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Repurposing Commercial Streets

COVID-19 Solutions: Repurposing Commercial Streets

Emily Phillis

June 9, 2020

Prioritizing people in street design can help promote public health and boost local economies

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged basic assumptions about how streets operate. Social distancing and stay at home orders have decreased the number of cars on the roadways while increasing the need for safe, accessible public space. Expansion of outdoor space for patrons and pedestrians presents a viable option for communities hoping to revive commercial areas while following new health and safety guidelines.


Cities can expand the size and function of the public right-of-way by repurposing parking spaces, restructuring lane widths, lowering speed limits, and limiting roadway users. Specific opportunities to employ these strategies differ based on state regulations.

Repurposing Commercial Streets in Your Community

In Indianapolis, Indiana, portions of several downtown streets have been temporarily closed to allow for additional outdoor seating for local restaurants and bars. In Raleigh, North Carolina city officials are considering temporary relaxations on local code around parklet permits and parking minimums. This would expand space for pedestrians and outdoor dining. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania established a Neighborhood Slow Streets program to discourage non-local traffic and encourage low speeds on certain roads. The city also established a permitting process to request modified sidewalk, parking lane, and street space to allow economic activity while social distancing.


In Ohio, an existing program offers additional options for cities looking to enliven outdoor spaces. The Designated Outdoor Refreshment Area (DORA) program was created in 2015 to advance revitalization of downtown, entertainment, and business districts. The designation allows establishments to have outdoor dining and alcohol in the public right-of-way, abutting their properties without the need for fencing. Patrons can legally walk around the district with an alcoholic beverage that has been served by a liquor-permit-holding establishment during specified hours. DORAs can create an inviting entertainment district, reduce sidewalk clutter, and increase revenue for businesses.


Similar programs, often referred to as entertainment districts, exist in several states including Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Missouri, Nebraska, and Texas. We can help guide communities through the district creation process in a professional and timely manner to spur economic activity and ease implementation barriers.


We are monitoring these and other initiatives around the country and stand ready to partner in determining creative, localized options for clients.

Grounded in Reality. Looking in the Future.

As we work within existing legal parameters to redesign commercial districts to meet societal needs, we do so with the optimism of discovering alternative ways to experience our cities. Whether it be enhanced public gathering spaces, new multi-modal connections, or deployment of emerging technologies, we are ready to help you build environments which safely and equitably put people first.


Contact us at to develop a plan for your community or business.