On the first day of summer, I complained that the City hadn’t opened more streets to pedestrians, specifically in high-density commercial districts, to allow for more outdoor social distancing and commercial activity. I figure I should follow up to note that the day after my post went live SDOT announced it was opening up several more Stay Healthy Streets, including Bell St. in Belltown.

Then, a few days later, SDOT announced an expanded street use permit system for businesses to use for outdoor retail and restaurant activity. SDOT is streamlining the permitting process for these applications: instead of the usual 2-week public comment, businesses can open right away and inform their neighbors that they’re doing so. Businesses can set up in the sidewalk if right-of-way is sufficient or in a parking space.

These are all great ideas. I’d still love to see entire streets closed off for both public gathering and retailing in some of our commercial neighborhoods. I can name at least a dozen blocks in Seattle’s urban villages and downtown that could easily support outdoor street life if permitted.

Check out the twitter threads below from the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board meeting where these plans were presented last week if you want to learn more, and thanks to SDOT for getting this program up and running before the July 4 weekend.

26 Replies to “SDOT making it easier for businesses set up shop outdoors”

  1. I can see how lots of treatments can be used. It doesn’t have to be fully open or fully closed; hybrid designs can be used.

    For example, I could see that a street could be closed in one direction only, opening up a very wide area for cafe seating but still allow for emergency vehicles, local access, local deliveries and pick-ups. Then, the challenge is signage and pavement treatments to ensure low speeds.

  2. This could lead to an interesting political decision for the Ballard Ave restaurants (and perhaps those in other neighborhoods as well – just not personally familiar with those situations as much).

    Street parking has been cited as essential for bringing in customers. This was one of the arguments against the BGT on Shilshole or Ballard Ave (along with workers who can’t use transit because they work late shifts).

    Now with a potential opportunity to expand restaurant seating at the expense of parking spaces, what will they choose?

    1. Even with outside seating restaurants are going to be operating at a substanially reduced capacity. So there’s not as much need for parking. This really only works until late September in Seattle. I think it’s hoped that this lifeline will prevent even more establishments from closing their doors forever. Unemployment will run out eventually so it’s important that these jobs are preserved.

  3. Well now we’ve had it confirmed once again. In Seattle, commerce trumps access. If there’s profit to be made, who cares about the disabled? Not SDOT, that’s for sure.

  4. AJ, given how many families now have elderly relatives in addition to children, isn’t there a chance that in this new situation, more and more businesses will start to notice that improved access attracts more customers? Which should definitely improve the welcome of those with special needs among the Seattle commercial community.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m not sure I follow. There’s no improved access for businesses to start to notice that improved access attracts more customers. Street use permits allow for restaurants to use the street itself in addition to the sidewalk. This reduces access, not increases it.

      1. There are plenty of ways to accommodate the disabled. For instance, you can designate some parking spaces just outside the closed area as handicapped only. You don’t need a car-first street management policy to allow for people who are truly disabled.

      2. ADA compliance would have to be observed to get a permit. How it’s enforced in Seattle; anybodies guess. Will it be community (i.e. mob) enforced? As it stands, in Ballard tents can block the sidewalk and that’s perfectly OK.

      3. asdf2, I’m not thinking of a car first street management policy. I’m thinking of a pedestrian first street management policy. Blocking off sidewalks and streets for restaurants is about as pedestrian unfriendly as it gets.

        That’s how commerce is trumping access. You can’t walk to a restaurant if there is no walkable path to the restaurant. Blocks with multiple establishments all blocking off parts of the road will make for labyrinthine travel. Establishments across the street from each other can block the road completely. All so that commerce can be increased.

      4. Establishments across the street from each other can block the road completely. All so that commerce can be increased.

        That makes no sense. If all access is blocked who’s going to increase commerce at either establishment?

      5. Mao, Oh FFS. Nobody is advocating taking away the sidewalk. If restaurants get parking places the sidewalk will be shared between servers going across it and pedestrians continuing along it. That’s all.

