Navigating the Strait of Caña

I’m all for new businesses opening up in vacant storefronts in nearby neighborhoods, and I’m all for sidewalk seating in front of restaurants and cafes too—almost anything that encourages people to be out and about on the streets and sidewalks of our neighborhoods seems like a good thing to me, whether they are walking to the post office or sipping mojitos with friends at a sidewalk table.

That said, I was a bit taken aback when I saw the outdoor seating area for the (not yet open) Caña, a new cuban restaurant and cabaret:

My first reaction was, “WTF? Could you have made your sidewalk seating area any more obtrusive and obstructive?” More than half of the sidewalk is blocked, right next to the bus stop and garbage can, so there is only a 30-inch gap through which people have to pass—in the 2 minutes I was standing there gaping at this new fence, I saw several pedestrians stop to let oncoming walkers pass through this Strait of Caña before they themselves could proceed. A woman pushing a regular stroller through the gap used careful navigation, since there were only a few inches on either side.

My second reaction was, “Well, I know that they are going to be widening this section of sidewalk soon as part of the Lakeshore complete streets project, so this fencing off of a public walkway for private use will presumably be a lot less obtrusive once the sidewalk is larger.” Of course it might have been nice, I told myself, if they had waited for the sidewalk expansion before they blocked a busy pedestrian strip with a fence for a seating area which isn’t even being used yet, but whatever, it will only be temporary, and it might be nice once the sidewalk widening occurs.

My third reaction came after I got home and saw that they plan to expand the sidewalk seating area from 6 feet to 10 feet after the sidewalk is widened. So the current fencing was apparently designed for the currently configured sidewalk, not the more commodious sidewalk of the future. I returned to my first feeling of “WTF?”

I note that Lanesplitter Pizza, which is right next door, also plans to expand their outdoor seating. But Lanesplitter seems to be waiting for the sidewalk expansion before fencing off a large part of a moderately sized sidewalk in a fairly busy pedestrian area. For now, Lanesplitter has simply been placing a few tables out on the sidewalk during business hours, and the pedestrian right of way remains clear (until, of course, you hit the Caña property line, where you suddenly run into a metal fence).

As I said, this problem is probably temporary, because (I hope) the expanded sidewalk will be wide enough and presumably designed to accomodate the outdoor seating at Caña and Lanesplitter and other restaurants on that strip, and once the sidewalk is wider and Caña actually opens, the benefits of outdoor seating will probably outweigh the impediment to pedestrians. Even if I might prefer a less obtrusive seating area without a big fence around it, the streetscape redesign will surely be a big improvement over the status quo.

I don’t mean to pick on Caña, which I hope will be a lively and valuable addition to the neighborhood, but it’s still somewhat galling that a business which hasn’t even opened yet can erect a fence which indefinitely blocks pedestrian traffic, while a business such as Farley’s East can’t appropriate a small piece of the automobile’s turf for customer seating for a single day without being forced by the police to remove their temporary seating area from the street.

I see that “Caña Outdoor Seating” is listed on the agenda of the Grand Lake Neighbors’ monthly meeting tomorrow (as is the contentious proposed dog park next to MacArthur Boulevard), so I wonder if I’m not the only person who was a bit surprised by how obtrusive the sidewalk fence is.

19 Responses to “Navigating the Strait of Caña”

  1. V Smoothe says:

    Did you call the City to see if they have a permit to do that? That is a serious encroachment. Not that I would expect the City to do anything if you called and it turned out they don’t have one (many complaints about Pican usurping the entire sidewalk in front of their restaurant has yielded nothing), I’m just curious whether or not someone said that was OK.

  2. Mat C says:

    When I had to replace my sidewalk in downtown Oakland Public Works said the universal sidewalk width in Oakland is 5 feet, even on a busy street like MLK. The rest I was welcome to wall off just like Caña did.

  3. Amanda says:

    Hi – I live right around the corner from this strip and I am really surprised by this reaction. I walk that street almost every day, and have always been depressed at the Lake Park dead zone, so have been excited about the opening of Cana and love the idea of sidewalk seating. I push a stroller and waiting a few seconds for another pedestrian to walk through does not seem like a big deal in an urban area. Around the corner in front of Boot and Shoe, the way the tables are placed you sometimes feel like you are walking through the restaurant, but that seems much preferable to the wide, empty sidewalk that Lake Park often was. As you say, I think the benefits will much outweigh this minor inconvenience!

