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Urban Design Guidelines for Drive-Through Facilities

Urban Design Guidelines for Drive-Through Facilities

Approved by City Council on May 24, 2006
Publication #21-07

Urban Design Guidelines for Drive-Through Facilities [PDF 1.89 MB]

A drive-through facility is an establishment that provides or dispenses products or services, through an attendant or an automated machine, to persons remaining in vehicles that are in designated stacking aisles. A drive-through facility may be in combination with other uses, such as a financial institution, personal service shop, retail store, eating establishment or gas stations.  In these guidelines, a drive-through facility does not include a car wash or gas bar pump islands.

Purpose and Application

The purpose of these guidelines is to provide urban design guidance at the planning application stage in order to assess, promote and achieve appropriate development of drive-through facilities.   Specific site context and conditions will be reviewed, in conjunction with these guidelines.

These guidelines are to be applied throughout the city for all drive-through facilities.  When drive-through facilities are located in areas identified as Mainstreets, the guidelines for Mainstreets also apply.  Where a Community Design Plan or relevant planning study exists, these guidelines will augment those documents.  They will also be used to help inform the preparation of new Community Design Plans.


  • To promote compatible development that fits well with, and improves, its existing or planned context;
  • To protect and enhance the character and quality of the districts and neighbourhoods where drive-through facilities are located;
  • To enhance public streets and contribute to a high quality public space;
  • To create efficient stacking movements on site;
  • To create a safe and comfortable pedestrian environment on site; and
  • To minimize impacts on adjacent land uses that could be caused by on-site activities.

Official Plan and By-law Direction

The Official Plan identifies compatibility as a key design objective for the built environment over the next 20 years.  As per sections 2.5.1 and 4.11of the Official Plan, achieving the compatibility of new development, such as a drive-through facility, will involve not only considerations of built form, but also of operational characteristics and the development context. 

Annex 1 of the Official Plan identifies the protected rights-of-way sufficient to provide enough area for the streetscape elements and meet the needs of pedestrians and cyclists.

Annex 3 of the Official Plan contains a number of design considerations that provide suggestions for how to meet the Design Objectives and Principles in section 2.5.1 of the Official Plan.   All other policies of the Official Plan and applicable regulations, such as the Private Approach By-law, the Signs By-law and the Zoning By-law must be met.

Context and Challenges

Drive-through facilities have proven to be very successful as they target the mobile and car-oriented market.  They often operate 24 hours a day and provide convenience for the traveling public and offer a sense of security for users at night.  Drive-through service has been widely adopted by fast food businesses, and new types of drive-through facilities include banks, dry cleaning, pharmacies, and beer stores.  Meanwhile, walk-in service is still an important component for many businesses with drive-through facilities for customers who arrive on foot, bicycles and by vehicles but do not use the drive-though services.  

While successful and popular, drive-through facilities present many urban design challenges, including respecting the urban context while designing prototypical drive-through facility sites and buildings; supporting a pedestrian friendly environment along public streets; using landscape areas effectively to improve the overall environmental and visual quality of the area; and designing efficient stacking movements on site.


This figure illustrates many of the elements discussed in the guidelines and defined in the glossary. It is for illustrative purposes only since the specific site context and characteristics will determine the relationships among these elements for an actual site.

This figure illustrates many of the elements discussed in the guidelines and defined in the glossary. It is for illustrative purposes only since the specific site context and characteristics will determine the relationships among these elements for an actual site.

Amenity: something that contributes to an area's needs, whether social, environmental or cultural

Built form: buildings and structures

Character: the unique identity of a place

Compatible / Compatibility: when the density, form, bulk, height, setbacks, and/or materials of buildings are able to co-exist with their surrounding

Driveway: a private way across land used for vehicular access from a public street - includes a private right-of-way

Façade: the principal face of a building (also referred to as the front wall)

Front yard: the space between the property line and the building facing the public street

Hard landscape: landscape features other than plant materials (e.g. decorative pavers, planter boxes, walks, fences, retaining walls, etc.)

Landscape buffer: a landscape area located along the perimeter of a lot intended to screen or separate land uses either from one another or from a public street

Lane: a narrow street at the back of buildings, generally used for service and parking

Parking lot: a lot or other place used for the temporary parking of four or more passenger vehicles

Pedestrian scale: a size of building, space that a pedestrian perceives as not dominating or overpowering

Pedestrian walkway: sidewalk on private property

Permeable surface: a surface formed of material that allows infiltration of water to the sub-base

Property line: the legal boundary of a property

Public realm: the streets, lanes, parks and open spaces that are free and available to anyone to use

Right-of-way: a public or private area that allows for passage of people or goods, including, but not limited to, freeways, streets, bicycle paths, alleys, trails and walkways

Scale: the size of a building or an architectural feature in relation to its surroundings and to the size of a person

Screening: vegetation, landforms or structures that serve to reduce the impact of development on nearby properties

Setback: the required distance from a road, property line, or another structure, within which no building can be located

Sidewalk: unobstructed paved area for pedestrian travel in the public right-of-way

Stacking lane: an on-site queuing lane for motorized vehicles, which is separated from other vehicular traffic and pedestrian circulation by barriers, markings or signs

Streetscape: the overall character and appearance of a street formed by buildings and landscape features that frame the public street. Includes facades of buildings, street trees and plants, lighting, street furniture, paving, etc.

Street frontage: the length of the front of the property facing the street

Urban design: the analysis and design of the city's physical form

Urban form: the pattern of development in an urban area

Figure Credits

Figures Description
Figure 1,6,7,9,16: Gatineau, Quebec.  City of Ottawa
Figure 2,3,4,5,15,17,18,19,20,21,22,23,24,25: Ottawa, Ontario.  City of Ottawa
Figure 8,10,11,12,13,14: City of Ottawa