Got something to say about sidewalk cafés?

Sidewalk cafés – usually added outdoor seating for existing food/drink businesses – are increasingly popular in our area due in no small part to our spectacular scenery. But many viewless venues have added them too. It hasn’t historically been easy for a business to get permission to add one, but the city wants to change that. SDOT (sidewalks are public right-of-way, so it’s in that department’s jurisdiction) is taking comments on proposed rule changes right now. Here’s the announcement:

We’ve spent the last year reviewing our existing requirements to develop a legislative proposal to improve the program. Here are some of the key aspects that we’ve identified.

· Allow cafés in more locations around Seattle.

· Formalize pilot programs to allow fence-free cafes and cafes in the curb space of the street (these are known as streateries).

· Update design standards to make it easier to walk on sidewalks.

We developed a fact sheet on the proposal for more details. The full documents of the ordinance and draft Director’s Rule are also available to review on our webpage.

The public is invited to provide comments on the Determination of Non-Significance. Comments are accepted in any of the following ways:


·Phone: 206-684-5268

Seattle Department of Transportation
Street Use – Public Space Management
P.O. Box 34996
Seattle, WA 98124-4996

Comments must be provided no later than 5 PM on Monday, April 22, 2019. Appeals must be submitted no later than 5 PM on Monday, April 29, 2019. Details about the appeals process can be found in the Determination of Non-Significance posted on our webpage.

SDOT says nearly 400 businesses around the city have sidewalk-café permits right now. Since the proposed changes include an ordinance, City Council approval will eventually be required.

25 Replies to "Got something to say about sidewalk cafés?"

  • Swede. April 14, 2019 (4:16 pm)

    It’s nice to sit outside for a coffee, food or beers for sure. See no reason for more of it as long as it’s not making it hard to use the sidewalk to walk on to, which I’m sure they’ll address with size standards etc. 

  • dsa April 14, 2019 (4:56 pm)

    Well done if enforced.

  • Huck April 14, 2019 (5:06 pm)

    Bring it!!

  • anonyme April 14, 2019 (5:23 pm)

    What ordinance in Seattle is ever enforced?  Sidewalk cafes would be great if the sidewalks weren’t already being rendered impassable by newspaper boxes, sandwich boards, Jump & Lime bikes, and illegally tied-up dogs.  It’s getting more and more difficult to navigate Seattle sidewalks, even for the able-bodied.  California (especially on the west side) in the Junction has become a narrow, cluttered obstacle course.  Let’s not forget what sideWALKS are actually for…

  • KT April 14, 2019 (5:27 pm)

    Seriously???2. Formalize Successful Pilot Programs forDesign Alternatives and Siting FlexibilityStreateries. Similar to parklets, streateries are small spaces constructed in the curb space, typically where cars park or unload goods. Unlike parklets, streateries are operated by restaurants and are used for table service for patrons and function like a sidewalk café. Streateries—called “curb space cafés” in the proposal—will be required to remain open for public use when the hosting business is not in operation.

  • Michael Waldo April 14, 2019 (5:53 pm)

    Fine with me to have them. I don’t use them though. I don’t what to sit a couple of feet from traffic going by. Not my idea of relaxing.

    • Ken April 14, 2019 (7:47 pm)

      What Michael says.  Eating adjacent to noisy streets is not relaxing. Never understood the appeal of sidewalk cafes. If I want to eat outside, I can have a picnic.  Or a barbecue. 

    • Out for a Walk April 14, 2019 (9:09 pm)

      Having dining tables on the sidewalk is ok as long as there is room for pedestrians to also walk the sidewalk. Having tables right by the traffic past the curb is not enjoyable and I would not sit at those tables. 

  • bolo April 14, 2019 (7:44 pm)

    Bullet point #3:
    “· Update design standards to make it easier to walk on sidewalks.”

    Seems like that is a contradiction to a “streetery.”

    i.e. Most all the streeterys impede the flow of easier walking on sidewalks, by their very nature of having tables & chairs out there on the sidewalks where pedestrians would otherwise be walking.

  • chemist April 14, 2019 (8:34 pm)

    Thank you for the notice WSB.  I will be submitting comments that more needs to be done to educate and monitor sidewalk cafes that employ overhead umbrellas (they need to provide 8 ft clearance underneath or they count against the 5′ pedestrian path).  I’ve also seen elsewhere in the city some sidewalk cafes that distribute along the outside edge of fencing various greenery/dog bowls/etc that count against clearance.  Maybe there should be something like the restaurant safety rating where any sidewalk cafes found in violation must post on the fencing/near the front door signage about that violation for several months.

