What's a Parklet?
Parklets are seating platforms which convert curbside parking spaces into vibrant community spaces. Parklets provide green spaces on the city streets to help mitigate the urban heat island effect and create new seasonal pedestrian spaces that improve the quality of life in commercial corridors. The more active the appearance of retail spaces, the more attractive it is for more customers to visit, called the human attraction phenomenon. For business, parklets provide an expanded seating area that is of special interest during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Parklets are urban amenities appropriate for narrow, active pedestrian streets with lower speed limits. Because the private use located in the public street would use space reserved for parking, it is important public safety provisions be adhered to at all times. For example, placing fencing or barriers to prevent pedestrian movements directly from the parklet into the travel lane is important. Additionally, buffer areas and traffic marking are important as well. The American with Disabilities Act access is also a requirement.
The concept, popular in areas like Phoenix, Minneapolis, Miami and New York has become fairly common in the last several years. In St. Joseph, pop-up parklets were demonstrated a few years ago in the downtown area and proved successful. However, it was not until restaurants were impacted by the pandemic when a renewed interest was demonstrated in creating outside dining areas. Of course, the challenge to re-purpose a portion of the street for a new purpose is what is given up in the mix: parking. In some areas, there is a wealth of parking options nearby and others parking is perceived as a commodity in short supply.
Rather than formally limiting or establishing where parklets can be, the application requirements for the program would leave it up to the applicant to work out with their neighbors. For approval, an applicant is required to obtain the support from the adjoining neighbors and 51% of the remaining property owners on the block. This allows for neighbors on blocks who want to develop a parklet to do so and others on blocks who are not supportive to continue using the designated space for parking. The concept is simply to provide for flexibility where support by the property owners impacts if they choose to do so.
Given St. Joseph experiences all four seasons, parklets here will be seasonal and will have to be removed during the winter to allow for snow and ice control. The seasonal reality underscores the temporary or portable nature of the improvement to be deployed. Some basics for a valid application would include:
- Posted speed signs of 25 MPH or less
- Not located on a corner
- Parking lane available and no impact to the market travel lane
- Dining or seating areas only which can be shared between businesses
- Storm drainage not impaired
- Neighborhood support
The Traffic Commission is now in the process of soliciting public comment on parklets for their August 19, meeting.