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State College Should Slow Its Roll With Outdoor Seating Permits

Elissa Hill

State College Borough Council approved an outdoor seating permit for Baby’s Burgers & Shakes at its meeting Monday night. I can appreciate the merits of outdoor seating, and there’s nothing better than a classic 50s diner, but State College should slow its roll with outdoor seating permits.

Anyone who’s been to downtown State College can’t deny that it’s saturated with pedestrians. Students and community members alike take advantage of the borough’s walkability on a daily basis, but somehow Borough Council seems to have turned a blind eye to how outdoor seating at establishments like Baby’s can affect pedestrian traffic.

As high rises go up and traditions like Herwig’s and The Diner move out, I understand why the Borough is looking for incentives that might sweeten the deal to keep mom and pop shops open and preserve the charm of downtown. But that shouldn’t be to the detriment of those who rely on State College sidewalks to get where they need to go — especially when the benefit is so marginal, with room for only a few tables outside anyway.

Council Members Dan Murphy and Janet Engeman were the only two to vote against the outdoor seating permit for Baby’s.

Murphy used Twitter to ask community members for feedback on the project, which leaned to the negative side due to the pedestrian patterns on Garner Street, where Baby’s is located. You can see them for yourself in Murphy’s photo below.

Engeman, on the other hand, uses a wheelchair, so it’s not hard to imagine why she might be against a project that could limit pedestrian mobility.

Although the outdoor seating at Baby’s is expected to be more like Inferno or Liberty, with sidewalk-level seating fenced in, the Pickles deck is a prime example of why outdoor seating just doesn’t make sense in most areas of downtown.

When the Pickles deck was first installed in late summer 2017, it was immediately apparent that it just didn’t work.

“We’re confident we won’t be infringing on public walking space,” said Curtis Shulman, director of operations for the State College hotel, which owns Pickles. “We wouldn’t want to make anything inconvenient for the public.”

Although it’s technically ADA compliant, the deck’s proximity to a bench and a tree on the same sidewalk make it an undeniable nuisance to the public, especially during high-traffic times like home football weekends.

Residents continued to complain to the State College Transportation Commission even in September of 2018, saying planners must be “embarrassed” by the travesty the deck has become.

All Borough Manager Tom Fountaine could say at that point was that the Pickles deck permit runs through summer 2020, so apparently there’s nothing the Borough can do about it until then.

As the adage goes, just because we can doesn’t mean we should. Just because State College can allow outdoor seating without violating minimum walkway regulations doesn’t mean it should.

What it should do is find a better way to offer outdoor ambiance downtown without hindering pedestrian accessibility.

*cough* Did someone say Allen Street pedestrian plaza?

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About the Author

Elissa Hill

Elissa is a senior public relations major and the managing editor of Onward State. She is from Punxsutawney, PA [insert corny Bill Murray joke here] and considers herself an expert on all things ice cream. Send questions and comments via e-mail ([email protected]) and follow her on Twitter (@ElissaKHill) for more corny jokes.

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