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McDonald’s drive-thru not open to people on bicycles

McDonald's sign with drive thru 360px-Harlem_Micky_DzCreating space for cycling is first & foremost about applying the safety methods proven to work in places like The Netherlands, which mainly means creating segregated routes for people who choose to cycle.

It is also about creating space for cycling in everyday activities and plans. For example, a business should plan to cater for people who choose to ride a bicycle to their shop.

The BBC reported on a McDonald’s restaurant that refused to serve people at their drive-thru window solely because of their chosen mode of transport: a mother and daughter were not in a motorised vehicle (they were on a horse and pony respectively). See BBC 22 July 2013 – Horse in McDonald’s: Rider fined after ‘drive-thru’ refusal.

(UPDATE: 1 September 2013 – The Portsmouth News reports a councillor there was recently refused service on his bicycle – see HERE)

In the BBC article, a spokeswoman for McDonald’s is quoted as saying:

“The health and safety of our customers and staff is our top priority, and for this reason we are unable to serve pedestrians, bicycle riders or customers on horseback through the drive-thru.”

Intrigued, I sent a query to the CEO of McDonald’s in the UK and the USA to find out more (thanks to CEO Email). Specifically, I asked:

Could you tell me what the health and safety issues are regarding serving people who ride bicycles? I could imagine that many would have baskets or panniers in which to put their purchased food before cycling to a park in which to enjoy it.

Aside:It is worth noting that at least one fast food restaurant in the USA makes space for cycling – see HERE.

A bicycle with panniers in which bought goods can be transported safely.

A bicycle with panniers in which bought goods can be transported safely.

McDONALD’S: DESIGNED FOR MOTOR VEHICLES

Rhonda Floyd, who is a senior customer services manager in McDonald’s corporate offices in London replied on behalf of the UK’s CEO (I have not yet heard back from the USA’s CEO) and confirmed that “it is our policy not to serve cyclists using the drive-thru lane or drive-thru service windows.”

She said (my emphasis added):

Our drive-thru facilities have been designed for use by motor vehicles and we are concerned that the safety of cyclists may be compromise because they could come into close proximity with motor vehicles.

In addition, the visibility of cyclists can sometime be limited, particularly given the sharp corners of the drive thru lane and there are also the obvious difficulties that can be encountered when carrying food and drinks whilst still trying to retain control of a bicycle.

Baskets can also be used to transport goods safely.

Baskets can be used to transport goods safely.

She has hit the nail on the head with her first comment! McDonald’s have made a deliberate decision to design their space to accommodate motor vehicles only. This is the same thinking that pervades many road and town plans – and is exactly the thinking that the space for cycling campaign is there to change!

Looking at that statement in a positive light, McDonald’s leaves open the possibility to re-design their restaurants to be more friendly and safe towards people who choose to cycle.

JUSTIFICATIONS FOR THEIR POLICY

It is worth noting that McDonald’s will serve you if you choose to ride a motorised 2-wheel vehicle, just not a non-motorised one:

I can confirm that customers on motorcycles and mopeds are able to be served within our ‘drive-thru’ facilities.

With that in mind, read now how McDonald’s tries to justify their exclusion of people riding bicycles (again my emphasis and links added throughout):

In reaching this view we consulted with our own Hygiene and Safety Department, the Highway Code, and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).

The UK’s highway code is a list of ‘should‘ and ‘must‘ statements or so-called ‘rules’ The ‘rules’ that use the word ‘must’ have a legal underpinning which the police can use to charge you with an offense if you break them. The ‘rules’ that use ‘should’ are not ‘rules’ per se, they are more like friendly advice intended to influence behaviour.

HIGHWAY CODE

McDonald’s says,

“The Highway Code relating to cyclists states amongst other requirements, that cyclists should keep both their hands on the handlebars except when signalling or changing gear, that they should not ride close behind other vehicles and should not carry anything which will affect their balance or which may get tangled up within a wheel or chain.

 

The car-only drive-thru at McDonald's in Basingstoke.

The motor-vehicle only drive-thru at McDonald’s in Basingstoke.

So, everything cited by McDonald’s – all taken from the Code’s rule no. 66 – use the word ‘should’ not ‘must’. Thus, they are offering up friendly and well-intentioned advice only. Hardly a reason not to serve people at a drive-thru on private property.

But wait! What does the Highway Code have to say specifically about food which may be served to people that then drive? This:

  • 148: Safe driving and riding needs concentration. Avoid distractions when driving or riding such as…arguing with your passengers; [and] eating and drinking

Who gets the last chip? Don’t take the lid off your drinks! Don’t squirt ketchup all over the seats!

Does McDonald’s use this ‘rule’ from the Highway Code as a reason not to serve people?

Of course they don’t.

That is because it is up to the people in the car to apply the Highway Code ‘rules’ on the public highway, just as it is up the the person on the bicycle to do the same regarding the ‘rule’ McDonald’s did cite.

It is worth noting the Highway Code gives special attention to vulnerable road users –

  • 213: Give [Motorcyclists and cyclists] plenty of room and pay particular attention to any sudden change of direction they may have to make.

RoSPA

McDonald’s then referred to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents advice –

RoSPA have also advised us that the safety of cyclists could be compromised at some drive thru facilities and the exact level of risk can vary between locations depending on the layout of the site.

They also identified in line with our own findings that there is potential for conflict between cars and cyclists due to the visibility of the cyclist on the drive thru lanes as already mentioned above.

 

Bicycle racks in the drive-thru lane at McDonald's in Basingstoke.

Bicycle racks in the drive-thru lane at McDonald’s in Basingstoke.

Sounds like RoSPA have some serious issues with the design of McDonald’s restaurants! It is McDonald’s that chooses the design they use at their facilities; and according to RoSPA it is not a good design for people without a suit of metal armour encasing them. There is no mention of motorcycles in RoSPA’s advice to McDonald’s.

RoSPA state on their website that their goal is to improve driver and motorcyclist behaviour: such as by “not driving when impaired or distracted” – that lines up exactly with the Highway Code statement above about not eating and drinking whilst in a car.

Again, McDonald’s doesn’t use RoSPA’s advice as a reason to refuse to serve food to people that use a motor vehicle in the drive thru. I have queried RoSPA about their advice to McDonald’s but have not yet heard back from them.

UPDATE 25/07/13! I queried RoSPA and they told me:

I have spoken to RoSPA’s Road Safety Manager. We have no record of ever advising McDonalds regarding their drive-thrus, if we had advised them we would have it on record along with the report we would have produced for them.

IT IS A CHOICE

McDonald’s chose to exclude people who want to buy food when on a bicycle. They can easily choose to design their facilities to be safe for them, too. In other words, to make space for cycling.

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