Houston has taken a major step to make downtown more friendly to restaurants and bars. Houston City Council has approved a new plan that will temporarily close select blocks on the northbound and southbound lanes of Main Street — between Commerce and Rusk — to vehicular traffic. The program, dubbed More Space: Main Street, helps restaurants and bars create expanded patios in the roadway, according to a press release.
Area industry professionals see this as a boon. “This is great for several reasons,” Asa Hanrahan, general manager of the popular downtown bar, Flying Saucer, tells CultureMap. “Not just because of the much needed extra patio space to allow more of our patrons to safely get great beers during this COVID pandemic time, but also because of how this will improve the overall aesthetic of downtown. Stoked is an understatement.”
Specifically, restaurants and bars will be able to install outdoor patio seating in the Main Street roadway, in addition to their existing sidewalk cafés. A business may use the space equivalent to their frontage and may be able to extend it even further — if a neighboring business chooses not to participate in the program.
Street patios will be enclosed on all sides with wood and/or metal fencing, with an entrance from the sidewalk and one in the roadway for ADA accessibility. Fencing or built elements like planter boxes will separate the roadway patios from METRORail that runs through the center of Main Street, according to the plan.
Design-wise, umbrellas, street furniture, and other decorative elements will enhance the spaces. The pedestrian right-of-way will remain on the sidewalk; cross-streets will remain open.
This comes as more than 75 percent of street-level restaurants are now serving customers, drawing an increasing number of pedestrians back to downtown. The area is seeing a resurgence of events — from The Ice at Discovery Green to movies at Market Square Park. Hotels are reporting an uptick in weekend traffic due to locals enjoying amenity-rich staycations. More Space: Main Street is a partnership between the City of Houston, Houston Downtown Management District (Downtown District), and Houston Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO).
Just how long the new plan will be in place remains to be seen. As CultureMap news partner ABC13 reports, more than 7,400 Texans have been hospitalized for COVID-19 this week, while the positivity rate has exceeded 10 percent for over three weeks. Texas Governor Greg Abbott has nixed any plans for a lockdown, but Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo appears to disagree. “We need the state to step in and lead or get out of the way and let us lead,” she told reporters November 17.
Eric Sandler contributed to this story.