By Carol Tannenhauser
New York City is in the process of determining what its permanent Open Restaurants program — and, so, its streets and sidewalks — will look like after July, when the legislation that extended the program for a year runs out.
One thing seemed clear at a City Council hearing on the subject on February 8th: the dining sheds that New Yorkers both love and hate will be gone.
“I can only hope!” wrote the Upper West Sider who sent us this tip. “No more noise, rats and traffic tie-ups.”
“I fell in love with them,” another local said. “After dining in one, I didn’t want to go home.”
“’We don’t envision sheds in the permanent program,'” director Julie Schipper, from the Department of Transportation, testified at the hearing, according to the New York Post. “‘What would be in the roadway [are] barriers and tents or umbrellas, but not these full houses that you’re seeing in the street.”
“Schipper said that the DOT’s program — which would replace emergency measures adopted amid the pandemic — is really being planned for a post-COVID scenario, where you can dine outside when that feels nice and comfortable, but you won’t need to be in a house on the street.”
She added that existing sheds would not be allowed to stay. “We will not be grandfathering in any of the restaurants and their current structures right now.'”
“It’s terrible,” said the owner of a local wine bar with a substantial shed. “Those buildings are a lifesaver. You can’t imagine the difference they make. They allow you to survive and give people jobs and to pay higher wages. And people love them. It’d be a shame to tear them down. But, look, if we have to, we’ll do it. It’ll mean a shorter length of time to be open, but as long as they let us keep the outside seats, I can’t complain. That’s half a loaf of bread. I’ll take half a loaf.”
Another major change is that the Open Restaurants program will be offered citywide. “‘By expanding the program to restaurants in all parts of the city and providing a new roadway seating option, the program will particularly help businesses in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color,’ said Ydanis Rodriguez, commissioner of the city Department of Transportation,” Crain’s reported.
Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Open Restaurants in June, 2020, allowing restaurants to expand onto sidewalks and into parking spaces, to help them survive when indoor dining was shut down.
“In New York City, the Department of Transportation managed the scheme, converting 8,550 parking spaces into street seating, and Mayor Bill de Blasio claimed the effort saved some 100,000 jobs,” amNY reported.
In July, 2021, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation extending the program for another year. Now, in the six months before that deadline is reached, the city is engaged in “public outreach…to inform the future design rules for the permanent Open Restaurants program,” it said, in a press release.
The following is the city’s current vision for the permanent program.
- NYC DOT will administer both the sidewalk and roadway café programs through a streamlined application process
- Allow for outdoor dining on the sidewalk and in the curbside roadway space
- Available citywide
- Detailed, upfront design guidance based on the design guidelines outreach process
- Both sidewalk and roadway seating require license agreement
- Full NYC DOT enforcement unit to enforce roadway structures, ADA Compliance, clear path, and amplified noise devices
- Continued coordination with other city agencies on enforcement and rules
DOT expects the permanent Open Restaurants program to be implemented in 2023.