Findings show the Healthy Businesses program has been key to survival of Portland businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic with over 1,000 permits issued since the program’s inception in May 2020
(March 10, 2021) The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is pleased to announce that it will once again offer free permits for its Healthy Businesses program this summer as Portland businesses continue to endure economic impacts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Permits will be active from their issue date through Oct. 31, 2021.
Current Winter Healthy Businesses permits will expire on March 31, 2021. The summer 2021 application is now available online and open for all applicants at www.portland.gov/transportation/safestreetspdx/apply-healthy-businesses-permit.
In partnership with Venture Portland, PBOT will be leading a webinar for businesses beginning to plan their Healthy Businesses spaces. Click here to RSVP for Venture Portland’s 'Successful Street and Sidewalk Activation' on March 17 from 12:00 to 1:30 p.m.
Healthy Businesses: Where we started and where we’re going
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, PBOT created the Healthy Business program to allow local businesses to creatively use street space to safely serve their customers. Since the program started in May 2020, PBOT issued over 1,000 Healthy Businesses permits and 181 pickup/drop-off zones in 2020 free of charge to permittees. Approximately 20% of permits were issued to businesses owned by Black, Indigenous and other people of color.
In September 2020, PBOT launched a public survey as part of its evaluation of the program. The survey’s 3,000 plus respondents overwhelmingly supported the program.
- 92% of all survey respondents reported visiting a Portland establishment that was doing business this summer in the public right-of-way, such as on the sidewalk or in the street.
- 78% of respondents felt safe visiting businesses outdoors, given concerns about COVID-19.
- A resounding 94% of survey respondents felt that, as COVID-19 continues to impact businesses, street space should continue to remain open for business use.
Interviews with 30 business owners also supported these findings, with many saying that the installations were key to their business’ survival during the pandemic. The complete survey findings and other analysis of the program are presented in detail in PBOT’s newly released Safe Streets Initiative Evaluation Report (23.76 Mb).
“I’m proud of the hard work PBOT is doing to support Portland’s small businesses. This program’s early success is already leading to broader conversations about community building in our right-of-way,” said Transportation Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty. “As we think about how we plan for this summer and for Portland’s post-pandemic future, I am excited to see the bureau build partnerships and expand community use of our streets as shared public spaces.”
“At the onset of the pandemic, PBOT pivoted to activate our right-of-way to create spaces for people to safely travel and conduct business. Not only has the Healthy Businesses program helped businesses survive this upheaval, it has also reshaped the way Portlanders think about how we use our streets,” said Chris Warner, Director of the Portland Bureau of Transportation. “Having the appropriate resources at our disposal is essential as we continue to support small businesses across the city and will allow us the opportunity to reimagine a better way to shop and dine in post-pandemic Portland.”
The costs of the program have been considerable. Since its May 2020 launch, PBOT has absorbed $1.4 million in staff time dedicated to these permits, including intake, review, traffic control plan development, coordination, and issuance. Prior to the pandemic, fees for Sidewalk Cafes or Street Seats ranged from $168 to $17,000.
Additionally, PBOT has:
- Provided over $40,000 in free traffic control devices to Black, Indigenous, and Person of Color (BIPOC) owned businesses.
- Delivered 20 free outdoor dining plaza kits (valued at $2,000 each) to BIPOC-owned businesses.
- Distributed $10,000 worth of free 5-minute pickup/drop-off signs.
- Given $1,100 of free and discounted paint supplies for street painting projects at Healthy Businesses installations.
To manage these expenses and allow PBOT to continue to offer free permits and support to businesses across the city, the bureau has requested $3.5 million in onetime General Fund resources for fiscal year 2021-2022.
“The Healthy Businesses program is a game changer, not just in a pandemic. We launched our restaurant in June 2020 and had too much momentum to stop. We hired eight staff members and invested in creating our outdoor plaza space for our taqueria. The success of last summer helped sustain us through the worst months this winter,” said Brian Aster, co-owner of Taqueria Los Puñales on SE Belmont Street. “Our customers tell us that they want nice outdoor spaces over parking spaces, and they feel safer sitting outside. We are looking forward to using the space this summer and hope this program becomes permanent so we can continue to provide this space for our neighborhood.”
“The Healthy Businesses program is the only reason we’ve been able to operate and be the little-restaurant-that-could. We’ve brought back our full staff and hired an additional position. The outdoor seating space allows neighbors to wave and say hello to each other when our community fairs aren’t possible,” said Angela Connell, co-owner of Parkside on N Willis Boulevard. “Customers come and enjoy the vibrant space, grab a drink and a dog treat, and hang out. It’s helped us all think about how we create and care for vibrant safe community spaces. We hope to continue to use and expand outdoor spaces well into the future and hope that the program becomes permanent.”
The bureau frequently receives questions from participating businesses about the possibility of the program becoming permanent. PBOT will continue to monitor public health, economic indicators, and other bureau priorities in determining what the bureau is able to offer. The bureau will also continue to evaluate lessons learned from the Healthy Businesses program with a focus on accessibility and equity. Once the immediate COVID-19 emergency is behind us, the bureau will begin to look at how this popular program could be offered in the future. This will include a revised fee structure to sustain the program, updated program requirements and permit conditions, and regular permit cycles.
Planning for other potential outdoor summer initiatives is underway
With summer quickly approaching, PBOT is evaluating permit options for residents to safely activate their neighborhood streets. Additionally, a recent grant from The Oregon Tourism Commission and Travel Oregon awarded $47,600 to PBOT for the development and implementation of temporary wayfinding and placemaking for 20 Portland Healthy Business Plazas, directing people towards outdoor dining areas in high-visitation neighborhoods. Be on the lookout for more information in April.
Learn more about the City's response to the COVID-19 pandemic
For more information about the City of Portland’s response to COVID-19, see the City’s Novel Coronavirus COVID-19 website. Multnomah County is the City’s primary resource for public health information. Get public health information and guidance, resources, and updates regarding COVID-19 from the County’s website.
Learn more about vaccines from the Oregon Health Authority's Get Vaccinated Oregon website.