Outdoors: NYC aims to maintain outdoor lifestyle after virus

NEW YORK — As COVID-19 ravaged New York City, residents wary of viruses locked in indoor public places spilled onto streets, sidewalks and parks. They dined with friends in outdoor cabanas hastily erected by restaurants, and attended health classes, concerts and even therapy sessions on streets closed to traffic.

Now that the city continues on its road to recovery, the pandemic could leave a lasting imprint on the way the city uses its roads: more space for people and less room for cars.

Even as indoor dining has resumed in the city — no mask or vaccination card required — outdoor dining terraces, set up in former parking lanes, have never been more plentiful.

Meanwhile, the city is expanding its Open Streets program, which closes roadways to vehicles and opens them to pedestrians.

The expansion of the program – originally conceived as a way to give New Yorkers more space to exercise – is intended in part to increase foot traffic along struggling commercial corridors and give low-income neighborhoods opportunities similar to those in more high-profile, wealthier enclaves.

“There’s been a lot of closures of things during COVID. There are sections of blocks where there are lots and lots of empty storefronts, and that’s depressing,” said Maura Harway, who lives in the Upper West. Side of Manhattan. “So anything that brings people back and helps businesses and helps the neighborhood feel alive and alive.”

The streets of New York – once places where children played stickball – have been almost entirely transformed into vehicles in the age of the automobile, save for the occasional street fairs in the summer.

But for years some city leaders have sought to “reinvent and reuse the use of our streets,” said city transportation commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez, who wants more neighborhood walks for outdoor gatherings. air or provide safe spaces where parents can teach children to ride. blade, throw a ball or ride a bike.

“The message to all New Yorkers is that our space is their space — that our streets don’t just belong to car owners,” said the commissioner, who oversees both the Open Restaurants and Open Streets programs.

This reflection began before the pandemic. Two decades ago, former mayor Michael Bloomberg oversaw a major expansion of bike lanes and authorized bike rental stations on city streets. He defended pedestrian plazas like Herald Square and Times Square to prevent cars from entering pedestrian corridors. And his administration expanded greenways and waterfront parks, especially in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

Mayor Bill de Blasio followed his predecessor’s lead and put in place more measures to control and slow motor traffic. He also lobbied, like Bloomberg, for a system that would charge tolls for driving in a wide swath of Manhattan.

Spurred on by a traffic accident that killed a 15-year-old girl in the early days of his term, current mayor Eric Adams has vowed to continue “reclaiming space for pedestrians”.

Among the legacies of the pandemic could be the reshaping of the city’s food culture by permanently expanding it from the confines of indoor dining to outdoor consumption, giving sidewalks some flair. Parisian.

Before the pandemic, 1,200 establishments had permits to set up tables and chairs on sidewalks. But under the pandemic-era emergency Open Restaurants program, more than 12,000 restaurants and bars have been granted permission to expand service to the streets.

New York City officials and restaurateurs say outdoor dining shacks have helped draw diners to restaurant tables and helped save the jobs of more than 100,000 workers.

Carmen Ortiz, who runs Il Violino, an Italian restaurant on the Upper West Side, is counting on the city’s efforts to revive foot traffic to generate more customers after many months of hardship for restaurateurs and their employees.

Ortiz recently returned from a trip to Italy, where she saw lots of people dining in the sun.

“But most of those who were dining out, they were eating on the sidewalks,” she said. “I didn’t really notice they were like in the middle of the street like here.”

For now, the city’s reinvention of outdoor dining remains evolving due to legal challenges from some community activists and residents who balk at the loss of parking spaces – at least 8,500 spaces in a city where l Real estate has always been a valuable commodity, whether it be for cars or otherwise.

Critics say the sheds attracted vermin and too many noisy customers late into the night – perhaps a sign of recovery for some but an annoyance for others.

“We now have the restaurants on the streets and on the sidewalks,” said Judith Burnett, whose apartment windows face Columbus Avenue, in an area lined with restaurants and soon to be closed to traffic again on Sundays.

While she called the initial decision to help restaurants a “brilliant way to help people save their businesses”, she is now ambivalent whether things should stay that way. She doesn’t want traffic to be permanently slowed down, including the buses she takes.

“It tangled up so much traffic,” Burnett said.

City officials say they took those complaints into account when developing new standards.

“Among all the woes of the pandemic, one of the positives is that it has allowed us to reimagine our relationship with public space – and that’s it, from open restaurants to open streets,” said Andrew Rigie , the executive director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance, the pubs and restaurants trade group.

He called outdoor dining a “natural progression,” accelerated by necessity and allowing New Yorkers to “enjoy the city in ways they may not have before the pandemic.”

Harvey, the Upper West Side resident, also called it progress.

“I never particularly liked street food in New York before the pandemic. It seemed loud or dirty,” she said. “With everyone eating out in all the restaurants now, it’s become more integrated into city life – maybe that’s how it is in Paris or Madrid.”

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