      6. Bernie, if the sidewalks are blocked off, the only people getting to establishments are cars. I’m an avid cyclists, and there’s no way I’m going to rjsk my life sharing the road with local drivers. Pedestrians would be both more at risk and a hazard. Blocking off a street fully will result in car patronage from either side. Pedestrians aren’t going to be maze runners just to get to an eatery, even if it their favorite one in the city.

        Letting restaurants block sidewalks is car first street management policy. Blocking off the street is no different. Assuming handicapped people will only arrive by car is no different.

        Expecting ADA compliance is laughable. Who’s going to enforce it? The same city (granted a different arm) that allowed this half baked and poorly thought out system to begin with? Why? They have no motive. Clearly City Hall has already picked a side. SPD isn’t going to ruffle the feathers of any business. Pandering to businesses is literally what this is all about.

        Tom Terrific, street use permits in Seattle, the very thing being talked about in this article, the permits SDOT fast tracked, allow for full sidewalk and street use. We’re not talking about half the sidewalk taken up by a few tables and chairs. We’re talking pavilions in the street, with up to dozens of tables. Temporary fencing blocking the public right of way. Do you expect pedestrians to hop a fence?

      7. I don’t think anybody is proposing have tables replace the ability of pedestrians to get around on a functional sidewalk. If tables are being set up on the sidewalk, it means either 1) the sidewalk is wide enough to leave room for both tables and walkers or 2) street space is being closed to cars to form a temporary sidewalk.

      8. Map, it says “if right of way is sufficient”. Last time I read your Little Red Book “sufficient” meant “enough; adequate”, implicitly “for purpose”.

        Sidewalks, whose purpose is pedestrian locomotion, will not become “labyrinthine travel”.

      9. And not to put too fine a point on it, the reason people go to Ballard Avenue is commerce . Hardly anyone lives along it.

  5. I can name at least a dozen blocks in Seattle’s urban villages and downtown that could easily support outdoor street life if permitted.

    How many of these would maintain mask compliance? And given the lack of compliance on many DT bus routes how safe would this be? I don’t known, nobody does, but it’s a valid consideration. FWIW I endorse opening the economy to the greatest extent that is prudent. Skiing the mantra was if you haven’t taken a fall you’re not trying hard enough. Yes it’s a risk but doing nothing is also a risk. For whatever reason, we have more theories on the risks of doing vs the obvious risk of becoming hermit crabs. But what we do know is the do nothing scenario benefits the haves and does the most harm to the have nots.

    1. Masks are a lot less important outdoors than indoors. Just space the tables 6-10 feet apart. It is indoor settings where mask compliance is extremely important.

      1. Well, it’s all just conjecture at this point. If indoors be bad then transit be bad. Even if you space the tables you still have people getting up and walking around. Even if it’s spaced 10′ apart someone walking down the middle is only 5′ away. There’s no way on a bus you can maintain 6′ distance when people are finding a seat. And that’s if everyone was trying hard, which we know isn’t the case. I’m all for opening the economy and stopping the destruction of peoples livelihood but we need to have some sort of level playing field on what is considered acceptable risk.

      2. Yes, but when somebody walks by you, there’s only within your 6 foot bubble for a couple of seconds, and the amount of virus particles they can exhale in a couple seconds is limited. If a person decides to stand over your shoulder for 30 minutes and not move, that’s a significant risk.

        If simply walking by someone quickly were enough to get the person sick, the case counts would have been much, much higher.

  6. I have an honest question. Why just restaurants and cafes? Why can’t Deja Vu setup out on the sidewalk?

    1. Social distancing. To have sit-down dining with six feet between the backs of the chairs around adjacent tables means the tables have to be ten feet apart. Normal in a popular restaurant is about five.

  7. I have an another honest question. How can it be both Stay Home, Stay Healthy, and Healthy Streets?

    1. “stay home stay healthy” doesn’t mean literally sit inside your home for months.

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