What do you cherish about Port Townsend? Its seaside setting? Its restaurants and shops? Its restored historic buildings? Its traditional lineup of colorful events? The chance to see a familiar face …
What do you cherish about Port Townsend? Its seaside setting? Its restaurants and shops? Its restored historic buildings? Its traditional lineup of colorful events? The chance to see a familiar face in town?
All of the above, of course!
In March, the Governor’s “Stay Home-Stay Healthy” COVID-19 restrictions began. We thought we were in for a few rough months and the focus was on prioritizing health safety with masks, social distancing, and hand washing.
Now more than six months into it, the future is hazy, but hopeful.
It’s a matter of perspective. Business owners have responded creatively to operating during the pandemic, with an attitude of “We’ll get through this, better days are ahead.” They have installed plexiglass, heightened sanitation measures and made their spaces welcoming. Restaurateurs have been problem-solving too, changing up menus, focusing on “to-go,” and creating outdoor spaces. It has been awe-inspiring to see everyone dig in and work even harder during this difficult time.
Open Streets is a revitalization strategy used by many cities and Main Street communities to slow vehicle traffic, encourage walking and biking, and strengthen commercial districts. It’s a new way of thinking about using part of our public spaces.
In response to the health crisis, the city has proactively worked with local partners to on the Open Streets Initiative to create more social distancing space while encouraging continued engagement with our business community. It waived permit fees and expedited temporary use permits; a designated “special event” allowed businesses and restaurants to conduct business and services on sidewalks and streets adjacent to their locations. The city added hand-sanitizing stations and portolettes.
The Open Streets Initiative here includes “streateries,” which are outdoor dining spaces adjacent to restaurants, and downtown parklet seating. Parklets are pop-up seating areas located along a sidewalk, in a re-purposed parking spot, or can be a temporary street use.
These spaces invite you to “linger longer” in commercial districts, which can increase business across sectors.
A great example of Open Streets in action is Tyler Street Plaza, a transformed street end. Thousands of people enjoy this public space throughout the year in all kinds of weather. For the past four years, Port Townsend Main Street has partnered with businesses and added street furniture downtown to increase pedestrian-friendliness.
At the Oct. 19 City Council meeting, the council will consider extending the Open Streets’ Streateries and Parklets Program through the winter or until we reach Phase 4.
We recently surveyed opinions on the Open Streets Initiative. The initial feedback has been very supportive with more than
80 percent in favor of the concept during the pandemic. A majority also supported streateries in the winter months through COVID-19 impacts.
There were also concerns expressed in the survey about long-term use of parking spaces. Ten parking spots are now being used in the “Streateries” downtown and Uptown and seven parking spots are being used by the parklet next to Adams Street Park.
We are now entering a typically quieter season, with less pressure on parking. The city has plans to reevaluate parking when the COVID-19 impacts are over and things return to normal levels of activity.
Thanks to everyone who filled out the survey and shared their observant and thoughtful input.
Port Townsend is fortunate to have a diverse and lively restaurant scene but it’s been a struggle during the pandemic. Restaurateurs will tell you the streateries have been a lifesaver — some owners have said they would not have made it through the summer/fall without this outdoor dining option. These customers often circulate throughout the rest of downtown/uptown after dining.
Many customers do not feel comfortable yet dining inside. If the streateries are extended, one challenge will be “winterizing” these spaces so people can be comfortable.
Through the CARES Act, there is funding to have a large tent with small heaters downtown; it would have PPE amenities to enhance social distancing. The location is to be determined, and more details will be coming soon. It is likely this will be part of the Open Streets Initiative to support business efforts and be an asset for our community.
Thank you for supporting our local entrepreneurs during these trying times. Better days are ahead, together. See more about Main Street activities at ptmainstreet.org.
Take care, stay safe.
(Mari F. Mullen is executive director of the Port Townsend Main Street Program.)