Restaurants stretch out into streets
Permits to put tables in right of way are free, enforcement light
By Allan Classen
It is not difficult to take over the street in Portland these days, and one does not need to be a protester with thousands of allies to accomplish it.
The Portland Bureau of Transportation is literally inviting restaurants and other businesses to set up operations in the street. The Healthy Businesses program aims to support local businesses during the pandemic by allowing them to serve food or sell merchandise in parking lanes or even supplant travel lanes.
The program’s other goal is to reduce the spread of the coronavirus by accommodating greater social distancing for patrons and members of the public.
(Gallery, left to right: Santa Fe Taqueria, Blue Moon, G-Love, Barista, and Cider Bite.)
There are no permit fees, and the application process has been streamlined, as businesses that have gone through it attest.
“We’re adapting to find creative ways to adapt our streets and help Portland safely get moving again,” PBOT Director Chris Warner said. “That is what Safe Streets|Healthy Businesses and our strategic framework are all about.”
The Safe Streets side of the program involves temporary traffic diverters to reserve certain streets for local-only traffic (see Page 1 story, “A tale of two committees”).
Through the last full week of June, 40 applications were made in the Northwest District, 25 in the Pearl, five in Old Town and two in Goose Hollow.
Businesses find a lot to like in sharing the right of way.
“It’s working great,” said Kalvin Myint of Top Burmese at 413 NW 21st Ave. “After walking around the neighborhood and talking with other business owners, we were able to set ours up. There are a few basic do’s and don’ts, but there’s plenty of room for creativity. Everyone in the community has been so supportive of each other.”
Bureaucratic red tape has not been an issue.
“It’s been very easy,” Myint said. “Both the city and OLCC (Oregon Liquor Control Commission) process is a breeze.”
As a result of extending his dining area to two picnic tables in the parking lane, his revenues have picked up and allowed him to meet expenses.
Ramzy Hattar has drawn lines of patrons waiting for seats at River Pig Saloon, 529 NW 13th Ave. Although sales are only 40 percent of what he averaged before the pandemic, that’s largely because he must close at 9:30 p.m. now, cutting off his the most lucrative period.
“It pays enough to float us by until Phase II,” Hattar told the Examiner.
The long lines at River Pig have drawn some complaints from neighbors. At a recent Pearl District Neighborhood Association weekly online forum regarding COVID-19 preparedness, it was reported that some residents have been “appalled” to see a line circling around the block with no markings to ensure distancing and few masks being worn.
The other side of the city’s “regulation light” approach to outdoor dining is that there is no enforcement of state or local social distancing standards.
“The city won’t be enforcing,” said Julie Gustafson, executive director of the Pearl District Business Association.
Restaurants must sign a pledge to uphold standards, she said, but the follow-through is a matter of business people and community members finding ways to communicate and cooperate.
“We all need to care for each other,” Gustafson said.