The Most Dangerous Coffee in Kingston

By Bryan • canada, Kingston, surp, urban planning • 26 Feb 2010

I’m in a transit planning class and our first assignment has us evaluating an intermodal journey.  This basically means we have to walk, skip and jump our way to another city via the street, public transit and some sort of other non-car mode…then write about what we liked and didn’t.  Grad School is tough (honestly though, I did these assignments because I don’t have to cite anything).

My trip is from the doorstep of my suite, to transit route #2, on to the Kingston Bus Depot with a final deposit at Toronto Pearson International Airport.  Only the walking and transit portion I actually field tested today, with the 3.5 hour trip to the airport assessed through memories of past expeditions to that destination.

So what does this have to do with Starbucks? There is one a couple of stops beyond the Bus Depot.  Heading all the way out to the boondocks of transit route #2 just to ‘see what it is like’ is not the most thrilling experience.  Have you ever been on route 2?  If you have, you’ll know what I mean.  Usually when I need to ride #2 up north I end up being on the receiving end of a conversation with an “interesting” person. 

One could argue that having coffee alone at Starbucks isn’t that thrilling either.  But they offer 2 hours of free wi-fi now.  To someone like me, without home internet, this is worth riding the #2.

…maybe not worth the Division/401 power centre though located near the end of the #2 route.  Unfortunately, the Starbucks located right in the middle of this jungle.   

Everything about the the Division Street/Highway 401 power centre is designed to reduce a pedestrian to the status of a whack-a-mole…endlessly dodging the never-ending traffic…all alone without any back-up.  “Hostile” doesn’t even come close, although I think Gardiners Road does.  After being spat out of the bus into a mountain of slush/mud paste piled up on the transit stop one then has the option of visiting a half-dead strip mall, numerous drive-thru’s, or a couple of giant box stores all separated by bizarrely disconnected parking lot system full of stressed out 401 drivers.  To assist you in all of this is a painfully incomplete sidewalk system.  

To be fair, this power center is targeting the 401 highway traffic and last I checked there were not too many people taking a Sunday walk down the 401.  However, it seems like the planners had a pow-wow and said “Ok team, what we are trying to do here is create a place exclusive of Kingston.  We don’t want anyone from Kingston coming here and if they do, they are never going to want to come back”.

The fact that there is actually a transit route running through this mess is rather amusing.  This space is so bad for people without motorized wheels, so terribly bad that the transit route should be removed in the interests of public health.  You can’t have people wandering around a space like this unless they are carrying their own air-bags. 

That brings me to the Starbucks.  It’s not your average Starbucks, in the sense that it is free-standing and has a giant 50ft-high sign broadcasting itself onto the 401.  It is also the only Starbucks I’ve visited that I had a hard time finding and getting to, the main entrance.  Normally a business is interested in attracting customers into their establishment.  Not here, where the axiom is “keep everyone outside in their cars”.  This Starbucks likes to emphasis it’s drive-thru*…so much in fact that site planning wizards arranged the drive-thru lane to wrap around the front of the building, pushing the walk-in entrance to the back of the building.  “Relaxxxxxx…people don’t walk” was the driving ideology here.   It’s not even connected the sidewalk running down Division Street, leaving one to walk down a heavy traffic street just to get in.  When I entered the wide-eyed barista asked me if I had actually walked here. I said yes, and I mentioned that I had heard that you get a free coffee if you arrive alive.   Well, she didn’t really ask that…but it seemed like it would have been an appropriate question providing the nonsense I had to navigate through for a basic cup of coffee.  If there are Starbucks customer loyalty awards, I should get the gold.

It’s quite a nice store inside.

The summer view on Google Street View provides proof that there is actually a sidewalk connecting the Starbucks to the greater community.  Still, the place remains very freaky to walk through.   Winter, however, is a completely different story. 

starbucks

*The concept of a drive-thru the ultimate in North American laziness and public isolation brought on by an addiction to their car seats.  In many cases, there are usually more people at the drive-thru than in the actual restaurant.

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10 Responses

  1. Sue

    We just returned from Vancouver and braved the transit system there amid the phenomenal Olympic crowds. We were so impressed with the entire transit system. We used buses, sky train and street cars and got where we needed to go with little stress in spite of the enormous crowds. I don’t have much experience with city transit aside from tourist use of Montreal’s metro, Calgary’s c-train and the lower mainland’s skytrain, however I know that if I lived there and had a choice, I would definitely use Vancouver’s transit system instead of driving. The new Canada line includes larger cars with space for bikes. This space was not being used during the olympics but I can see how appealing this would be. Definitely a green alternative.
    Now to Starbucks………….. sorry but personally I have to go with Timmy’s all the way. Cheaper coffee, equivalent tea and definitely Canadian. It is quite interesting to observe the drive thru’s from Tim’s (and I’m certain Starbuck’s is the same). Well over 60% of the drive thru customers have a smoke hanging from their lip. Just aren’t able to manage a coffee without a smoke I guess. Quite sad actually.
    I’m glad to hear that you arrived at the Starbuck’s in one piece. They should have at least given you a free coffee!!

  2. Yeah, that Canada Line is pretty amazing – probably the best legacy piece from the Olympics!

    Ah, I had forgotten about the whole smoking thing regarding drive-thrus.

  3. K. Sullivan

    And did she give you a free coffee?

  4. Oh, I’ve never been able to get a free coffee out a barista…discounts yes…free, no :-(

    • Andrew Morton

      I have, many times!…though that was largely a function of working at a Chapters that had a Starbucks in it. The Starbucks and Chapters staff were always on good terms.

      (Also, in response to your notation that “[the] fact that there is actually a transit route running through this mess is rather amusing”, we intend to run an express route through there in the next two years.)

  5. Adam

    There’s a drive-through coffee shop in suburban west Ottawa. Although I’m not sure if it’s Starbucks.

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