Our sidewalk cafe problem


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Sidewalk indigestion — The city’s streets and sidewalks are the pride and plight of New York, from the uneven sidewalks to the crammed spaces intended to accommodate pedestrians, pets, and all the other means of sidewalk transportation, like bikes, strollers and the ever-growing alternate methods, such as skateboards.

Sidewalks are where we enter and exit business storefronts. And, lest we forget, sidewalks are also where vendors vend from their street carts as customers stand and wait for their orders, or maybe stay and stand to eat. And, of course, the sidewalks are where vendors and restaurants add tables and chairs, creating “unenclosed outdoor cafes.”

These sidewalk extensions require permits, and the number of tables, and how far they extend on the sidewalk, are limited by the permit. As the weather gets warmer and outdoor dining becomes a desirable option, the sidewalks get gobbled up with tables and chairs. It sometimes seems that the number of tables and chairs exceed their permit. However, a cursory review of the permits posted in restaurant windows authorizing unenclosed sidewalk cafes, suggests that the licensing agency — or other governmental bodies involved in the approval process — ignores boundaries that make it possible for pedestrians and unenclosed outdoor cafes to co-exist.

More tables and chairs inevitably will lead to more business. That’s a good thing, but not at the cost of safety and denial of access to sidewalk traffic. Two cases in point come to mind. One is the popular San Matteo restaurant, located on the southwest corner of East 90th Street and First Avenue, where tables practically extend to the curb. The other is the newly opened Otto’s Tacos, at the northwest corner of East 88th Street and Third Avenue, where 12 tables and chairs surround the restaurant on the Third Avenue side and on the 88th Street side. The tables and chairs are not a problem on 88th Street, where the sidewalk is wider. The same doesn’t hold true for the avenue. Not only is the sidewalk narrower, but other businesses on the street use the sidewalk for delivery bikes.

Community boards and other agencies involved in approving unenclosed outdoor cafes cannot continue to ignore or give short shrift to the public’s right to safe and unfettered access to the city’s sidewalks.

Laughable landmark — When one thinks of landmark protection in NYC, the historic and iconic structures come to mind, and so do the efforts of Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, and the group’s efforts on behalf of neighborhood preservation. The GVSHP has been instrumental in securing landmark protection in the Meatpacking District, the Greenwich Village waterfront and in the Village itself. Landmark status issues are in the news regularly. The recent fight over whether to landmark the building where the Strand bookstore is located has made front page news.

But it was an April Fool’s story in the West Side Rag about possible landmark status for “280 miles” of scaffolding at 599 West 78th Street (which would be somewhere in the Hudson River) that highlighted a painful truth about our ever-endangered streetscape — the plague of scaffolds that render our neighborhoods both ugly AND dangerous for pedestrians is out of control. I have to admit, I fell for the joke. But scaffolds are no laughing matter. Let’s hope UES Side Council Member Ben Kallos can finally get some traction on his proposed legislation to regulate scaffolding, including length of time it should be allowed to stand and the obligations of those responsible for it. Or the joke will be on us.

Forever 16 — Point of personal privilege, if I may. Had to bid goodbye to my 16-year-old cat, Gracie Allen, whom I adopted from a kill-shelter 10 years ago. Gracie never forgot where she came from and gave her love and appreciation 24/7. She had renal problems the past few years and took whatever meds and treatment like a trouper. She passed peacefully at home in her favorite chair. Gracie is survived by her cat sibs, Betty Boop, Molly Magee, and me, her forever Mums. Good night, Gracie.





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