Cafe Streets for Seattle

Update 5/18/2021

Island Soul Cafe Street

Island Soul in Columbia City has converted two car parking spaces into sixteen places to sit

This week the Seattle City Council unanimously passed an extension of Cafe Streets permits through May 2022! Here’s why extending Cafe Streets through next year, has overwhelming support:

Good for public health
These permits have allowed small businesses to stay open during the pandemic by converting car parking spaces and sometimes entire streets to seating, clothing racks, fruit stands, and more. The outdoor spaces have allowed these businesses to continue serving their communities, while following public health guidelines. With the pandemic tapering off rather than coming to an abrupt end, these outdoors spaces will continue to be a useful tool to reduce transmission.

Good for businesses and workers
Cafe Streets have allowed many small businesses to keep their employees safely working during the pandemic. And a new analysis from data across the country confirmed that these streets are good for business! Cafe Streets should become a permanent strategy to support and maintain thriving small businesses districts around the city.

Good for communities
Our business district streets can be so much more than places to move and store cars. They can be a place to meet an old friend for a cup of coffee, go on a first date, grab a piece of fruit before hopping on the bus, or pick up a present for a birthday party. In other words, they can add to the quality of our lives, not just the quantity of our parking spaces.

Councilmember Strauss at Cafe Streets Announcement

Councilmember Strauss at Cafe Streets extension announcement

Councilmember Dan Strauss and Council President Lorena González recognized the public benefits of this pilot program, and passed legislation to extend the free and simple permits through May 2022. This will give small businesses the certainty they need to invest into maintaining these spaces, and allow time to craft a permanent program.

The legislation also directs SDOT to come back to the City Council with a plan to make these spaces permanent. We look forward to working with the city to make these spaces a permanent part of city life in Seattle.

Over the next few months Seattle Neighborhood Greenways will be reaching out to small businesses and community members about what they (you?) would like to see in a permanent program, and crafting our recommendations. If you’re interested in helping with this outreach effort (no experience necessary!) contact [email protected]

Photo from Ray Dubicki, How Ballard Avenue Got Its Unique Pergolas, at the Urbanist.

Photo from Ray Dubicki, How Ballard Avenue Got Its Unique Pergolas, at the Urbanist.

We will further develop and refine this draft list of ideas to help shape a permanent program:

  1. Require Accessibility. Sidewalks, bike lanes, and these spaces need to be accessible to people of all ages and abilities.
  2. Ensure safety. Sometimes small businesses are located on dangerous streets. Having seating next to a dangerous street necessitates safety barriers in the short term, and a redesign of the street in the long term.
  3. Encourage collaboration. The Columbia City Business Association pooled their resources to create a collective outdoor dining area called The Patio. The Ballard Farmers Market and the Ballard Alliance worked together to create a space that would work for both the permanent small businesses and the weekly farmers market. These sorts of flexible and collaborative spaces bring out the best in our communities, and should be encouraged.
  4. Make the program equitable. Using in the program may be a no-brainer for established successful businesses, but for those just getting started or just scraping by, there are many barriers to participation. To ensure that everyone has access to the program, the city should make the permits free or affordable, create a lending program of tables and chairs so businesses can test whether it works for them, and have simple options that don’t require large investments.
  5. Go big. In the past, SDOT has thought small, and focused on permits that allow for a sidewalk cafe or the conversion of a single parking space into a mini park. It’s time to think big. The permanent program should make it easy for signature streets like The Ave or Pike Place to become thriving pedestrian only streets.
Image of people sitting at tables in the street

Image of Cafe Street in Maryland from @janeplyons

Thank you for reading. Together we will create more streets for people.

Update 10/21/2020: The city will now extend cafe streets through October 2021! This is great news. Read more about this important extension of the program. Seattle Met has compiled a list of many of the restaurants that have outdoor seating. Watch this video to learn more:

cafe streets video screenshot

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.