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PBOT launches ‘Street Seats’ program

Posted by on August 14th, 2012 at 9:41 am

Screen grab from PBOT website.

The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) has launched a pilot program that will allow business owners to convert on-street parking spots into seating areas. The program, dubbed “Street Seats”, is PBOT’s spin on the idea of converting parking spots to mini-parks a.k.a. parklets. Parklets roared to popularity when they were first introduced by the City of San Francisco in February 2010. By August of that same year, a grassroots efforts bloomed to bring them to Portland, but the City never gave them the official stamp of approval until now.

PBOT has not made an official announcement (I heard about it via the Portland Transport blog and its publisher Chris Smith found about it via a Tweet from Sustainability at Work), but they have published a page on their website about it.

PBOT bills the program as “A pilot program to bring more outdoor seating to Portland streets.” Here’s more on their thinking behind Street Seats:

What is ‘Street Seats?’

Street Seats is a pilot program that allows the Portland Bureau of Transportation to permit businesses to build a temporary platform in the on-street parking lane. The platform is the same height as the curb and extends the sidewalk space in order to add additional outdoor seating along the street.

Similar programs in San Francisco and New York City have proven successful and gotten Portlanders asking whether the same success can happen here. This summer, the pilot program will work with local restaurants to try our own version, which will be called “Street Seats.”

In launching this program, PBOT states on their website that the public right-of-way isn’t just about moving people and goods, but that it’s “a public space for gathering and meeting”.

If a business is interested in the program, they can apply via the online application form. PBOT will award 15 locations during the pilot program, which will end on December 31, 2012. During this trial period, applicants will be asked pay for all the materials and costs associated with construction of the seating area platform. They will also need to pay for a $459 encroachment permit, which might come with additional costs such as compensation for lost parking meter revenue, street sign changes, and so on (each location will be different).

Street Seats platform requires a $459 encroachment permit and may include additional costs, such as compensation for lost parking meter revenue, a Café Seating permit and charges for street sign changes. Contact transportation staff for more accurate cost estimates based on a specific location. (PBOT points out that after the pilot period, the costs are likely to change.)

Interestingly, PBOT has launched this program without any formal public announcement. PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson, who I contacted via email this morning, said they made the website live on Friday. “No formal announcement. Similar programs have been popular in other dynamic cities, and Portlanders have asked us to permit street seats here. So we’re running the pilot program to see if it’s a success.”

Learn more about the program at the Street Seats website.

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peejay
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peejay

Yes, lots of these, please!

But what I don’t like at all is the idea that the business has to compensate the city for lost parking revenue. Does the city compensate ME for lost access to the streets because so much of our public rights of way are tied up in personal property storage?

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

Parking meter rates are so artificially low in Portland that you’re not looking at all that much cost ($19.20/day per space), which should be easily recovered (and then some) each day.

However, this is a vital element of the program: making up for lost revenue provides a legitimacy and justification for drivers “losing” the spot. If the merchant believes they can make more money by paying for that spot and setting up additional seating and selling more product, they should be allowed to do so. This practice would set precedents that should open peoples’ eyes to the fact that street parking is not “sacred,” that businesses will not lose revenue when they lose nearby street parking spaces, and that the public right of way should be up for grabs for the best possible use of the space, not just a thoroughfare or underpriced storage yard for private automobiles.

Additionally, the public right of way used for street parking is a scare public resource, and it’s use should be priced appropriately relative to it’s scarcity, regardless of the chosen use. Not paying to use this scarce resource is essentially stealing from the public, akin to a business taking water from the public without paying, to make a profit.

SilkySlim
Guest

Sounds like a no-brainer for any restaurant that has overflowing tables! Would you rather have 3-4 more tables turn over an hour, or the slight possibility that the person who parked in front of your door (blocking the view!) might make it in for a meal?