  4. dc says:

    V Smoothe: I didn’t personally check to see if they had gotten a permit, but one of the Splash Pad newsletters said they were getting an encroachment permit, so my assumption was that they had done whatever they were required to do to get permission from the city.

    Amanda: As you can tell from the post, I have mixed feelings: Like you, I’m excited that the Lake Park dead zone is coming back to life with Lanesplitter and Caña and the resurrection of the Kwik-Way location etc. The outdoor seating at those places should breathe some life into a pretty depressing block, and as I said, I’m generally a big fan of sidewalk seating. I think one thing that bothers me about this particular seating area is the permanent fencing—Boot and Shoe diners do block most of the sidewalk at times, but they haven’t literally fenced off the majority of the sidewalk for 24 hours a day. There may be some personal aesthetic preference involved here: I would rather negotiate my way through a group of people and tables, a la Boot and Shoe, but I can see that other people might prefer to navigate around a well-defined, fenced seating area.

    As you say, it’s not a huge deal, but when two regular-width people walking side by side need to take turns passing through a gap before resuming their forward progress, that strikes me as a less-than-ideal arrangement which should probably not be made permanent with fencing. That said, I expect that it will seem less glaringly obtrusive to me once there are tables and people inside the fenced area, and I hope that the whole issue will become moot when the sidewalk is widened and the garbage can is moved, etc.

  5. Matt C says:

    (Cough) 5′ wide sidewalks are the rule here in Oakland. Correct me if I’m wrong, but an encroachment permit is for the temporary blocking of sidwalk, parking, or roadway. They likely own the land that fence is located on -it’s not a public easement. Seriously -five feet from the back side of the curb is all the public right of way we get here.

  6. dc says:

    Matt C: Sorry, I didn’t mean to disregard your earlier comment—since I know absolutely nothing about permitting for sidewalk seating, my answer to V was simply passing on what I had read elsewhere. If it’s true that one can do whatever one wants with a sidewalk up to 5′ from the curb without any need for a permit, that’s pretty remarkable. (And if it’s not true that one can do whatever one wants without a permit up to 5′ from the curb, but Public Works is going around telling people that they can, then that would be pretty remarkable too!)

  7. Pedestrianist says:

    5′ public sidewalks in Oakland would boggle my mind, but Oakland’s its own city and can make its own mistakes like that when it comes to streetscape planning.

    What it can’t do, however, is violate ADA which requires (IIRC) 48″ of passable sidewalk.

  8. dc says:

    Ped’ist: Interesting—I didn’t know that 48” ADA requirement. My 30” estimate of the space between the may be a bit low, but I would be surprised if the gap is more than 3′, and pretty shocked if it were close to 48”. (I’m not personally exercised about the fence enough to go measure it, and no matter what, the situation will almost certainly improve a lot once the complete streets work gets done in the next few months.) I’m less concerned with whether all the proper permitting is obtained and whether the letter of the law is followed, and more interested in the (admittedly subjective) question of whether it produces a good experience for pedestrians and local residents. Amanda obviously doesn’t think it’s a problem, and that’s reassuring. If my reaction was idiosyncratic and unusual, then I’m delighted—I’m perfectly capable of negotiating a cluttered, narrow or busy sidewalk myself, so if people pushing strollers or using wheelchairs or walking with canes or herding toddlers don’t have any issues with it, then everything is hunky dory as far as I’m concerned.

  9. Andy K says:

    ADA violation. I think the requirement is 5 ft. That is what I have been repeatedly told. And every sidewalk that I have constructed over the last 10 years or so has been at least 5 ft. wide.

    Was there anyone at the restaurant to bring this to their attention. Better than calling the city.

    Why exactly do you need to fence off the sidewalk to “create” out door seating. This is a bad policy. I am assuming this restaurant will not be open 24/7, nor will anyone be sitting outside in the rain/cold. So the sidewalk will always be blocked even when there is no need to block it.

