Equal Access to Drive Thru Lanes-It is PossibleEqual Access to Drive Thru Lanes-It is Possible

From Jamez Smith, Program Assistant

Transit for Livable Communities (TLC) recently received the following email from a community member:

"I rode my bicycle to the bank today to deposit a check using the drive-thru and was refused service simply because I was on a bike. What do I need to do to make them change this policy?"

I empathize.

One day I road my bike to the bank, only to discover after arriving that I'd left my bike lock at home. Unable to lock my bike outside, I decided to take the bike inside with me. However, I was stopped by a security guard, who informed me that "bikes aren't allowed in the building." I would have loved to use the drive-thru in that instance, but instead I had to ride back home and get my lock.

There have also been times when I've wanted to take my bike into the drive-thru lane at a fast-food restaurant, often at night when walk-in service is unavailable. But this is also prohibited. People aren't even allowed to walk up to a drive-thru window. It is unfair that these businesses provide 24-hour service to those in an automobile, but not to people walking or on a bike.

One justification cited for such biased treatment is "it's dangerous." Indeed, insurers have been known to refuse to provide coverage to businesses based on a perceived increased risk (i.e. the thought that motorists will run over a person who is walking or bicycling in a vehicle queue). 

"Bicyclists aren't dangerous," says Sarah Gilbert, a Portland mom who chooses not to own a car and writes the blog Cafe Mama. "They're people who've chosen not to drive a car."

In August of 2009, Gilbert and her three sons were denied service at a fast-food restaurant for ordering from a bike. The incident prompted Gilbert to file a complaint with the restaurant company and to write an article, which was picked up by a number of media outlets. The company, the Pacific Northwest's Burgerville, soon created a chain-wide formalized bike-friendly policy, allowing cyclists to place orders and pick up food in the drive-thru lane.

This was an easy step for a company like Burgerville, whose business model is founded in sustainable practices. But how likely is a Wells-Fargo or a Taco Bell to change their policy?

"Most policies against bicycles" says Gilbert, "are based on baseless fears of phantom liability."


"It makes no sense," says Wiley Norvell of New York-based Transportation Alternatives. "If it's not dangerous in a bike lane with cars going 35 miles an hour, how can it be dangerous in a parking lot with people traveling less than 10 miles an hour? There are fewer safety issues than on an average street."

Why does this not come up regarding motorcycle riders?


In addition to any paranoia regarding a pedestrian or cyclist being mowed down by a motorist in a drive-thru, there is also concern for the safety of employees. The fear here is that it is easier for someone on foot or bike to jump through a window and grab cash or threaten staff... and then get away without a license plate number to record.

Sarah Gilbert calls this "profiling" and says that it is discrimination against customers who are not in possession of a motor engine.

"It's true [that] customers who ride bikes instead of driving cars are more likely to be poor ... It is, however, untrue that bicyclists are more likely to be criminals than motorists," says Gilbert.

A Google search for "drive thru violence" underscores that drivers of motor vehicles certainly aren't any less a safety risk. This and other ridiculous examples, provide evidence that motorists are an existing danger to employees (a Google search for "walk-up violence" and "bike drive-thru violence" produced nothing of interest).

In addition to safety/insurance issues, there is an ethical one here, as well. An individual who may not be able to afford a car or chooses not to have a car is denied the conveniences made available to those who drive. All people, whether walking, bicycling or driving a motor-vehicle, should have the same opportunity for service, just as all people regardless of gender, race, ability, religion, orientation, association, etc. should have the same opportunity for service.

This inequity could find solution in state law, e.g., prohibiting discrimination against bicyclists and  pedestrians by all types of drive-thru businesses or perhaps a requirement that businesses providing drive-thru service MUST also accommodate people walking or on a bicycle. For any existing business(es) that eliminate restrictive drive-up practices BWTC/TLC promises primo social marketing exposure. Our lines are open.


1.      http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/food/2009-08-19-twitter-bicycle-drive-through-bike-tweet_N.htm

2.      http://www.dailyfinance.com/2009/08/13/unsustainable-drive-through-bans-on-bicyclists-wont-stand-test/

3.      http://www.treehugger.com/cars/drive-thru-discrimination-bicycles-are-vehicles-too.html

4.      http://www.slashfood.com/2009/12/04/bicyclists-in-the-drive-thru/

5.      http://portland.metblogs.com/2009/08/15/burgerville-announces-latest-sustainability-innovation-makes-its-drive-thru-open-to-bicyclists/

6.      http://www.oregonlive.com/news/index.ssf/2009/08/burgerville_apologizes_to_bicy.html

7.       http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_is_the_equal_opportunity_act#ixzz1n302gg22











My neighborhood bank, the

My neighborhood bank, the Lowry Hill branch of Central Bank, lets me walk through their drive through. I've never tried it on my bike, as I live about 20 yards from their doors. I do it on the weekends when they don't have walk-up service but do have drive-thru service.

drive through lanes

Interesting...here's a bit of history:

Back in the '70s, Ellen Fletcher ran for Palo Alto (CA) city council and won. She campaigned on her bike. She eventually became the vice mayor and during her tenure, one of the things she got done was to require businesses with drive-thru windows to provide bicyclists with proper ride-up service.

Can't remember the details but you can learn more about Ellen here: http://bit.ly/AjOs7C

John W.

bit of history

Very interesting, John. Thank You!