“What we have is a lot of free square feet and a free permit… We are offering you an empty box. That empty box is in the shape of some section of the street. You get to decide what goes in that box.”
— Greg Raisman, PBOT
One month after it was first announced, the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Healthy Business program is starting to bear its first pieces of fruit. And with Multnomah County set to enter the phase 1 stage of reopening Friday (6/19), many local restaurants are eager to expand their services into the streets.
As we reported in May, PBOT is offering a free permit program that allows business owners to use the public right-of-way for dining. This means they can set up space for customers in parking spaces/lots and travel lanes in front of their businesses. The permits allow for everything from installations like the “street seats” we currently have, to carfree plazas that spread out across the entire street — as long plans leave space for bikers, walkers and emergency vehicles to get through.
Earlier this week, PBOT held an online Q & A with members of the Portland Independent Restaurant Alliance. On that call, PBOT staffer Greg Raisman described the Healthy Business program as a partnership. “What we have is a lot of free square feet and a free permit… We are offering you an empty box. That empty box is in the shape of some section of the street. You get to decide what goes in that box.”
Raisman said PBOT has been overwhelmed with applications and over 350 Portland businesses have asked for permits so far.
The first finalized plans we’ve come across are from Paddy’s Bar & Grill on SW Yamhill and 1st in downtown. This morning, Paddy’s General Manager Elizabeth Pierce sent a letter to neighboring business to tell them about what they plan to do, “To provide a level of comfort and safety to our patrons, and… make sure our business can survive through the pandemic.”
According to plan drawings (above), Paddy’s has been granted permission to use one of the two eastbound lanes and two parking spaces on SW Yamhill between Naito and 1st. It’s unclear how exactly Paddy’s will choose to design their space.
In the call with the restaurant association on Monday, PBOT said they don’t have the resources or capacity to provide barricades and other furnishings for every business who needs them. Business owners will likely be creative with how they fill their “empty boxes”. One thing they can’t get creative about is the requirement to provide an open lane for emergency vehicle access. PBOT said there must be a minimum 11-foot wide space for first responders that will double as the pass-through lane for walkers, bike riders, and all other (non-car driving) road users.
It will be interesting to see how these plazas develop and how far businesses take the idea. PBOT has made it clear they’re willing to entertain full-scale street plazas if businesses apply together. While both PBOT and business owners are stretched thin and are working at their limit (physically and financially) these days — both want to see customers return to commercial districts as soon as possible.
Earlier today a reader sent us an image of traffic delineators he spotted on SE Stark in the Montavilla commercial district. We’ve also heard reports of similar barricades at SE 43rd and Hawthorne and on NE Dekum in Woodlawn. Stormbreaker Brewing on North Lombard in St. Johns has reported created their plaza already. And reader Ben S. shared the image below from a business on NE Alberta.
PBOT just shared with us that they’ve issued 180 permits so far, most of which were for the use of parking space plazas. 61 of them were for priority pick-up zones. They didn’t say how many partial/full street plaza permits have been issued, but did acknowledge they’re working on some of them.
PBOT’s Healthy Business permits are valid through November 1st; but who knows where we’ll be at that point. “This is going to start a conversation in the city,” PBOT’s Raisman said on Monday. “Long-term, it might create a different type of opportunity moving forward… This really is the scientific method of urban design and will be an ongoing conversation post Covid-19 I’m sure.”
— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and firstname.lastname@example.org
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