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Yay, this sounds awesome! This and 20 mph zones are two recent transportation innovations that I’ve wishes PBOT would copy, and here they are! Now all we need are some more real NYC-style cycle tracks 🙂

The $460 fee plus lost meter revenue seems a little excessive to me, but hey. I suppose that $460 probably looks like chump change to restaurants that want more seating.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

I also hope that this will encourage restaurants whose outdoor seating encroaches excessively upon the sidewalk (*cough* Pambiche *cough*) to move said seating to “street seats” and free up the sidewalk a little. OK, so that’s unlikely. But a girl can dream, right?

Indy
Guest
Indy

Or how about those wooden signs all over that advertise the business, so that walking on sidewalks is frequently an effort in running a maze, not to mention the commercialization of our sidewalks (a fully public space).

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Seriously! Once this program is a roaring success, let’s agitate for a sister “Street Sign Storage” program where the businesses move those darn A-Frame signs on sidealks to former parking spots 🙂

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Similarly with newspaper kiosks, excessive poles for street signage, and other such sidewalk junk. Take back the sidewalks! Take back the sidewalks!

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

yeah 460 seems like a lot, how long does the permit last? Will they have to pay this annually or just one time?

Robert Ping
Guest
Robert Ping

Awesome! This treatment makes such a big difference for businesses and their patrons, pedestrians, neighborhood beauty and livability; and I’ll bet it also has a traffic calming effect. PBOT or COP, or even PSU, I hope you can do some tracking of the economic benefits of this, especially to counter what will surely be negative reactions from those (read: infomedia) who will argue that the lost car parking will affect business.

People Parking trumps Car Parking!

Robert Ping
Guest
Robert Ping

I meant (read: infotainment)

Amy
Guest
Amy

In San Francisco these parklets are supposed to be public spaces, but they are de facto extensions of whatever business they happen to be in front of (usually restaurants/cafes).

If the seating is meant for restaurant use then it seems fair for the restaurant to pay for it.

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

Yeah, but to almost the same extent as the seats would be de facto extensions of adjoining restaurants, the car parking on main streets in non-downtown Portland is de facto free parking for patrons of businesses nearby. Those businesses don’t have to pay for that parking. Why should they have to pay to use the same space for something else? I definitely agree that the businesses should have to pay for the actual furniture and fixtures and whatever that goes on the street. But should they have to pay $460 for the mere pleasure of using the space in front of their building for something other than storing private cars? I don’t really see why.

I think that a restaurant contributing to street life is actually *more* valuable to the city than the restaurant providing an extra space to store a car for free. Maybe the City should pay the adjoining business $460 rather than the other way around 🙂

Rosie
Guest
Rosie

The city can’t just implement this stuff at zero cost to anybody. It takes money to set up the program, to process applications, work with business owners to agree on suitable platform designs, periodically check the sites in question to make sure they’re adhering to city standards, etc, etc. Staff need to be paid to run the program, and I’d rather it come out of the pockets of the businesses that benefit than from our taxes.

(FYI, John, I don’t see you mention anywhere how often this permit fee must be paid – one time? Annually? Monthly?)

Alex Reed
Guest
Alex Reed

I dunno, the city provides free car parking in front of the business at zero cost to the business (or at least, before this program started, the business didn’t have any choice in the matter nor visibility into how much of their taxes/fees/whatever went towards funding that free car parking). I agree that, politically/practically/etc., the City does need to collect a fee for this program. However, $460 sounds like a lot. And, I think that it would be good for the City to do *something* to account for the high cost of providing copious free car parking.

Rosie
Guest
Rosie

It’s a pilot program, anyhow, so I imagine the city is making an educated guess as to the cost. I’m sure it will be revised up/down once (or if) they decide to expand the program. I think another cost to consider is that there is one less parking space on the street, and therefore potentially that many fewer people out patronizing nearby businesses if there is no other parking nearby. I’d be interested in knowing how the city would offset this cost to neighboring businesses, but it’s also fair to keep in mind that this can affect the city’s tax income as well (though nominally, it would seem to me).

Bottom line for me is: every extra seat is valuable for a busy restaurant. I think it’s reasonable to assume the city has considered whether or not it would be worthwhile for a restaurant to fork over $459 for the privilege. It is public right-of-way, infrastructure that the city must pay to build and maintain, and I think it makes sense for them to get a fair price for use of the space. We’ll see how the pilot goes, and then perhaps everybody will have a clearer idea of this program’s potential.

