Open Streets and Outdoor Dining Are Best for Business, Report Says

Most business owners believe that they'd be out of business without on-street parking near their front door. The experience of New York City during the pandemic proves otherwise.

Read Time: 2 minutes

October 27, 2022, 7:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


New York City Open Streets

EQRoy / Shutterstock

Business owners are most often some of the most vocal proponents of car-centric planning, opposing public transit, bike lanes, and the repurposing of parking out of a belief that any impediment to the delivery of cars to the front door of businesses will spell doom for bottom lines. 

The belief of businesses in the supremacy of the automobile was tested during the pandemic, however, when stay at home orders left the streets empty and homebound residents in need of outdoor space to gather and socialize. Now a study about the effects of the Open Streets program implemented by New York City during the pandemic lends evidence to the contrary of many entrepreneurs' beliefs: businesses largely benefitted when streets were shut down to automobile traffic and parking spots were converted to dining spaces.

The “Streets for Recovery” report, published by the New York City Department of Transportation in partnership with Bloomberg Associates, “should put to rest a contentious debate over the future of the Open Restaurants program,” writes Julianne Cuba in an article for Streetsblog NYC. “It’s clear from the data that streets for people moseying through rather than car drivers rushing past are the best for businesses,” writes Cuba.

The city analyzed tax sales before and during the pandemic from bars and restaurants on five open streets — Ditmars Boulevard in Astoria, Pell and Doyers streets in Chinatown, E. 32nd Street in Koreatown, Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, and Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights — and found that businesses on open streets experienced more economic growth than those on comparable commercial streets in the same neighborhoods as well as the borough overall…

The report emerges as the City Council considers whether to limit the program only to warm weather months or to restrict outdoor dining only to the curbside lane. Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez is quoted in the article supporting the use of the full roadway in some places. Council Speaker Adrienne Adams is quoted saying dining should not be occurring in the roadway.

The NYCDOT report is not the first to make the case for the economic sense made by making space for business and activity in spaces previously reserved strictly for automobiles. A report from Toronto found that repurposed parking spaces generated $181 million in business in that city in 2021. The parking spaces otherwise would have generated $3 million in parking revenue.

Tuesday, October 25, 2022 in StreetsBlog NYC

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