This Wouldn’t Happen if D.C. Owned its Sidewalks
The sidewalk in front of the Willard Intercontinental Hotel on Pennsylvania Avenue, right across from the White House, is one of the most spacious in the city. And yet, the hotel's Cafe du Parc has seen fit to take up almost the entire thing, such that a pedestrian could barely pass another going the other way without getting bumped into the street.
That's not allowed under the District Department of Transportation's public space regulations for sidewalk cafes, which dictate that 10 feet of space remain; the Public Space Committee can approve as little as six feet. From an eyeball estimate, the Willard has left walkers with no more than four feet. Shouldn't the District be able to slap them on the wrist? Of course not, silly! That sidewalk is owned by the National Park Service, which makes it difficult for bike racks to go in on Pennsylvania Avenue, but apparently has no problem allowing a private business to obstruct the pedestrian right of way!
I've dropped notes to the Park Service spokesman and to the hotel's manager to see if they can explain themselves, and will update if they do.
UPDATE, 9:45 p.m. – As noted by some commenters, there is in fact a path between the cafe tables, and the Willard Hotel people were kind enough to send over the photo at right. I'm glad to see that there's more consideration of pedestrians than I'd noticed every time I came around that corner—which may be a result of usually seeing it from the vantage point of a bike rather than on foot. I do think, however, that it's poor design to start a sidewalk next to the street and have it be abruptly cut off by parking spaces.