Sidewalk access ordinance is celebrated

With one outdoor dining season on the books and new penalties in place for any violations, an ordinance meant to keep sidewalks accessible was celebrated Oct. 19 in St. Paul. The St. Paul City Council declared the date to be Full Mobility Day in St. Paul.

Ward Two Council Member Dave Thune, who authored the ordinance, honored the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities and other volunteers for their work on the ordinance. Council members and city staff Alyssa Wetzel-Moore, Barritt Lovelace, Scott Coleman, Jim Thayer, Kerry Sheldon and Mark Hughes were on hand for the proclamation.

Thune noted that work to bring sidewalk cafes into compliance with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) began in 2008. The effort was spurred along in 2010 when St. Paul resident Mike Samuelson asked the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities to get involved in the effort. The council voted in January 2010 supports an ordinance change from a 36-inch sidewalk right-of-way to the 48-inch right-of-way recommended by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Transportation.

Samuelson and Hughes then became a steady presence at City Council meetings, to push the ordinance changes along. Acting as representatives of the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities, the two men met consistently with St. Paul Public Works, the Department of Safety & Inspections, the Business Review Council, and Capitol River Council over the summer and fall of 2010 to work on details of the sidewalk cafe ordinance. The ordinance was drafted by October 2010 and introduced by Thune.

Two public hearings were held on the ordinance, in November and December 2010. At the second hearing the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities organized a group of six ADA advocates, many in wheelchairs, to testify. They shared personal stories of the dangers they face in having to move into a busy street when there is not enough room to navigate around sidewalk obstructions.

The restaurant owners who testified against the ordinance said they agreed with the concept of improved access. But some raised concerns about the widths of some city sidewalks. Others said they had ordered railings and other fixtures with the narrower passageway in mind.

Because the ordinance was still controversial, Hughes and Rick Cardenas met with city staff to iron out differences in the sidewalk cafe ordinance language. It was finally adopted in April 2011.

The resolution passed Oct. 19 stated, “None of this would have been possible without the mutual aide and assistance provided by the cavalry at the Mayor’s Council on Disabilities who rode into the(City) Council to petition their government for a redress of their wrongs; Now therefore, be it resolved, that Wednesday, October 19, 2011 is declared Full Mobility Day in the City of Saint Paul as we strive to reach that goal.”

After the presentation Thune said that passage of the ordinance wouldn’t have been possible without the work of the advisory council and community volunteers. Advisory council members also took time to thank the City Council for their help.

This past spring, summer and fall were considered to be a first run for the ordinance, with city officials warning violators rather than imposing fines. That is likely to change in the future as the council adopted penalties for sidewalk café ordinance violations October 12. The penalties for violation are similar to those for other license violations. The first violation is a $200 fine. The matrix goes to $400 for the second violation and $800 for a third violation. If there are four violations revocation of licenses is a possibility.