Cafe Streets for Seattle

Exciting news for local businesses and street advocates: Last Friday, the City of Seattle announced that they will waive fees for sidewalk permits, offering free 6-month permits for outdoor cafes and streateries! But there is more work to be done. 

Seating in the street

Existing Seattle streatery in Queen Anne. Photo: @QAGreenways

 

Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has been pushing for an expanded and more streamlined Cafe Streets program as part of our 8-point plan for safe streets for social distancing during the pandemic. We drafted this plan in response to the COVID-19 physical distancing requirements after gathering community input about needs and possible solutions. People across Seattle rallied in support and the city has already made tangible progress on many of the demands.

Our small businesses give us food, clothing, jobs, a place to build community, and other necessities of daily life, but they are struggling because of the pandemic. With new options available during King County’s Phase 2, the push for Cafe Streets is more timely than ever.

More room for outdoor dining is the solution.

Around the world, many cities have opened parking spaces, extended seating into places with ample sidewalk space, and even used entire streets or street lanes for restaurants and retailers to stretch out and operate safely. USA Today reports, “As the U.S. reopens and summer approaches, cities from Tampa, Florida, to Las Vegas to Portland, Maine, are opening sidewalks and closing streets to create large al fresco or plein air dining rooms.”

 

Boston

Parking Lane streatery in Boston. Photo: Kristina Rex

NYCcafestreetsStreetfilms3

Parking space streatery in New York City. Photo: Streetfilms

 

Here in the Pacific Northwest, Portland, Edmonds, Redmond, Port Townsend and others have already been moving quickly to open street plazas to support small businesses. Seattle, a city famous for its good food and coffee, needs to join the parade.

  • Brooklyn New York. All minority owned businesses

 

Cafe Streets have already gained support locally from small-business owners across Seattle who are eager to find ways to serve their customers safely and protect their employees. Bob Donegan, who runs Ivar’s and Kidd Valley restaurants, reports dramatic benefits from the al fresco seating at his restaurants, most dramatically at the Mukilteo Ivar’s by the ferry dock. One recent day, Donegan reports, the shoreside Ivar’s served double the usual number of entrées to people who purchased meals at the take-out window and dined in fresh air at a nearby park.

Katherine Anderson, who runs the stylish London Plane restaurant on Occidental Ave. S. in Pioneer Square, has long envisioned her restaurant/bakery/flower shop spilling out into the car-free street. To date, city restrictions on outdoor tables made that impossible. Independent business owners like Katherine, Bob and many others around the city are excited by Cafe Streets as an important first step that will help businesses reopen safely. Ultimately, this will prevent more businesses from having to close permanently.

NYCcafestreetsStreetfilms10

Parking lane streatery in New York City. Photo: Streetfilms

 

In response to neighborhood business owners and local advocates, the City of Seattle announced that they will waive fees for temporary (6-month) sidewalk permits, offering “free temporary permits for outdoor cafes, retail merchandise displays, food trucks and vending carts that are valid for up to 6 months.” Check the City of Seattle information page for permit details and applications. Interested business owners may apply for permits to expand into the sidewalk (while maintaining space for pedestrians) or parking lane (excluding loading zones and ADA parking). We are thrilled.

Thank you to the City leadership, and especially to advocates like you who rallied support, sent emails to your elected leaders, and helped your local small-business districts survive this challenging time.

But more can be done.

Expanding businesses into sidewalk space and unused parking spots is a great first step but Seattle must go further. Businesses that don’t have wide, plaza-like sidewalks are unable to create sidewalk seating without obstructing pedestrians, especially those who have reduced vision or use wheelchairs or other mobility devices. And while temporary permits for unused parking spaces are a great first step, the permit excludes arterial streets with fast-moving car traffic where many of our business districts are located. As an example, business owners and neighborhood advocates in Belltown are outspoken about needing outdoor space for businesses along Second Ave, which is not currently allowed.

 

 

By proactively finding collective solutions for small businesses, Seattle can streamline both the process and the result. Owners that are already overwhelmed and stressed can work together instead of applying individually. And business districts could create street plazas with shared seating or vending spaces that are safe and predictable for everyone.

Brooklyn New York. All minority owned businesses

Brooklyn, New York. Cafe street surrounded by all POC-owned businesses.

 

Ultimately, what works in Ballard or Othello will be different from what works in South Park or the U District. Each neighborhood should be given the tools and support to implement what will help sustain their community’s needs. Ballard-area Seattle Councilmember Dan Strauss has already proposed opening Ballard Avenue (a restaurant mecca) so restaurants can take advantage of warm weather for outdoor dining.

 

Portland is allowing plazas in different configurations.

Portland is allowing plazas in different configurations.

 

We urge the city to expand this program to grant permits for larger street plazas, allow cafe seating on some arterials through business districts, and work to support individual small-business district requests and needs. These changes are crucial to help our neighborhood business districts to sustain and thrive, safely, through this summer and beyond. And who knows — Seattleites may fall in love with these new spaces, ushering in an era where friends meet for tacos in cozy outdoor spaces, even in the rainy season.