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Oregon DOT Works with Communities to Find Innovative Solutions in Challenging Times

SALEM, OR — A little extra space can make all the difference for businesses and their customers these days.

Beth Forshay, Owner of Twisted Cork in Grants Pass, added two outdoor tables on a sidewalk expansion under an Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) program helping businesses repurpose public spaces on state-owned roadways.

"[Now] people don’t feel like they’re invaded so much when people are walking by,” she said. ‘People are enjoying seating more outside because of the fresh air. All in all, a serious win. ... Not normal, but nothing is normal right now.”

As communities around the state adjust to the new normal of doing business, ODOT is re-envisioning how to safely adapt public spaces within the state highway system.

Under the Reopening Communities, Re-envisioning Spaces Program, ODOT is working closely with cities to find alternate, accessible routes for pedestrians when city businesses expand onto city sidewalks. These expansions give customers social distancing space, helping prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In Grants Pass, Assistant Public Works Director Wade Elliot said he expects new outdoor restaurant seating downtown to remain through September.

In Ashland, three restaurants have expanded outdoor seating, said Scott Fleury, Ashland’s Interim Public Works Director. “The ease of permitting and coordination with ODOT was great and the city really appreciates the lengths that ODOT went to in order to support the city’s request."

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Not all cities can accommodate temporary sidewalk expansions, so ODOT urges cities to re-envision additional spaces with ideas like detouring local traffic onto state highways, using alleys or empty lots, or transferring ownership of state sidewalks or streets to the city.

These are unique times and there is not a one-sized-fits-all solution.

If a city wants to expand seating onto a city sidewalks, ODOT will work with the city to find alternate pedestrian routes. Safety and accessibility for all users is always a priority for the department.

Under this program a city can obtain a free permit to use parking spaces on a state roadway for pedestrians when the city sidewalk is closed for expanded business use. ODOT usually issue permits within a week, although some may take longer as each situation and community is different.

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Many cities allow restaurants to have outdoor seating on city-owned roads and sidewalks under city permits. However, state-owned roads and sidewalks must remain available for transportation, whether that is for vehicles or pedestrians. All highways and state owned sidewalks must be ADA accessible, and allowing alternative uses may limit that accessibility.

“We have good working relationships with our city partners,” said ODOT Rogue Valley Assistant District Manager Jeremiah Griffin. “We’re trying to do a good thing for our communities, especially during these times.”

Cities interested in temporarily expanding sidewalks in their community should contact their local ODOT District Manager.

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