By Dana Hendrickson
Temporary Outdoor Dining Areas - A Critical First Step for Rebuilding Downtown Menlo Park?Uploaded: Jul 1, 2020
This is the third post in an on-going series about how Covid-19 social distancing measures, city decisions and human behavior impact the vitality of our downtown businesses and retail district.
On June 24, Menlo Park launched a pilot program that allows approved downtown restaurants and shops to temporarily use public spaces like streets, sidewalks and parking spaces. This action was motivated primarily by the desire to help “dine-in” restaurants, as these local businesses continue to struggle financially with both social distancing measures that limit indoor and outdoor seating capacity by as much as 50% and significant changes in customer preferences that are driven by concerns about COVID-19 health risks. This program will run for 90-days, be reviewed by the city council at the halfway point and could be modified, ended or extended. All eating establishments and shops located within the boundaries of El Camino, University, Oak Grove and Menlo can potentially qualify. They do NOT have to be located on Santa Cruz Avenue.
To encourage access to shops and restaurants and provide safe areas for pedestrians, three sections of downtown Santa Cruz Avenue (SCA) are now closed. To minimize negative impacts on traffic flows, cross-streets remain open. Current city focus is on educating business owners about the requirements of the temporary outdoor permit program and encouraging them to submit an online application. Details for the program are available on the city website. Hopefully, businesses will have their approved public areas in-place within the next two weeks.
Source: City of Menlo Park
1. The map does NOT show restaurants that are on side streets and El Camino. Those eligible for temporary outdoor permits include Cafe Del Sol, La Stanza, Carpaccio, The Refuge, Coffeebar, Sultana, Trellis, The Black Pepper and Mountain Mike's Pizza.
2. Businesses labeled "restaurant" on the map include those serving food but are not actually dine-in restaurants, e.g., Cold Stone Creamery, Mr. Bubble, Menlo Cafe, Starbuck's, Bagel Street Cafe, Subway, Baskin Robbins, Posh Bagel, and Peet's.
3. The Chamber of Commerce recommended new outdoor dining areas in the places with green highlights.
Next, the city needs to focus on how to make this experiment successful, i.e., more appealing to residents while minimizing all negative impacts. Residents who visit downtown to run errands will likely find their trips less convenient as about 50 SCA parking spaces have been eliminated. This will increase competition for parking spots in public lots, and convenient curbside access to many businesses has been eliminated.
Traffic flows in downtown have been altered so motorists who normally use Santa Cruz are now diverted to University, Menlo and Oak Grove, and navigating to parking lots has changed.
Fewer shoppers and no vehicles on sections of SCA might make downtown feel somewhat empty and lifeless during the daytime. And poorly designed, street-level dining areas might make SCA look more like an unattractive food court than a welcoming place to enjoy a meal. So, design aesthetics and sanitation will remain important.
What else can the city do to transform downtown to an appealing place to spend time? There is an urgent need to answer that question.
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