Many saw the program as a win for residents, business, and PBOT alike. The Street Seats pilot program saw immediate success with three Street Seats areas in front of popular dining destinations. After the pilot program ended, a survey conducted by PBOT concluded that 90% of Portland businesses saw Street Seats as “good for business…and had a positive impact on street vitality" .
Figure 1: Mississippi Pizza's Street Seats Project (Source: City of Portland)
As the sun comes out and summer draws closer, PBOT once again plans to roll out the Street Seats program. Thirty-two applications are already being processed and an additional 3,500-metered spaces are up for grabs for the permitting process . But there’s a catch. If you want to apply for a permit in the Downtown Core, think again, because according to PBOT’s 2013 Street Seats guidelines, much of downtown is exempt from the program.
Figure 2: The Area of Downtown Exempt from the Program (Courtesty: BikePortland.org)
With some of the highest density and foot traffic in Portland, why is the downtown core exempt from the program? All fingers point toward the Portland Business Alliance (PBA), a group that wields significant influence in guiding policy, particularly in regards to parking issues in the downtown business district. PBA fought aggressively against the Street Seats program in the Downtown Core, arguing that Portland is reliant on its limited public parking and that businesses downtown depend on the availability of parking spaces to serve motorists eager to spend money. In PBA’s eyes, any decrease in parking spaces would in turn hurt business .
While it is unlikely for PBOT to overturn the downtown core exemption in time for summer, this brings up the roles of business guiding transportation policy. Street Seats is a glaring example of how business groups (and other groups, for that matter) can negatively impact transportation land use by promoting an autocentric atmosphere. The Downtown Core will be missing out on the added benefits and business that the Pearl District, Lloyd Center and other areas of the city that will profit from the additional seating. In the future, I hope this case of the 2013 summer Street Seats is a lesson learned for PBOT, PBA, and the individuals that make up the city of Portland’s downtown that chose to put usable public space over parking.
Thanks to Josh Capps for reviewing this post.
 Bike Portland article
 Oregonian article
 PBOT Street Seats program