Restaurants blocking New York’s bus lanes get little direction from the city

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Since outdoor dining facilities became a fixture on New York City streets and sidewalks last June, nearly 120 restaurants have been warned of blocked lanes and bus stops, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. .

While alfresco dining saved nearly 100,000 jobs in businesses that were closed at the height of the COVID crisis, the transit workers’ union said restaurants that interfere with bus lanes are creating barriers for MTA drivers moving increasing numbers of passengers in a rapidly reopening city.

“It slows down the service,” said JP Patafio, vice president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers’ Union. “It really is a problem.”

MTA buses now regularly transport nearly 1.2 million passengers on weekdays, traffic data shows – about half of the pre-pandemic norm.

Union officials say the return in goodwill, which is expected to accelerate with this week’s announcement of the lifting of most COVID-related restrictions, underscores the need to strike a balance between the needs of businesses and workers. commuters.

“It’s a competition for space and we have to make sure it doesn’t become a competition,” said Patafio. “We have to make sure that the buses have their lanes and that the restaurants and cafes can survive.”

that of the city Guidelines for the “Open restaurants” program state restaurants cannot place seats in a variety of locations – including cycle paths, taxi ranks and bus stops and bus lanes.

The DOT gives written warnings to companies blocking bus lanes and stops, then revisits sites to see if the obstruction has been removed – but it does not impose fines for violations of the “Open Restaurant” guidelines , said a spokesperson for the agency.

Still figuring it out

Andrew Rigie, executive director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, said his organization has sent city guidelines to restaurateurs and held seminars to clarify what is allowed and what is not.

“Keep in mind that we are still operating under the Temporary Emergency Open Restaurant program, which was created quickly to help restaurants survive during the pandemic,” Rigie told THE TOWN. “So as the outdoor dining is made permanent, we anticipate that the official program will have updated requirements and a new review and approval process.”

City officials last year announced plans to extend permanently outdoor meal, which began in june 2020 after three months of restaurant closures.

Under current guidelines, a restaurant that has already been warned would get a cease and desist order, DOT spokeswoman Alana Morales said if a follow-up inspection shows the obstruction persists.

The agency reported owners of a Brooklyn juice bar last week, Morales said, for setting up a wooden shed in the middle of a bus lane on Nostrand Avenue and for not having reflective materials. .

Pachillo Archille, owner of Healthy Vibe in Bedford-Stuyvesant, said the city had given him permission to open an outdoor dining facility in a dedicated bus lane. June 16, 2021.
José Martinez / THE CITY

Pachillo Archille, owner of Healthy Vibe juice bar in Bedford-Stuyesant, insisted the company was allowed to build the space, showing THE TOWN an email from the agency saying it was approved for “pavement seating” and “curb seating”.

“It’s not like I came out of nowhere and did this,” Archille said. “We called the city before we did that, we had questions and they said everything was fine. “

Its outdoor dining area, which has not yet opened, is located in a reserved bus lane used by the B44. Last year, the route was the city’s fifth busiest, with an average of more than 20,000 passengers on weekdays, according to MTA data.

“Blocked is not an option”

Other routes that have been forced to deal with frequently cramped bus lanes due to outdoor dining spaces, according to TWU Local 100, are Second and Lexington avenues in Manhattan.

An analysis of 311 data showed that there were 34 “blocked street area” complaints across the city this month, including one for juice bar bus lane space.

“I already have $ 7,000 in advance on [building] this thing, ”Archille told THE TOWN. “But if it’s still going to be a problem, we can find a way to put it on the sidewalk.”

An express bus was forced to squeeze between a Crown Heights restaurant hangar built in the Nostrand Avenue bus lane and a delivery truck on June 15, 2021.

An express bus is forced to squeeze past a restaurant hangar in Crown Heights.
Ben Fractenberg / THE CITY

Tim Minton, a spokesperson for MTA, said the transit agency supports the outdoor dining program, calling it “as essential for the hospitality industry as buses are for New Yorkers. “.

But he added that buses and dedicated bus lanes are key to improving speeds and reducing travel times.

“We agree with our NYC DOT partners that allowing them to be blocked is not an option,” Minton said.


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