For better or for worse, there are a lot of things from the COVID-19 pandemic that are now relics of a bygone era. One good thing from the pandemic that’s here to stay? Outdoor dining. Through the Portland Bureau of Transportation’s Healthy Businesses Permit Program, those street seating installations that emerged as a way to enable social distancing during the pandemic will now become a permanent fixture of Portland’s street life.
But it’s not just going to be as simple as putting a table on the sidewalk and calling it a day. PBOT is currently developing a set of design guidelines (PDF) for outdoor dining to figure out how they’re going to run this program going forward, and they’re asking for community input with a new survey.
All Portlanders — whether you’re a customer, neighbor or business owner who is considering sidewalk café seating — are encouraged to fill out this survey, which asks questions about the program generally, proposed design standards, accessibility and more.
One of the design changes PBOT is proposing is to prohibit structures over sidewalks. Right now, the Healthy Business Permit mandates that at least six feet of sidewalk space be available for passage, but businesses have created outdoor seating areas using tents or structures partially set up on the sidewalk (see image on the right for an example).
PBOT is also proposing that a new ADA accessibility requirement that would mandate all new street seating installations in the parking lane with a year-long permit must be accessible for people in wheelchairs, achieved by creating sidewalk-level platforms or installing a ramp to an elevated dining platform.
The draft plan also proposes the following site operations guidelines:
- Maintenance plan requirement: Permit holders must plan for site maintenance and graffiti removal.
- No smoking in enclosed spaces: Per the Oregon Indoor Clean Air Act, no smoking is allowed in street seating installations with a roof and side wall enclosure.
- Good Neighbor Agreement requirements: A good neighbor agreement may be required to respond to complaints from neighboring businesses and residents. This may address hours of operation, noise, smoking or other issues.
- Amplified noise restrictions: No amplified noise allowed within street seating installations. Request a variance from the Portland Noise Office.
- No storage: No after-hours garbage and propane storage allowed within street seating installations.
We can’t imagine Portland without the outdoor dining areas that cropped up during the pandemic. The ‘Rainbow Road’ plaza on SE Ankeny is where we host our weekly Bike Happy Hour (Wednesdays, 3-6 pm) — we love all the outdoor seating in that plaza, and think more businesses should embrace the power of the outdoor cafe.
PBOT expects to bring a final proposal for their program guidelines to City Council for formal adoption in late May, and businesses would be expected to bring their sites into compliance with the final rules by the time the new permit cycle applications open in October. You can find more information about the Healthy Business Permit program here, and find the survey here.