  10. dc says:

    In fairness, there is still 5 ft of sidewalk between the fence and the curb. It’s only the gap between the corner of the fence and the trash bin which looked to me more like 3 feet or less. (The trash bin is not in front of Caña’s property, so maybe they weren’t required to factor it into their plans?) Moving the trash bin to somewhere on the other side of the bus stop might be the simplest way to resolve any issues until the complete streets work gets done later this year, if anyone cares enough to raise a fuss. As I said above, I’m not particularly upset by this myself, but it did strike me as pretty obtrusive. Hopefully the complete streets project will get done quickly (I think it’s supposed to be done in the first half of this year, although this is Oakland, so you never know) and there will then be plenty of room for everyone…

  11. wordnerd says:

    Here in Brookline, MA the law is clear: 30 inches of clear sidewalk (i.e. half of 5 feet). Other than that, impassable cold white boulders are permitted.

  12. dc says:

    It’ll be interesting to see whether your piles of snow melt before the Lake Park sidewalk gets expanded, or vice versa.

  13. matt c. says:

    Cool. It’s just important to understand what is public right of way and what is not. It’s very likely the fenced in area is private land. Like while you can’t build on every square foot of your land you are allowed to secure it with a fence. Perhaps the city has scheduled to move the trash can….

  14. dc says:

    I am a bit skeptical about the possibility that the fenced-in portion is sitting on private land, but I readily concede that I don’t have any direct knowledge or expertise on that question. You’ve gotten me curious, though, and I am interested to discover that the Oakland Planning Code has a whole section about sidewalk cafes. Among other things (for instance, encroachment permits are required for sidewalk cafes), it confirms that there must be a minimum of five feet of unobstructed sidewalk space between the sidewalk cafe and the nearest obstruction (including parking meters, trees, street signs, etc.) It seems pretty clear that there’s nowhere near 5 feet between the trash bin and the corner of that fence. The code also indicates that a sidewalk cafe, even if it has a “permanent structure,” can indeed obstruct the public right-of-way as long as it passes a design review (that doesn’t directly speak to whether Caña’s seating area is on the public right-of-way, but it does mean that even if that piece of sidewalk was a public right-of-way, the sidewalk cafe could still have been properly approved by the city).

    Anyway, I don’t want to get too deep in the weeds on this stuff. As I said above, I’m not personally very concerned about whether the seating area follows the letter of the law. I’m more interested in the mushy subjective issues relating to aesthetics and pedestrian experience and yadda yadda yadda. It’ll be interesting to see what that whole block looks like once the complete streets work gets completed in the spring (knock on wood).

  15. Becks says:

    Thanks for brining up this issue! Oakland has a lot of street furniture issues, and I think part of the problem is that so many different agencies and departments are involved in the placement of furniture or other objects on sidewalks. On Friday I was getting on the 57 bus at MacArthur BART and there’s a trash can right where the bus pulls up so it was very difficult for passengers to get out the front door as a line of people tried to get in.

    I’d love to see a full review of street furniture, trees, and fences in Oakland. I think it would be pretty easy to make some adjustments, except for places like Pican that have been flouting the law for quite a long time and no one seems to care. (I actually have started to avoid the west side of Broadway in Uptown so that I don’t have to deal with navigating around the Pican fence.)

  16. dc says:

    Oakland seems to have all sorts of great-sounding plans and policies for being a livable, walkable, environmentally conscious city, but when it comes to performing the most basic implementation or enforcement, it often fails miserably. I’ve looked through the city’s Pedestrian Master Plan, which is full of beautiful sidewalk design guidelines and so on, but then when I take the dog out for a walk in my neighborhood, I have to keep walking into the street because people habitually park their cars across the sidewalk with no worries about being ticketed (never mind any consideration for their neighbors who need to constantly walk around their cars).

  17. Becks says:

    Yeah, it’s terrible in my new neighborhood, since I walk to work down 30th to Broadway and have to pass auto body shops no matter which side of the street I use. Two or three times a week I have to walk into the street to get around the cars on the sidewalk (and sometimes several feet into the street). My neighborhood should be very walkable, but it sometimes feels dangerous because of this.

  18. wordnerd says:

    > It’ll be interesting to see whether your piles of snow melt before the Lake Park sidewalk
    > gets expanded, or vice versa.

    It’s going to be hard to see whether our piles melt–they’ve just gotten a substantial overcoat. None of it is likely to melt in the single digit temperatures we’re being promised.

  19. dc says:

    I was glad to notice today that the garbage canister was recently moved to the other side of the bench, so there is less of a bottleneck near the corner of the fence. I also peeked at the interior of Caña through an open door, and it looks pretty cute.

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