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Wednesday, June 25, 2008

It Sure Would Be Nice to Sit at a Café on the Sidewalk Right Now

posted by on June 25 at 17:49 PM

You know, like in Paris, where there’s at least one on every block. But on a nice day here in Seattle, the handful of places with sidewalk seating are already running an hour-long wait for the patio. Why aren’t there more? In addition to exorbitant costs and long-processing times, pulling a table over the threshold requires two separate permits.

Calling Seattle’s permitting system bureaucratic and outdated, Mayor Greg Nickels on Tuesday proposed reducing permit time and costs for restaurants that want sidewalk seating. The changes, which require City Council approval, would lower the cost from $2,300 to $600 for a 100-square-foot sidewalk-cafe permit and would set a processing goal of 10 days….

Nickels proposed requiring approval only from the Transportation Department, which controls public sidewalk space.

Cheers to city hall! Of course, it might have been nice to get crackin’ on this, like, before summer. But progress is progress. Perhaps while the electeds hold twenty-six public meetings to discuss this, conduct a feasibility analysis study, and mull it over, the legislature could eviscerate Washington’s nanny-state liquor laws so by next year we don’t have to drink behind ropes like we’re in baby pens. What’s with that? And, to promote more sidewalk seating, and eating, and drinking—which is seriously is the pinnacle of urban life—we should build wider sidewalks. Every time there’s a proposed development, some jackals start yelping about the need for open space, so we build these bullshit courtyard wind tunnels between buildings and round off the edges of buildings. We don’t need unusable postage-stamp plazas lined with beach grasses for open space; we need more 25-foot wide sidewalks, more patio seating, more little outdoor tables… outdoor tables with ashtrays, sweetie.

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It rains here 9 months out of the year.

Sure, permits should be reduced. But extending the sidewalks for outside dining? Don't hold your breath.

Posted by Matthew | June 25, 2008 5:56 PM

It sure would be nice if some Seattle neighborhoods had sidewalks.

Posted by Trevor | June 25, 2008 6:03 PM

Of course when we gave away, free, all of that extra sky space, we could have done what Paris did in the 1870s and mandated wide setbacks, light angles, and any of the other elements that would have made the development less heinous. Instead we let our mayor simply give it away to his boosters, no strings attached.
What's amazing is that the guy can get away with making statements like this without any serious challenges.
No more fat mayors. Never trust anyone with a waist size over, say, 34". If they don't have sufficient virtue to govern themselves, why expect them to be able to govern a city.

Posted by kinaidos | June 25, 2008 6:06 PM

Why aren't there more?

Are you really THAT stupid?

This is only the 4th nice day since the beginning of the year.

Posted by ecce homo | June 25, 2008 6:19 PM

Matthew is right.

Yes, a simpler and cheaper permitting process would be good, but I can't get all that worked up over it. This is the first weekend that it has been nice enough for outdoor dining since, oh, last September.

Posted by SDA in SEA | June 25, 2008 6:25 PM

February was incredible.

Posted by paulus | June 25, 2008 6:25 PM

Don't worry...they're starting to allow yuppie cafes to eat up 50-75% of the sidewalk space in Ballard.

Moreover, they're allowing these places to install permanent railings, thus preventing the sidewalk from ever being used by pedestrians again.

Thanks, Mayor McDeveloper! Who needs pedestrian-friendly streets, when we can line the pockets of the wealthy instead?

Posted by A Non Imus | June 25, 2008 6:49 PM

You had me until "ashtrays".

Posted by Tizzle | June 25, 2008 6:55 PM

No kidding. Ashtrays? Dominic? Do you smoke... cigarettes?


Posted by elenchos | June 25, 2008 7:46 PM

Sure would be nice to be dozing on a bed of cash on a golden bed frame right now. Aint gonna happen. Nice thought, though.

Posted by heywhatsit | June 25, 2008 7:56 PM

This is a photo of East John on 15th, up where the Safeway is now (you'll notice the condos on the right-hand side that are now across the street from the entrance to the parking lot), when the streets were widened for more automobile traffic in 1934.

If we take back that street width, we'll have more than enough room for sidewalk cafes and all the rest.

Posted by Judah | June 25, 2008 7:57 PM

Light rail construction is well under way. Soon, we'll have residents from Tukwilla to Othello Street coming to enjoy our sidewalk cafes. Like Paris, and Berlin. Ride the wave.

Posted by we_nee_real_transit | June 25, 2008 8:13 PM

I was in Portland today...tons of sidewalk tables at the cafes there. It really is nice down there. And the people? So friendly!

Posted by Blacksheep | June 25, 2008 9:33 PM

I love outdoor seating. Until the fifth or sixth streetkid/junkie/methaddict/drunkindian/crackwhore harasses me for change or food. Then I'm done.

Posted by This is obviously not Paris | June 25, 2008 9:47 PM

Sidewalk width is overrated. You don't need wide sidewalks to attract public use. Quite the opposite, most of the time.

But yeah: restaurants should be required to get two separate permits to NOT have sidewalk seating. The city's goal should be to FILL THE SIDEWALKS with people.

Safer that way, too.

Posted by Fnarf | June 25, 2008 10:51 PM

Narrow sidewalks are as terrible as narrow sofas.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | June 25, 2008 11:57 PM

Judah @ 11: I notice the old sidewalks and newly laid sidewalks are the exact same size in that photo. What would be reclaimed, exactly? Grass? That neighborhood doesn't exist anymore, my friend.

And Dominic, drinking on the sidewalk is the pinnacle of urban living? Really? Your small world makes me sad. I enjoy drinking, too (and outside when I can!), but surely there are more and better things to be found in any city than this.

