Mar 23, 2023 - News

Downtown Houston's street dining is now permanent

A photo of Main Street in downtown Houston, with a barricade reading "MORE SPACE" and a train in the background

Finn Hall's outdoor dining includes greenery. Photo: Jay R. Jordan/Axios

Houston's program allowing bars and restaurants to take over street space considered lightly used is here to stay.

What's happening: The More Space: Main Street program allows bars and restaurants along a seven-block stretch of Main Street between Commerce and Rusk streets to permanently expand their seating capacity into the road between the sidewalk and the Metro's Red Line.

  • The street is closed to vehicles for blocks where bars or restaurants have opted into the plan.

Driving the news: Houston City Council on Wednesday unanimously approved making More Space: Main Street a permanent fixture in downtown.

Why it matters: The program is one of the few ways Houston takes space away from cars to give it back to pedestrians, and it could be expanded in other parts of the city, according to chief transportation planner David Fields.

What they're saying: "Our public right-of-ways are an opportunity, because sometimes they're not needed for transportation purposes," Fields said.

Flashback: The city launched the program in spring 2020 to help struggling downtown businesses have more outdoor dining space as indoor dining was restricted to slow the spread of COVID-19.

State of play: Five businesses — Little Dipper Bar, Shay McElroy's Pub, Flying Saucer, Finn Hall, and Cherry Bar — have opted into the program, which currently uses temporary barriers to block the street for seating.

  • Each business is responsible for constructing and maintaining the seating areas, and they must conform to city standards. Bars must apply for a separate Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission permit for the outdoor seating.

Zoom out: Other cities, like New York and Boston, have similar initiatives.

What's next: Now that the program is set in stone, blocks where businesses opt into the program will soon feature permanent barricades.

  • "Then, we'll be able to use those [designs] as building blocks for other streets or neighborhoods at their request," Fields said. "This is always going to be a locally driven program."

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