Opinion: Despite its flaws, the city council’s outdoor dining proposal deserves to pass
As the City Council calls for permanent open restaurant stalls, city planners should focus on enhancing the street culture with regulated structures and more walkable streets.
April 15, 2022
On April 12, I sat outside at one of the many cafes in Greenwich Village that offer temporary structure seating. I was outlining my argument for this piece, where I planned to suggest that state Supreme Court judge Frank Nervo was making a mistake in halting a City Council proposal for permanent outdoor dining in areas that had previously been restricted before the pandemic.
As I lounged in a lawn chair, typing away, I came across an article from the previous day detailing an accident on the Upper East Side where a car crashed into a temporary outdoor dining shack. Although there were no injuries, it was framed as a major concern for permanent outdoor dining.
More than 12,000 restaurants in the city offer outdoor dining. Many sit just off the curb of major avenues. In the case of Monday’s accident, the temporary seating sat narrowly in between the bike lane and the multi-lane road, where a small parking spot exists. The positioning of dining areas like this is not adequately addressed in the city council’s plan, where the placement of seating is still allowed in parking spaces, regardless of how close the location sits to bike lanes and major avenues.
In addition to the dangers of cars, restaurant patrons and staff are vulnerable to the constant hazards of New York City’s growing bike and scooter community.
Stern sophomore Eddy Shasha travels from his home on the Upper West Side to Washington Square Park daily, often on his scooter or bike. “I find it incredibly dangerous as someone who uses the bike lanes every day to have to worry about a waiter coming out into the bike lane while serving the outdoor seating,” Shasha said.
Now don’t get me wrong, I still support the city council’s plan to implement rezoning and bring permanent outdoor seating restaurants to New York City. Additionally, the positives of the current plan do outweigh the negatives. Permanent open structures bring in more revenue for restaurants, especially those with limited indoor seating, and enhance walkability.
Digging further into the details, the permanent open restaurant proposal seeks to bring regulation completely under the control of the city’s Department of Transportation, where it would be better assessed for street-level dangers. Under the program, restaurants would apply and self-certify that they comply with the new regulations.
To calm opposition to the proposal, stemming mainly from those who question whether restaurants can properly adhere to regulations, the DOT should certify the structures themselves, helping to bring better cohesion and less clutter to the streets.
Ultimately, the goal should be for the city council to find a way to address the needs of residents who are inconvenienced by additional structures outside of their buildings. With the additional regulations, like DOT approval and designated space for street trash removal, residents will be able to enjoy the positives of elevating street life.
“I find that outdoor seating is incredibly efficient in bringing in customers,” said CAS junior Talia Pavlin, who works as a hostess at a Soho restaurant. “Both New York City locals and tourists love to experience Manhattan’s dining services while being immersed in the energetic environment of the city.”
In some cases, over half of restaurant owners’ revenue comes from outdoor dining. As long as restaurants can continue to generate revenue by seating additional guests, it should be feasible for them to adhere to stricter regulations. Outdoor dining also provides spots for tourists to stop and eat while touring the city.
Just like New York is constantly adapting, the city council proposal must adapt as well. Keeping outdoor dining is one of the ways the city can continue to recover from pandemic losses in tourism and dining. With summer right around the corner, it would be a mistake to expunge an exciting new era for New York City dining.
WSN’s Opinion section strives to publish ideas worth discussing. The views presented in the Opinion section are not the views of the Washington Square News.
Contact Blake Salesin at [email protected]