Weeks after they opened, Yellowknife’s new KFC and Starbucks continue to attract daily lineups of vehicles spilling out into one of the city’s busiest streets. The municipality says the problem will gradually go away.
Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s city manager, said the same initial rush had been seen with other fast-food restaurants in the city but traffic ultimately settled down.
A representative of Soul Foods Group, which developed the outlets on the Old Airport Road lot, expressed surprise at the level of sustained demand for Starbucks but also expected traffic problems to be a “temporary situation that will eventually subside.”
The lot has one entrance to reach the parking lots and drive-throughs for both outlets. When the Starbucks drive-through is busy – currently, that describes virtually any hour of daylight – the design forces customers to wait in one line to access any of those four destinations. That can result in vehicles overflowing onto Old Airport Road, which was already one of Yellowknife’s busiest thoroughfares.
Brian Long, Soul Foods’ director of development and construction, told Cabin Radio: “I know that, putting it mildly, it’s a good problem to have, business-wise. But we do understand it is causing a bit of consternation with other traffic trying to get down the road.
“I honestly didn’t think the Starbucks drive-through lane would sustain as long as it has, but it has, and we’ll have to figure out something if it doesn’t subside.”
Bassi-Kellett said on Thursday she felt the situation was already easing.
“Those folks who were around will remember the traffic at Mary Brown’s Chicken when it opened, it was crazy down Borden Avenue. I remember when McDonald’s came here, it was insane on Old Airport Road. So we do expect a high volume of traffic,” she said by phone.
“We always knew it was going to be big during the opening and always for a few weeks afterward. And I think we’re already starting to see the congestion decline.
“We see what things look like now at Mary Brown’s and McDonald’s and they’re busy restaurants, but it is manageable. So we’re really expecting that to be the reality at KFC and Starbucks as well.”
‘The best we can do is monitor’
While some residents have criticized the lot’s design for its sole entry point – and the city has had to publish notices asking customers not to park in a back alley behind it – Long said the developer had made the best of the available space.
He said an initial plan to house three fast-food restaurants on the lot had been reduced to two in part because it was clear three drive-throughs could not operate from that lot.
“Based on the data compiled from various locations for both of the brands,” Long said, referring to other KFC and Starbucks outlets across Canada, “we did anticipate this to generate higher-than-typical traffic. In consultation with the city and their traffic engineers, we designed and received city approval for what we’ve got now.”
Bassi-Kellett said that design, informed by traffic studies, “recognizes there will be blips, there will be peaks,” but in theory should accommodate most levels of demand once initial interest wears off.
“We’re really confident this is going to be able to level out,” she said.
If that doesn’t happen soon, Long said, he expects to hear more from the city. However, he wasn’t sure what the solution would be.
“The odds are that the city will not approve another entrance into the site or exit off the site. The best we can do is kind-of monitor for the near future. There’s not a lot we can do,” he said.
“We could do a double drive-through lane on the Starbucks side but that just means they can take the orders a little quicker. It’s still just one pickup window, they’ve got to come back into one lane.”
The lane behind the lot, Long said, could not be used as it is not a public road. An exit into the lane at the back of the lot, currently blocked off by bollards, is for emergency vehicles only.
Longer-term review planned
Bassi-Kellett said the initial traffic congestion pointed to a broader issue in that region of the city, which the municipality will soon look to address.
“We recognize that this area of our community is getting pretty busy, around Old Airport Road and Range Lake,” she said.
“There’s lots of activity going on. There are lots of different things happening, lots of retail that people want to be able to access. So we are looking at completing an area development plan for the Range Lake area and we’ve got some funding that we’re proposing to bring forward in Budget 2022.
“We’re going to look at this area in the longer term. We really want to pay attention to this.”