The Borough of Metuchen looks set to become the first town in Central New Jersey to convert its downtown streets for other uses in response to the coronavirus crisis. A resolution passed by Borough Council earlier this week allows businesses to apply to convert curbside parking into space for outdoor dining. Part of New Street in downtown Metuchen will be closed to traffic on weekends, and several surface parking lots will also be reconfigured to create more space for outdoor dining.
The measures are intended to revitalize downtown businesses, which have been hit hard by the coronavirus lockdown. An executive order issued by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy on March 21 banned restaurants and bars from seating customers, but more flexibility is expected in the coming days. Outdoor dining is likely to be favored by new state regulations, because spread of coronavirus is reduced by staying outside, and maximizing ‘social distancing’. Metuchen Councilman Jason Delia, who drafted the plan to increase space for business activities, took to Twitter this week to explain the strategy:
The changes in use of public spaces in Metuchen are specifically intended to help local businesses. Although businesses will be able to use more outdoor space during the coronavirus crisis, a 6-ft right-of-way for pedestrians must be maintained in every case. Hoboken, NJ has also closed several roads to traffic, with the goal of allowing improved recreation opportunities for city residents while maintaining social distance. Other towns, including Princeton and Highland Park, NJ are also considering changes to use of downtown spaces to respond to the challenges of the coronavirus epidemic. An ordinance to give businesses greater flexibility over use of downtown space will be discussed by Princeton Council on June 1.