Over the weekend, some folks around the Southwest Center City area were surprised to see a new outdoor dining structure being built in the bike lane on the 2200 block of South Street. The streetery, outside Ants Pants Cafe, was being constructed by a contractor on Saturday, and had an Licenses and Inspections permit posted to the structure, noting the city had approved of a streetery. [UPDATE BELOW]
There was a lot of talk on social media about the streetery obstructing the bike lane and I personally received 20 messages about it across social media and email channels. So, I went to the spot to check it out on Sunday afternoon, saw it was partially-constructed and had a permit, then called the owner of Ants Pants to figure out what was up.
A few things to keep in mind: The Bicycle Coalition supports streeteries and, along with other advocacy groups, made building them in parking lanes part of our Recovery Streets platform. Businesses like Ants Pants have had an incredibly tough year and are looking for ways to survive, especially as the city begins opening up amidst vaccines being widely distributed. Our goal is to work with businesses like Ants Pants to figure out the best, safest solution to this problem. We of course don’t support streeteries that block pedestrian or bicyclists’ rights of way, and do not support those that limit access for people with disabilities. This was the topic of a story in WHYY last week.
In speaking with the owner of the cafe, I learned that the bike lane was not the first spot they asked for when applying for the steetery. In fact, there is a loading zone half a block away, and the Grays Ferry Triangle, a pedestrian-only space that was created several years ago as a community space. I also reached out to the city and found the Streets Department did not approve the project.
The project, however will not be completed in the bike lane, according to the city. But local business owners deserve to have outdoor seating and the cafe should be able to build their outdoor space in a spot that works for them. We hope Ants Pants will be allowed to build something in the loading zone or triangle nearby.
UPDATE: A previous version of this story noted the cafe had received a permit to build a streetery in the street. Actually, the permit said “Sidewalk Cafe/Streetery” which is the general permit that anyone with temporary approval receives. This business was approved for a sidewalk cafe, which the owner contends the sidewalk is not large enough large for.