The city's bars and restaurants may have just received a lifeline for winter. The Portland Bureau of Transportation has announced it will allow those businesses to continue operating their outdoor pop-up patios through March 31.

The agency's Healthy Business permits, which it rolled out in May to allow food and beverage operators to set up dining areas in parking spaces and alleyways due to the pandemic, are still set to expire Nov. 1. However, restaurant and bar owners can apply for the Winter Healthy Business Program starting today. Both the application and the permit are free.

"At PBOT, we know Portlanders love to gather in our streets and sidewalks," transportation director Chris Warner stated in a press release. "With the COVID-19 pandemic, outdoor public space provides a crucial venue for businesses that want to reopen, while ensuring the safety of their employees and customers. We encourage Portlanders to support these businesses and work with us to provide safe operations this winter."

More than 700 businesses have reopened under the program, creating blocks of outside seating across the city often surrounded by plants and shaded by umbrellas. Many restaurant and bar owners had already started making plans to winterize those spaces by purchasing tents and heaters in the hopes that PBOT would extend the permits.

That automatic renewal will not happen—if a business previously received permission to operate in the right of way, the owner will need to reapply.

That's because public and private agencies delayed maintenance, infrastructure and utility projects during the summer so as not to disrupt those outdoor dining rooms. PBOT will review all permits on a case-by-case basis, and some restaurants and bars may need to temporarily halt service or move their al fresco cafes if work needs to be completed.

Some new regulations come with the Winter Healthy Business Program, which authorizes the use of tents in on-street parking spaces as well as extension cords and heaters. However, those shelters cannot be within 50 feet of an intersection for visibility reasons and must meet dimension specifications.

PBOT will continue to gather input from businesses and community members through the winter before deciding whether to extend the program again, beyond March 31. The bureau will also continue to evaluate the potential to re-create it as a permanent program.