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NJ Reimagining Streetscapes for Outdoor Dining

NJ Reimagining Streetscapes for Outdoor Dining

As the State of New Jersey enters into the second stage of reopening during COVID-19, Governor Murphy signed Executive Order No. 150 on June 3rd giving permission to restaurants and bars to serve their patrons outdoor. “Allowing outdoor dining and the expansion of alcohol-serving areas will allow restaurants and bars to begin welcoming customers back while continuing to comply with necessary social distancing guidance,” said Governor Phil Murphy. [1] The New Jersey Department of Health issued a number of protocols for establishments intending to implement outdoor dining. However, municipalities are responsible for providing clear guidance on the process and options of expanding outdoor capacity. Across the state, local governments are simplifying application processes and waiving fees for expanding outdoor capacity, thus trying to stimulate recovery of businesses and revitalization of social life while requiring strict health and safety measures by the New Jersey Department of Health. According to these measures, tables must be situated six feet apart with no more than eight persons per table. Keeping a six-foot distance anytime between patrons from different groups and wearing a face mask when away from a table is required. All shared items from tables to pens must be disinfected after each use. Workers must be physically separated from customers whenever possible and checked for COVID-19 symptoms daily. [2] Atlantic City, Piscataway, Red Bank, and many other municipalities have also added their own directives and regulations with protocols for food and beverage establishments pursuant to the Order on their websites.

Adaptation to the conditions caused by the pandemic entails changes in people’s lifestyles, some of which will lead to a new way of life even after the pandemic. Implementing this Executive Order also calls for changes in the built environment to increase the outdoor capacity of businesses. Consequently, cities and towns across the state are proposing and implementing a variety of ways to expand their outdoor capacity. For example, Hoboken, with its largest concentration of eating and drinking establishments in New Jersey, provides its businesses with several options:

  • Sidewalk Café Expansion – Using the sidewalk area in front of business for restaurant seating or retail.
  • StrEATERY – Converting curbside parking space into an area specifically intended for outdoor dining where take-away food and beverages may be consumed.
  • Parklet – Converting curbside parking space into a mini-park temporary seating area built as an extension of the sidewalk.
  • Open Streets – Organizing temporary schedules for closing certain blocks of streets for restaurant seating or retail. [3]

These options accommodate different surrounding conditions and diversify ways in which necessary changes can be implemented.

Other municipalities across the state have launched pilot programs to support safe outdoor activity and recreation for their residents:

  • Jersey City launched a pilot program called ‘Slow Streets’ which temporarily blockes through traffic from some streets to allow for more comfortable use for socially distant walking, jogging, biking, exercising, commuting, and playing across the city. Temporary Pedestrian Plazas are also being incorporated citywide to further support social distancing efforts. Considering the new need for additional space for pedestrians and cyclists, Jersey City is also expediting the construction of permanent bike lanes. [4]
  • Asbury Park launched the ReOPEN Asbury Park: Business & Community Recovery Strategy plan to expand capacity for restaurants and retail; utilize public space as a mechanism to allow people to maintain social distancing. According to this plan, the affected streets fall into three groups: temporary closing to through traffic and parking to allow for the expansion of dining and retail; temporary closing to through traffic, and parking to allow for outdoor recreation by pedestrians and cyclists; and streets that will be open to local traffic only to allow pedestrians and cyclists to utilize more of the street and slow traffic. [5]
  • Red Bank will open two outdoor plazas on its streets. Those streets, however, will not be permanently shut down. The plazas will be open Thursdays to Saturdays. [6]
  • Ridgewood officially announced that a section of the downtown will be closed off to cars and parking on weekends to help replace what the establishments will lose in retail space due to social distancing measures. During the week, restaurants and retail establishments can place tables outside their establishments on the sidewalks. [7]

Things get more complicated when roads are under the jurisdiction of different levels of government. In those cases, local administration must obtain permission from relevant authorities in order to alter county and state roads. Thus, Somerville officials have petitioned the state to close Main Street (Route 28), a state-owned highway, to traffic on at least some days every week. [8] Morristown is another example of a municipality attempting to close a street not under their control: “It’s difficult for Morristown [to expand outdoor dining] mainly because our town consists of state and county roads,” said Tim Dougherty, the mayor of Morristown. The state declined Mayor Tim Dougherty’s request to shut down parts of South Street and expand outdoor dining. [9]

Moving the main activity in food and beverage establishments outdoors intensifies the need for quality public spaces. The measures that are currently being taken are temporary, but they provide us with an opportunity to assess how popular these arrangements will be. Close monitoring of these spaces will allow cities to analyze their effectiveness and viability in the long term. The results of the monitoring should be applied to the future development of the urban environment. The ongoing trend towards urbanization suggests that more people will be living in denser areas, which in turn means a decreasing role of cars and the increasing importance of public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, and public spaces. In these circumstances, closing some streets and setting aside parts of streets and parking lots for the needs of bars and restaurants seems to be a promising strategy.

One of the interesting effects of COVID-19 is the change in people’s lifestyle and habits in response to a physical change in the urban environment. The forced prolonged exposure to a relatively new experience might even cause a shift in their preferences. Implementing and observing these changes today is helping cities in moving towards more permanent changes in the future. In this way, COVID-19 has granted cities unprecedented opportunities that stretch far beyond outdoor dining and recreation.

 

References

[1] Office of the governor of The State of New Jersey
[2] The New Jersey Department of Health
[3] The City of Hoboken
[4] The City of Asbury Park
[5] https://www.cityofasburypark.com/387/4347/ReOPEN-Asbury-Park?activeLiveTab=widgets#liveEditTab_versionsList
[6] https://patch.com/new-jersey/redbank/red-bank-closes-streets-outdoor-dining-plazas
[7] https://patch.com/new-jersey/ridgewood/ridgewood-rethinks-downtown-space-restaurants-begin-service
[8] https://patch.com/new-jersey/bridgewater/somerville-looks-close-route-28-outdoor-dining
[9] https://www.dailyrecord.com/story/news/2020/06/06/nj-rejects-morristown-request-shut-south-street-outdoor-dining/3165225001/
[10] Schmidt J. (2010). Revisiting Pedestrian Malls.

 


Image Sources: greatheightsphoto.com, Maxim Gladkiy, Wikimedia Commons, Maxim Gladkiy.