New Orleans has again extended its pilot parklet program for restaurants and bars going into the New Year, joining a number of other U.S. cities struggling to establish permanent plans for outdoor dining in 2022.
The city said it was extending the program through the end of March on December 31, 2021, the day the previous extension was set to expire. It’s been well over a year since New Orleans first launched the month-long initiative for curbside dining and parklets, called the “Pilot Parklet Program,” allowing restaurants and bars to expand into public, on-street parking and waiving related parklet permit fees. There are at least 40 businesses in Orleans Parish operating a parklet space under the program, according to city officials.
When the pilot program launched, New Orleans’s Mayor LaToya Cantrell said it would help inform a longterm curbside dining and parklet permit program, part of a broader vision “to use the public right of way to better support business activities and other initiatives around the city.” Also at the time, the Mayor noted that when the longterm program began, parklet locations would be required to have an “ADA-compliant buildout from the curb/sidewalk that will account for drainage and other design elements;” referring to accessibility standards set by the the Americans with Disabilities Act. Essentially, until the program is made permanent, restaurants and bars aren’t required to ensure their parklets are compliant with accessibility standards.
New Orleans isn’t the only city grappling with decisions over a permanent future for outdoor dining — Chicago, Seattle, and Boston have all recently opted to extend their temporary rules into 2022. In New York, restaurants will be allowed to keep their outdoor dining spaces open until at least 2023, over some critics’ concerns about accessibility, safety, and “neighborhood health.” Philadelphia plans to make outdoor dining permanent only in certain major dining districts, while Atlanta, like New Orleans, says it is working to make permanent dining parklets a reality.
In late 2021, city officials said they were “finalizing” a permanent parklet ordinance to present to city council for approval at the end of January, but that “there could be delays while City Hall and the council focus on next year’s budget.” On Monday, January 3, the Louisiana Department of Health reported 30,000 new cases of COVID in the state since December 30 — with 4,047 of those new cases in New Orleans — making the need for permanent outdoor dining rules that ensure accessibility standards are being met greater than ever.