Something quietly profound happened last Thursday May 24th: The zoning maps and zoning code of Portland’s 2035 Comprehensive Plan went into effect.
Among the many updates and additions is a new policy on “drive-thrus”. Specifically, it is now against city code to deny service at outdoor windows to people using bikes, feet, and mobility devices.
The new code is found in chapter 224 of the new plan. In 33.224.070 Multi-Modal Access the code states, “When a drive-through facility is open and other pedestrian-oriented customer entrances to the business are unavailable or locked, the drive-through facility must serve customers using modes other than a vehicle such as pedestrians and bicyclists.” This applies to not only food establishments but banks, gas stations, pharmacies, and any retail business that has an outdoor service window. Portland has about 308 “drive-thrus” citywide.
Of course businesses that “get it” won’t limit bicycle users to limited access hours and will allow non-drivers to use outdoor service windows at any time.
This code was inserted into the Comp Plan as an amendment in 2016 by Portland Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Chris Smith. As we reported in September of that year, Smith felt like enshrining the right to service even if you’re not using an automobile was an issue of basic fairness. “Ideally you can’t refuse service based on mode,” Smith told us. “In a city that aims to be less than 30 percent single-occupancy vehicle mode share, that’s just not cool.”
You’ll note that the new code only applies when main doors and entrances are closed. Smith says this was done for three main reasons: to make the change more politically palatable; to recognize that some drive-thrus are inherently unsafe for people outside of cars; and to not create undue insurance/liability burdens on business owners. “The driving public policy motivation for me was access to the service/business, which can be achieved either by providing access to the drive-thru or by leaving the front door open,” Smith shared.
The origin of this code update dates back to 2009 when Portland writer and self-described “family biking evangelist” Sarah Gilbert was denied service at the window of the Burgerville restaurant at SE Powell and 25th. Her story went viral and Burgerville was ultimately persuaded to change their policy.
Smith says if you’re refused service while on your bike and if access to the business is otherwise unavailable, you can file a zoning code complaint online or by calling (503) 823-CODE.
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