Earlier this year, the City of Salt Lake passed an ordinance that required all businesses with a drive-thru window to allow cyclists access to the window if the window is open but the lobby is closed. It also required any new businesses or remodeled businesses with drive-thru windows to allow pedestrians the same privilege.
While this sounds like a simple initiative to make Salt Lake City more bike and pedestrian friendly, it created significant problems for business owners. Being required to allow cyclists and pedestrians in an area that has been designed for automobile use creates significant risk for patrons and liability for businesses. During the time that the Salt Lake City Council was holding hearings, business associations contacted insurance carriers and it was noted that with the proposed ordinance came the likelihood of higher liability, and higher insurance premiums due to the newly imposed risk.
In addition, based on their experience employers were concerned that the ordinance would create a greater risk of their employees becoming victims in a robbery. They were able to demonstrate how potential perpetrators approaching on foot or on a bicycle have easier access to an employee at the drive-thru window than do customers in a vehicle.
After being approached by restaurant owners and their association, I filed HB 160- Drive-Thru Usage Amendments that would overturn the ordinance.
I will admit that even I had a bit of an internal struggle with this issue. I have been a strong supporter of bicycle friendly policies and have sponsored and passed several bills that have improved the experiences of cyclists on our roadways and promoted their use. However, my concern for government overreach in this situation was enough to sway me to open the bill file.
HB 160 passed through the Political Subdivisions Committee and then went on to pass through the House with a vote of 52-21. It has also passed the Senate Business and Labor Committee. Some legislative critics of the bill are not necessarily in favor of Salt Lake’s Ordinance but rather believe that with the bill the state could be exercising too much authority over the city. I think that is a fair concern. However, I believe that Rep. Kim Coleman (R-West Jordan) summed it up nicely when she spoke on the House floor in support of the bill. She pointed out that the issue was bigger than allowing cyclists access, she said that, “it’s not okay for a city to create risk and impose risk to a business.”
Certainly, having the state legislature take action to overturn a local ordinance could be considered a weighty response. However, Melva Sine, president of the Utah Restaurant Association, said, in her testimony at a Political Subdivisions Committee meeting, that “no matter what we did we were not going to get this ordinance changed… We honestly tried to negotiate for six months something that would work for the restaurants and the city… We could not work a compromise with Salt Lake City that would prevent us from having higher insurance costs and higher risk associated.”
The perceived unwillingness of the city council to compromise is what lead business owners and their associations to approach me to sponsor this legislation. Regardless of the bill’s passage, I will strongly encourage business owners to work with Salt Lake City and great advocacy organizations like Bike Utah to come up with a system that encourages and recognizes bike friendly businesses and shares that information with the cycling community.
Written by Johnny Anderson and Sarah Duensing.