If enough restaurant owners sign onto a new city program, officials may close down the position of Rusk and Commerce streets to vehicular traffic until as late as March 31, 2022, allowing restaurants to use the roadway for more outdoor seating.
Restaurants along the stretch also have permission to use sidewalks for additional outdoor seating, according to a new city ordinance.
Houston City Council voted to give restaurant owners the permission Nov. 18 as an extension of the planning department’s More Spaces program. Since council approved the More Spaces program, which allows restaurants to convert parking spaces to outdoor dining patios, in August, nine restaurants have notified the city of their participation.
“Focusing on the businesses along Main Street in downtown Houston, and allowing for dining and customers areas to expand into the car lanes, with car traffic closed over these few blocks is a great continuation of the program goals and will transform Main Street into an interesting, vibrant destination,” wrote Al Flores, chapter president of the Greater Houston Restaurant Association, in a letter of support Nov. 18.
The goal of both initiatives is to curb the spread of the coronavirus by encouraging more outdoor dining. Coronavirus cases have been climbing across the U.S., Texas and Houston specifically. The Houston Health Department reported 1,158 new cases and six new deaths Nov. 18.
The new outdoor dining options will serve as pilot programs that could become permanent beyond the pandemic, Houston Chief Transportation Officer David Field said during a July presentation on the program.
"I think we could learn a lot from this pilot in the immediate term and go back out to the industry and the community and show what we have learned," Fields said.