By Garlynn Woodsong | CNA Board Member, SW1 CNA LUTC Chair
Several Alberta Street businesses are banding together to create temporary, block-long or multiblock plazas by participating in the Safe Streets Healthy Businesses program.
In partnership with the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT), the Alberta Street Plazas project is a response to the pandemic. The idea is – for the foreseeable future, and until a vaccine is widely available for COVID-19 – people will continue to need to practice social distancing while in public. Doing so simply requires more physical room.
Further, virus transmission is more likely indoors than outdoors, so customers may feel more comfortable sitting down for a meal or shopping outside than inside.
Local restaurants and retailers are currently struggling through the worst economic recession anybody currently running a business has seen in their lifetime.
There does not appear to be a light at the end of the tunnel yet. So, by learning ways to adapt, businesses can remain solvent during these trying times. That is the first order of business. And that’s not just for those running the businesses, but everyone in this community who loves living in a neighborhood where restaurants and shops are within a short walk of home. Businesses may apply for permits to operate in the public right of way through October, thereby giving their customers and their employees more room to social distance safely. They may request the temporary closure of a parking space, a side-street or – in some cases – a full city block.
Businesses whose owners want to request a multiple-block closure are required to work with each other and agree to basic upkeep issues, including meeting county and state health requirements. Alberta Main Street hosted a June 11 information session on the opportunity and is working with PBOT to inform business owners about their options.
It is quite likely the Alberta Street Plazas may not just be a nice idea. Concepts like this may prove to be absolutely essential to allowing neighborhood restaurants and retailers to remain in business.
Car and bus traffic that currently uses Alberta Street would be re-routed to Killingsworth Street to avoid the promenade. No problems are expected from this, as Alberta Street ends at 33rd Avenue anyway and thus does not serve as a critical through-route for traffic.
Indeed, during Last Thursday and the Alberta Street Fair, traffic is already routed to Killingsworth for the duration of each event. No issues have been observed to date.
A PBOT-led project proposed elsewhere in the city could create temporary promenades for the commercial districts on southeast and northeast 28th Avenue, the heart of the commercial district on southeast Belmont, northwest 23rd Avenue, southeast Hawthorne Street and a plaza for southeast Clinton at 26th Avenue.
All of these proposals have similar goals: to help support local businesses by providing sufficient space for outdoor seating and retailing that meets social distancing guidelines.
For updates on Alberta Street Plazas, visit AlbertaMainStreet.org.
Garlynn Woodsong lives on 29th Avenue, serves on the CNA board and is an avid bicyclist. He also is a dad who is passionate about the city his son will inherit. He is the planning + development partner with Cascadia Partners LLC, a local urban planning firm. Contact him at LandUse@ConcordiaPDX.org.