Councilmember Strauss Introduces Permanent Street Café Legislation

In September, Councilmember Dan Strauss held the 2nd Ballard Avenue Design Charrette with local businesses and residents to gather feedback on interim changes

SEATTLE– Councilmember Dan Strauss (District 6- Northwest Seattle), Chair of the Land Use Committee, introduced legislation to make outdoor dining permanent in Seattle. This begins the final step in the pathway to permanence for street cafes and the legislation incorporates aspects of the design charrettes that have created the street café on Ballard Avenue.  

The Safe Starts Legislation creates permanent regulations including fee structures, structural standards, and design goals. When creating the new standards meant to retain popular aspects of the Safe Start program, Councilmember Strauss and SDOT are centering these key aspects:  

  • Equity – these changes must work across Seattle, not just in a few successful neighborhoods.  
  • Safety – structures must be safe for people dining and for people walking, rolling, and driving.  
  • Access – SDOT is working to maintain proper access, including making sure there is still plenty of room for business deliveries and pick-up, as well as drop-off space for rideshare. 
  • Sustainability – the program needs to be financially sustainable for both SDOT and local businesses.  

Throughout this process, Councilmember Strauss and SDOT are working to ensure rules are right-sized for Seattle, there is adequate transition time for businesses, there are flexible options for year-round vibrancy, and Seattle’s businesses are supported as they continue to recover from the pandemic. This bill is scheduled to be heard in the Transportation and Utilities Committee in December after the budget process wraps up.  

The Safe Starts Legislation is informed by the Café Street pilot on Ballard Avenue and the two designs charrettes held in 2021 and 2022 respectively. These charrettes turned temporary changes into interim changes, formalizing the one-way traffic, increasing pedestrian space at intersections, removing unnecessary signage, and filling tree pits with permeable surfaces.  

Ballard Avenue was chosen as the pilot for city-wide policy making because there was early adoption by local businesses using their entrepreneurial skills to create a more vibrant business district and it is not a through street – blocked at Market Street and the Ballard Bridge. The charrettes were attended by local business owners, Ballard Avenue residents and workers, as well as disability advocates.  

A survey to Seattleites in August 2022 received 1,300 responses with overwhelming support of the changes to Ballard Avenue. The goal of the most recent design charrette was to gather feedback from people who live, work, and play on Ballard Avenue about what is and isn’t working, and how the interim changes can be improved. This will lead to clarifying current changes in the next few months, finalizing the interim improvements during a third charrette, and addressing permanent changes in future charrettes. Using the process of design charrettes allows community participation in the design of both the physical space on the street and the policy making while temporary and interim changes are applied during the pilot.  

“The years of outreach and work on Ballard Avenue have produced the right-sized permanent rules for street cafes in Seattle. Small businesses, foodies, and everyday Seattleites have embraced outdoor dining in both summer and winter. This legislation creates the permanent framework for outdoor dining to stay and ensures they remain a part of our city’s fabric,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss.  “On Ballard Avenue we are seeing vibrancy spilling over from restaurants to retail, from daytime use to nighttime use, culminating at the Sunday Farmer’s Market. These changes to Ballard Avenue are magnetizing our business district making it even more of a destination than it was before.”    

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve worked to support Seattle’s business community by creating opportunities to use the public right-of-way in more flexible, creative ways,” said Alyse Nelson of the Seattle Department of Transportation. “Along the way, we evaluated the effectiveness of our temporary permitting programs and gathered feedback from permit holders. We’ve been delighted to work in partnership with community members whose innovative and thoughtful ideas have helped shaped the recommendations outlined in this legislation for a new permitting framework and are deeply appreciative of Councilmember Dan Strauss’ leadership on this.” 

“The Safe Start program was a critical lifeline for restaurant owners, our teams and our guests throughout the pandemic. And it turns out Seattleites love eating outside. Making the program a permanent part of the fabric of our city will only enhance the experiences of residents and visitors alike. We are grateful to SDOT and CM Strauss for recognizing that this can be a win-win for all involved,” said Steve Hooper Jr., president, Seattle Restaurant Alliance and president, Ethan Stowell Restaurants. 

“Street cafés were absolutely critical for Ballard Avenue restaurants working to survive the pandemic at a time when indoor dining was prohibited or extremely limited,” said Ballard Alliance Executive Director Mike Stewart. “As we put the pandemic in the rearview mirror, we realize that street cafés are a real positive going forward that help boost our local economy and create a vibrant and thriving environment in Ballard.” 

“The changes being made to Ballard Ave and the street cafes have been very successful and have resulted in a win/win for the Ballard Farmers Market and the local businesses,” says Doug Farr, Manager of the Ballard Farmers Market. “The restaurants and retail stores allow the farmers to set-up and sell inside the street cafes on Sunday, and the farmers are very appreciative of the covered structures during market hours. We are very appreciative to the City of Seattle and Councilmember Strauss for the positive changes and enhancement to Ballard Avenue.” 

“The Ballard Avenue Charette was an excellent opportunity to collaborate with Councilmember Strauss and the Ballard stakeholders to look at how a street in a neighborhood business district could be reimagined to allow both small business and community to thrive in a post-pandemic world.  The feedback we received from residents, businesses, property owners, and accessibility stakeholders will help shape SDOT’s continued commitment to support the Ballard Avenue Café Street as a welcoming and vibrant street for all,” said Aditi Kambuj, Urban Design Manager, Seattle Department of Transportation 


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