May 29, 2020 By Allie Griffin
Council Speaker Corey Johnson introduced legislation Thursday that would require the city to open up sidewalks and street space for outdoor dining, with the aim of helping restaurants get through the coronavirus pandemic.
The legislation — sponsored by several council members including Donovan Richards and Antonio Reynoso — calls for the city to identity streets, sidewalks and plazas where restaurants could operate while following social distancing requirements.
The bill if passed would require the Department of Transportation to identify open spaces where restaurants and bars could serve patrons, while preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The plan would see the DOT blocking off streets or plazas to allow eateries to set up tables where diners could be spaced safety apart. The legislation would also allow restaurants located in areas zoned for sidewalk cafes to receive a temporary sidewalk license — at no cost — to put up tables outside their establishment.
The council members want these plans in place by the time bars and restaurants are permitted to reopen, which is still expected to be weeks away.
Restaurants and bars will not be able to reopen for onsite dining until phase three of the state’s four-phase reopening plan. New York City is the only region that has not begun reopening — though the mayor says it will likely enter phase one in the first or second week of June.
However, when restaurants and bars are finally allowed to fully reopen, they are unlikely to be able to operate at full capacity. The outdoor dining space, the legislators say, will allow them to have more room to space out customers and tables.
“At a time when our industry is struggling to make ends meet, this type of creative and innovative policy will serve as a lifeline to the restaurant and bar industry,” said Jeffrey Garcia, President of the NYS Latino Restaurant, Bar & Lounge Association.
Increasing research also shows that COVID-19 is more difficult to contract outdoors.