SDOT: What’s next for our “Safe Start” outdoor dining and curb space use permit program


Seattle (July 19, 2022) - The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) created a draft proposal for the "Safe Start" program that includes long-term changes and updates to their permit requirements. If approved, SDOT will put these changes in place once Safe Start expires early next year. SDOT plans to complete their proposal this summer.

In June 2020, SDOT created the temporary Safe Start program to help Seattle restaurants, food vendors, and retail businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Safe Start program made it simpler for businesses to get a permit to use the street and sidewalk. This allowed them to have more space to operate safely during the pandemic.

The program includes options for outdoor dining, vending, merchandise displays, and street closures. SDOT has issued more than 275 permits under the Safe Start program. It is set to expire on January 31, 2023. (Read more in our blog post in February, when SDOT announced this extension.)

Before the pandemic, there were about 380 outdoor dining permits, 20 merchandise displays, and 180 vending permits. Most Safe Start permits are for outdoor dining, and over 60 percent of issued permits are in the curb space.

Here are the basics on SDOT's proposals below:

Outdoor Dining

The draft proposal will continue many of the successes seen during the pandemic. SDOT will continue to allow outdoor dining with structures both along the edges of the sidewalk and in the curb space. Some structures may need to be altered or strengthened to withstand inclement weather. SDOT will also expand opportunities for restaurants by offering a new, seasonal permit. This permit would be valid from April through October. It is ideal for businesses open for outdoor dining in the warmer months.Visit our web page for information about the proposed outdoor dining changes.

Merchandise Displays

The proposal allows retail businesses to advertise merchandise in front of their stores. This removes the need to apply for a permit.

The exemption does not apply to every display. Retail businesses that want to place a merchandise display near their stores, either at the edge of the sidewalk near the curb or directly outside their business next to their building, will still need to receive a permit if their display does not meet the standards created for the permit-free option. Businesses can apply for long-term and seasonal permits. The long-term permits renew annually. Seasonal permits are valid from April through October.

SDOT will no longer offer an option for merchandise displays located in the curb space. These displays have a low demand compared to other curb space uses under the Safe Start program. Exceptions may be necessary for street closures or other temporary, permitted events. Visit our web page for information about the proposed merchandise display changes.

Vending

SDOT's Street and Sidewalk Vending Program has grown steadily over time. It offers steady opportunities to new and established small businesses. SDOT issues most of our vending permits for 12 months.

Adding opportunities for new vendors was challenging before the pandemic. Committing to an uncertain, new site for a full year can prove daunting, especially on limited resources. SDOT incorporated a three-month trial permit to address this challenge. The permit’s timeframe and reduced cost supports vendors’ efforts to try out new locations. The idea comes from vendors who took part in a small vendor advisory group in 2021.

SDOT is creating more vending opportunities by removing restrictions on types of vending, number of vendors, and zoning. Visit our web page for information about the proposed vending changes.

Street and Sidewalk Activities

SDOT's Street and Sidewalk Activity Permits allows institutions, community groups, and organizations to use our streets, alleys, and plazas. By enlivening these spaces, these activities strengthen our sense of community. During the pandemic, these permits were used to extra space for restaurants and retail stores to serve customers. As Seattle communities adapt to the pandemic, these permits will once again broaden to include activities of many types. Visit our web page for information about the proposed changes to Street and Sidewalk Activities.

Fees

There are no permit fees for permits issued through the temporary Safe Start program. SDOT's goal was to support Seattle communities as the pandemic disrupted our daily lives. Once the temporary program ends, SDOT will resume charging fees for these permit types.

SDOT learned a great deal about the businesses we serve since announcing the Safe Start program in 2020. SDOT watched them work hard to balance the needs of their staff and their viability, both temporary and long-term. The department saw local business owners take calculated risks, share ideas and plans, build on each other’s creativity and innovations, and work together during highly uncertain and difficult times. They made good use of the opportunities created by Safe Start permits, and they expressed their appreciation for this supportive program.

To build on what SDOT learned and address key considerations, the department determined our 2023 Fees:

  • Should be affordable for small business owners and community organizations. SDOT wants to continue to help our business partners as we rebuild our communities. We also want to center equity in our program.

  • Should recover our costs through permit issuance, renewal, and modification fees. This will better tie fees to the work our staff performs when reviewing applications and issuing permits. It will also ensure long-term program sustainability.

  • Should be as simple as possible. This will increase user-friendliness and aid efficient processing.

  • Should represent our values. SDOT wants to encourage use of public space. To do this, our proposal adjusts permit fees so we can sustain the program while improving affordability.

To see details about the proposed fees, see these specific pages:

  • Outdoor dining

  • Merchandise display

  • Vending

  • Street and Sidewalk Activities

SDOT is sharing this draft plan to get feedback from you. We also want to raise awareness about our plans as we work towards the final version of this proposal. We plan to submit our final proposal to City Council later this summer. If you have any feedback, questions, or want to learn more, please email us at publicspace@seattle.gov. Visit our website anytime, or view our July 19 presentation slides to City Council.