Is closed streets the answer?

Ocean Drive’s successful closure is ending, just as we need more of them around the county. Cities need to step up and help local businesses while keeping people safe by being bolder and more innovative.

Over 80% of public space in the county is allotted to motor vehicles. The administration of those spaces is a mixed bag between the State, the County, and Cities, but it could hold the answer to opening businesses safely.

Ocean Drive has recently been reopened to one lane of cars after an 8-week test closure to allow for more space for outdoor dining and activity. It has been closed many times due to special events and busy weekends, but this closure was for a markedly different reason.

Coronavirus has made the availability of outdoor dining and ample space between tables necessary to conduct basic business for restaurants. More and more research is showing that coronavirus thrives in indoor, air-conditioned spaces, and the key to safe public gathering is outdoor air flow. This, alongside a greater need for outdoor spaces for leisure, and a lesser need for motor vehicles makes this an apt time to consider more locations and instruments to help local businesses safely operate.

Ocean Drive is opening a lane to traffic at the exact wrong time, as Florida continues to break new coronavirus case records. A new ordinance in Miami-Dade county has banned restaurants from serving seated guests indoors, but allows for outdoor, socially distanced tables. Most restaurants, however, do not have the option of outdoor seating, especially in more dense areas, where space is expensive.

Many local businesses are hurting more than ever, and need their governments to offer creative solutions for them to operate safely. However, dense cities like Miami Beach, Miami, Hialeah, Coral Gables, etc. have not offered or discussed the closing of any other streets to allow for leisure and safe outdoor dining. In fact Ocean Drive is back-peddling, and opening its single test case to traffic instead of exploring others.

*Seasonal “parklets” are used in northern cities to take advantage of outdoor space like Philadelphia (shown above)

Cities should open special permits for restaurants to construct parklets like Dallas, allowing them to expand outdoor dining to their frontage street parking. These permits should be conducted via email with a simple sketch, and be easy to obtain. Cities should also be studying the closures of entire blocks to traffic with a high number of restaurants and retail on them such as Calle Ocho, Giralda, 3rd Ave Downtown, and 2nd Ave in Wynwood. Strip malls should also consider allowing restaurants to expand into their parking areas. These simple measures can help cities and development companies work with businesses instead of seemingly against them.

Coronavirus is something that we are going to be living with in some form for the rest of the year. This is not the time to wait and see what happens anymore. This is the time to innovate, work together, and respond. Cities need to stop reacting, and start making real plans that are lasting, and can help small businesses thrive, while keeping citizens safe.