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Portland Cracks Down on an Old Urban Scourge: Drive-Throughs

10:57 AM EDT on September 29, 2016

Drive-through services at restaurants and stores can be a real headache for pedestrians. They generally require multiple curb cuts across the sidewalk and generate a lot of conflicts with motor vehicles.

Drive-throughs in Portland will have to serve people on foot or bike if the walk-in enterances are closed. Photo: Bike Portland
Drive-throughs in Portland will have to serve people on foot or bike if the walk-in entrances are closed. Photo: Bike Portland
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Many chains also forbid people without cars from using the drive-through windows, citing liability concerns.

Now Portland is tackling both of those issues in a new zoning proposal. Jonathan Maus at Bike Portland reports:

Last June City Council adopted the 2035 Comprehensive Plan. Policy 4.24 prohibits drive-through facilities in the entire Central City and limits their development in close-in commercial districts in order to “support a pedestrian-oriented environment.”

The commission’s Comp Plan Early Implementation Package Recommendation (avaliable here) includes two new zoning code changes we’ll likely be hearing about a lot more in the weeks to come: An outright ban on new drive-throughs east of 80th Avenue, and a policy that would require businesses to serve customers who show up on bike, foot, or mobility devices. (You can see the language starting on page 192 of this PDF.)

One of the many subtle forms of discrimination that exists in our transportation system is how some retail businesses close to certain customers based soley on how they get around. You might have experienced this before at your local pharmacy or fast food restaurant: Only the drive-through window is open but you get denied service simply because you’re not in a car. This common practice discriminates against customers who show up via their feet, a bicycle, or a mobility device.

"That’s not O.K.," said PSC Commissioner Chris Smith during an interview yesterday. "Ideally you can’t refuse service based on mode. In a city that aims to be less than 30 percent single-occupancy vehicle mode share, that’s just not cool."

Maus notes that the city tried this in the past and faced fairly strong opposition from restaurant groups, so this will be an interesting case to watch.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Transportation for America considers whether new technological breakthroughs will usher in a new epoch of urban transportation. Pedestrian Observations argues the emphasis in Vision Zero should be on design, not enforcement. And Seattle Bike Blog reports that the city will move forward with plans for a downtown streetcar while taking steps to protect cyclists from getting tangled in the tracks.

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