Bay Area Shared Streets and Outdoor Commerce During COVID-19

As transportation patterns have shifted due to COVID-19, programs and pilots reclaiming right of way (ROW) are being rolled out to adapt to various community needs both to rebalance transportation access and reallocate ROW to meet new public health requirements.  

While many Bay Area communities already had permit programs for street closures, sidewalk commerce and parklets – a new concerted effort has been launched by cities to streamline the regulatory process and reduce and eliminate fees to make way for programs that have essentially become a lifeline for businesses that need on-street and outdoor commerce to survive. 

These initiatives have taken on a greater focus and urgency with the extent of pandemic and the limitations and restrictions that most communities continue to have with indoor dining.  Several formal and ad-hoc programs have been adopted throughout the Bay Area including: 

SFMTA’s Shared Spaces 

Shared Spaces is a multiagency program of San Francisco’s Economic Recovery Task Force. The SFMTA requires permit applications for businesses that do not already have them for outdoor seating or that need to use the parking lane or have a street closure.  The following Figure provided by the SFMTA illustrates the total permits issued for public spaces/ROW from the program since its inception. A complete list of current and concluded shared street projects can be found on the shared spaces website:  

Oakland Flex Streets Initiative 

OakDOT launched the Flex Streets Initiative in June to streamline the permitting process for sidewalk, parking lane, and roadway encroachments.  The goal was to support economic recovery by making it easier for local businesses to use larger portions of the sidewalk, parking lanes and streets.  There are four new Flex Streets locations: 

  • 13thStreet, between Broadway and Franklin Street (13th Street Commons) 
  • Washington Street, between 8th and 9th streets in Old Oakland 
  • Telegraph Avenue, between 16th and 17th streets (Van Kleef Way) 
  • Webster Street, between West Grand Avenue and 22nd Street 

The Temescal Telegraph Business Improvement District is organizing a “picnic on Telegraph” on October 25th where the neighborhood businesses temporarily close down a portion of Telegraph Avenue from 39th to 51st Streets (11AM-8PM) for dining, shopping and other activities. 

San Jose Al-Fresco Dining 

The City of San Jose launched the Al Fresco Dining program in June and has made some adjustments including later hours of operation and extending the program through December 31st.  The Al Fresco program accepts permit applications for the use of public and private parking lots, parks and plazas, sidewalks, and street closures.  The application is free for customer service, retail, education, and other business functions. 

Redwood City – Eat Sip & Be in RWC 

Redwood City established the Eat Sip & Be in RWC established an open-air dining experience for restaurants to open their businesses to the street as illustrated on the program website:  The dates for the program are every day from June 26 – December 31, 2020.   

Palo Alto Uplift Local – Temporary Street Closures 

The Palo Alto uplift local program is a city council supported effort that has evolved from the original summer streets program and is now extended through December 31, 2020.  The purpose is to enable outdoor dining and commerce at Palo Alto’s various commercial districts:  California Avenue, University Avenue and Ramona Streets. 

Additional Ad-Hoc Weekend Street Closures 

Both the City of Pleasanton and Town of Danville have approved partial street closures for weekends in the effort to support economic recovery.  The size/extent of the closures have been adjusted over the summer with feedback from local businesses.  


Outdoor space, sidewalks, and public right of way continue to be a lifeline for our communities as we struggle through this epidemic.  Whether our communities have a formal or ad hoc/adjustable approach, its clear that these shared street programs are essential in assisting our businesses find a way to tap into the community by safely following the county health code guidelines and enabling them to keep their doors open.