Despite strong efforts by staff and city, the new Starbucks on Boones Ferry is triggering some traffic-related angst
The buzz about the new Starbucks began before the company even moved in.
Replacing a closed KFC, the coffee giant snatched up a rare drive-thru location on a busy stretch of road in Lake Grove. But since the drive-thru opened last summer, its popularity has caused headaches for many area drivers.
The crush of morning commuters and coffee customers converging with a steady stream of parents dropping off children at nearby Lake Grove Elementary School has created a double shot of traffic trouble. Many mornings, usually between 8:30 and 9 a.m., the line of idling cars snakes around the building, over the driveway and across the sidewalk on Douglas Way, spilling into the street and jamming traffic on Boones Ferry Road.
Commuters have complained about the backup. Parents trying to drop off students at school have voiced concern about getting their children to class on time. A Starbucks customer recently blamed parents for the problem, accusing them of blocking the shop's drive-thru on trips to and from the school.
Meanwhile, school buses stack up and block traffic as they wait to get to and from the Lake Oswego School District's bus facility, which is behind Lake Grove Elementary.
'It's not exclusive to Starbucks,' said Lake Oswego Police Lt. Scott Thran, who heads up traffic enforcement. 'Some of those same problems have developed and existed with the school being where it's at.'
At the same time, he noted, it wasn't so bad before, when the location served up buckets of chicken rather than coffee and tea.
'They're just very successful,' he said of Starbucks. 'They have a lot of volume going through the store.'
Thran first met with the drive-thru's manager last August to discuss traffic issues. He said he isn't aware of car accidents or road-rage incidents that have resulted from the congestion.
According to the city, the switch from a fast-food restaurant to a coffee shop didn't require traffic studies, because the drive-thru component was already there when Starbucks moved in.
Nonetheless, Starbucks has tried to alleviate the congestion, hiring transportation planning and engineering firm Kittelson and Associates to analyze the situation and make recommendations.
Although no one from the store or from the company's headquarters responded to requests for comment, city officials said Starbucks has beefed up personnel at the registers and staffed the drive-thru at 'maximum capacity.' Often, during peak times, a greeter of sorts will go car to car in the line of waiting vehicles, taking orders so customers can head straight through to the pickup window.
'They've cut down the wait time for people queued in their drive-thru and tried to increase their efficiency,' Thran said.
Now, baristas are whipping up lattes at record speeds. With a 40-second average order-to-delivery time, the drive-thru is rumored to be among the Starbucks' fastest, according to the city.
But how much faster service has helped to solve the traffic problem is up for debate. Apparently, the promise of quickness and convenience has drawn even more customers to the drive-thru.
'If you visit a coffee shop, are you more likely to go back to the one that serves you quicker?' Thran asked. 'They're doing what they can to alleviate the problem, and I think it's helped to a limited degree. There's only so much room, and there's only so much roadway.'
City engineers are also working on solutions.
Nancy Flye, an engineering technician, said the city will likely pay for 'some simple centerline striping to better define and channelize traffic through there.'
'We want to give people really good definition of where they should be driving or not driving,' she said. 'We want to tighten up the lanes a little bit, to better define them. A lot of the time, giving a visual cue helps a lot.'
She said any of these changes will take place incrementally, and they can't happen until the pavement dries out this spring. She plans to design a striping plan once the weather improves, and will periodically evaluate the situation to decide whether additional changes are needed.
Starbucks' initial changes have already resulted in some improvements, Flye said. By her estimates, cars are moving through the drive-thru line at least 15 to 20 seconds faster than they used to. Starbucks has also installed signs warning drivers to not block the sidewalk or travel lanes.
'What they're doing seems to be working,' Flye said. 'They're improving service and keeping the flow going.'