“Al Fresco” Dining and the ADA

Northeast ADA Center Staff April 26, 2020

italian pizza restaurant outdoors

The weather is finally starting to warm up here in the Northeast, and along with the warm weather comes the ability to spend time outside after months of being cooped up indoors. This time of year also ushers in “Al fresco” dining, whether in your own home or at your local neighborhood establishments. Outdoor dining  is quite popular in many areas, particularly urban or downtown areas, where sidewalks become the temporary setting for outdoor dining sets and customers, more than happy to dine outside. As enjoyable as dining outside is for patrons and the owners of establishments with the ability to provide this seasonal amenity, we wanted to take a minute to remind all stakeholders that we cannot forget that public sidewalks must continue to serve the needs of pedestrians, including those with disabilities, when the outdoor tables and chairs come out of storage and find a home for several months within these sidewalk areas.   As many Al Fresco dining areas are located on sidewalks within the public right of way, the best practice document to look to for accessibility requirements in this setting, is the Proposed Public Rights of Way Guidelines (PROW), available here:  While not yet an enforceable standard under the ADA, the PROW requires that the continuous clear width of pedestrian access routes (routes provided for pedestrians with disabilities to travel in the public right-of-way) must be at least 4’ minimum, exclusive of the width of the curb. Where the clear width of pedestrian access routes is less than 5’, passing spaces shall be provided at intervals of 200’ maximum and these passing spaces must be 5’minimum by 5’ minimum. Street furniture and other objects, including outdoor dining tables/chairs, are not permitted to reduce the clear width of pedestrian access routes. It is critical to remember that lacking this clear width along public sidewalks can create major barriers for people with disabilities, so care must be taken to ensure that any obstacles within the public right of way are placed in a way that still provides for a clear pedestrian access route.   Additionally, the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) recommends that local governments use an encroachment permit process to regulate the use of sidewalks by private entities for activities such as outdoor dining, vending carts and stands, and street fairs in order to control protruding objects and maintain the clear width of pedestrian access routes. See AASHTO, Guide for the Planning, Design, and Operation of Pedestrian Facilities (2004), section 3.2.3. Many local jurisdictions already have permitting policies in place for outdoor dining along sidewalks, so be sure to check with your local officials to ensure that you have met your obligations to provide for a safe, and accessible experience, for your outdoor dining patrons as well as for pedestrians with disabilities.

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