Dave
Guest

It seems like, if they wanted a fair trial run, they would make a big stink about it to make sure 15 businesses would try it out. How will restaurants know this is an option if it just gets posted to the website and nobody ever knows it’s there?

I really hope this is successful, I can imagine it making for a a nice experience for restaurant patrons, as well as giving restaurants additional capacity for customers without having to find a new building or remodel. Win-win.

Indy
Guest
Indy

This is how the Internet works. Many business subscribe to the same blogs and RSS and twitter accounts you and I do. Or word of mouth, Facebook, and the like. They’ll see a competitor do it and wonder themselves.

They’ll find out, don’t you worry.

peejay
Guest
peejay

Just wait until a someone in a car drives into one of these Seat-Streets, since they seem to drive into buildings all the time. The story will include a rundown on whether all the patrons were wearing visible clothing and helmets, natch.

Indy
Guest
Indy

MMMmmm…car exhaust with my latte please.

Tim Davis
Guest
Tim Davis

I’ve been dying to see this for a long time! Yesterday I e-mailed streetseats@portlandoregon.gov to ask if they have a site (or Twitter feed, FB page, etc) that will be *updated daily* to let us know where any Street Seats will be opening. I will DEFINITELY support those businesses that have Street Seats! We need to take back the streets for PEOPLE!

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

Hm. This is a great idea. I can foresee one chain of events or the other:

Business ‘A’ covers its parking spaces for “street seats”. Customers then park on the street in front of business ‘B’, but patronize business ‘A’, ‘cuz they have cool outdoor seating. Owner of business ‘B’ then has two choices:

– Oh yeah? Well then I’m going to seatify my street parking, too! …and so on down the street…
OR
– Complain loudly that business ‘A’ is unfairly “hogging” more than its fair share of street parking (some for seats and yet more for continued car parking), and start a dust-up–perhaps a legal one–that will result in business ‘A’ converting its “street seats” back to car parking.

Dave
Guest

I think your second scenario is where it comes in that it’s important the restaurant is paying for the use of the space – if it comes to restaurant B getting upset over it, restaurant A can just say “we’re compensating the city for use of that space, deal with it.”

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

So The City would have nothing to complain about, but business owner ‘B’ might respond to your answer with, “Well, who’s compensating me for my loss of parking due to your customers taking it all?” Does business owner ‘B’ get a refund on part of his city business license that comes out of the money ‘A’ pays to the city?

I’d hate to see it, but I would bet there is a legit complaint to be made in such a situation.

Although I guess if we compare it to something like a bike corral, those seem to work OK–but in that case you are trading parking for parking of a different kind (car for bike). I suppose the comparison in that context would be that “Street Seats” are trading car parking for butt parking, ASSuming that users of erstwhile car parking spaces arrived on foot…

Dave
Guest

How can business owner B bring a legal case against business owner A because more people are going to business owner A’s business? It’d be like the M Bar suing Smokehouse 21 because the commercial space in their side of the building is larger, so they get more customers. Business owner B doesn’t *own* the parking in front of their store, it’s public space, administered by the city. It’s not like any specific business has claim to parking, unless it’s on property that they own privately. Business owner A is simply compensating the city, in order to use that public space for a different purpose. It’s like paying the city to close off a street for a block party, or to reserve the picnic area in a park for an event. You’re paying for specialized (and somewhat exclusive) use of public space.

Heh, while we’re ASSuming 🙂 – what we can assume, is that everyone who comes to the restaurant will need a seat to seat their seat in at the restaurant, no matter how they got there. More seats = more customers per day. If the restaurant is worth going to, people will get there, even minus one parking spot. If not, they won’t, even if there’s a big parking lot.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

B wouldn’t have a case based on number of customers patronizing A. What B might be able to claim is that A essentially moved all the parking for A’s customers over to the prime spots directly in front of B. So while A and B used to have about the same number of parking spots in front of each of their businesses, now A and B must “share” a smaller number of spaces, all of which are in front of B’s business–effectively reducing the number of available Most Convenient spaces for access to B.

