Advocates want fairness on the sidewalk, not the parking lot – Streetsblog New York City
Whose borders? Everybody curbs.
As City Council holds a Tuesday hearing that will shape the future of outdoor dining in New York, livable street advocates are seeking measures that would encourage the most beneficial public use and pricing of curbside space. street while reducing the free storage of cars.
In particular, they are calling for new rules for the city’s Open Restaurant program that:
- limit the height, size and permanence of outdoor dining structures, with a view to pedestrian safety and street cleaning
- resolve conflicts with cycle paths
- ensure outdoor dining spaces are managed as part of the wider streetscape
- charging restaurants for curbside use.
The hearing comes as the city passes legislation to make the Open Restaurant program permanent – and is set to hand over the administration of sidewalk cafe licenses, which are now overseen by the Department of Consumer Affairs, to the Department of Transport. The Planning Commission previously approved a zoning change that would allow neighborhood restaurants to apply for sidewalk cafes across the city, not just Manhattan.
Open restaurants — which began as an emergency measure in 2020 to counter the pandemic-induced collapse of the restaurant industry — have proven hugely popular with New Yorkers, surveys show. As successive waves of Covid-19 have made indoor dining a literally sickening proposition, thousands of restaurants have invested in building outdoor dining structures; the city credits the emergency measure with saving some 100,000 jobs in the industry.
But as outdoor restaurants and nightclubs in popular destinations drew crowds, some residents began to complain of a litany of familiar woes: noise, vermin, rickety or abandoned structures, clogged emergency vehicles and , less haughty, the fact that outdoor structures often occupied what they consider a parking space.
And some on the left argued that Open Restaurants amounted to a giant giveaway for corporations in the form of free use of curbside space that could easily generate revenue for the public good in the form of metered parking or be transformed into other public benefits, such as bike lanes, bus lanes, loading areas to reduce congestion or parklets.
Last year, a number of West Village residents sued the city to end the Open Restaurant program, mostly arguing over noise, trash and loss of parking. State Supreme Court Justice Frank Nervo recently denied a city motion to have the lawsuit dismissed on procedural grounds. A spokesperson for the legal department said the city was confident it would prevail on the merits.
But to win the costume, the program will still have to be codified. And that’s where Tuesday’s Council hearing comes in. Proponents are set to push back against the idea that curbside space only exists for parking.
“Alfresco dining revealed what we knew all along: the sidewalk is an incredibly valuable public space and there are many better uses than the long-term free storage of private vehicles,” said Sara Lind, director of policies at Open. Maps (a sister organization of Streetsblog). “But the fact is, our curbside space has been chaotic for years due to the city’s failure to take an active role in organizing and managing it.”
Both Lind and Jackson Chabot, director of public space advocacy for Open Plans, plan to testify at the hearing, calling on the city to create a framework for the stewardship and management of public space, including Open Restaurants.
“In the long term, we have to price the sidewalk curb because sidewalk space shouldn’t be a gift for anyone,” Chabot said in his testimony. “Restaurants should pay their fair share and invest it in supporting our public realm and the agencies that need to verify they are following guidelines, including not obstructing sightlines or making walkers and dangerous cyclists.
Their concerns are widely shared in the safe streets movement, which organizes grassroots activists to testify.
“Throughout the pandemic, outdoor dining has been a lifeline for restaurants and has received overwhelming support from New York voters,” said Danny Harris, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “Open restaurants have shown what is possible on our streets when we reclaim space from cars as we envision in New York 25×25“, referring to the proposal of his organization to reallocate in the next three years a quarter of the space now reserved for drivers.
Basically, according to testimony obtained by Streetsblog, activists would like to see curbside restaurants do away with “permanent” structures in favor of:
- mobile tables and chairs with umbrellas or other overhangs and easily movable floor that allows street maintenance.
- sit directly on the sidewalk with physically protected cycle lanes next to it for protective cyclists, customers and restaurant staff,
- enclosures no more than 30 inches for visibility.
They are also looking for:
- consistent and transparent application of siting and design regulations
- managing the program as part of the public domain rather than in a silo, and
- measures that restrict free parking, including wider sidewalks, wider lanes for bicycles and other micro-mobility devices, and expanded loading zones.
The anti-open-restaurants faction, for its part, wants curbside dining to end, stat – or at least severely curtailed.
“The city’s proposal to make these sheds permanent has been widely criticized as a reckless usurpation of public space,” David Mulkins, president of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, wrote in an email ahead of Saturday’s rally in the West Village against the program.
Mulkins, whose missive featured two photos of collapsed restaurant structures, wrote that the structures act as a “dangerous obstruction” for rescuers, “pose serious problems” for snow plows and cause “deafening and unavoidable” noise. for residents.
“Unlike inside restaurants, which are surrounded by four walls, noise from these sheds invades at a much higher volume and hits the windows of the residence in a much more direct line,” Mulkins said, adding, “ That old protest rally mantra Whose streets? Our streets! has obviously taken on a whole new sinister meaning.
New York State Assemblywoman Deborah Glick explains what’s going on in #Paris The mayor there threw out the sheds, brought spring and summer meals back to the sidewalks, the 10 p.m. limit and free wine? for every resident who helps #chuckThesheds in the Seine (I may have added the last one) pic.twitter.com/yMhg4ylTqE
— East Village by bike?? (@ChrisRyanAction) February 5, 2022
Sophie Maerowitz, co-founder of Loisaida Open Streets on the Lower East Side, said some of the anti-restaurant rhetoric is overdone. “Emergency vehicle arguments are not made in good faith,” she said. “We know it’s double parking vehicles and trucks that cause backups, rather than outdoor dining.”
And, of course, the city has been a hotbed for rats long before the Covid pandemic.
The hearing comes after the DOT last year presented its vision for a permanent program to the 59 community councils and five borough councils as part of the public review of the proposed zoning change that will codify meals in outdoors. The city’s zoning scorecard clearly shows that there is a lot of controversy. About 30 community councils rejected the city’s proposal; about 22 supported it or at least did not oppose it. [To read the zoning proposal and the various recommendations from earlier in this process, click here to download the City Planning Commission’s report.]
The DOT remains strongly behind the program, which at last count includes 12,129 restaurants across the city.
Open Restaurants “has helped reinvent our streets for better alternative uses beyond vehicle storage,” agency spokesperson Vin Barone said, adding that the department is “committed to providing an ongoing, fair program with strict application guidelines”.
The restaurant industry seems satisfied with the state of affairs.
Robert Bookman, general and legislative counsel for the New York City Hospitality Alliance, said the industry is “very pleased” the Board is moving forward to give final approval to the zoning change allowing sidewalk cafes in across the city, and looks forward to working with the administration and Council on legislation to reform “the old, restrictive, time-consuming and costly Sidewalk Café Act”.
“Alfresco dining has been a breath of fresh air during the dark days of the pandemic,” he said. “New Yorkers love it and restaurants need it to survive. Now is the time to make changes to the emergency program by making outdoor dining a permanent part of our streetscape.
The City Council hearing on whether to make the Open Restaurants program permanent begins Tuesday at 10 a.m. Sign up to testify virtually on Zoom here.