The pivot to temporary patios is giving struggling B.C. restaurants room to survive during the COVID-19 crisis, but concerns are being raised about the safety of diners parked behind a fence on the street in high-traffic areas.
“Someone comes around a corner, and suddenly there’s a patio there,” retired traffic cop Grant Gottgetreu told Global News.
In New York City last month, at least seven people, including two children, were hospitalized after a collision sent two vehicles crashing through an outdoor dining area and food stand near midtown Manhattan.
“There are no warnings, there are no signs saying new patio ahead, there are no concrete barriers,” Gottgetreu said.
Gottgetreu, who now works as a forensic traffic consultant, said patio patrons sitting behind a thin temporary wooden or metal fence set up alongside lanes of vehicle traffic are getting a taste of what could be a dining disaster.
“We’re trusting the motoring public too much with our safety,” said Gottgetreu.
“I wouldn’t sit on any of these patios.”
In Vancouver, some restaurants on busy Main Street in Mount Pleasant appear to have “Macgyvered” their own safety upgrades with concrete barriers and street signage.
Kamloops Coun. Mike O’Reilly said the city in B.C.’s Interior reworked its 20-year-old patio bylaw last spring, allowing businesses to use the entire sidewalk for outdoor dining. The city then built temporary sidewalks into the street protected by concrete barriers.
“What we would lose in taxation if these restaurants and businesses were to close down and the storefronts were to stay empty for multiple years would be significantly higher than the $300,000 investment that we’re making now,” O’Reilly told Global News.
The city of Kamloops used COVID-19 relief funding and purchased patio stones that can be reused each year.
“I do think it’s important that we consider safety measures,” Vancouver Coun. Lisa Dominato told Global News.
Dominato said city staff are reviewing the patio program and she is unaware of any close calls between diners and drivers in Vancouver.
“If there was an incident, who’s liable? Is it the city, is it the restaurant owner?” she asked.
“These are questions that are going back to our staff.”
Temporary patios have been a lifeline for restaurants amid the province’s indoor dining ban, and Dominato said it’s clear the public wants them to stay post-pandemic.
“They love the patios and they would like to see not only patios through this time but to be on an ongoing basis much like we see in Europe and other countries.”
The city of Vancouver maintains traffic and patron safety are key criteria in the temporary patio permit approval process.