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.

26 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing the Battle Against Sidewalk Hogs

  1. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    An intersection redesign would probably help a ton. But isn’t there a safe legal distance benches need to be from the curb? Who enforces that? What should this patio look like if a bus shelter showed up?

  2. Matt SteeleMatt Steele

    Agreed that this is a problem. Yet I also wish it was easier for local businesses to put out a few chairs (not roped off) for hanging out. A coffee shop near me put out a few chairs up against their wall, on a very wide sidewalk, and got shot down from licensing until they would pay a huuuge fee for a sidewalk seating/encroachment permit. It seems like we need different layers of regulation for this – the most stringent being for sidewalk seating that is roped off or has table service, since that’s a private use of public right of way and public sidewalk expense. But a few chairs out of the way, not roped off, and not enforced as exclusive to a business? That should slide.

    One thing that would make this situation more comfortable – especially for people waiting for the bus – is if Lyndale was 3 lanes instead of 4 lanes.

    Anyways, great job keeping up this fight. Shame on LTOP for not getting the message.

  3. questions

    Lyndale has 6 lanes at this spot: 4 for car travel and 2 for parking. I think the best question is…how do we make sidewalks bigger here?

    1. Rosa

      One of the great things about Uptown Pride this last summer was how, when the crowd hit a critical mass and the sidewalks were just impassable (between people sitting outside restaurants, bikes parked on signs, and people just standing around chatting or smoking) the crowd just took a car lane to walk in. I think that’s the kind of crowd action we need. Walk in the street!

      But it still won’t be wheelchair useful without sloped curbs or better curb cuts.

  4. Aaron IsaacsAaron isaacs

    Looks to me like the restaurant has made the sidewalk ADA non-accessible, both for pedestrians and someone trying to use the bus stop. That’s illegal.

        1. Justin

          They are nice to have, but we shouldn’t have to move bus stops just because a particular restaurant wants to make their patio extra big, and bigger than what is allowed.

            1. Justin

              Dangerous precedent to set. Also, they already showed contempt and selfishness by over-encroaching and illegally moving the bus bench, and we should bow to that??

              1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                It’s not a morality play. We’re trying to make the sidewalk work, not punish evildoers.

                There’s some cost in moving the signage and bench. Make them pay for it. Done deal.

                1. Justin

                  “It’s not a morality play. We’re trying to make the sidewalk work, not punish evildoers.”

                  Bit of a straw man.

                  You can’t just start moving bus benches around and encroaching beyond what is legal because you want more space. If we give into that, then more restaurants might try it, and LTOP might decide to encroach further or see what else they can get away with.

                  If I go down to Minnehaha Parkway near my house with my dog and decide that a bench is in our way when playing catch and I move it someplace else, the city shouldn’t say “Hey Justin, sorry about that silly ol’ misplaced bench! We’ll move it over here, just for you. Thanks for the suggestion!”

                  You’d send the message that moving benches is OK and more people might do it, and you’d also send the message that general contempt for public space in the city of Minneapolis is acceptable.

                  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                    I think you’re blowing the slippery slope massively out of proportion and I don’t see how your moral objections (which are pretty out there) should stand in the way of a solution that gives us two good things – a vibrant eating space and a usable sidewalk – instead of one.

                    But at least if we leave it the way it is you get to feel all the outrage you want.

                    1. Justin

                      You’re putting words in my mouth. I’m not outraged at all, I just think it’s a bit unreasonable.

                      And I don’t think it’s “out there” to expect businesses to not just change the public space to meet their needs.

                      Sure, moving the bus stop might make sense, but I don’t think we should do it just because LTOP thinks they should have a bigger sidewalk patio than they already have. And even if the bus stop were moved, would that even allow them to extend their patio? Not sure the 10 foot rule takes into account whether there is a bus stop near the patio or or not.

                      And it’s not “blowing the slippery slope massively out of proportion” to suggest that giving in here might lead other businesses to think they can do the same thing.

                      Also, what’s with the condescending and rude tone? I don’t think anything I’ve said so far warrants such a response.

                    2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

                      If it doesn’t solve the problem, then fine, that’s a great reason to reject it.

                      And we don’t even have to worry about slippery slopes premised on the “reward” of getting to pay to move a bus stop (across the street)!

            2. Alex

              There are street trees and a boulevard on Lyndale south of this intersection. Concrete would need to be poured and at least one of these trees would need to come down. Not an outrageously expensive prospect, but it would be wise to consider first whether the SW corner is the ideal location for the stop.

              At this intersection, the traffic volumes on Lyndale are significantly higher than those on 24th. Lyndale therefore warrants more green time, so if you’re going to choose which line makes more sense to have far-side stops, it would be the one that runs on 24th. (At transfer points like this, it makes sense to cluster the stops at two corners, and while it doesn’t have to be the same line that has the far-side stops, it usually is because the most important determinant is usually the traffic volumes and their effect on the signal timing pattern.)

              In my opinion, the attitude of the nearby business towards the location of the stop should be secondary to actual transportation needs. This would argue for keeping the stop in front of Leaning Tower and moving the westbound 17 stop in front of it as well.

              Luckily for Leaning Tower, Metro Transit and the City of Minneapolis rarely consider transportation factors as a rationale for bus stop locations.

              1. Justin

                And they have a patio already! And even if we move the bus stop, would that even allow them to extend their patio?

  5. Mike Beck

    I’m going to defend LTOP (just a little bit.) I think they have gotten the message, and as a result are planning to convert the rear parking into a patio. I don’t think parking is a precious as it appears. There are all of three or four spaces in the rear. They own a vacant lot across the street that is used exclusively for LTOP parking. I see everyone winning from a local business willing to address the issue.

  6. Wanderer

    Based on Google Maps streetview, moving the stop across the street would put it in front of an apartment building, albeit one with a bit of a setback. Transit agencies usually try to stop in front of commercial buildings rather than residential ones when they have a choice.

  7. Mike Hicks

    I couldn’t tell you how far 10 feet is, and I doubt the workers at a typical restaurant could nail it with great precision either. Could the permitting process require markers to be embedded in the sidewalk to show the outer corners of the allowable seating space?

  8. Scott

    So, I’m picturing Johnny Knoxville, in his elderly costume, driving his revved up scooter. He’s exercising his ADA rights, comes around the corner, crash, bang, tensa-barriers are flying, the Metro Transit bus is plastered with airborne pizza, waiters are screaming, patrons are fleeing, and a good time is had by all who get to watch as this unfolds in high-def Blu-Ray. Now that’s justice.

  9. Bill LindekeBill Lindeke

    I noticed this same kind of thing on 1st Avenue last weekend BTW, ropes and almost no way to get through the sidewalk etc. Not that anyone over the age of 30 would ever walk down 1st Avenue on a weekend.

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