Photo by Evan Joseph
Although the Open Restaurants and Open Streets Programs were wildly successful, and essentially saved the restaurant industry during the pandemic, instating a permanent version of these programs in non-emergency times will require certain major changes. The Department of Transportation, Department of Consumer and Worker Protection, and the Mayor’s Office have been working behind the scenes to effectuate the necessary structural and legal changes that will precipitate this program. Legal changes will constitute the majority of this planning and transition period as these departments plan to develop a permanent proposal, pursue a new zoning text amendment and legislative actions, establish the rulemaking process and new application process.
In a briefing yesterday, the DOT shared several major challenges that the temporary program introduced, which will have to be addressed in order for a permanent version to be approved. Although the temporary program offered easy access and virtually no geographic barriers to entry, the communication of rules faltered as time went on. Especially as inspections rolled out over the course of the pandemic, many business owners became more and more confused about specific guidelines and rules that they had to adhere to; this was further complicated by the individual inspectors, who offered differing interpretations of violations, resulting in varying fines and unclear timelines to fix issues. Another issue was enforcing FDNY rules, such as accounting for turning radiuses and visible safety signage, which led to major safety issues when enforcement faltered. Lastly, the issues of sustainability and long-term interests constitute major underlying themes for the future program. Whereas the temporary program afforded restaurants a fast-and-easy opportunity to keep their businesses alive, a permanent program requires more thought on how structures will look, what lasting effects they will have on communities, and how sidewalks and street-users will have to adapt.
The vision, as it stands at present, includes:
- Both sidewalk and roadway seating, subject to individual review and revocable consent
- Administration and enforcement performed exclusively by the DOT
- Availability of the program throughout city
- Necessary requirements allowing for removable tables and chairs
- Restaurants and bars will be subject to clear path and other siting criteria
- Continued rules of operation (sound hours of operation, etc.) remain in effect
The biggest changes in the works include:
- New clear path requirements
- These will be based on the neighborhood at hand
- Seasonal requirements
- This will require restaurants to store their setups offsite during the winter
- A potential waiver is being debated, however
- Potential fees
- Which restaurants will have to pay in order to partake in the program
- The DOT has already ensured that these fees will in no way create obstacles in businesses’ paths
- Design guidelines and visual requirements
- Design guidelines, such as proper and structurally sound constructions, will be requirements
- Visual requirements are still being debated
What is known for certain is that restaurants will be able to continue roadway dining up until the new program is up and running – projected to be sometime in 2023.
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