Ask BikePortland: Can I use my bike at a Covid testing drive-thru site?

Posted by on January 10th, 2022 at 9:58 am

Photo by Taylor Griggs/BikePortland. Inset tweet by Hau Hagedorn.

With the huge national and local spike in Covid cases thanks to the omicron variant, testing demand has skyrocketed, and suppliers can’t keep up. At-home tests are scarce, and if you can manage to secure an appointment at one of Portland’s testing sites, you might bump into an unrelated problem: navigating a drive-thru testing center without a car.

So it begs the question: What’s the deal with using a bike at a Covid testing drive-thru site?

Hau Hagedorn, associate director of the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University and a bike advocate, tweeted about her qualms with a Portland Kaiser Permanente Covid “drive up” testing site, and I reached out to learn more.

“The assumption is that everybody who comes to get a test has access to a vehicle, and that’s not the case,” Hagedorn tells me.

This particular testing location is right by a MAX stop, making it a great location for people who use public transit — until they get up to the door and see the drive-up sign.

Hagedorn was able to get tested via bike, but it was apparent that that was unusual to the people working at the site.

“Because these establishments or services are designed to assist people in a certain way, when people do something that’s outside the norm, the folks that are there to serve you aren’t quite sure how to deal with it,” Hagedorn says.

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I’ve been to lots of different Covid testing sites that handle this issue in different ways. At Walgreens, where I’ve been tested several times, it seems to be required to drive through to the pharmacy window (I think it’s up to the individual store’s discretion whether or not someone who isn’t in a car will be able to get tested).

But other places are more friendly to people on foot or bike. Driving four blocks to the ZoomCare clinic on Hawthorne Blvd to get tested in my car would’ve been ridiculous, so luckily the providers didn’t bat an eyelid when I walked up. The Curative free testing site at Rose City Futsal in Northeast Portland is set up in an outdoor mobile clinic where people wait in line standing outside, and I saw someone with a bike walk up.

When Burgerville started allowing bikes to join the ‘drive-thru’ line in 2009, cycling advocates across the Pacific Northwest saw a vision of a world where car ownership isn’t taken for granted. In 2018, it became enshrined in Portland City Code that drive-thrus must accommodate biking customers.

So the answer to the question is: Your mileage may vary. Like many things bike riders face, it will often be up to each individual person to advocate for themselves — and in so doing, hopefully more care providers create processes that don’t assume everyone drives a car.

Have you tried getting tested for Covid without a car? Have you been turned away or welcomed? How do you think we can turn the tide even more to normalize ‘bike-thrus’?

Get more of your burning questions answered in our Ask BikePortland archives.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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Lowell
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Lowell

I’m assuming the Kaiser location described in the article is Kaiser Interstate. I’ve been tested three times there over the past two years, and I too am not super happy about how they handle patients that don’t drive. If you walk up, you have to walk through their entire South building, check in at a desk, and then wait in a general waiting area with other folks. That’s not something I wanna do when I may have COVID and be risking the health of others in the building.

The first two times I got tested I did that since I wasn’t symptomatic. The third I was sick as a dog and wanted to minimize other people’s exposure, so I drove. There was actually a Free2Move rental car in line in front of me, so clearly other folks feel they need to drive to get tested as well, even when they don’t have a car.

Watts
Guest
Watts

I have a friend who has had good luck getting service at drive-through locations on his bike. When getting vaccinated at the airport, they let him ride to the head of the line, which I thought was pretty cool. It would be nice if this policy were formalized and advertised.

As for using the Max, I’m not sure it’s good public health policy to encourage folks who think they may have covid to get on the train. In fact, I’m pretty sure it isn’t.

Lisa Caballero (Southwest Correspondent)
Editor

I volunteered at the airport and also noticed that people on bikes were sent to the front of the line. It wasn’t just a courtesy, it was the safest option, logistically.

Anne
Guest
Anne

Can verify that at Expo Center, where I was sent for testing in July 2020, they also allowed bikes at the front of the line. When I got to the testing tent the medical staff shouted “we have a walker”, I replied “technically, a cyclist”.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

My first time testing was on a bike in a drive-thru, but it worked like it would for anyone in an auto, because the user operates a terminal and the operator administers the test by vacuum tube, then watches application via terminal camera. This is a pharmacy drive-thru that has been there for many years.

My second time testing was at a smaller, locally owned pharmacy where people would park outside on one side and wait for someone to bring the test. Walking there and standing outside did not change their approach at all.

Neither of these was in Portland, btw.

SERider
Guest
SERider

Weird. Here in Seattle, we don’t have any drive-thru COVID testing sites. They’re all walk up. I guess that eliminates this problem.

Betsy Reese
Guest
Nathaniel Holder
Subscriber
Nathaniel Holder

I’ve been tested 5 times at 4 different Walgreens in NE & SE Portland and none batted an eyelash at me arriving on bike. I also called two locations before arriving to ask specifically if that was OK and they said yes. The only issue I have is inhaling fumes of idling cars in line, but politely asking them to turn off their engines has worked.

Mark Remy
Guest
Mark Remy

I was on my bike when I got my booster shot in November at a nearby “drive-through” site. I’d stopped by at the tail end of a ride, on the off chance I could snag a shot with no appointment, and was delighted to find just one car in front of me. Staff was friendly and ushered me right in. (This was the Providence site just off NE 47th Ave.)

