Portland Converting Parking Spaces into Summer Eating Spaces

When the days get longer and warmer, what is the one thing that you want to do? Eat outside. In warm-weather climates, restaurants are often built with outdoor eating in mind, but in more temperate places, long, cold and wet winters often mean that space is more maximized to keep people warm and dry inside. Which means that once the weather picks up, there may not be ample amounts of outdoor seating.

But in Portland, there’s a city initiative to do just that.

Called Street Seats, the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) allows businesses or non-profit organizations to convert on-street parking into other public uses, such as café seating. That means more space for Portlanders to sit outside and enjoy a meal. Not only is this good for the diners, it’s good for business. On a gorgeous day, would you rather go and sit in a dark bar or sit on an open patio?

The program began in 2012 with a pilot program involving three restaurants. This year it is hoping to expand, with 10 new locations for 2014 and 8 renewal applications. That means almost 20 spots come summer.

Due to safety concerns that people have expressed to PBOT — for example, people sitting too close to the street — the bureau will only accept proposals that include some sort of buffer between traffic and diners. That can be a wall or a fence, and to boost the safety of outdoor spaces, only applications for seats on streets with speed limits of 30 miles per hour or lower will be accepted.

The restaurants that have applied are located all around the city, making the potential for outdoor eating in Portland during the summer months not just reserved for food truck visitors. As for how they’ll look, the city has a list of local design and architecture firms that are well versed in these types of projects; because if a city is going to get behind getting rid of parking spaces in the name of outdoor seating, they better ensure that it looks good.

An additional element to the Street Seats program that’s admirable are that there is a private and public option for applicants. That means that businesses can either apply for a private space, like a patio or terrace, that’s reserved for clients only or they can apply for a public space, allowing them to essentially build a mini-park, where anyone can come and sit and enjoy the space. This is similar to San Francisco’s program of “parklets,” a creative way to turn asphalt parking spaces into more inviting, communal spaces for the public. Think of it as an all summer-long PARKing Day.

You can get a full list of all of the applicants, both new and the renewals, on the PBOT website. This way you can start planning your outdoor Portland dining experiences right away.


Photo Credit: Amy Selleck

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Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

Good use for parking spaces if there are enough spaces for the cars too.

I meant spaces!

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompsonabout a year ago

Good use for parking spaces if there are enough speaces for the cars too.

Debbie Crowe
Debbie Croweabout a year ago

What a cool idea!

Jane R.
Jane R.1 years ago

Sounds nice but where are you supposed to park? Do you park a mile away and walk to one of these outdoor areas? I think not. I'd rather eat inside of a restaurant than have to walk a mile to eat outdoors.

Anna Undebeck
Anna Undebeck1 years ago

Thanks, would love to go there,

Dale O.

A fabulous idea, it certainly makes summer eating more pleasant if one is eating out.

Elizabeth F.
Elizabeth F.1 years ago

I see this happening in our towl too... Personally,,, I do not want to ingest the car fumes...

Stardust Noel
Stardust Noel1 years ago

Nice, we have lots of places like this in the south.

Ben Oscarsito
Ben Oscarsito1 years ago

Way to go! BTW; I spent a few days in Portland many years ago when I was a young seaman...

Kathryn M.
Kathryn M.1 years ago