Crowdsourcing the Battle Against Sidewalk Hogs

There’s a sizable patch of sidewalk out in front of Leaning Tower of Pizza, and in milder months they rope off almost all of it as a dining area for their customers. The sidewalk is big enough to comfortably share between diners and pedestrians. But Leaning Tower chooses not to. Maybe it’s because outdoor dining is good for business. So good that the restaurant recently sought and won approval from the City for a rear patio (sacrificing precious parking and bolstering the case for parklets).

sidewalk obstructed by patio

Two rows of tables, plus a generous private walkway, leaves little space for public.

It was last summer when I noticed the dining area had expanded to the point that someone muscled a heavy concrete bus bench further up against Lyndale Avenue to make more room. Late last year, I went back and forth with 311 about the sidewalk. I emailed photos with some success. I even declared victory in a blog post, but victory was short-lived. The 311 process doesn’t scare a restaurant owner enough to keep the tables and chairs at bay for long. The patio always grew back, making life a little more difficult for walkers and bus-riders alike.

displaced bus bench

One set of bus bench footprints may indicate Jesus was carrying it the whole time, or it was shoved out of the way to make space for a sidewalk-hogging patio.

Recently my neighbor (and collaborator on this post), Janne, submitted a Leaning Tower patio photo to 311, too. She learned that Minneapolis license inspectors can no longer issue citations based on photographic evidence provided by residents. The inspector’s response was, “I have to witness and photograph the issue” in order to issue a citation. The inspector explained she had just learned of this new policy herself. She wasn’t able to explain what prompted the policy change or who made the decision, resulting in a situation where it’s easier to evade the rules that keep city sidewalks clear for pedestrians.

The Inspector found a way to follow up on Janne’s complaint, and Leaning Tower’s owner insisted that he was in compliance. Public Works verified that he was not, and he was ordered to limit his sidewalk patio to “10 ft from the building face.”

I’m sure most restaurants see a value in not antagonizing the neighbors and possible customers who walk past their front door. There needs to be a better means of enforcement for the ones who don’t. We should allow residents to pick up the slack for City inspectors who can’t possibly cover the whole city at all times.