First ‘social zones’ open in downtown Grand Rapids


Visitors to downtown will notice four new outdoor “social zones” that were installed in public spaces over the weekend to give restaurants and retailers more room to serve customers in the era of social distancing.

Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. and the city of Grand Rapids on Friday began installing the four contiguous social zones — Monroe North, Bridge Street, Center City and Heartside — and they are now open to the public for al fresco dining and outdoor shopping.

“Ultimately, we’re hopeful these moves help provide a strong foundation for economic recovery in Grand Rapids,” said Andy Guy, chief outcomes officer for DGRI.

The zones include tables and chairs where patrons can eat takeout meals and drink beer or wine purchased to-go from restaurants in sealed containers. The areas are separated from traffic by concrete barriers to ensure the safety of patrons.

They are all administered by DGRI, which will help with garbage removal, table cleaning and other basic place management services.

The city described impacts on traffic as “low level” and provided information on parking and transportation options for visiting the zones on its website.

The zone locations are as follows:

  • Bridge Street NW, Summer Avenue to Winter Avenue — Two-way traffic will be in place for the duration of the social zone but shifted north so westbound traffic is in the north parking lane and eastbound traffic is in the formerly westbound lane. The social seating zone on the south side of Bridge includes about 40% of the roadway.
  • Monroe Center NW, Ionia to Division — One lane of traffic (the left lane) will be open for the duration of the social zone on this block. The rest of Monroe Center — Monroe to Ionia — will be closed for the duration of the social zone with cross-traffic continuing on Ottawa and Ionia.
  • Ionia Ave. SW, Oakes to Fulton — One-way northbound traffic (no southbound) will be open for the duration of the social zone on these blocks. That traffic will flow in the left (formerly southbound) lane from Oakes to Weston and shift to the right lane from Weston to Fulton. This has been coordinated with The Rapid to ensure bus routes are maintained.
  • Monroe Ave. NW, Trowbridge to Bond to Newberry — Normal traffic flow will continue since the expanded seating areas will be limited to on-street parking places.

The social zones program was announced in late May as part of the city’s economic recovery efforts to help businesses jumpstart their daily operations after three months of indoor dining restrictions.

Social zones can be established by permit on public property, streets and sidewalks.

“The idea is simply to let restaurants serve more customers while allowing those who don’t want to go indoors yet to feel safe,” said Lou Canfield, the city’s acting assistant director of design, development and community engagement.

“We are ready to work with interested businesses and business organizations to make it work for them.”

Restaurants and retailers within the four DGRI-administered social zones that want to participate in the expanded space can contact Mark Miller, managing director of planning and design for DGRI, at (616) 719-4610 or

Businesses in other areas of Grand Rapids can find out more about establishing a social zone in their neighborhood here.

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