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9 in 10 Seattle residents support pandemic-era ‘streateries,’ survey finds

The program was started in September 2020 during the pandemic so that restaurants could continue serving customers while indoor dining was shut down.

SEATTLE — With Seattle’s free permit program for so-called “streateries” being extended through January 2023, the city’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) is releasing a survey that shows overwhelming support for these pandemic-era fixtures.

On Tuesday, the city council voted unanimously to extend the free Safe Start permit program, which allows retail and restaurant businesses to set up outdoor seating areas along sidewalks and even parking spaces in order to more safely serve customers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now, the curbside seating areas and retail options have become daily attractions for residents around the city, like the streatery-lined Ballard Avenue NW.

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SDOT’s survey collected the feedback of more than 10,000 residents from July through mid-August 2021.

According to the survey results, 90% of respondents support the cafes in curb spaces and on sidewalks as well as street closures for streateries and outdoor shopping. Nearly 90% also supported food trucks in curb spaces.

Receiving less support but still popular with the majority were food carts on sidewalks (83%) and retail displays on sidewalks (65%) or in curb spaces (59%).

“These survey results show that small businesses and community members overwhelmingly welcome the café streets that have become a part of the urban fabric in Seattle,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss, whose district includes Ballard. “Café streets and outdoor dining and retail have given our neighborhood small businesses the flexibility they need to thrive during changing public health guidelines and new variants while adding vibrancy to our neighborhoods and business districts.”

Roughly 270 business owners were among the respondents, and despite most of them not participating in the program or being unable to, a strong majority supported allowing participating businesses to continue sidewalk and street cafes as well as full block closures.

Among the chief concerns shared by respondents was ensuring enough space along sidewalks for all pedestrians, including those in wheelchairs, as well as traffic congestion for vehicles driving by.

Because curb spaces often take up street-side parking spaces, many Seattle residents said nearby noise and exhaust from traffic can make dining experiences unpleasant.

Despite the concerns, streateries remain popular among Seattle residents. Even through the cold, Strauss said, Ballard Avenue’s outdoor dining is still thriving.

“Just a few days ago I ate outside on Ballard Avenue in 37-degree weather and all outdoor seats were occupied. The number of people sitting outside for dinner that night in Ballard shows how the Safe Start program and businesses’ entrepreneurial spirit is working, even in our cold and wet Seattle winters,” he explained in a statement.

Kate Sweeney, manager of Ballard’s Hattie’s Hat restaurant, said on Tuesday she’s seeing that customers are still more comfortable eating outside despite the weather and a decline in COVID activity over recent weeks, adding, “We wouldn't have been able to keep our business open without it."

SDOT is planning to release a draft of rules this spring for streatery permits once the temporary Safe Start permits expire next year. SDOT said that the proposal will include a way for businesses to continue participating in the streatery program.

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