Councilmember Dan Strauss pushing to make cafe streets permanent in Seattle

Ballard Ave’s transformation into a cafe street could become a permanent fixture.

Seattle City Councilmember Dan Strauss is pushing legislation to extend the Cafe Streets pilot program another year, with a path to make it permanent. Strauss and Council President Lorena González introduced the legislation this week, which they say will “give Seattle businesses the tools to weather the economic downturn brought on by the pandemic.”

In a statement from his office, Strauss says he intends to create a permanent program for businesses to continue using outdoor space, “creating vibrancy in neighborhoods and business districts.” For now, the legislation outlines an extension of the current program for another year, through May 31, 2022.

The current permit program is free for businesses, allowing local businesses to utilize more outdoor space to allow for better social distancing.

“I am excited to announce my legislation creating a pathway to keeping sidewalk cafes and café streets as permanent features in our city. This bill extends the free café, display, and vending permits through May 31, 2022 and sets the steps to make this critical program permanent,” Strauss said. “Business owners have told me these permits saved their businesses by giving them the flexibility to use their entrepreneurial drive to stay open during changing public health regulations. Businesses who pivoted their model to using these permits aren’t as impacted by changing public health guidelines.”

Several Ballard businesses have taken advantage of the cafe streets program, with many restaurants and shops along Ballard Ave spilling out onto the sidewalks and the street. Strauss said he recognized that making the cafe street program permanent would be an “important signal to businesses who have heavily invested in creating outdoor spaces, especially as spring and summer weather approaches.”

“This pathway to permanency gives businesses the certainty they need to invest in their outdoor spaces and the agility to remain open during changing public health guidelines. I want every neighborhood to have streets like Ballard Avenue in my district – bustling with outdoor dining and retail options,” Strauss said. “Neighborhoods who don’t have a dedicated street also thrive when business owners get to use their creativity to use public space to stay open. This is how we create a more vibrant city.”  

The legislation comes as the state is experiencing a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections, yet another reason why preserving outdoor dining and shopping is vital, Strauss said. “This interim step between the pilot program and permanent regulations gives businesses the ability to navigate the unpredictability of this pandemic.”

The Cafe Streets legislation is expected to be heard in Strauss’s Land Use and Neighborhoods Committee today, Wednesday, May 12th, 2021. 

Photo: Skal Beer Hall’s outdoor dining / Adam McQueen