There’s still a way to go before restaurants in New York City can fully reopen (they’ll be in phase three of the plan), but the struggling industry is hoping that the city will help in the form of outdoor seating. As Eater first reported last month, restaurant owners are advocating for the Mayor to extend his current open streets from pedestrians to al fresco dining to allow for more social distancing. And now, local elected officials are joining the call, hoping that sidewalks, streets, and parking spots can be used for outdoor service starting this weekend. The call comes after crowds were spotted gathering on sidewalks and drinking since the city has allowed bars and restaurants to sell to-go drinks.
Today, NYC Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers joined Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer in addressing a letter to Mayor de Blasio requesting that “the city immediately grant temporary permission before Memorial Day Weekend for bars and restaurants to use sidewalks and streets to serve patrons safely for everyone’s benefit.” Despite warnings from the NYPD, the letter says that residents on the Upper East Side were “congregating outside the establishments without face coverings or respecting social distancing, putting essential workers, themselves, and those passing by at risk.”
Therefore, the letter asks the mayor to open certain stretches of parking spaces and streets for outdoor service and seating. Due to the scene in the neighborhood this past weekend, the officials are asking that the following Upper East Side locations be rolled out prior to this weekend:
- Second Avenue from 49th to 53rd Street, 55th to 58th Street, 66th to 70th Street, 73rd to 79th Street, and 81st to 92nd Street.
- First Avenue from 49th to East 64th Street, 68th Street to 69th Street, 73rd to 78th Street, 81st to 84th Street, and 87th to 89th Street.
- York Avenue from 75th to 79th Street and 84th to 86th Street.
It seems the Department of Transportation may be at least somewhat on board with the idea. Last week, Gothamist shared the news that during a City Council meeting, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg responded positively to the idea of a larger outdoor seating plan: “An interagency group is looking at how you’d manage it, permitting, and talking to the restaurant association.”
There is already a bill that’s been introduced in the City Council that would suspend sidewalk cafe licensing fees for the remainder of the year, a small step that would hopefully help more restaurants participate in a possible open dining plan.
There are no details yet on when a more formal plan could be introduced, however, Gothamist notes that Trottenberg told City Councilman Keith Powers, whose district includes parts of Midtown, “I agree your district might be a great place to start to test this out. It would be a wonderful way to help restaurants start to generate some business again and bring some socially distanced life back to our streets.”
Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on May 13, 2020, and has been updated.
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