Spotted: Portland’s first ‘street seats’ – UPDATED

Spotted: Portland’s first ‘street seats’ – UPDATED

Wafu on SE Division is the first business in Portland to replace on-street auto parking spots with customer seating as part of PBOT’s new “Street Seats” program.
(Photos from anonymous BikePortland reader.)


A reader has sent in a few images of the first “street seats” installation in Portland. The new program was launched last Friday (8/11) to little fanfare by the Bureau of Transportation; but it looks like Japanese ramen joint Wafu got a head start.

Directly in front of their location on SE Division at 31st, Wafu has installed a large wooden deck with three tables and seats for 18 customers in a space of about two on-street auto parking spots. According to head chef Trent Pierce, they finished constructing the deck on Saturday and opened it for business for the evening dinner crowd last night. “It’s awesome,” said Pierce, “It was packed out there last night.”

Wafu is a very small restaurant and Pierce said they wanted to expand their summer capacity by having more outdoor seating. They were inspired by parklets in San Francisco and they were planning to approach PBOT about doing one themselves, just as PBOT was coming up with their Street Seats program. Pierce says that PBOT contacted Wafu (and Chef’s Table) owner Kirk Huffman about the idea to see if he wanted to be the test location (contrary to what I reported last week, while PBOT didn’t make any public announcement of the program, they did directly contact several local businesses about the program).

Wafu’s deck is about 6-feet wide and 20-feet long. The seats surrounded with a wooden railing on all three sides. As per PBOT specs, the deck is modular and it can come apart to be moved during winter months. PBOT is only allowing businesses to have street seats for six months out of the year.


Meanwhile, some activists in the community are raising concerns that the new program — by allowing businesses to own these seating areas — privatizes what was formerly public space. Of particular note is how PBOT is calling these “street seats” as opposed to “parklets”. The City does not want people to be confused into thinking these are mini parks for public use. Similar to concerns raised when SW Ankeny was re-imagined to exclude auto traffic, some people feel that PBOT is “privatizing public property for a fee.”

[UPDATE]
PBOT spokesman Dan Anderson says they’re aware of these concerns; but the agency sees this is as a good partnership with business owners. “One of our missions is to be a partner in creating a livable community, and we think programs like this achieve that goal.” Anderson added that, similarly to PBOT’s response when these concerns came up on the SW Ankeny program, they feel there’s a net positive in terms of public space with the program. “I think more members of the public can use this space, than if one person in a car was in it.”

The issue is on the agenda of the City of Portland Pedestrian Advisory Committee, which meets tomorrow in the Pettygrove Room in City Hall from 7:00 to 9:00 pm.

Meanwhile, I’m waiting for a business to replace on-street auto parking with both a bike parking corral and public seating.

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