Open Streets 2022 — Columbus Avenue-Style

Photo courtesy of Columbus BID.

By Peggy Taylor

Want to tango and swing dance at a sidewalk cafe? Stroll hand in hand with your honey on a car-free, bus-free, truck-free street? Listen to live music? Enjoy curbside tastings? Take an architectural tour? Meet local artists? Have a baby shower? Get a hair cut in a rolling barbershop?

All these cool things you, your kids, and pets can do at Columbus Avenue’s second Open Streets Fest, starting May 15th and repeating every Sunday, until October 30th.

“Last fall we did eleven Sundays. This year we’ll more than double that,” says Nicole Paynter, executive director of the Columbus Avenue Business Improvement District (BID). Some 40 vendors have signed up to take to the blocked-off Columbus Avenue streets on Sundays, offering tastings, sidewalk sales or other entertainment. “We got a lot of great feedback from the community, so we’re very excited to be back,” says Paynter.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Avenue BID.

The Columbus Avenue program is part of the Open Streets initiative launched by former Mayor Bill de Blasio in April 2020, in collaboration with the City Council; police, parks and transportation departments; as well as local BIDs and community organizations. It was an early pandemic-era attempt to give New Yorkers — particularly those with few public park options — more space to meet and relax while social distancing.

Columbus Avenue’s program is one of 156 locations that will host an Open Streets program this year, up from 135 in 2021. There are three BIDS on the Upper West Side—Columbus Avenue, Columbus Amsterdam, and Lincoln Square. Only the first two host Open Streets. Lincoln Square sponsors street fairs, the most recent of which took place on Sunday, May 8.

Columbus Amsterdam’s Open Streets, which has already begun, extends from 106th to 110th Streets on Saturdays and Sundays from 10 am to 7 pm.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Avenue BID.

Open Streets on Columbus Avenue will run from 11 am to 7 pm on Sundays, with traffic blocked between 68th and 77th Streets, ending at the Grand Bazaar (formerly GreenFlea Market). Traffic will be cut off an hour before and an hour after to allow BIDs to set up in advance and clean the area after. 

Not Everyone Is Open to Open Streets

The Open Streets program has its detractors. Many car owners dislike it because the barriers that are set up to allow pedestrian traffic, block through-streets and force drivers to navigate frustrating detours. Others complain that some streets are blocked off for pedestrian traffic, but offer little in the way of entertainment for them. A disgruntled local at one Open Streets complained that there was “nothing to do but walk around in the hot sun.” And there are enforcement issues: residents annoyed by the blockades have dismantled barriers, and driven off with them. In Greenpoint last year, protesters threw them into Newtown Creek.

Photo courtesy of Columbus Avenue BID.

Such complaints aren’t heard around Columbus Avenue’s Open Streets. The BID there has recruited a wide variety of activities, set up umbrellas to shield from the sun and staffed the area to enforce the rules. This summer, five staffers will be on hand, compared with the two who worked Columbus Open Streets in the past. According to Paynter, the staffing expansion was possible because of grants from the city, which are available to other BIDs and community groups that want to expand services for Open Streets.

In recognition of the Upper West Side’s ”very strong dog community,” says Paynter, “we’re making the rounds and getting vendors to have a full dog day and partner with an animal rescue group. By Halloween, we hope to have a dog costume contest.” Last year a vendor offered doggie ice cream, which was a big hit with the pooches.

Photos courtesy of NYC Barbershop and Museum.

One business returning to Columbus Avenue Open Streets is the NYC Barbershop and Museum, founded by Arthur Rubinoff, a fourth generation barber and passionate barbering memorabilia collector. His storefront is located at 290 Columbus Avenue, but for Open Streets, Rubinoff sets up a mobile barber shop across the road, where he regales clients with the history of barbering and the profession’s iconic barber poles.

He also tells the story of his barbershop on wheels, originally built so he could give his father hair care when he was hospitalized. Rubinoff operates two mobile units, which he takes to hospitals and senior centers. He has four storefront shops, three of which are on the Upper West Side.

Igor Segota, manager at Harvest Kitchen, 269 Columbus, thinks Open Streets is “great because it brings neighbors together; they get to know one another. Also, it brings more foot traffic to our businesses which have not fully recovered from the pandemic.”

Photo by Peggy Taylor.

Another business making its Open Streets return, with live music and extra tables in the street, is Il Violino, an Italian trattoria at 180 Columbus, which opened in 1993.

“The feedback from our customers last year was overwhelmingly positive,” says Il Violino manager Daniel Vlasceanu. “Having more space to protect customers against Covid gave us a sense of security, and we saw an increase in new customers and tourists looking to experience the open street culture.”

