City Debate About Sidewalk Cafes
posted by October 2 at 12:59 PMon
As the city council debates new legislation that would make it easier for restaurants and bars to open sidewalk seating, an interesting tension is developing between proponents of more outdoor seating (of which Seattle has woefully little) and advocates for pedestrians and the disabled, who argue that the proposed rules trample on pedestrian and wheelchair access. From an email being circulated among pedestrian advocates (by all-purpose city gadfly Chris Leman, hence the hotheaded tone), urging them to contact the council and human rights commission before a meeting of the Human Rights Commission this evening and the council’s regular weekly meeting next week.
Among the points Leman suggests people hype in their testimony and emails to council members:
Don’t turn this decision from a Master Use Permit decision into a street-use decision, which will compound the City’s current tendency to ignore a café’ or bar’s impacts. Keep and strengthen the role of the Department of Planning and Development; don’t turn the decision over to the Seattle Department of Transportation, which already does a poor job on the street-use permits it now issues. […] Write into the ordinance a higher priority for pedestrian safety, convenience, and dignity. On public sidewalks, the benefit of the doubt should be with pedestrians, especially the disabled. […]
Don’t allow sidewalk cafés or bars within fifteen feet of a bus stop (current proposal is only five feet, leaving no space to stand). Don’t allow sidewalk cafes or bars within six feet of the curb (current proposal is three feet, making it difficult to use curbside parking).
Require at least six feet of straight, clear walking space in neighborhoods, and ten feet downtown (under the proposed legislation, pedestrians would be guaranteed a space only six feet wide downtown and five feet in neighborhoods—amidst an obstacle course of poles, circuit and newspaper boxes, signs, trees, and parking kiosks.) […]
Require that the sidewalk café or bar barriers be removed during the roughly nine months of the year when they are not being used. The supposedly “temporary” enclosures, which typically are used only in the summer months, remain as year-round barriers to pedestrians, and a risk to public safety.
Although Leman’s tone can be a bit hysterical (and although I could frankly give a shit about giving people six feet of clear space in front of their cars), his email does highlight an interesting question: Who are the public sidewalks for, and to what extent should the city be willing to mortgage off this right-of-way? I tend to think that the best cities in the world are that way, in part, because they enable people to live part of their lives in public—by encouraging things like sidewalk cafes, parks, and other public gathering spaces. Agree? Disagree? Attend the meetings or let council members know by email.