For residents without cars who rely on biking, walking or wheelchairs to get around East Baton Rouge Parish, there's one seemingly simple impediment: the lack of access to drive-thru services.
Banks, pharmacies and restaurants routinely turn away customers who pull up in anything other than a motor vehicle. And, with the coronavirus pandemic forcing more and more retailers to rely on their drive-thru windows, a local advocacy group is calling the practice downright discriminatory.
Bike Baton Rouge has started an online petition urging Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome and the Metro Council to enact a short term ban on denying drive-thru services to those not in a vehicle, with the hope that, post-pandemic, a more permanent ordinance could be implemented.
"Before COVID, it was an annoyance, one of the many small indignities that people that walk and bike face in our everyday lives, but now its serious," said Doug Moore, the president of Bike BR. "It's really doing harm to people's lives."
Businesses often cite safety concerns as reason to turn away customers on bike and foot.
Moore is skeptical of those arguments, saying that the policies are borne out of a "vague notion of liability issues" rather than any concrete risk.
For Moore, the petition goes beyond addressing a minor inconvenience — it's about righting what he sees as an injustice against the parish's poor residents, who can't afford a car and instead rely on biking or walking as their primary mode of transportation.
Nearly 20% of residents in East Baton Rouge Parish live below the federal poverty line. For a family of four, that equates to an income of roughly $26,000 a year, leaving little room to afford even a beat-up automobile, not to mention Louisiana's pricey insurance rates.
"Compared to the massive societal issues Baton Rouge faces, this is a walk in the park," Moore said. "We could get this done quickly and it would benefit a lot of people."
In 2018, officials in Portland, Oregon approved rules requiring businesses to serve pedestrians and bicyclists at drive-thru windows, but only when walk-in entrances that could otherwise be used were closed.
Recently, Moore planned to get a drive-thru coronavirus test at the CVS near his house, but quickly learned that the pharmacy didn't allow it. As he drove into the parking lot to get his test, Moore said he saw an older man on a bike, and thought to himself, "How's he going to get his test?"
Last year, the Metro Council adopted a Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plan that recommends installing more than 100 miles of marked bicycle lanes and another 250 miles of off-road bike paths and walking trails across the parish. The nearly 400-page document also offers suggestions on how to secure federal funding to carry out the projects.
The implementation of the parish-wide master plan has emerged as one of several top priorities for members of the Metro Council, according to a document circulated among members outlining shared goals for the next four years.
On Wednesday, the council approved a cooperative endeavor agreement with BREC to construct a bike trail west of Interstate 110 from Memorial Stadium to Scotlandville Parkway Park. The proposal, part of a $3.7 million federal grant, was unanimously passed and garnered an outpouring of support among council members. A spokesperson for BREC said the trail will be completed by the spring of next year.