Mayor Harrell Signs Legislation to Extend Free Safe Start Outdoor Space Permits

Program supports small businesses and community members through outdoor dining and retail opportunities citywide

Seattle – Today, Mayor Bruce Harrell signed legislation to extend free Safe Start café street and outdoor dining permits through January 31, 2023. Over 250 businesses throughout Seattle have taken part in the program since June 2020.

“Seeing how our Seattle community has embraced these new spaces is exciting and inspiring,” said Mayor Harrell. “Continuing to offer free permits as we develop a long-term plan is a great way to support our small businesses, keep communities healthy, and bring energy and activation to our streets and neighborhoods. Safe Start permits are an important tool as we strive toward a flourishing, vibrant, welcoming One Seattle for all residents. I am committed to achieving that future and grateful to Councilmember Strauss for his consistent and determined leadership supporting these outdoor spaces.”

In June 2020, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) streamlined the permitting process to allow businesses to quickly obtain a free permit to open a temporary outdoor café or merchandise display on the sidewalk or curbside, or a free street closure permit allowing businesses to operate in the street in front of their business. The temporary permits were previously set to expire on May 31, 2022, and will now be extended automatically to January 31, 2023 as the City updates the existing permit program and develops a transition plan.

“This step in the pathway to permanence for outdoor dining gives small businesses the predictably they need to invest in outdoor dining and add vibrancy to our city,” said Councilmember Dan Strauss. “Mayor Harrell and I agree on the need for permanent regulations and this bill gives SDOT time to create guidelines that are right sized for our city while giving our business community consistent regulations they can rely on. We know Seattleites love dining outdoors whether it is 37 degrees or 73 degrees – I am proud to be making outdoor dining a permanent reality for our community.”

An SDOT survey of over 10,000 people found overwhelming support for the program through new outdoor spaces for dining, shopping, and more. 97% said they regularly dine out, shop, or purchase take-out food. 90% expressed overall support for cafés on sidewalks and curb spaces, as well as for full-block street closures for pedestrian-only dining and shopping.

“The Safe Starts permits are an example of one of the many ways that Seattle has adapted to better meet the needs of the public and businesses during the pandemic,” said SDOT Interim Director Kristen Simpson. “The free temporary permit program has helped restaurants and merchants to stay in business in the face of challenging conditions and has also become a popular addition to many Seattle neighborhoods. This extension provides businesses with more predictability to plan ahead as we update our existing permit programs and develop our next steps.”

“Restaurants have been hit hardest by the pandemic and many are deep in debt,” said Steve Hooper, President of the Seattle Restaurant Alliance and Ethan Stowell Restaurants. “Streeteries are a great way for restaurants to offer expanded dining options while increasing capacity — and customers have appreciated the option to dine outdoors. We are thankful to the city council for this support.” SDOT will continue to work with stakeholders, community, and small businesses to draft a long-term permitting program proposal that streamlines applications and fees and ensures continued mobility, security, and accessibility. A draft of that policy is expected later this spring, with rules finalized by the end of this summer.