Portland’s Exchange Street not likely to be closed to vehicles

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Portland plans to keep Exchange Street open to traffic this year after allowing only pedestrians last summer so restaurants and businesses could operate outside during the coronavirus pandemic.

City Manager Jon Jennings and his chief of staff, Dena Libner, told a City Council committee last week that the city will recommend closing a handful of streets again beginning April 1, barring any significant snowstorms, but that Exchange Street would not be on the list.

A lone diner last June outside Timber Steakhouse on closed Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port. The street is unlikely to be closed to vehicles again this year. (Portland Phoenix/Jim Neuger)

Libner said the city has surveyed business owners several times, and a survey specific to Exchange Street showed businesses were almost evenly split on whether the closure helped.

Libner said businesses would be able to apply for parklets on Exchange Street, which would allow vehicle traffic and most on-street parking to continue.

Jennings said the city wanted to balance the needs of restaurants with the needs of other businesses that need parking on the street. He also said closing Exchange Street again would create a significant financial loss to the city in parking-meter revenue.

He said the city would continue year-round closures on Dana, Wharf, and Milk streets; partial closure on Middle Street, and temporary parklets on Fore Street.

The city’s pilot program last year initially allowed street closures and outdoor business operations, specifically dining, into November, and then extended it through the rest of the year. Jennings said that could happen again.

He said the city is also open to street closures and temporary parklets for businesses outside the Old Port.