Traverse City Record-Eagle

Our Views

June 5, 2014

Editorial: City must be prepared to tweak new cafe rules

Sometimes, old and boring is simply better.

The Traverse City Commission this week voted to adopt an outdoor cafe ordinance that allows restaurants to add seating in street-side parking spaces and regulates café seating on the sidewalk itself.

So-called curbside dining is an idea that has been used successfully in other places, and on its face sounds pretty trendy. Not particularly practical, perhaps, but trendy.

There are a couple basic problems.

Traverse City is not Paris where the sidewalks are broad enough for café seating and pedestrians to live in harmony.

The sidewalks here are shallow enough that pedestrians and café tables don’t mix.

Those of us who have had to maneuver around tables and chairs at the eateries that now offer outdoor dining know it can be a tight squeeze.

Jim Moore, executive director of the Disability Network, asked the commission to widen the 4-foot unobstructed path around sidewalk cafes mandated by the ordinance.

That’s the minimum width allowed under federal guidelines for sidewalks but is a full foot narrower than state guidelines and requirements in most Michigan cities, where widths range from 5 feet to 6 feet.

A 4-foot minimum will cause problems for those who use wheelchairs, he said. He also pointed out that claims by ordinance proponents that 4 feet was more than what is required by the Americans with Disability Act was wrong. The ADA calls for 3-foot minimums for interior hallways, not sidewalks. Oops.

His concerns were ignored.

Allowing restaurants to build platforms in parking spaces and put out tables and chairs there simply turns a blind eye to a local reality — the distinct lack of parking downtown. The idea that restaurants will take up parking spaces for a couple outdoor setups is … not smart.

The ordinance is in place, but demands some tweaking.

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