New York CIty Council Member Ben Kallos

Our Town Outdoor Cafes for Social Distancing by Jason Cohen

Outdoor Cafes for Social Distancing

After numerous people on the Upper East Side disobeyed social distancing last weekend and converged in front of bars, elected officials are trying to come up with a solution.

On May 18, Council Members Ben Kallos and Keith Powers and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio asking to grant temporary permission before Memorial Day weekend for bars and restaurants to use sidewalks and streets to serve patrons safely for everyone’s benefit.

The elected officials were quite angry with the recent behavior on the UES and hope that if the city approves these plans, it will prevent those actions.

“Rather than rely on enforcement or fine individuals and small businesses that may already be hurting financially from the pandemic, we should adapt our city’s streets to allow for and encourage safe practices,” the letter states. “Without granting businesses a better option, we are afraid restaurants and bars may just take the risk and pay whatever violations may be issued as a cost of doing business rather than shutter their doors permanently.”

East Side Locations

The pols propose working with restaurants, the Department of Health, Department of Transportation and the NY Hospitality Alliance to set up seating, with proper barriers, in a sufficient number of parking spots in front of each establishment to reach as close to their previous capacity as possible, again while respecting social distancing. In all cases, hours for outdoor seating should be restricted from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays.

As an initial step, they are requesting immediate rollout prior to Memorial Day at the following locations on the Upper East Side:

Second Avenue from 49th to 53rd Street, 55th to 58th Street, 66th to 70th Street, 73rd to 79th Street, and 81st to 92nd Street.

First Avenue from 49th to East 64th Street, 68th Street to 69th Street, 73rd to 78th Street, 81st to 84th Street, and 87th to 89th Street.

York Avenue from 75th to 79th Street and 84th to 86th Street.

Participating businesses would be subject to strict enforcement to ensure safe social distancing and would be required to prohibit pick-up customers from congregating once available seating was in use.

"Onslaught on the Sidewalks"

Kallos told Our Town that he prefers people stay home and quarantine, but if they must go out, this is a viable option. The councilman noted it was unjust that people of color in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side were arrested for not social distancing, while nothing happened in the UES last weekend.

“People want to get their night life back,” he said.

He noted this will also helps small businesses who are hurting during the COVID-19 pandemic. With temperature getting warmer, people want to get outside and socialize. Hopefully, this plan is implemented and people obey the regulations.

“We have the choice of trying to stop the onslaught on the sidewalks,” Kallos said.

According to Kallos, eateries that don’t have a permit should be able to get one from the city with a letter of support quickly.

“I think what I’ve seen is constituents who are very concerned to get down a street safely,” he explained. “I have a lot of sympathy for small businesses.”

Powers shares his colleagues’ sentiments and pointed out that many cities throughout the country have implemented sidewalk cafes. Tampa is closing stretches of roads for restaurants and in Cincinnati, indoor seating is temporarily not allowed. Even once it is, the city will require parties to sit six feet apart with a physical barrier, so its mayor found shutting down streets and lanes necessary.

The council member stressed that restaurants must follow protocol and maintain social distancing if this plan is approved.

“If we are given this responsibility to the restaurants they can’t just do whatever they want,” Powers said. “We need them to be good actors. On a whole, what we’ve seen in the city, we’ve seen a lot of takeout and delivery service. I believe that mayor can do this.”


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