  • Brian Feusagach April 14, 2019 (9:45 pm)

    The pictures used in the fact sheet are great if the store fronts are set back and/or the sidewalks are built with enough space for both sidewalk cafes and pedestrians.  With the narrow sidewalks at the Junction, I’m not sure which businesses would be able to successfully implement this. There’s enough congestion already in front of some establishments where chairs and tables with their patrons (and dogs) take up a large portion of the sidewalk. When the weather is nice, it becomes a single file slog in some areas to get from one end of the Junction to the other. Some sidewalks toward the Morgan Junction and Alki may be a bit wider or not full of extraneous stuff so the flow of foot traffic isn’t impacted by outside seating areas as much (e.g. The Bridge or Pegasus Pizza). I agree with others – sitting close to car noise and exhaust or guarding my plate of fries from hungry passers-by isn’t my idea of a pleasant meal. Nice idea but not at the expense of pedestrian traffic flow.

  • Scott Collins April 15, 2019 (1:05 am)

    Brian,You make some good points…but  “guarding my plate of fries” made me chuckle.  I know that the Hamburgler is a menace, but the Frypilferer is a new one for me.  Mebbe sidewalk cafes aren’t for everyone:)

  • RICHARD SCHWARTZ April 15, 2019 (6:57 am)

    Why not sell off more public space to for profit businesses, our streets and sidewalks are already in chaos due to the city allowing developers to use them for months at a time as staging areas.   When asked about this inconvenience for the public the city just crows about how much money they make from permit fees.  Of course the developers and restaurants  who pay these fees just pass them on their customers.  So end result:  public loses use of its public space, prices go up, and the city gets to collect revenue and pretend they aren’t raising taxes.  Sounds like a pretty good deal for everyone but the average Joe.  Ya gotta love how Seattle does “business”.

    • Kram April 15, 2019 (5:30 pm)

      It’s called a ‘Street Use Permit’ and it has a necessary function that every city has a system for. To build a structure you need to stage construction equipment. If unregulated this would be far far worse and everyone would take advantage. The current system charges per square foot of space and some of those fees go towards enforcement. Enforcement actually keeps this mostly in-check. The ‘inconvenience’ is simply part of living in a dense and growing city. The average Joe would be much worse off if you could just buy sections on road. Do you think that revenue would really find it’s way to you somehow? I think not.

  • Airwolf April 15, 2019 (7:32 am)

    I am against this and will email Alyse. Thanks WSB for making us aware of this. Otherwise would not know 

  • Hotdish April 15, 2019 (7:51 am)

    I think of what some of my favorite times exploring other cities have been, and often, I love to explore a city with sidewalk cafes! I don’t mind the traffic noise, and if I’m in a hurry to get somewhere, I often will just take the sidewalks on the next street over. Otherwise I think it really can create a great sense of community and really build bridges with our neighbors, when you can run into friends as you walk by. I’ll be sure to comment as well, but I love any opportunity to bring people together, as long as there’s a good work-around for function as well. As more of these open, people will adjust their schedules to accommodate their travel/walking/parking needs. As we have more people in smaller square miles, it is important to create spaces for people to congregate together as well!

  • PangolinPie April 15, 2019 (8:39 am)

    I think they should close the main strip of Alki to traffic, and make it all a walkable pedestrian area with outdoor restaurant seating. 

  • KBear April 15, 2019 (9:02 am)

    Seattle drivers have enough trouble sharing the road with pedestrians, bicyclists, and other drivers. The idea of “streateries” is truly frightening. And good luck keeping the smokers away from your sidewalk cafés.

  • KM April 15, 2019 (9:55 am)

    I love the streateries (and sidewalk cafes) I have been to in Seattle, and they have massive appeal in other cities as well. I would love for them to pop up in our neighborhood!

  • WGA April 15, 2019 (8:28 pm)

    I love what they did in Mountain View CA and think it would be a great idea along the two blocks of California between Oregon and Edmunds. Two drive lanes plus a turn lane and then a mixture of parking and cafe areas. See photo.Also, the Summer festival shows what could be done several weekends a summer to open up the sidewalks to more pedestrian and street life.

  • WGA April 15, 2019 (10:23 pm)

    Not sure who switched photos on me, but this was the one I uploaded. Note the wider sidewalks with a mix of parking and cafes. The large planters help with a sense of security for the patrons. All in all it was very pleasant and I immediately thought it would be a great fit for the Junction. Also, there are parking lots behind the stores on either side very much as there are here.

    • WSB April 15, 2019 (10:36 pm)

      The image showing in your comment is the same one as earlier. While we have had a glitch with older image comments, generally freshly loaded ones show true,and both are showing a road image that looks to be a grab from oh say Google Maps? Shade o the left, a shadow in the middle …

      • WGA April 16, 2019 (12:10 am)

        Weird. I sent the same photo both times -yes screen grab from street I was referring to in Mt View. Never seen the beach photo before in my life. Let’s not do that in the Junction!

  • Matt P April 15, 2019 (11:38 pm)

    Fine by me as long as they don’t become an excuse for people to smoke.        

  • Scott Davis April 21, 2019 (7:28 pm)

    I have been a resident of alki beach for more than 8 years and every time I walk by a “sidewalk” seating. I am either pushed off the sidewalk or have to alter my path. It seems as if every year they seem to push further and further out into the pathway that should be a sidewalk. They should not be allowed at all. Especially on alki where the sidewalk is already to narrow.

Sorry, comment time is over.