ASTORIA – In order for our restaurants and cafes to survive, we all must toss out norms we have lived with for years and seek new solutions.
On June 9th, 22 restaurant owners and managers in Astoria met remotely in order to create proposals for the city. Here’s what our plan would look like.
On commercial blocks where restaurant density is high, we propose full street closure from 6-11 PM on Fridays. We would then close at 6 PM Saturday and stay closed until 10 PM Sunday. Restaurants would be allowed to table on the street itself, allowing for social distancing while leaving a corridor for pedestrians and bicyclists. The streets would be kept open during the day for retail and deliveries, except on Sunday when it is unnecessary, allowing brunch options for restaurants.
Crowd control measures are imperative, such as physical barriers and security to ensure proper social distancing and controlled alcoholic consumption. We would hope the city can provide security at areas adjacent to these “Food Courts” if needed. Bars and restaurants would offer masks to those who do not have their own and deny service to those who refuse to wear them.
On Friday, June 12 we had an example of what happens when controls are not in place. We experienced what some have likened to “Spring Break” on 30th Ave, complete with motorcycles ridden on sidewalks, and cars doing “donuts” in intersections. It was a dangerous environment, and we compliment the NYPD for clearing the area quickly and safely when local businesses called. We also want to note that the NYPD complimented local businesses for their cooperation. This chaos is the last thing these businesses want.
If these blocks were closed to vehicular traffic, all this could be avoided.
We must try to close enough blocks, so all establishments are treated equally. We don’t want to push customers to the areas operating with street closure and drive customers away from surrounding restaurants, leaving them at a disadvantage.
While preferred, if full street closure is not possible, there is the option to vacate the parking spaces in front of each establishment for extra seating (curbside seating). In addition, we should try to maximize seating on the sidewalk. This would still allow a traffic corridor which could be for pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, or automobiles, all depending on its size.
We are aware that two of the biggest issues are the moving of parked cars and the rerouting of buses. There is no easy answer to this. However, the existing restriction against having Open Streets on bus routes needs to be waived or we will never be able to significantly help these small businesses. Most of them are in commercial areas that have bus service.
Parking should be handled in a similar fashion to film shoots: Cars will be towed, but no one will be charged. And publicity to warn drivers is paramount.
New Yorkers have made many sacrifices due to the pandemic. Parking a few blocks away or walking an extra block to a bus seems to be a small inconvenience if the goal is to help small businesses such as restaurants survive.
We call for all restaurants, bars, and cafes on a given closed block to pool their resources to make sure said blocks meet all standards, including providing barricades, tabling or security, if needed.
And lastly, we call on the city to expedite all licenses, especially for outdoor cafes, and waive all fees for the duration of the pandemic.
Richard Khuzami is president of Old Astoria Neighborhood Association. Carol Rangel is a freelance writer.