Using parking spots as patios? Hamilton will try it this year

Some restaurants and bars in business districts will be able to use on-street parking spaces as seasonal patios.

The pilot project will see restaurants, coffee shops and festivals put seating in parking spaces

Leo Santos, chair of the Concession Street BIA, speaks to the crowd at the grand reopening of the street in November. Santos is excited about the city's new pilot project that will allow temporary patios on parking spaces. (Mark Furukawa)

It's a move people have been daydreaming about on Concession Street for years: the ability for restaurants and coffee shops to use on-street parking spaces as temporary patios.

And now it's here.

On Wednesday, Hamilton city council voted to start a pilot project where festivals and businesses could use sidewalks and parking spaces as seasonal patios or seating areas. The program will apply to business districts around the city, including Ottawa, Kenilworth, Barton Village and others. 

Leo Santos, chair of the Concession Street BIA, has been talking up the concept for six years. He sees this as just the kind of move the recuperating district needs.

On May 20, the Concession Street BIA will have the first Sidewalk Sounds, an on-street music event the third Friday of every month throughout the summer, a sort of Art Crawl for music. The new focus comes after a tough 2015, when construction closed the street for nearly nine months. 

This will help the street, Santos said.

"We have these beautiful sidewalks out there that were redone," he said. "This is an opportunity to really showcase people's wares."

"It's just another welcome piece to a commercial district trying to attract people."

Everyone involves hopes so. The move came from Coun. Matthew Green of Ward 3, who says local efforts during the Pan Am Games last year made him think about how streets need to be more welcoming, more often.

City councillors still had some questions on Wednesday, mostly around liability insurance, which staff will look into. But they voted unanimously to try the pilot project this year. 

Some "tactical urbanists" have already pushed for this in Hamilton. In September, a group held PARK(ing) Day on two on-street parking spots on James Street North. The group put down living room furniture, green terrain and other fake foliage to illustrate what transforming two parking spaces can do to a street.