Port Townsend streetscape changes to encourage social distancing

Initiative to be phased in beginning today

PORT TOWNSEND — The city of Port Townsend is beginning a pilot project today to open up the streets and give residents a way to stretch their legs or eat their lunch safely, City Manager John Mauro said.

The Open Streets Initiative is intended to allow more people to enjoy the outdoors and support local businesses while practicing social distancing.

“This represents an initial creative exploration of what’s possible in the public realm to ensure the health and safety of our community,” Mauro said in a press release this week.

The temporary changes will be phased in, Mauro said. No timeline was available Thursday.

The initiative will have four elements.

• Open up waterfront space on the lower portion of Adams Street, Pope Marine Park and Tyler Plaza to limited and appropriately distanced outdoor seating

• Close the one-way portion of Taylor Street from the Haller Fountain to Water Street to vehicle traffic to permit safe passage and social-distancing space for pedestrians and bicyclists.

• Increase frequency of garbage pickup due to an expected increase in take-out orders.

• Expand access to public restrooms as well as strategically placed handwashing and sanitizing stations near Taylor and Tyler streets.

“These are temporary closures and changes that we can just make happen,” Mauro said in an interview this week.

“We wanted to start with something relatively simple. Some of these spaces, like the Adams Plaza right on the waterfront, it’s kind of just a gravel parking lot, which is not the best use of that space, particularly as parking isn’t as pressing with the fewer visitors,” he said.

The city now has a handwashing station near the Cotton Building on Water Street, but officials want to make more of them available in high foot-traffic areas.

“We’re going for cheap and cheerful at this point because, obviously, revenue and budgets are looking pretty gloomy into the future,” Mauro said.

Phase 1 in Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan “means people shouldn’t flock to Port Townsend to shop or eat,” Mauro said, adding that many of the city’s annual events have been postponed or canceled.

“But this reduction in usual traffic flows and gatherings allows us a chance to reinvent the streetscape,” he said.

“It also gives us the chance to pilot a few new ideas to be ready for Phase 2 when the measures can be adapted to ensure both residents and visitors have a safe and enjoyable experience.”

Jefferson County is now working on a request for a variance so that it can move into Phase 2 before much of the rest of the state.

The Open Streets Initiative is being executed in partnership with the Port Townsend Main Street Program.

“The origin of the idea is kind of this … it’s from a little bit of everywhere,” Mauro said.

“We’ve heard from our community, who has some great ideas. We’ve heard from staff, who I’ve been encouraging to think outside the box in this new normal. Then I’ve come in with a few ideas myself from some of the experiences I’ve had in other cities.

“So it’s this kind of perfect confluence of community interest, staff ideas, some of my background, and the urgency of the now,” he continued.

“Here we are needing to think very creatively and carefully about how we use public funding, how we look at our budgets differently, how we use our public spaces.”

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Reporter Ken Park can be reached at [email protected].

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