FOR anyone without mobility limitations, the explosion of sidewalk seating as restaurants struggled to stay afloat in the COVID pandemic seemed like a no-brainer.
“Why haven’t we done this before?” many of us asked as we enjoyed alfresco dining at an eatery that previously did all its business indoors. We could squint our eyes and pretend we were in a Parisian sidewalk café. The Left Bank comes to William Street.
It turns out, as millions of Americans could have told us, that there’s a very good reason to put limits on street-side seating. There are 61 million Americans who are disabled, and many of them need a little more sidewalk space than some restaurants had been giving them under the temporary COVID rules.
The Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines mandate that sidewalks be at least 36 inches wide, and that’s not really enough. When you add obstructions, such as outdoor chairs and tables, wheelchair users are stymied.
In Fredericksburg, there must be 4 feet between sidewalk seating and things such as streetlights, trash cans and trees. At the height of the pandemic, some rules understandably were not enforced, but those exceptions were temporary. Some local eateries were notified recently that they weren’t leaving enough space.
We applaud Fredericksburg and all the localities who have made allowances during the pandemic in order to help keep struggling restaurants afloat. Adjustments were made in just about every walk of human life, and the temporary blind eye to ADA standards was part of that.
Now we laud the City Council for reminding restaurateurs that it’s time to make adequate sidewalk space happen again. Most eateries were willing and able to deal with all the sometimes maddening restrictions placed on them by the pandemic. We are sure that they will be able to find a way to accommodate fellow residents with mobility issues again.
The ADA guidelines are there to ensure that every American has access. People in wheelchairs pay taxes, too.
Sidewalk dining can be a wonderful experience. Enjoying a meal outside on a temperate evening is a treat.
But trying to navigate a sidewalk in a wheelchair when restaurant chairs and tables are blocking the way is the opposite of a wonderful experience.
Now that indoor seating is at least temporarily close to normal again, it’s time to ensure that the sidewalks belong to everyone again.