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Helena looking at potential of "parklets" and "pedlets" for downtown

David Knoepke, Helena’s transportation systems director
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Posted at 10:57 AM, May 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-11 13:02:20-04

HELENA — By this summer, parking spaces around downtown Helena could be put to different uses, as the city is looking at taking applications for temporary “parklets” and “pedlets.”

“There’s been talk of it a little while, and with COVID, it kind of brought it to the forefront,” said David Knoepke, Helena’s transportation systems director.

A parklet is a temporary sidewalk extension, placed over one or more parking spaces, that a business can use to provide additional seating or display space. A pedlet is similar, but it would be used to provide a walking path, so the main sidewalk could be open for the business to use.

Knoepke said, in an area with parallel parking, parklets would extend 6 feet from the curb and would be 20 feet long for every space they took up.

City staff will deliver a presentation on the parklets idea Wednesday during the Helena City Commission’s administrative meeting. If the commission supports moving forward, Knoepke said they could begin accepting applications very soon.

The city will have to approve any proposed parklet or pedlet. They would be required to meet design standards, include metal railings and be accessible for people with disabilities.

Parklets and pedlets would be allowed from May 1 to October 1, and the businesses would be responsible for installing and removing them. Applicants would also have to pay a fee for taking a parking space out of use.

Knoepke said they haven’t determined an overall limit on how many parklets could be allowed.

“We’re going to try to take it case by case,” he said. “Obviously, if we get a huge influx of requests all in a row, then we’d have to take a look at it, because it’s going to take up parking, and we also need to provide parking for people downtown.”

Knoepke said businesses have already shown a lot of interest in the idea. The Helena Business Improvement District is putting together a grant program to help offset some of the costs if businesses want to do it.

The idea of parklets and pedlets isn’t new in Montana. Several cities have already started this type of program, including Butte and Kalispell.

In Great Falls, the Business Improvement District oversees a pedlet program, which started in 2017. Joan Redeen, the BID’s community director, said they currently have about six pedlets in the city.

“It’s been super positive for everybody,” she said.

The first Great Falls business to try a pedlet was the Mighty Mo Brewing Company. Redeen said they reported their monthly revenues jumped by around a third when the pedlet was in place, and they hired an additional four to five employees for the season. She said other businesses have also seen boosts from the program.

Redeen said there was initially some pushback to the pedlets – including from neighboring businesses – because of the loss of parking spaces, though she said most had adjusted to the change.

While Helena hasn't previously had seasonal parklets or pedlets, you can see already some similar setups around downtown. Several businesses, including Hub Coffee and Bert and Ernie's, have permanent sidewalk extensions, allowing them to set up more outside seating.