In-street dining “sheds” like Il Violino’s will be open for outdoor meals during Open Streets, but enjoy them while you can because, no matter how popular or charming, they will be phased out at the end of 2022, now that indoor dining has returned.

Photo by Peggy Taylor.

The sheds were authorized as an emergency measure when indoor dining was banned during the pandemic. Although the restaurant sheds have been popular with many New Yorkers, there’s been vocal opposition in some neighborhoods. Opponents in the Village and Alphabet City, for example, have called for an outright ban on street dining, citing noise, vermin, late night partying, trash, and sidewalks blocked for the disabled.

In February, the City Council voted to phase them out across the city, and “we don’t envision [sidewalk] sheds in the permanent Open Restaurants program,” said Program Director Julie Schipper. “They will be replaced by low enclosures and moveable furniture. No more houses.”

So enjoy them while you can.

NEWS, OUTDOORS | 34 comments | permalink
    1. jes says:

      Dismayed the article did not discuss that buses are rerouted due to street closure for “Open Streets”.
      And there have been complaints about this – but completely ignored.

      It is not ok.
      It is unacceptable to sacrifice bus mass transit.

    2. Erica says:

      I can’t wait! Looking forward to teaching my son how to ride a bike during Open Streets. VlI love that they’ll have music and other things this year. Cars get to use our streets most of the time…it’s nice for us to give pedestrians a slice of the streets too.

    3. Huh says:

      When there’s a one day street fair, everyone is up in arms. So why is closing (not opening) the streets ok to do every weekend?
      I do not need to “Meet local artists? Have a baby shower? Get a hair cut in a rolling barbershop?” in the curb, thank you. That’s what sidewalks and storefronts are for.
      (No offense to Peggy Taylor’s writing, which is a great addition to WSR!)

      • Jay says:

        Luckily, the Upper West Side consists of more than one person.

        I know that in the past, a lot of people have enjoyed the Open Street and I’m sure many more people will this summer.

        • Huh says:

          I agree, Jay.
          Some people will enjoy but some will be inconvenienced, annoyed or uninterested.
          The question is who gets to decide what “we” want? Who has asked a significant number of people who have a stake in it how they feel?
          Business improvement districts represent the businesses in an area not the residents.

          • Jay says:

            You have representatives on the community board and on the city council. Most of which support these open streets. Maybe you’re just not in the majority on this issue…

      • RCP says:

        Adapt.

    4. Huh says:

      “He has four storefront shops, three of which are on the Upper West Side.”
      So why does this barber need to be in a mobile van in the same neighborhood?

    5. Mark Moore says:

      Look at all those people enjoying the quiet peaceful street on a beautiful weekend day.

      • A different Jay. says:

        Isn’t that what parks are for? The West Side has 2 of the most beautiful parks anywhere and Columbus Avenue is a couple of minutes walk from either one.
        Isn’t enjoying a beautiful sunny day far better amidst grass, trees, a view of the river etc?
        “Open Streets” in our neighborhood is just dumb!

    6. Isaac says:

      I’m a big fan of the Columbus open streets! Love all the activities they have and I hope these indicatives continue to expand!

    7. JE UWS says:

      Very exciting! I live on this stretch of Columbus Ave and I’ve been waiting for this to come back. It’s a true gift to have a break from the sound of cars and trucks barreling down the street day and night. The open street brings such a fun, positive energy to the neighborhood. So many smiling faces, kids playing… it’s the best. Seems to be great for business too.

    8. Dominic Frigosi says:

      As if mass transit isn’t dysfunctional enough, now this only makes it worse, and for what? So a parade of putzes can walk hand-in-hand on their way to buy a burger and loiter in the streets? It won’t help businesses. It will only needlessly inconvenience those of us who live here.

    9. Dale Brown says:

      The West 79th Street Block Association Inc is 100% AGAINST the Columbus Avenue BID Open Street Closure from 77th to 68th Streets. There was NO community or
      20th Police Precinct involvement last year or this year.

      Last year this was very dangerous to drivers and pedestrians. No traffic control, horns beeping, people angry & yelling, bumper to bumper traffic on Columbus to 77th Street and on 79th Street going East and West. Non-stop noise. Major traffic issues for the Green Market and the 77th Street Bazaar. Garbage all over. A nightmare.

    10. Carol A says:

      In answer to the wooden sheds, I like them . However a few restaurants have closed and the sheds are just sitting there becoming motorcycle garages and taking up parking spaces. Those sheds could be repurposed to open restaurants or removed.

    11. ml says:

      As the Covid crisis has passed, the City should not be continuing “Open Streets” especially on avenues with buses.

      People depend on buses and entitled to reliable bus service. Rerouting buses is a hardship especially for elderly, people with disabilities, families.

