For the second summer time, the road closures in Ann Arbor are expected to create space for al fresco dining
As of April 1, several streets in Ann Arbor have been closed to make room for additional al fresco dining for local restaurants. Similar in style to last summer’s road closures, the closure includes the following streets:
Road closures that last from Thursday at 4 p.m. to Monday at 6 a.m. will be released 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
Road closures, which last seven days a week, will take place 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 companies reported widespread success in expanding outdoor eating and social distancing to the streets last summer.
“For a lot of businesses, the three (road) closings have been really helpful in generating enough revenue to survive,” Thompson said. “(The closings) have been very important to business operations all summer.”
Councilor Ali Ramlawi, D-Ward 5, who also runs the downtown Jerusalem Garden restaurant, said the city council’s decision to close the streets again this spring was due to the overwhelming community support and mounting evidence that eating outdoors is safer than eating indoors.
“I think the survey that the Main Street Association conducted (showed) that over 95% of respondents had a positive opinion about it and wanted her to come back,” said Ramlawi. “And this allows for greater social distancing. It is scientifically proven that eating outdoors is safer than eating indoors. ”
Jeff More, the owner of Ashley’s on State Street, said ahead of the pandemic that he campaigned for the city to allow Ashley’s to set up outdoor parking and additional tables seven days a week. Moore said it had been incredibly beneficial to implement that change as well as the city that allowed him to set up a 20 by 50 foot outdoor dining area to help get Ashley through the pandemic.
“I don’t know a lot (restaurants) who really made money last year, so you have to try to get back on a solid footing,” said More. “I think the outdoor seating in this expanded space will help bring back the vibrancy of downtown Ann Arbor.”
Sophomore engineer Sydney Anderson said that although she had noticed an increase in traffic since the roads closed on April 1, she thought the closings would force people to get off and walk more, which would help local businesses and the environment.
“I think it’s healthier for the person … It’s a lot better for the community and the business because if you walk you’re more likely to enter a store than if you drive past,” said Anderson. “Pedestrians already run Ann Arbor, let’s face it.”
Originally from Ann Arbor, Ann O’Brien returned to Ann Arbor from New York this summer and said the road closure was one of the best decisions the city has made in a long time. O’Brien said the closings created a heightened sense of the festival and community in the downtown area.
“Summertime is a great time to get off the bike, walk around town, be on a bike, be a pedestrian,” said O’Brien. “It can add extra traffic safety some days a week, but I don’t think this will … have much of an impact as it happens more on the weekends.”
Ann Arbor City Council has already discussed how Ann Arbor can close the road on weekends each summer. Ramlawi said these talks had started before COVID-19 but the pandemic had accelerated them.
“Before COVID, there were talks about pedestrian zones in districts near vehicle traffic,” said Ramlawi. “In a post-pandemic (world) we have a very beautiful inner city that people are jealous of … and I think we should celebrate that.”
Ramlawi said there are many factors, such as the opinion of Ann Arbor residents and the retail impact of the closure, that the city council must consider before making a permanent change.
O’Brien said she hopes the closings are permanent as she believes the shortage of cars in the area makes downtown a more desirable place for Ann Arbor residents to spend their time.
“It just promotes a more healthy atmosphere. People are more likely to walk, sit outside and maybe not bring their cars into this area, ”said O’Brien.
Justin Zhao, co-owner of Sharetea on State Street, said he had some reservations about road closures in a post-COVID-19 world. Zhao said Sharetea plans to use the space for more outdoor dining for their business, but he said he was concerned that if students come back all day, there will be more traffic and congestion in other parts of the city.
“I feel like other areas on State Street are very congested,” said Zhao. “When the students are here … these streets are pretty important (and) they need to be opened to cars.”
The road closure is currently expected to last until the end of August.
Daily employee reporter George Weykamp can be reached at [email protected]