Public discussion on Wednesday, followed by a vote next month
People enjoy dining outdoors at a Sidewalk Cafe and a Street Seat at City State restaurant in NE Portland. Outdoor space helped save restaurants during the pandemic and could become a permanent part of Portland, if the City Council approves the plan that will be presented on Wednesday. Photo by PBOT.
(Aug. 22, 2023) Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps brings the Portland Bureau of Transportation's (PBOT) proposed Outdoor Dining Program to the Portland City Council on Wednesday, a major step in making permanent the use of outdoor space that helped save hundreds of restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Outdoor Dining Program will replace the Healthy Business Permit, the COVID-era program, which began in 2020 as an emergency response to the pandemic that allowed for free, temporary permits with relaxed conditions for restaurants, retail, and others shifting to outdoor spaces.
Businesses have told PBOT that the ability to use public right-of-way during COVID-era indoor restrictions was a critical tool for them to survive economically. More than 1,000 obtained permits from the bureau for a variety of street and sidewalk permits in the last three years. Travel Portland, the city's tourism promotion organization, awarded the PBOT programs with the "Portland Award," which recognizes the greatest overall contribution to Portland’s Visitor Industry" in 2021.
Looking to the future, businesses say having a permanent program will give them the assurance they need to invest in improving their outdoor space.
The new, permanent Outdoor Dining Program will consist of annual Sidewalk Café permits and Street Seats permits that allow the use of parking spaces. Community groups and businesses seeking to use the full width of a street, from curb to curb, can inquire with PBOT about partnering with the bureau's program for Portland Public Street Plazas.
Through formal feedback and stakeholder engagement, business and community members have also voiced safety, accessibility, and aesthetic concerns with the current outdoor dining installations. PBOT recognizes that the new program must address critical issues such as: installations blocking visibility of stop signs, drivers unable to see people walking around large, opaque structures, inaccessible sidewalks from overbuilt furniture, storm drain blockages, and the aesthetic implications of neglected, non-compliant installations. The Outdoor Dining Program Report being presented to City Council, outlines the feedback received and offers recommendations for the permanent program.
Outdoor dining supports the vibrancy of Portland’s downtown and neighborhood centers and corridors. In a community survey in Spring 2023 of over 1,0000 community and business members, over 80% of respondents believed that the program was good for both Portland’s neighborhoods and businesses.
'A model of cooperation'
"PBOT's quick action to make outdoor dining accessible during the pandemic was a model of cooperation between the city and our local businesses," said Transportation Commissioner Mingus Mapps. "With these new guidelines, we are showing how we can enliven our neighborhood main streets while also looking out for the safety of pedestrians and access for people living with disabilities."
'An essential addition to Portland's renewed neighborhoods'
"We are pleased to see Portland’s Outdoor Dining Program become a permanent and sustainable option available to local businesses," said Jay Clark, Director of Public Affairs for the Portland Metro Chamber. "Outdoor cafes have become an essential addition to Portland's renewed neighborhoods and will now be a permanent fixture of Portland's livability. The Portland Metro Chamber (PMC) has worked with PBOT over the past several months to make sure the business community was involved in the conversation. The PMC considers this program an important piece in ensuring the economic stability of our local business and in the revitalization and full recovery of our central downtown. We look forward to continuing to partner with PBOT on behalf of our members as these new guidelines take shape."
'A vital component ... expanding access for smaller operators'
"PBOT's outdoor dining program was a financial lifeline throughout COVID and remains a vital component to the financial viability of our restaurants," said Kurt Huffman, Managing Partner of Chefstable, which owns and operates successful restaurants across the city. "Our industry's revenue is directly correlated with the number or seats that we can provide our customers so every additional seat guarantees additional income with little additional overhead. Given the unbelievable increase in our cost basis (food, labor, insurance, repairs and so forth), this income has made the difference between survival and failure."
PBOT's proposal to structure fees with seasonal as well as annual options, will help small businesses, he said.
"The new proposed fee structure is an exciting change in that it will expand access to the program for smaller operators who could not previously afford fees based, in part, on lost meter revenue," Huffman said. "I think this is an important change that will help lower-income operators access the same opportunities that larger operators are able to take advantage of."
'Prioritizing people over car parking'
"As Oregon's longest-standing advocate for complete streets, The Street Trust wholeheartedly supports initiatives that invigorate local businesses and foster vibrant neighborhoods by maximizing the value of the public right of way," said Sarah Iannarone, Executive Director of The Street Trust. "After a three year trial, it is clear that prioritizing people over car parking can yield remarkable results for businesses and surrounding communities. Alongside the Public Street Plaza program, PBOT’s new Outdoor Dining program promises to transform the way we see our streets as critical components of a thriving, safe, sustainable, and vibrant neighborhood."
Adults walk with a child past an outdoor dining installation in Portland. If City Council approves the new program, businesses could start to apply for permits in October for annual permits that cover the full calendar year 2024. Photo by PBOT.
Learn more at the Outdoor Dining Program website
The Aug. 23 City Council action will not include approval of permit fees; however, staff will discuss outline proposed fees and financial support options as part of the City Council presentation. PBOT is asking Council to accept the report on the program and public comment is expected after 9:45 a.m.
PBOT staff will return on Sept. 27 with a proposed ordinance to amend the Transportation Fee Schedule and accompanying code changes necessary to support the adoption of the program.
If approved by City Council, businesses can start applying for new permits by mid-October.
New permits will become effective Jan. 1, 2024, and be valid for 12 months.
Report to City Council includes design guidelines, other details
The Outdoor Dining Program will allow businesses to continue to use sidewalks and parking lanes for outdoor dining. However, to improve safety, accessibility, and livability issues, changes include:
- Clear setbacks from intersections will be required, and any wall enclosures must be transparent, to improve visibility and turning movements of vehicles.
- Prohibiting covered installations approaching stop signs for visibility of stop signs and pedestrians. Low-height (uncovered) installations are allowed.
- Reducing height of walls and only allowing transparent wall coverings, to increase visibility of people walking in the area.
- Requiring accessible platforms or ramps for year-long installations.
- Prohibiting over-sidewalk structures to remove sidewalk barriers and improve visibility of storefronts.
- A new Seasonal Street Seat permit will allow businesses to apply for a lower-cost permit that allows use of lighter weight materials, without a platform, from April through October.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) is the steward of the City’s transportation system, and a community partner in shaping a livable city. We plan, build, manage and maintain an effective and safe transportation system that provides access and mobility. Learn more at portlandoregon.gov/transportation