Covering our tracks: how awnings help

Awnings don’t just look good, they support walkability, too – but there are reasons why we don’t see more of them, even in the rainy city.

Seattle is infamous for its rain.  Situated in a ‘convergence zone’ (that is, a valley between two glorious mountain ranges, the soggy city experiences 226 cloudy days a year, most of them with some sort of shower.  And, even though Seattle’s annual 36 inches of rainfall is less than New York City sees, its citizens are used to being damp most of the time.

Posted by Megan Risley

August 11, 2011

That’s because those 36 inches are drawn out – a little over a long period of time.  So, it feels like it’s always raining, even when it’s just that the air gets thick.  But even mist can wet pedestrians without umbrellas (like most of the locals) or hoods, and dampen sidewalks, which, given enough time and repetition can actually develop a thin veneer of slippery build-up more hazards than tree roots.  Besides, it’s just simply not pleasant to walk around wet, and thus cold, even if you’re lived in Seattle long enough to sprout gills.

Awnings, then, are a Seattleite’s best friend.  Trees aren’t the only source of protection from the elements (namely, in this case, water).  Overhangs and awnings covering entrances to businesses, restaurants and hotels are just as capable as keeping the sidewalks dry – and, thus, more appealing to utilize.  They don’t sequester carbon, but they do stop water from soaking oftentimes defenseless pedestrians who were caught off guard by the typical sunny morning giving way to a rending of the heavens.

So, why don’t we have more space under which we can shelter while waiting for that next bus, or as we’re innocently strolling from one shop to the next trusting the staying power of the flaming ball in the sky?  There is a legal limit for how far an awning can stretch out from a building.  Worse, the current tax code will exact taxes for “signage” if a business displays its name on the end of the awning (making it easier for customers to find, of course) based on the size of the entire awning.  Sometimes, these costs are prohibitive.  Thus, a woeful lack of canvas above pedestrian pathways throughout the city.

Sidewalks are public property, but the portion of sidewalk that falls in front of a particular business’ entryway is the responsibility of said business to maintain.  Many businesses don’t realize it’s their job to keep their sidewalks in clean, clear condition, but it would behoove them to do so, as sidewalks add property value by allowing access to public property and making safe inroads in the city.  Because the city holds business owners responsible for sidewalk preservation, it would seem that they should then, by way of maintaining their portion of sidewalk, be allowed (even encouraged) to create awnings and extended signage covering their building’s entrance.  After all, awnings are on the side of walkability, as much or more than sidewalks themselves, and therefore should not be so heavily laced with fees.

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