NEW ORLEANS — As New Orleans restaurants are limited to 25 percent capacity or outdoor seating, parklets may soon be on the table.
They’re a common outdoor dining option in cities all over the globe, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles.
“A parklet is like the concept of taking a parking space in front of your business and turning it into usable space,” said Councilwoman Kristen Palmer, who introduced the measure to the New Orleans City Council. The legislation passed at the council meeting Thursday.
The spaces turn one or two parking spots in front of a business into outdoor seating. They’re often flanked by outdoor potted plants, sometimes positioned on decking, and become permanent fixtures to expand outdoor seating for a restaurant.
Studies by the National Association of City Transportation Officials have found that parklets slow down traffic and increase business.
“Right now, it could be a really good impetus for our small businesses, and I want to do everything that we can to get our small businesses open and employing folks,” said Councilwoman Palmer.
She said she believes this concept will thrive in the French Quarter, where sidewalks are too thin to provide outdoor seating and be ADA compliant. She also said she sees removing parking on Frenchmen Street at night, creating a more pedestrian-friendly experience.
The parklet program would be on a case-by-case application basis. For instance, if a business is in front of a bus stop, they may not be eligible.
The mayor’s office, which was already issuing temporary sidewalk use permits to New Orleans restaurants, is on board with parklets. In a statement to Eyewitness News, a spokesperson wrote:
“The work has begun, and the work will continue --- with an internal team at City Hall currently developing a process to deploy a parklet program as an option for businesses."
Tara Tolford, a research associate at the University of New Orleans Transportation Institute, said parklets serve as a traffic calming measure and provide new spaces for businesses to thrive.
“This is a boon for business,” she said. She added, that during this time of slower traffic, and a need for social distance, New Orleans could be in a perfect position to begin constructing and using parklets.
“The French Quarter wasn’t built for cars; it was built for people who use those streets any number of ways. So, this is just sort of getting us back to how it was originally designed, and we have so many great commercial corridors where I think we can make something cool out of it,” said Tolford.
Now that the city council has approved the measure, it heads to the administration.