Since April 1, several streets in Ann Arbor have been closed to make room for additional outdoor dining for local restaurants. The closure, which is similar in style to last summer’s street closures, will include the following streets:
Street closures lasting from 4 p.m. on Thursday to 6 a.m. on Monday will be enacted on:
- Main Street from William Street to Washington Street
- East Liberty Street from Ashley Street to Fourth Avenue
- Liberty Street from Maynard Street to State Street,
- State Street from William Street to Washington Street
Street closures lasting seven days a week will occur on:
- Washington Street from Ashley Street to Main Street
- East side of Maynard Street from Liberty Street to William Street
Maura Thompson, interim director of the Ann Arbor Downtown Development Agency, said the change was made as part of the city’s COVID-19 response to improve social distancing in restaurants. Thompson also said the decision came after businesses reported widespread success in expanding outdoor dining and social distancing out onto the street this past summer.
“For many businesses, the three (street) closures were really helpful in generating enough revenue to survive,” Thompson said. “(The closures) were just really imperative to business operations throughout the summer.”
Councilmember Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, who also runs the downtown restaurant Jerusalem Garden, said the City Council’s decision to close the streets again this spring came from overwhelming community support and increasing evidence that outdoor dining was safer than indoor dining.
“I believe the survey that the Main Street Association put out (showed) over 95% of the respondents had favorable opinions about it and wanted to see it come back,” Ramlawi said. “And this allows for greater social distancing. It’s scientifically proven that eating outdoors is safer than eating indoors.”
Jeff More, the owner of Ashley’s on State Street, said even before the pandemic he had been advocating for the City to allow Ashley’s to install a seven-day-a-week parking lane to use for outdoor dining and more tables. Moore said being able to implement this change as well as the City allowing him to set up a 20-by-50-foot outdoor dining area has been incredibly beneficial in Ashley’s getting through the pandemic.
“I don’t know many (restaurants) that really made money last year … so, there is a need to try to get back on solid footing,” More said. “I think the outdoor seating in that expanded space will help get back to that vibrancy of downtown Ann Arbor.”
Engineering sophomore Sydney Anderson said though she had noticed an uptick in traffic since the streets closed on April 1, she thought the closures would force people to get out and walk more which would help local businesses and the environment.
“I think it’s healthier for the person … It’s way better for the community and the businesses because if you’re walking, you’re more likely to step into a store, rather than if you’re driving by,” Anderson said. “Pedestrians already run Ann Arbor, let’s be honest.”
Ann Arbor native Ann O’Brien moved back to Ann Arbor from New York this summer and said she thought the street closures were one of the best decisions the city had made in a long time. O’Brien said the closures created an increased sense of festival and community downtown.
“Summertime is a good time to get out, walk around town, be on your bike, be a pedestrian,” O’Brien said. “It may cause extra traffic backups, a few days a week, but I don’t think it’s going … to have much of an impact because it’s more happening on the weekends.”
Ann Arbor City Council has previously discussed making the weekend street closures something Ann Arbor does every summer. Ramlawi said these conversations began even prior to COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated them.
“There’s been talks before COVID about having pedestrian streets in areas of the town close to vehicular traffic,” Ramlawi said. “In a post-pandemic (world), we have a very beautiful downtown that people are envious of … and I think we should celebrate that.”
Ramlawi said there were many factors, such as the opinions of Ann Arbor residents and the closure’s effect on retail commerce, that City Council would need to consider before making a permanent change.
O’Brien said she hopes the closures become permanent as she believes the lack of cars in the area makes downtown a more desirable place for Ann Arbor residents to spend their time.
“It just promotes more of a healthy atmosphere; people are more inclined to walk, sit outside, perhaps not bring their cars into that area,” O’Brien said.
Justin Zhao, co-owner of Sharetea on State Street, said he had some reservations about the street closures continuing in a post-COVID-19 world. Zhao said Sharetea is planning on using the space for increased outdoor dining for their store, but he said he worries once students come back full-time, there will be increased traffic and congestion in other parts of the city.
“I feel like other areas would be very congested around (State Street),” Zhao said. “When the students are here … those streets are pretty important (and) they need to be opened up for cars.”
Street closures are currently slated to last until late August.
Daily Staff Reporter George Weykamp can be reached at email@example.com.