Posted by switzerblog | June 26, 2008 12:07 AM

Joe Bar has the best outdoor seating in town. Love that Joe Bar.

Posted by catnextdoor | June 26, 2008 7:00 AM

I just dropped by (usually only read you through links on other blogs), and this is an interesting topic. The problem with sidewalk seating is that it is PUBLIC property that a PRIVATE entity closes off to the public. You can't sit at the tables unless you're a customer, but the sidewalk still belongs to you. If a restaurant wants outdoor seating, it should build it. Patio seating is not the same thing as sidewalk seating - patio is private property. Sidewalks should remain clear for pedestrians.

Posted by Alabama Blue Dot | June 26, 2008 7:36 AM

Kinda. It's my understanding that a business owner can rent out the sidewalk in front of them from the city. I believe that's how Joe Bar gets away with having sidewalk seating that isnt fenced off that people can bring their drinks freely onto. So then, I guess that wouldnt make it completely public?

Posted by catnextdoor | June 26, 2008 7:47 AM

1. why have a permit at all?

2. the barriers are from the stupid state liquor board they exist to keep little kiddies out of where alcohol is served. REmove them!

3. If you don't like sidewalk cafes step into the street and help calm traffic.

4. no business is going to overdo it to the point of making the neighbors all mad. That'd be bad for business.

5. In general do whatever they do in Europe and stop bitching about how it might not work or we're different or whatnot.

For example, it is a fact that's it's winter here. As far as I am aware, it is sometimes winter in NY, Paris, Glasgow, Longon and other places too. In fact, it's often colder there, than it is here.

All places that have sidewalk tables.

You know what6 else they have?

roast chestnut vendors

book stalls

hot dog carts everywhere

people setting up big speakers in parks and having a huge Dominican party with about 200 family members

People preaching on the corner

People blasting disco music (guess it's rap now, I wouldn't know) while 150 do rollerskating dancing

People selling their stuff on the street to make rent money taking up half the sidewalk

Much of it without any permit!!

All kinds of people doing thing and having fun which it seems too many Seattleites are just too uptight about.

Posted by PC | June 26, 2008 8:48 AM

yes as to the lack of setbacks, that's why so much of our city architecture sucks.

but it's done. the street it there it is too narrow.

the solution would be to require bigger setbacks for new construction downtown.

in Fremont or W Seattle the solution would be different. the lots are stoo small to impose a nice 12 foot setback. so we should say the commercial lot on the arterial can buy the adjoining single family lot in back and it can all be commercial ie expand the commercial and reduce the SFH.

This would work all along Aurora, too.

THEN the lots would be big enough (after combinging them) for a bigger building that has enough room for a nice setback.

You can't have a nice setback if you have a tiny 3000 SF lot on Aurora Ave N currently holding a house used as a comuter laptop store or something, the lot is too small.

Posted by PC | June 26, 2008 8:52 AM

Sidewalk cafes are awesome. When they're available people will brave pretty bad weather to be outside. The sidewalks are rarely so crowded anywhere that the loss of width would matter that much.

@14: Most outdoor restaurants in other places has the staff deal with this and it works fine.

Posted by Dawgson | June 26, 2008 8:55 AM

@8 and 9 Uh, hate to be master of the obvious here, but: smoking ban = smokers outside. And having ashtrays is better than having cigarette butts covering every square inch of sidewalk.

What I'd really like to see around town are some Woonerven!

Posted by Hernandez | June 26, 2008 9:14 AM

It sure would be great if everyone in Seattle spoke French. Y'know, like in, like, Paris. Too bad Seattle is such a podunk backwater hick town. Why don't the damn guv'mint do something about that? I blame the guv'mint, and the, like, media.

Especially The Stranger, to whom I say: "J'accuse!"

Posted by Jeff Stevens | June 26, 2008 10:07 AM
For example, it is a fact that's it's winter here.
Way to start off with a credibility-builder there, PC.

You know, until very recently (this decade) London didn't have ANY sidewalk cafes. Unheard of, probably illegal. Glasgow? Not a chance. That's a Paris thing, and of course in the Mediterranean.
But times change, laws change, things change. It would be easy for the city to make urban life a priority, and start encouraging food carts and sidewalk cafes, if they wanted, and if they had a clue what urban life meant. But they don't. They're too obsessed with the idea that someone might see an advertising sign somewhere.

Posted by Fnarf | June 26, 2008 10:36 AM

This sidewalk's for normal eatin', not that fancy eatin'!

So, with the dozen nicotine addicts in front of each cafe/bar added to the sidewalk diners, what will be left of the public right of way that is the sidewalk? I moved out of Fremont because it became nearly impossible to walk down a sidewalk without a pack of smokers blocking the entire thing. What kind of tease is it to have outdoor seating, on the sidewalk, but not allow smoking? You can have your smoke on the outside of the rope, but your beer must stay inside the rope!

Just change the damn smoking ban to allow bars & restaurants to have smoking on their outdoor patios & decks. People get their sophisticated outdoor dining, and the rest of the citizens get to actually use the freakin' sidewalk!

(Maybe the mayor has finally learned that a lot of bars & restaurants just set up sidewalk tables without any sort of permitting, realizing that enforcement is going to be lax at best? He wants his piece of the pie.)

Posted by Sir Vic | June 26, 2008 10:44 AM

You mean on Capitol Hill, right? Seattle is bigger than that fuckhole, try going somewhere else. Open your eyes, dipshit.

Posted by john | June 26, 2008 11:54 AM


Watch the potty-mouth language, you ... you ... you piece of poop!

Posted by Cookie W. Monster | June 26, 2008 12:20 PM

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