Drive-Thru Discrimination: Bicycles Are Vehicles, Too


A Burgerville drive-thru in Centralia, Wash. by JamesFallen @ flickr. Hard to see a reason why a bike couldn't be served.

It's not the first time, nor likely the last, but when Sarah Gilbert was refused service at the drive-thru counter of a Burgerville fast-food restaurant on 25th & SE Powell in Portland, Oregon last week, she was astounded. Burgerville, after all, could be considered one of the most forward-thinking burger-and-fries joints on the West Coast, if not in the entire country. But Gilbert's experience touches on urban cycling's most sensitive, pervasive, and possibly explosive issue - are we really ready to get off the sidewalk, so to speak, and accept that we are 'drivers' of bona fide 'vehicles' with all the rights and responsibilities that position entails?
The right idea: bike drive-thru by Richard Drdul @ flickr.
Burgerville...in bad company
First off, we won't press too hard on Burgerville. Gilbert received an apology pretty quickly, and was told that it isn't the company's policy to turn away drivers just because they happen to be driving bikes. You can bet that the employees at the branch Gilbert went to will likely be on their toes to make sure that never happens again at their location. Even more pertinent, other fast-food joints have done worse, by actually creating a policy NOT to serve cycling patrons. Burger restaurant White Castle says drive-thru lanes are for motorized vehicles only, and refused to serve a woman on an electric 'mobility' scooter.

Jack-in-the-Box has also been brought to task by the Berkeley Civil Liberties Union for refusing to serve those not in motor vehicles. It's happened at McDonald's. And at Burger King. And so on.

Gilbert says in her article that it just isn't a sustainable stance for fast food restaurants, or any business, to take. I agree. But what's really at issue here is whether cyclists see themselves as drivers. When a city or town has just a few cyclists, we tend to be able to exist in the shady area between pedestrians and motorists, doing a little sidewalk time when the road seems dangerous, and getting on the road when necessary and/or expedient.

But 19 states already classify bikes as vehicles. Even more important, as soon as there's actually a critical mass of cyclists, we have to end the habits that we formed in the more free-wheeling days of urban cycling. We can't speed, or (inadvertently) scare the shit out of pedestrians, or run red lights, or salmon, or, or, or. The reason we can't do it is because it is unsafe, could get us killed or subjected to road rage. It is sad but true that most motorists don't think we're great because we're out there on our human-powered vehicle putting one less car into the traffic stream. Instead, they think (generally) that we are one big annoying, scary nuisance, doing dangerous stunts and clogging up the drive-thru (for example).

It is telling that in a survey at the Oregon Live site after the incident, 61% of voters said that businesses should cater to cyclists and 'get with the two-wheeled times.' But that means 39% still didn't think bicycles are 'mainstream enough' to warrant equal rights with vehicles.

If we got those equal rights, it seems like we shouldn't then be averse to bicycle licensing, and bicycle insurance, and adhering to the rules of the road (would somebody draw those up, by the way? International Rules and Etiquette of Urban Cycling, I mean.)

In the meantime, after much apology, Burgerville had this to say to Oregon Live about its drive-thru policy:

"We are committed to sustainable practices, and we see great value in commuting via bicycles for both our guests and the environment. We are also open to exploring the option of a bicycle lane in the future."

What do you think?

Read more about bicycle rules and etiquette at TreeHugger and Planet Green
Cyclist Tip of the Week: Think Like a Driver, Act Like a Cyclist
"Watch for Bikes" Sign Not So Helpful
More Bike Commuters on the Road, But Are They Being Safe?
Bicycle Traffic School Debuts in Santa Cruz

Tags: Biking | Portland | Urban Life

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