The City of Morgantown has a solution that will allow for more outdoor dining options downtown this season.
If you like outdoor dining but don’t usually look for it downtown, you may want to reconsider that this year—the downtown al fresco scene is about to get a boost.
Last year’s COVID-driven experiment outside Tin 202 demonstrated that outdoor dining could add an enjoyable new dimension to the downtown experience and help restaurants stay open.
The process was a bit fraught, though. The challenge is that there are a lot of claims on the 20-some feet of real estate that lies between the downtown building facades and the vehicle traffic. City code gives pedestrians at least four feet, and that must be preserved. What’s so far been styled as parking gets 7-plus feet. Add dining into that mix, and the state starts getting nervous about things squeezing out into moving traffic—with ugly Jersey barriers the typical solution.
So this year, the City of Morgantown has a plan for making sidewalk space more available to restaurants while preserving a safe pedestrian pathway—and keeping it all from looking like a construction zone that no one could enjoy a meal in.
They’re called “pedlets”—basically a temporary widening extension of the sidewalk that converts parking spaces into safe pedestrian zones and frees up existing sidewalk space for dining.
“It was an idea we came up with and then, after researching, we found them in different cities,” says Morgantown Parking Authority Executive Director Dana McKenzie. It turns out that this is a problem cities everywhere have faced as they seek to add outdoor dining to their downtowns, and places like Great Falls, Montana and Raleigh, North Carolina—that one’s really elaborate—have found pedlets to be a great solution.
Pedlets can be constructed in a lot of ways and, given pandemic supply chain disruptions, the materials for many of those ways would be prohibitively expensive this year. But the city is working on an affordable design for 2021 that would direct pedestrian traffic into what we typically consider the parking zone at one end of a pedlet and back to the sidewalk at the other, McKenzie says. Bollards and chains in the remaining outer width of the parking spaces would visually separate the new pedestrian zone from traffic—or, he says, decorative planters have also been mentioned. No Jersey barriers are needed, and the whole thing would be easily dismantled when the weather turns cold.
A meeting on Wednesday, May 12, will finalize the design and the application process, according to McKenzie, who says we could see pedlets and outdoor dining soon after—possibly by the end of the month.
The Parking Authority is taking a leading role in this effort. “We want to do everything we can to see businesses successful downtown,” McKenzie says.
The city will announce the availability of the outdoor dining application in mid-May. Meanwhile, restaurant owners or managers who have questions can contact the city’s Development Services office at 304.284.7413.