We have known for a while that the coronavirus doesn’t spread as easily outside as inside, yet so many Seattle businesses are obviously based inside storefronts. What if businesses could move more of their operations outside?
Cities all over the world have been allowing just that. Streets in major businesses districts have closed to traffic to allow a major expansion of outdoor restaurant seating and outdoor retail space. Nearby Bothell has demonstrated the concept well, for example:
Downtown Bothell now has TWO streets that have prohibited vehicular traffic to make room for outdoor dining for local restaurants and it is POPPING on on a Friday night. @thebinebothell @bothellblog @thehopandhound #bothell #streateries pic.twitter.com/JF6fV2xipE
— Coby Zeifman (@cobycycles) July 11, 2020
The city already has permits for expanding onto sidewalks and parking spaces, which can work for many businesses. But those spaces are still limiting, and they can also cause added congestion on sidewalks or even accessibility problems if done poorly. Closing a street entirely provides a lot more space for everyone, which is vital right now.
The city will start accepting street closure permits Wednesday.
Of course, the biggest risk is that it becomes too popular. There’s a balance between helping businesses operate more safely and creating a crowded destination. The outbreak is on the rise, and Governor Jay Inslee just announced new restrictions such as prohibiting indoor service at bars and breweries. That makes expanded outdoor space even more important, but it also points to the general need for more social distancing and mask wearing. So yes, more outdoor business space. But also, stay home. Life during the outbreak is full of contradictions.
Not every street will be eligible for a full street closure, and permit applications must demonstrate support from neighboring businesses. The city offers permit “coaching” for interested applicants to better understand the process.
More details from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s press release:
As part of the permitting process, permit applicants will need to notify and demonstrate support from neighboring businesses and residents of proposed street closures. While typical SDOT permit costs are waived, applicants are responsible for any expenses related to the street closure proposal – such as barricades, temporary no parking signs, and tables and chairs. Applicants will be required to conform to all relevant state and local public health guidance. Permit review times vary based on the complexity and the preparedness of the applicant, so we encourage you to use our coaching resources. Stay tuned for more information regarding the eligibility criteria for these new street closure requests.