This has been a pet peeve of mine for a while. I enjoy going out to eat, and on a nice summer night, there’s nothing like sitting outside while eating. That pleasure vanishes when your dining “room” has suddenly become someone else’s walkway. I live in Federal Hill about a block from Atwells Ave, the dining Mecca of Providence. The street is lined with restaurant after restaurant. The sidewalks on Atwells Ave are not the extra wide sidewalks found in super pedestrian cities like New York or Boston. They’re regular old Providence city sidewalks. If I had to guess at the width of them, I’d say about 6 feet or so from the building to the curb. The restaurants have decided that they need to attract tourists with their “outdoor dining”. That means that tables have been setup on these already somewhat narrow sidewalks to accommodate the diners. Some tables are round, some are square, some are two-tops some are 4 tops, some are setup square to the building, others are setup more diamond shape. These tables end up taking up about 4 feet of the space on the sidewalk, that’s two-thirds of the room, 66% of the space to walk. Now, on a night like tonight, with humidity near 90% and temps in the 80’s, you’d think that people wouldn’t want to eat outside. That is except for the fact that it’s “quaint” to eat out side. You get the lovely ambiance of the cars driving by, the guys giving cat calls to the girls crossing the street, the cars parked on the sidewalk, and the pedestrians, remember the pedestrians, this is a city after all, bumping into you because they have to dodge the valets flying in and out in front of the restaurants and the sandwich board signs in front of every restaurant advertising that they have valet. That brings me to another point… are these signs even permitted to be there and do all the restaurants really need valet? There’s a strip with 3 restaurants – Siena, 242, and Opa – each of which with their own valet and sidewalk dining (and these are the worst offenders with taking up too much of the sidewalk).
In an urban environment on a street that attracts so many pedestrians at all times of the year, especially the summer, the tables and the sandwich boards should not be allowed. The restaurants on Atwells Ave do not need the outdoor dining to attract customers. They simply need to be open, especially in the summer. There is no shortage of people who want to eat and on a night like tonight, every restaurant on Atwells was packed to the brim.
Note to anyone who has an interest, outdoor seating, while important to the tourists, does not belong on narrow sidewalks. Take a lesson from Trinity Brewhouse. They have a “deck” attached to the building with outdoor seating. The building is set back a bit more from the street than anywhere on Atwells. If Atwells were bigger, it’d work, but it’s not. The outdoor seating is not attracting anyone, and the only people eating out there are doing so because it’s the only option. It might give you a few more tables and a few more customers, but it kills the flow of pedestrian traffic and I’m sure the customers aren’t overly happy with pedestrians bumping into them while they’re dining.
And for the valets, there needs to be a central valet stand for each block on Atwells, not one for each restaurant. The restaurants can pay into it somehow, but they cause more problems with traffic and the people who work the valet don’t give any regard to traffic laws.