Bike Commuters

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Bicycle-Unfriendly Businesses?

Posted by Jack "Ghost Rider" Sweeney On October - 18 - 2009

Cody G sent in the following tale:

I know many cyclists out there already avoid Wal-mart for the terrible things they are doing to the world and our neighborhoods, but times are tough and sometimes you find yourself trapped into having to go to their vision center because you don’t have vision insurance. I rode to my appointment this morning as I do not have a car and commute 250+ miles a week by bicycle. Upon arriving I noticed they didn’t have any bike racks or anywhere to lock up a bike so I proceeded by visiting the garden center to ask if I could leave my bike by some empty shelves in the corner. Of course the answer was “no, and it has to go outside of the gates.” with no further explanation. I thought why not try Customer Service? Upon arriving to the counter I asked if I could place my bicycle out of the way by the edge of the counter during my eye exam I received a “no, its against policy.” I explained that there was nowhere else to lock up a bike; their response was to [lock it to] a pole outside that all you had to do was lift the bike over the pole to steal it. I explained I wasn’t comfortable with that as I have no other forms of transportation — I quickly received another “no.” I asked to speak with a manager for an opportunity to give me a solution in which she had none and told me I had to leave and could not keep my bike in the store for “liability purposes” from a store that sells bicycles and lets kids roll around with Heelys. No one offered any solutions, no one offered to help, they had no options for cyclists and told me to lock it up at Best Buy. Apparently you need a car or ride the bus to shop at Wal-marts.

I’m sure many of you have experienced similar situations…and God help us if we try to go through bank or restaurant drive-thrus on a bicycle! I don’t think these places actively discriminate against cyclists, but it sure feels that way sometimes. Mostly, folks just don’t get it: “why would you ride a bike instead of drive a car?” and those store policies reflect this ignorance and shortsightedness.

One suggestion I had was to file a complaint with the store manager, or even the corporate headquarters, of any business that doesn’t offer some type of bicycle-friendly amenities. Obviously, not EVERY store can offer such a thing as a secure bike rack, but surely any place (grocery stores, big-box retailers) that has two acres of parking lot can set aside some space, right?

Offering a solution as part of the complaint is always a good tactic, too. Simply relating the incident and then suggesting a “fix” such as adjusting store policies, providing input on a suitable rack location, or offering to meet with and speak with management can work wonders. This way, you’re not just some cranky nut but someone who might be able to offer a real solution!

Also, we can vote with our wallets — shopping at stores who offer reasonable solutions like bike racks or no-questions-asked “bikes-inside” policies and shunning those stores who refuse to help accomodate transportation modes other than cars. Let those “bad stores” know exactly why you won’t be shopping there anymore (and that you’ve told all your cycling buddies about the situation) and see how fast solutions might pop up!

We’re interested to hear if any of you have had run-ins with bike-unfriendly shops in your areas. If so, how did you handle the situation? Any success stories to share?

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53 Responses to “Bicycle-Unfriendly Businesses?”

  1. Here in Spokane there is an active effort under way to get more bike racks installed. Thanks to a state grant aimed at increasing transportation efficiency in high-density employment centers, the Downtown Spokane Partnership ( was able to partner with the Commute Trip Reduction program ( to put in racks. They invited downtown businesses to request a rack (I think the cost was $50 to the business) and we have 20 or more new staple racks around downtown. The visible signal is so important.

    I work for Washington State University Spokane ( We have bike racks next to every building-one at each entrance for some buildings-and have indoor hanging racks in the loading bays. We’re on the east end of downtown with the Centennial Trial running along the edge of our campus, and it’s about 5-7 minutes from our campus to the central shopping district, City Hall, the main library, movie theaters, restaurants-you name it. We have more bikes in the racks all the time.

    I don’t know if anyone has taken a run at this from the policy side: Another way to work this problem is to look at what your comprehensive plan and zoning ordinances require. That’s what the building owners have to start with.

    In every city you will find commercial buildings are required to have X parking spaces per square foot/person/trip/what-have-you. So they HAVE to have the big parking lot because they generate vehicle trips.

    If the ordinance gave them credit for accommodating a certain number of trips generated by having bike racks, they might just do it-a decent-sized bike rack is far cheaper than dealing with the equivalent in parking spaces.

    In Spokane they’ve been working on an impact fee ordinance to get new development to help pay for the cost of associated infrastructure. Impact fees are getting more common around the country, and are calculated in different ways and used for various types of services-everything from streets to fire service to schools and parks.

    If you have an impact fee ordinance, does it give developers any kind of credit for installing bike/ped/transit elements that help reduce SOV (single occupancy vehicle) trips? If not, partner up with transit riders and work for this. Again, it’s usually a lower-cost element of the infrastructure than car-oriented stuff, and it adds to the desirability of their development as a destination whether it’s residential or commercial.

    Transit makes a good partner because they extend the potential range of bike trips and vice versa.

    On the question of creating liability by installing a bike rack, what kind of liability do they have because of the parking lot? People get hit, cars get dinged, runaway shopping carts are a menace, car tires go flat. That’s what insurance is for, and I can’t imagine a rack creates any greater potential risk than they already have. We’re most likely not going to kill anyone we run into, unlike the drivers on their cell phones.


  2. rick says:

    I’m pretty sure that Maine passed a law a year or two ago allowing bicycles to pull up to drivethru windows. It was a liability issue for the businesses but Maine enacted a law taking the liability away. Of course, I haven’t tested this since I rarely use drivethru’s.

  3. r4i says:

    Wow this is interesting, i liked it. You explain each thing you wanna explain in wonderful manner.I really appreciate.

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