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New York Outdoor Dining, Open Streets Programs Now Permanent

New York City will now be measurably less car-centric for the indefinite future.
September 27, 2020, 5am PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced late last week that the city of New York's Open Restaurants on Open Streets program, enacted as a lifeline for restaurants struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic, will be expanded and continued permanently.

Mayor de Blasio announced the city's new approach to restaurant regulations during an interview on Brian Lehrer's WNYC show, but the local urbanism news industry was quick to amplify the announcement.

Luke Fortney and Erika Adams report for Eater New York, explaining the details of the program as it will work in the future.

Under the new rules, restaurants will be allowed to keep sidewalk and curbside dining going indefinitely. The city’s Open Streets program, which designated dozens of city blocks to shut down to car traffic for dining in the street over the summer, will also be made a permanent fixture. "This will really help us as an important part of how we recover as a city," de Blasio said.

Restaurants will also be able to expand their frontage space to include seating in front of adjacent businesses if those landlords and tenants are open to it, the mayor said. He also stipulated that for restaurants that conduct outdoor dining in the winter, the space has to be kept “more open” to allow enough airflow. If the area is fully enclosed to better heat the space, those dining areas have to adhere to the same seating restrictions as indoor dining, which will start at 25 percent capacity next week.

According to Fortney and Adams, the permanent extension of the outdoor dining program comes as a result of protracted lobbying by restaurant owners. Despite the scheduled return of indoor dining in the city on September 30, many restaurant industry insiders consider outdoor dining essential for the survival of restaurant businesses through the winter.

The Open Streets component of this big reveal sparked the interest of Gersh Kuntzman at Streetsblog NYC, calling the mayor's announcement a long-overdue shift in priorities to people over cars. "It may turn out to be the single biggest conversion of public space since, well, since car drivers commandeered the curbside lane for free overnight vehicle storage in the 1950s," writes Kuntzman. 

Kuntzman also notes that some of the program, as announced, can be achieved by executive action and other components will require legislative action by the City Council. Kuntzman also collects notable political reactions to the news, including that of advocates for mobile vending, who raise alarms about the city's track record of pushing out mobile street vendors to make room for the new outdoor dining arrangements.

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Published on Friday, September 25, 2020 in Eater New York
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