A portion of Taylor Street in Port Townsend was closed over Memorial Day weekend as part of the city’s “Open Streets Initiative.”
Blockades were placed at either end of Taylor Street in front of the Rose Theater, and chairs and tables donated by Alchemy Bistro were placed on the street
This effort, which also included additional outdoor seating and trash cans at the end of Adams Street and in the Tyler Street plaza, was partially designed to start a community conversation about the use of outdoor space, City Manager John Mauro said.
This comes as many cities across the country are re-evaluating their public space, with some cities like Seattle choosing to permanently change what was once miles of normal city streets into pedestrian-only.
Even as downtown restaurants remain closed to dine-in seating, many are serving takeout, creating a need for outdoor seating and additional amenities like garbage cans and hand-wash stations.
Additional outdoor seating spaced adequately apart is designed to accommodate those looking to get outside but still maintain a safe distance, Mauro said.
Part of the plan was also to model what safe distancing looks like, with outlines indicating a 6-foot distance drawn in chalk on the sidewalk.
“And any visitors will also get clear messaging about what we are expecting,” he said.
As the county moves into Phase 2 and beyond of Washington’s “Safe Start” plan additional outdoor cafe-style seating might help restaurants increase their capacity, Mauro said.
For now, closing Taylor Street was just an experiment and anything more permanent would require a formal public process through the City Council. Mauro said he welcomes the engagement.
One issue historically high on everyone’s minds when it comes to downtown is the availability of parking, which is usually at a premium during summer months. While the downtown area was largely vacant at the start of the “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order, traffic and parked cars has slowly increased.
A permanent closure of Taylor Street would eliminate about a dozen parking spaces often used by local employees, and might also cause congestion when people realize they cannot turn at the corner of Taylor and Washington streets.
Mauro said he sees the potential for public space transformations in other neighborhoods in the city as well as downtown.
Initial feedback received over the weekend has been good, Mauro said. Many people are excited about the possibilities, and lots of good concerns have been raised.
The city will look for more ways over the coming weeks and months to use design to its advantage, he said.