places on Fair Road.
The right-hand lane on the northbound side of this section of Georgia Highway 67 sometimes becomes an extension of the drive-thru lanes for Popeyes and Dunkin’ Donuts and occasionally other locations, such as Burger King, Cook Out and Zaxby’s. The mealtime situation varies daily, from no vehicles at all waiting in the highway to five or more cars in a row stopped with their turn signals blinking.
Statesboro city staff members have been attempting to address the problem with business owners and recently asked the Georgia Department of Transportation to study it.
“Yes, the traffic queue from several restaurants along Fair Road is an ongoing issue that the city is working to address,” Assistant City Manager Jason Boyles said in a reply email Friday. “Engineering staff and police department personnel have met with area business owners to discuss any available options to mitigate the problem.”
When police observe traffic backing up, their emphasis is on making drivers approaching from behind aware that the cars ahead have stopped, said Chief Mike Broadhead of the Statesboro Police Department. Officers haven’t been ticketing drivers who remain in the highway while waiting to turn, since the passing lane is usually unimpeded.
“We have to be reasonable on what the expectations are,” Broadhead said. “People back up in traffic all of the time because of mistimed traffic lights, too much volume for traffic lights. So what we really are looking at from a safety perspective is how do we alert oncoming traffic that there’s a potential for slowdowns in that lane and not necessarily the lane next to them?”
Drivers have a tendency to see a green light half a block ahead and then to be surprised by backed-up traffic before then get there, he said.
‘A disaster waiting’
Interviewed during a break in a City Council meeting Tuesday, he had no statistics handy on crashes in this area.
“I know we’ve had some crashes, but not as many as I’m afraid could happen, honestly,” Broadhead said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen, but mostly it’s been fender benders. People who normally drive that area are starting to get used to that and being careful about it.”
Another thing that helps is that the lane becomes a right-turn-only before the traffic signal at Wendy’s, so drivers are often anticipating that and slowing down some, he said.
Ideas so far
Mostly, what police have been discussing with business owners are some short-range remedies to what Broadhead observed is ultimately an engineering problem.
“Ideally there would be a right-hand turn lane built in, with curb cuts and all that, but … there’s not a lot of space, and that would take some serious engineering and some serious dollars to do that,” he said.
They have talked about ideas for changing traffic patterns in the drive-thru lanes. But the businesses with the longest drive-thru lines are “too popular for the size of the lot that they’re on,” Broadhead said.
Changing the location of a drive-thru window is one possibility, but also potentially expensive, he noted. Another general suggestion has been to create a winding route through a parking lot to accommodate more waiting vehicles away from the busy highway.
Tiku Shroff, who owns both the Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen franchise and the combination of Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, said there’s nothing he can do with his existing drive-thru lanes to improve the situation.
“We move cars as fast as we can,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re just trying to find out what is the best way so we don’t have traffic blocking at Dunkin’ Donuts and closing down all the way. Burger King is sometimes backed up, Popeye’s, all the way actually to Wendy’s, so we are working for some kind of solution.”
The interiors of the Popeyes and Dunkin’ Donuts locations are currently open for takeout only.
Shroff said he has been fortunate to have drive-thru and takeout business increase to roughly equal what his total business would be with sit-down service open. But he indicated that he will welcome seeing his and other eating places return to full service when it becomes safe to do so.
“If we had seating back open at all locations, things would kind of get normal,” Shroff said.
One city or police suggestion, specifically for his businesses, has been to create a back route to a side street, apparently Ed Moore Court. Shroff’s discussions have been with someone from city engineering and with SPD Capt. Carl Ramey, who has been talking to business owners about traffic concerns since last fall.
Shroff said city officials are planning to meet with Fair Road franchise owners about the situation in the next one to two weeks.
GDOT info ahead
Meanwhile, the city has not conducted a traffic study of its own related to this issue. But because Fair Road is part of a state route, the city’s engineering staff has contacted the Georgia Department of Transportation for assistance.
“They have indicated that they will study potential safety improvements that can be made,” Boyles noted Friday. “We are waiting (for) the results of that study.”
The state Transportation Department does have some operational and safety improvements to suggest, GDOT District Traffic Manager Cynthia Y. Phillips indicated in a Jan. 14 email to Statesboro Public Works and Engineering Director John Washington. But based on a rough estimate, “the crash rate for the area does not appear to be as high as many other areas within our district,” Phillips stated.
So “there will not be a road safety audit,” but the GDOT district staff asked a consultant to review potential safety improvements and will also provide crash rate data, Phillips indicated in the email to the city. She stated that this is considered “medium priority.”