UPPER EAST SIDE, NY — Two City Council members representing the Upper East Side are pitching an idea to cut down on sidewalk overcrowding after crowds flocked to neighborhood bars and restaurants this weekend with little regard for social distancing.
New York City should create open space for businesses to establish outdoor cafes where customers can safely take in a meal or drink outdoors while remaining at a safe distance from others, City Councilmembers Ben Kallos and Keith Powers wrote in a letter to Mayor Bill de Blasio this week. Both lawmakers said that restaurant owners will continue to risk fines and create dangerous, crowded situations if the city's approach does not change.
"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. 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," Kallos and Powers wrote.
Space for the outdoor cafes can be freed up by opening parking spots in front of businesses, Kallos and Powers said. Establishing cafes allows restaurants to "reach as close to their previous capacity as possible" without creating a risk of danger for passersby, customers and restaurant staff.
The lawmakers identified three stretches of the Upper East Side where the policy could be rolled out:
- Second Avenue from East 49th to 53rd streets, 55th to 58th streets, 66th to 70th streets, 73rd to 79th streets and 81st to 92nd streets.
- First Avenue from East 49th to 64th streets, 68th to 69th streets, 73rd to 78th streets, 81st to 84th streets and 87th to 89th streets.
- York Avenue from East 75th to 79th streets and 84th to 86th streets.
Restaurants that are awarded open spaces would be required to enforce safe social distancing and ensure that pickup customers do not congregate in front of the business. It would be a stark difference from scenes that broke out all over the neighborhood this weekend when crowds of revelers, many without masks, downed to-go beverages in front of bars while taking in the warm weather.
"We are all in this together. It is not working to confine New Yorkers to narrow sidewalks and
rely on enforcement to prevent crowding. The best way to keep New Yorkers safe is to reorder
our streets for social distancing," Kallos and Powers wrote in their letter to de Blasio.