      And as we all know, for recreation/leisure purposes, the West Side has pretty good access – Central Park, Riverside, and multiple green spaces and playgrounds.

    12. Die says:

      Nice. But I really feel for small businesses like Malachys Pub just off Columbus at 72nd. The open Columbus is kinda killing them and others on the cross streets. Very sad.

    13. ERodman says:

      It’s overwhelmingly a tourist attraction event and not for the people who live, work & travel in the neighborhood. Why does a semi-street fair need to take over the entire area every week? Once in the season would be more than enough.

      • sg says:

        My thoughts exactly…this probably attracts tourists and others who don’t live and work there. The occasional street fair, while nice, are disruptive enough…every weekend is clearly overkill

    14. Dani says:

      I’m curious as to what exactly will be replacing the sheds because I don’t think tents lining the curb would look much better.

    15. pG says:

      Loved it 2 weeks ago! This is a good thing for small businesses and shops and I look forward to walking around and checking out all the random stuff!

      • Leon says:

        Can’t you do that on the sidewalk? And/or do you need to do it every weekend? How about once a month?

        The fine art of compromise has been completely lost in society. I think Open Streets is a dumb idea when there are two large parks nearby. I am clearly not alone. But there are also clearly a number of people who like it. So how about doing it occasionally and splitting the difference?

        • Jay says:

          How is it a compromise when only a small fraction of people get to use a large portion of the public space 98% of the time?

          Is it such an inconvenience to let others enjoy a small fraction of this public space for a few hours?

          • Leon says:

            Do you understand the concept of compromise? I am offering a more reasonable solution. Based on your way of thinking of it, then we should also allow cars to drive through the middle of Central Park and on sidewalks occasionally because it isn’t fair that they never get to do that.

            I really don’t understand the hatred of cars, and, as I noted above, the absolute stubbornness of the Open Streets (better called Closed Streets) proponents.

            It is this lack of flexibility and compromise on both sides that is ruining America.

            • Jay says:

              Do you know what a compromise is? Doesn’t seem like you do…

              I don’t hate cars. I haven’t seen anyone post that they do. I just think maybe cars don’t have to control everything we do with our public spaces 100% of the time. Maybe you do. If so, that’s sad for the community.

          • Paul says:

            “The public space” in this neighborhood is mostly parkland. And despite the fact that bus riders are a small percentage of the population don’t you think their average age, the relatively high percentage who are disabled and their lack of alternative transportation options deserve consideration?

          • I don't get it says:

            This is a city. It has streets meant for vehicles. People travel within the neighborhood and to other neighborhoods to shop, eat, get haircuts etc. Many of those people use buses, taxis etc and even private cars.
            Stores have storefronts to sell their goods. Merchants that I know hate having racks on the sidewalk because of theft and the need to have more employees to watch the stuff.
            There are world class parks nearby for recreation.
            I don’t know why people here have this bias against having vehicles on city streets. That’s literally what they were designed for and people want to live in these areas because they can easily get around.
            For the record, I do not have a car, but I still think that streets are for the use of cars, buses etc. Pedestrians have sidewalks and parks

    16. Billy says:

      Columbus Avenue BID is doing so well now they recently moved out of their shoebox office on 80th Street.

    17. jes says:

      Columbus is “open” today Saturday but there is a closure on Central Park for – per NYD – a Japanese parade.
      Buses are being rerouted.
      At 2 bus stops saw people with disabilities (one a teenager with an aide, the other a young man) waiting for the bus – had been waiting 30 minutes +.
      Horrible.

      Folks – you’d be ok if your loved ones had no mass transit, were stranded due to Sunday “Open Streets”?

    18. UWS resident says:

      As I type this there is a band playing loud music right outside my apartment. So you can add loud noise to the list of why this is a bad idea.

      • Susan Cohen says:

        the rats love it we dont have enough of them
        the seniors and ill remain locked in for good
        there will be no way for them to get around and have their cars pick them up where they need it. They also cannot go shopping , very hard to reach the stores, there goes more business on West Side, what will be left
        very sad day for a beautiful city

    19. Richard Van Deusen says:

      The 66th to 77th Street closing is not good news for those of us who take the 7 or 11 buses to Sunday services and theater performances. Detouring buses to West End Ave. is not good news for those who live there.
      Why on earth do we need an open street a block away from Central Park not to mention the conflict with ubiquitous Street Fairs?

    20. Concern neighborhood streetwalker says:

      I was there and they open the streets up to traffic at 4 PM on Columbus Avenue!
      All the advertising says 7 PM?????

    21. Son with disability mother says:

      Now who’s the knucklehead that came up with this bright idea? My mother has disabilities and cannot get her car and driver to pick her up to go to rehabilitation on Columbus Avenue which is a Main downtown Avenue.