The only possible down side for A would be if folks driving by decide to pass on by because there are no convenient spaces directly in front of A. Then B could win out.

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

Meter revenue is divided between the City and the downtown business association, mostly for providing services like street ambassadors, sidewalk cleaning, security, etc., that downtown businesses help pay for. Any revenue into this pot, whether it’s from private automobile storage on the street (how often do you really get to park in front of the business you’re actually visiting, anyway?) or from other uses paying (or even outbidding) what private automobile parkers are willing to pay, is a net win for the business district, as this is/could be less money they have to contribute to providing those services.

Anything we can do to reduce or even eliminate the perceived connection between a business’ revenue and it’s proximity to below-market rate private automobile storage in the public right of way will only help us win back our streets for people.

CaptainKarma
Guest
CaptainKarma

I would not be comfortable sitting in the street, sucking carbon monoxide, waiting to be mowed down by a celly/texter/drunk, and then of course, there’s the rain, ya didn’t forget about that I hope. Oh, and carcinogenic smokers, which is probably what this is really about. Still, it’ll free up the better seats indoors for me. And ditto, they should have to clear the sidewalks if they use this concept. harummph.

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

Yeah, because who would ever want to take tangible measures to making the streetscape more inviting for people? It’s a lost cause, right? Because it sucks now, so it’s ALWAYS gonna suck, am I right?

michweek
Guest
michweek

Umm… what business will want to invest $600 or more in winter seating? Seems like this pilot will fail due to badly picked time frame. I don’t want to sit outside when it’s cold and rainy.

Hugh Johnson
Guest
Hugh Johnson

This stuff is silly…and while they focus on these kinds of projects, vast parts of this less than world class cycling city get neglected.

Bill Stites
Guest

Whoa – is this another scenario [like SW Ankeny] where our PUBLIC space is essentially for sale to a business? I essentially agree with the sentiment of improved use of our public streets, but let’s not be selling off our mutually-owned public assets.
When I set up a sod-based parklet for PARKing day in front of Laughing Planet on Belmont over several years, they knew – perhaps because I made it clear – that their generosity in placing tables and chairs did not render the space as theirs’ alone. And to their credit, they were fine with that.
I hope it’s very clear to businesses who pay the fees for setting this up, that my homeless buddy is welcome too … and no, we don’t have to buy anything and shouldn’t be pressured to move along.
PBOT ought to make it very clear in thier policy statements and contracts that such Street Seats are still public property.

Michael M.
Guest

Yeah, that’s what it sounds like to me, selling off public assets to private interests, another pilot program for seeing how fast Portland can gentrify, get rid of the few people of color left in downtown/NW/inner NE/SE, and come up with more ways to chase anyone poor out of the central city. Portland’s been pretty successful at all of that for more than a decade, and it’s typical that here we’re not following the model established in other cities of these types of spaces being for the public vs. only the segment of public with disposable income. It’ll be interesting to see how this forces a reinterpretation of the ugly Sidewalk Management Ordinance, which literally kicks people to the curb. What happens when the “curb” is extended into formerly public, now private space solely for the benefit of private businesses? What happens if someone sits or lies down at the edge of the sidewalk, next to one of these privatized public spaces? My guess — at least if that person appear at all to be experiencing homelessness or poverty — is that Portland’s finest will come along with their tasers at the ready.

The sad thing is that the BTA and BikePortland will somehow twist the logic behind all this to label it “progressive.”

Joseph
Guest
Joseph

The on-street parking spaces are public assets that, when used, provide a revenue stream to the City. Why does it matter whether that revenue stream comes from people paying to temporarily store their private automobiles in said space, or, instead, from adjacent businesses – who see an opportunity to make more revenue than they would be pay out to the City – to use that space for their own purposes? Why does it matter what gets put in that space as long as it’s continuing to generate that same revenue stream – or better – that it does today from the exclusive prescribed use of temporary private automobile storage, especially when we all agree that there are better uses of central city public space than private automobile storage?

And how is it “gentrifying” to allow competing uses for paid on-street parking spaces?

