A perspective for all generations.

A recent article in Slate, “Street Food Close the roads. Reclaim the parking lots. Put restaurants outside.” really got me thinking. As COVID-19 shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted, social distancing will continue for some time, perhaps even longer psychologically. The article describes how some cities are allowing restaurants to reopen, but limiting occupancy to 25% or 50%. Sounds like a pretty poor business model in an already notoriously tough industry. But, as the author goes on, why not reclaim outdoor spaces like streets and parking lots to allow for social distancing between restaurant goers? You increase your dining room space to be able to approach 100% capacity, while sacrificing space for cars. I love it! 

After reading the article and just for fun, I wanted to look at a small stretch of Bardstown Road between Bonnycastle and Alta here in Louisville. It’s an area I am partial to, as I once lived a block away. Bardstown Road is the longest continuous restaurant/retail/live-work-play strip I know of, and the roadway is a 4-lane mess. Fortunately, there are some much needed safety enhancements planed to be implemented soon. Unfortunately, those enhancements still don’t get to the root problem along the corridor: too much room for cars, not enough for everyone else. The adjacent restaurants and shops currently do not have adequate outdoor space for much of anything. With social distancing, they don’t really have room to adapt. 

Space is at a premium, so let’s take it from the streets!

Here’s a current aerial view (thanks, Google). Observation: four lanes that often encourage speeding, narrow sidewalks, dangerous even for drivers, almost no trees.
Here’s a proposed view: 2 lanes, lower speeds, wider sidewalks, much safer, more trees, and tables.

Excusing the crudeness of the sketch, let’s get into some more concrete details on what is shown:

  • Based on my calculations, I gain 18,500sf of space from the existing roadways. Let’s say that only 50% of that space is usable. This means 9,250sf of additional space for the adjacent businesses to use for seating. I’m not even counting the existing sidewalk area.
  • Normally, restaurant design guidelines standards start out at 14sf per guest, which includes the table, aisle, etc., and a typical aisle is around 42” wide. With COVID-19 restrictions requiring 6 feet between tables, we need about 24sf per person, or about 60% more space.
  • Thus, with the road modifications, I can seat 385 seated diners at one time! The math may be off, there are countless other considerations, and there is always weather. But, what a better use of space.

Call it a road diet, call it a complete street, call it what you will. For the last 25 years, our team at SWT Design has worked tirelessly to redistribute space in our urban environments, carving out room for walking, biking, trees, nature, stormwater, outdoor dining, and more. It’s about finding a better balance.

There is so much more we could be doing with the spaces between buildings, and this is what we love to think about! We plan and design outdoor environments that bring people together, safely.

Here is a link to the article: https://slate.com/business/2020/04/restaurants-reopen-outside-coronavirus.html

Please send us your comments. We’d love to know your thoughts!

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