A proposed temporary ordinance would allow restaurants to apply for street closures for up to one year.

If you’ve spent any time in the District of Columbia, you know space is tight. For most restaurants, having dining room space is a premium that stands to rise substantially when restaurants reopen. After hearing requests from local restaurant owners to close streets in order to increase outdoor dining space, the D.C. city council will open debate during a legislation meeting on Tuesday, May 19. The temporary ordinance would close certain streets and alleyways in small business districts so restaurants could use sidewalk space for seating.

Currently, the District is still under a stay-at-home order, and restaurants are only allowed to offer curbside and delivery service. When dining rooms are allowed to reopen, they will likely be under a restriction allowing only 25 to 50 percent capacity. Closing down city streets would allow restaurants to increase capacity by adding tables for outside dining. The closures would also help improve social distancing during the summer tourist season.  The ordinance encourages closures to be based on boundaries created by current business improvement districts around the city.

Street view of Downtown Washington, D.C.

Street view of Downtown Washington, D.C., image courtesy Anna Lowe

Businesses would have to put in an application with the District Department of Transportation to get the streets closed. Once approved, streets and alleys around the business can be closed for up to one year after the public emergency ends. Businesses are eligible if they are in a BID, the Main Street revitalization program, or currently have sidewalk service. There are currently 11 business improvement districts in the city, most of them with boundaries in popular D.C. neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, Capitol Hill, Dupont Circle, NoMa, and Mount Vernon Triangle.

The proposed ordinance is part of the Coronavirus Support Act and includes other ordinances and laws design to support the residents of D.C. during and after the coronavirus crisis. Residents can listen to the live hearings for the bill by visiting the D.C. Council website.

What do you think about this? Would you feel better about dining outside if restaurants were able to expand their outdoor seating? How would this affect traffic? Tell us in the comments!