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
Guest

The sad thing is that the BTA and BikePortland will somehow twist the logic behind all this to label it “progressive.”

Michael M.,

You make some important points in your comment, then you end it with that statement above. What gives? What are you even talking about? Since when do I “twist the logic” on anything and then “label it ‘progressive'”?

Please be careful to not direct your dislike of this policy direction/program to BikePortland. Thanks.

Michael M.
Guest

It’s about the narrow band of advocacy you engage in on this site, and the types of thinking and responses that narrow band of advocacy encourages. Your filter for examining every policy development, every experiment with infrastructure, every program or plan seems to be “does this make it easier for people like me to get around on a bike?,” not “does this create an environment and city that will benefit everyone?” You rarely ask who various policies or programs might hurt, even though almost all policy decisions inevitably involve a trade-off. You rarely seem willing to ask the bigger questions about what kind of city we’re creating and who it does or doesn’t work for except when forced to, as with the N. Williams Ave. discussions (which were forced not by active transportation advocates or PBOT, but by the beleaguered neighborhood under threat). You treat transportation policy — whether on a national, state or local level — as if it exists in a vacuum, though I’m sure you’re smart and thoughtful enough to realize it doesn’t. For example, in all your coverage or advocacy around the cycling infrastructure in cities like Copenhagen or Amsterdam or Paris, I’ve never seen you even mention — let alone encourage discussion of — the fact that people can ride around in those cities secure in the knowledge that if something bad happens, they won’t face ruinous medical bills because those countries (as with most industrialized countries except the U.S.) guarantee univeral access to quality health care. I can’t count how many people in the U.S. have told me their inability to afford insurance or their high-deductible health plans are their primary barrier to try cycling, but for whatever reasons that doesn’t come up on the pages of BikePortland, where you act as if the only important barrier relates to infrastructure. Systems intersect — the ability to develop a transportation system you advocate for depends in no small part on more equitable housing, healthcare, labor and economic policies that exist in the European cities you’re frequently pointing to but don’t exist here. We simply aren’t going to get where you want us to get (and where many of us would like to get) with regard to our transportation system while we allow to exist the mass poverty and homelessness, the lack of an adequate social safety net, the few million kids in schools whose families are living out of their cars and the millions more who aren’t getting adequate nutrition, the ever-widening gap between haves and have-nots and extreme concentration of wealth that 30+ years of neoliberal economic policies have wrought. No amount of safer infrastructure is going to entice the “interested but concerned” demographic onto bikes as long as they live with the anxiety of being one paycheck or one illness or accident away from foreclosure or eviction, as more and more people here are. People under threat are reluctant to try new things, which you seem to recognize only when it comes to street design but not all the other factors that threaten our sense of security and well-being. The result is that any development that might benefit a relatively small demographic of regular cyclists gets labeled “progressive” or “forward-thinking” no matter how much farther away it takes us from the real equity that will be necessary to reach the goals of the Bike Plan. It’s a perversion of what progressivism used to mean, which had much more to do with lifting all boats.

Dave
Guest

I know you addressed this to Jonathan and not me… but I just wanted to comment that again, you’re making really good points, and I agree with what you’re saying; but to ask Jonathan to write every story with all of these perspectives incorporated, do you realize how much that would entail? He runs this site completely by himself, and I think to some degree, he has to rely on the fine points and different viewpoints being brought up in the comments by people who read the site. I can’t imagine even keeping up with half of the stuff he does, and I feel like, for a bicycle-focused blog/news site, he does a pretty good job of presenting things reasonably, and also promoting a respectful and thoughtful readership.

All I’m saying is, while you’re raising really good points, and things that should be discussed in relation to these issues, to expect Jonathan to write them into every story he covers might be a bit much to expect. That’s why the comments section here is important.

Dave
Guest

Michael,

I do see your point, and I also agree that it would be nice if all public space were used in a way that was accessible to all citizens. However, this space, as it’s being used now, is only available to park a car in, and cannot be used for any other purpose. Opening this up to be used as restaurant seating is at least *increasing* access to the space. So, in that sense, it is ‘progressive,’ in my mind.

