Sidewalks should be for transportation-not auxiliary restaurant space
Aug. 13, 2022 PLYMOUTH VOICE.
Plymouth Michigan News
A battle is building over how downtown streets are envisioned and designed in Plymouth and Northville as many of the pandemic driven street changes are now being made permanent.
In the past two-years bars and restaurants have taken over the streets and sidewalks in the downtown area of the two neighboring cities, creating accessibility issues for people with disabilities at the same time hurting access and egress to local businesses that are not dining establishments.
With the increased popularity of outdoor dining in recent years, sidewalks have become more crowded making it difficult for people with disabilities using wheelchairs and mobility devices to get around. The problem with outdoor chairs and tables on sidewalks has only become worse after the Covid-19 lock downs redefined physical distance and compounded what was a bad situation from the start.
It’s no surprise; there are currently 25 liquor licenses in the City of Plymouth alone.
Everyone is being sacrificed in some way; pedestrians, motorists, business owners, shoppers and diners, especially those people with disabilities. Say nothing of the visually impaired, people with dogs or people with prosthetic legs that often face issues such as ramps, bathroom access, space between tables – all major safety factors outlined by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
It’s a fact, handicapped and elderly people often struggle more to navigate the cities sidewalks; whether just using a cane, wheelchair or walker. Use of a motorized handicapped device is very difficult with some narrow passage ways caused by restaurants crowding the public sidewalks to the curb.
City leaders have continually encouraged restaurants to extend outdoor dining since the lock-downs.
At their August 8 meeting the Plymouth Downtown Development Authority (DDA) board passed a resolution recommending the extension of the on-street Platform Patio Program through the 2024 dining season.
In February, Plymouth City Commissioners held a joint study session with the DDA, Planning commission and Historic District Commission to roll-out their plan for permanent outdoor dining for downtown restaurant and bar customers. They were promoting the use of parklets or curbside seating platforms to accommodate additional restaurant seating that is not likely to help handicapped customers.
Northville’s City Council has just announced the post pandemic streets closures put in place last year to aid failing restaurants will be permanent. Some downtown Northville business owners are already expressing their frustration and dislike with the permanent closures. Some people are saying perhaps there should have been a public referendum on the matter rather than a unilateral decision by the City commissioners.
Mayor Brian Turnbull who voted against fellow city councilmen resolutions to maintain closure of Main Street and Center Street in downtown Northville was lukewarm to the idea.
“It will be outstanding throughout the end of the year. There is no question. January, February, March, we will have to work this extremely hard…We will now have to work with our business owners to see how we make this work through the winter.”
Serious injury can result from hazards such as slips and trips and contact with moving vehicles. Regulations and clearance on sidewalks and ramps plus space between tables for wheelchairs – all paramount problems that should be addressed.
Now is the time for ADA advocates and concerned citizens to stand-up and sound off to ensure street space is expanded in a fair, equitable and legal way.