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Austin panel asks drive-throughs to allow ride-throughs

Tuesday, May 23, 2017 by Sofia Tyreman

The Bicycle Advisory Council unanimously approved a recommendation last Tuesday that would grant bicyclists and those who are mobility impaired more accommodations at drive-through establishments in Austin.

The advisory council called for an ordinance that would permit bicyclists to use the same drive-through facilities as motor vehicles, or that the establishment provide bike racks and have the pedestrian entrances maintain the same operating hours as the drive-throughs. This would then allow bicyclists to park their bikes and use the facility as pedestrians. The council approved the resolution in a vote of 8-0, with Bicycle Advisory Council member Rebecca Brenneman absent, though further action from City Council would be required for any change in the code to take place.

John Woodley, the impetus behind the resolution, is mobile and hearing impaired and uses his bicycle as his mobile aid device. He believes that such an ordinance would allow everyone “safe and convenient access to services.”

A few months ago, he was denied service at the drive-through window of a restaurant because he was on his bike.

According to Woodley, he ordered at the drive-through window because he was unable to hear through the speakers. “The employees refused me service at the drive-through facility and the walk-in service area was closed,” Woodley said. “They refused to assist me in any way to make the services they provide available to me. They refused reasonable accommodations.”

Woodley added, “People that suffer from epilepsy, developmental, vision, mobile and other disabilities cannot use a motor vehicle, are disproportionately affected by these company policies that prohibit access to services unless using a motor vehicle.”

Believing that the restaurant was in violation of the current city code pertaining to drive-through facilities and drive-through services in Austin, Woodley contacted code enforcement and explained the situation. However, he said that both the Code Department and the Law Department stated that they could “not enforce the City code from an operations perspective since it is a site plan zoning ordinance.”

In light of this, he has asked the Pedestrian Advisory Council and the Bicycle Advisory Council to aid him in “creating an ordinance with enforcement options to ensure that services are available at all hours of operations, regardless of who you are, your age, ability, or ability to operate a motor vehicle.”

The proposal was discussed at last Tuesday’s Bicycle Advisory Council meeting, where members voiced their input and agreed that this is both an issue of equity and accessibility.

It’s “not about building things, but keeping them open,” said Mike Sledge, the PAC and BAC member who drafted the language for the resolution.

The BAC is calling for an “enforcement mechanism to be put in place,” including the ability “for a cop to say you have to open service to these people,” added another BAC member, David Orr.

Bike Austin fully supports such an ordinance in the city.

“I’ve been with Bike Austin for almost three years,” said Miller Nuttle, who’s also an active member of the BAC and was present at Tuesday’s meeting.

“A bike is my main form of transportation,” Nuttle stated. “I’m all for granting increased access to drive-throughs for people on foot and on bike, especially when it means that folks relying on mobility devices (aka bicycles in some cases) will have equal access to a business’ services.”

According to Sledge, this is the first proposal of its kind. “I’ve been involved with both the BAC and the PAC for about three years and this is the first measure I am aware of that addresses this issue,” stated Sledge.

“One thing we’ve learned during our discussions is that this particular issue doesn’t have a clear owner in terms of a city department that would be able to implement any policy changes that would enable uniform access,” Sledge added.

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