I don’t think people experiencing homelessness should be herded off the sidewalks or out of parks, etc – but I think that’s a somewhat different issue than whether parking spaces get used as restaurant seating.

I think it’s a similar argument to whether every street should have bicycle facilities, or whether we need to have them where it makes sense, and change the general bent of society so that they are welcome in places where there aren’t specific bicycle facilities.

I don’t think *every* public space needs to allow access to *every* citizen, but the overall bent of society needs to be more open to allowing all citizens use of the public space, in general.

bicycle rider
Guest
bicycle rider

This is a great idea but like most great ideas in Portland we ruin them by being so hyper-PC.

I sure as hell wouldnt spend my money jumping through all the bureaucratic hoops and paying thousands in fees and permits to set something up thats supposed to enhance the city and reclaim it from the auto only to then be forced to allow it to become a permanent hang out for sacred panhandlers and lawless bums harassing my customers and not even patronizing my business. Instead of helping small business owners who take it upon themselves to improve their neighborhood with their own money at no cost to the city, we label them as selfish greedy privatizing profiteers, impose all kinds of discouraging requirements and exalt those who outright detract from their business.

Maybe your goal is to discourage increasing public space and keep the public street space private for motor vehicles which benefit only rich motor vehicle owners.

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

I don’t think this pilot program is set up to be successful.

First, the lack of any publicity or press release that would alert the business community to the idea and the opportunity is notable. I doubt that many restaurant/cafe owners are surfing PBOT’s website looking for business opportunities.

Secondly, the timeline. The permits expire in December 2012. Most parklets (the actual structure) in San Fran and NYC cost something in the neighborhood of $5,000-$15,000. (Not saying you couldn’t scrap one together for less, but you’re still looking at a few $K) So that means that a business owner would have to pay $459+ for the permits, plus several thousand for the structure…By the time, say, Salt & Straw got a parklet design drawn up, went through the permitting process, built and installed the thing, I’m guessing it would be end of September. That’s a lot of money, time, and effort to ask a business owner to invest for 3 months of parklet enjoyment…3 months of rain, that is.

I’m happy and thankful to see PBOT looking into it, I’m thrilled to see acknowledgement of the ROW’s value as a gathering space, and especially to see a serious re-thinking of the best and highest use of our limited public space. This pilot needs a little work, though.

Sarah Figliozzi
Guest

Hi Rebecca,

While PBOT didn’t issue a press release regarding Street Seats, we did contact all of Portland’s business associations to alert them of the pilot and encourage them to notify their membership. We anticipate more Portlanders will hear about the program once the first examples start popping up around town.

We recognize that the pilot will not allow a huge number of businesses to participate. The goal is to get a few on the ground so that we (PBOT, neighbors, the business community) can evaluate how these facilities can enhance our streets. We also wanted to start small to learn what modifications we might want to make prior to establishing a permanent program in 2013. To achieve these goals we feel that this pilot was worth implementing this summer, despite the short window.

Thank you,
Sarah Figliozzi

Rebecca
Guest
Rebecca

That’s great to hear. As usual, there’s more going on behind the scenes than meets the eye. My initial understanding after a first read of the PBOT post was that this pilot was set up more as a “pass/fail” test, and that a lack of interest from businesses during the pilot could be interpreted as a “fail.” The continuity of the program sounded (to me) to be uncertain. With a large commitment required for a relatively short period of time, my concern was that the City wouldn’t see a strong response from a business community hesitant to invest in something ephemeral and interpret the results as a “fail.”

It is extremely exciting, heartening, and wonderful to hear that the pilot is more of a trial run designed to work out the kinks prior to implementation of the permanent program. Knowing that the program will continue into the future makes an investment like this worthwhile for a business owner because they will know that they have years, rather than months, to realize a return on their investment. I hope that PBOT gets some great early applicants this summer and that much is learned on how to design a solid and successful program for our city. Thanks for all the years of hard work on this project.

i ride my bike
Guest
i ride my bike

What kind of fees are we talking about in a part of town without meters? If its designed to be removable like all Ive seen, I would hope the fees and permits would be minimal so as to not discourage a good thing.