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

Rather than the sign, I think it’s our language that needs reframing. When I search “drive definition”, my first three results are:

1. To push, propel, or press onward forcibly; urge forward.
2. To repulse or put to flight by force or influence.
3. To guide, control, or direct (a vehicle).

https://duckduckgo.com/?t=ffsb&q=drive+definition&ia=definition

A bicycle fits these better than an automobile does. So I drive my bike.

Matt
Guest
Matt

In German, you drive (fahren) your bike (Fahrrad, literally “drive-wheel”).

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

My years living in Germany are what inspired this line of thinking (fully granting that I’m not the only and far from the first).

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

Funny enough, I was essentially thinking the same thing when first reading this article as I recalled an argument, with a best friend’s usually brilliant father, in which he asserted one drives a motorcycle but rides a bicycle, and I maintained one rides and drives both. That was about 15 years ago, so I figure the rethinking you suggest is due.

damiene
Subscriber
damiene

It’s…perhaps too cynical a stretch on my part to think language came about this intentionally, but there is something belittling to “ride” over “drive” – rides are things you do for amusement, like rides at an amusement park. Ride horses. Ride bikes, skateboards, etc. But cars and motorcycles, well, that’s for serious business. Thems for driving.

Watts
Guest
Watts

Except you ride a motorcycle as well. We rode horses when they were the most serious business around. And passengers ride in the very same cars that the driver is driving.

Don’t overanalyze.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

I wasn’t specific enough with my comment above. The person with whom I argued was specific in saying one does not “ride” a motorcycle when they “drive” it. Stupid, I know, but clearly some people don’t regard “drive” and “ride” the way you, damiene, and I do.

As for your command, at what point does analyzing become under- or overanalyzing?

Watts
Guest
Watts

As for your command, at what point does analyzing become under- or overanalyzing?

“I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material that would cross the line, and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it.”

— Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

I’ve essentially heard that all my life from people who have simply not shared interest in analyzing something, most often due to their egocentricity, impatience, and/or shortsightedness.

Caleb
Guest
Caleb

damiene, I think that idea is what made me so insistent in that argument. I don’t think any intention was required for that perception to exist and be widespread. Like you, though, I have wondered if some people in high positions intentionally set such a precedent, similar to the invention of jaywalking.

mh
Guest
mh

I’ve said (usually muttered) that for years. I am the driving power of my bike. Something else, usually gasoline, drives a car: the “driver” just directs it. Sometimes even controls it.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Here in Honolulu…the free public testing been a mix of drive thru, walk up, walk + wait in parking structures, and drive to park then walk in (large campus sites). The large drive through sites have been creating traffic tail backs in town when they were not closed – since it rained (its the wet season now). https://www.staradvertiser.com/2021/12/24/photo-gallery/long-lines-for-covid-19-testing-at-blaisdell-center/

nic.cota
Subscriber

Back when they had the large testing site at the Expo Center last spring, my partner and I biked up there to get tested. The staff were a little perplexed at first, but rolled with it and were otherwise great. They let us jump out of line and wait until it was our turn so we weren’t ‘stop and go’ing with cars. They said that prior to us a few folks on bikes had been hit by the driver behind them so getting out of line was best for our safety.

maccoinnich
Subscriber

The language in the City Code that any drive-through facility should have an option to accommodate people arriving on foot or bike is pretty clear:

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 was written more with fast food in mind, but it would seem to apply to Covid testing equally. If this isn’t being met in practice, I’d encourage people to file a zoning violation because that’s really the only way in which enforcement is done.

My experience has been fine though; over the summer I tested at Covic Clinic in the Lloyd, and despite being a drive-through facility they had no problem with me arriving on foot. I’ve also tested at Carbon Health downtown, which is located in a parking lot, but is walk-up only.

AJ
Guest
AJ

I got tested a few times at Kaiser Interstate; I was able to walk up the narrow sidewalk on the drive-through ramp and they had a few chairs set up for people who didn’t arrive by car. It’s a bit of a steep ramp though if I remember correctly. I imagine someone with mobility issues would probably have to go inside the main building and access the testing a different way.

mh
Guest
mh

When I learned where they were doing the testing, I thought of the ramp and grudgingly drove to work the day of my appointment. I should have walked my bike up it, but figured they probably had a “no pedestrians” sign.

Todd/Boulanger
Guest

Thanks for sharing!

I assume most national chain Portland drive thrus are still operating under the pre 2018 rules … sounds like a drive thru sting needs to be organized ala “Serve Me or Arrest Me” effort of the 2000s. Now that law is on our sides for equitable service.

Greg
Guest
Greg

I was tested yesterday at Kaiser Interstate. No problem.
Someone mentioned having to walk their bike up the steep ramp, but that ramp isn’t nearly as steep as pedaling up Interstate to get there!

Oliver S
Guest
Oliver S

I biked-through for a scheduled PCR test at a Walgreens on Outer Halsey in August 2021. No issues. I’m a white cismale, for what it’s worth.

ED
Guest
ED

I walked through my neighborhood clinic’s “drive through” vaccine line, and they were perfectly friendly about it. Like others said, they brought me to the front of the line so I wasn’t standing in the cold inhaling car exhaust while I waited, which was very helpful.