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Ben Kallos

Shake Shack Steals Public Space in the Village as More Lawmakers Demand Open Streets for Restaurant Revival

3:29 PM EDT on May 18, 2020

The 5-foot-8 Doug Gordon shows just how little room Shake Shack has left its Tribeca neighbors. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Shake Shack? More like take shack!

An outlet of the celebrated burger chain has seized half of the sidewalk at its West Village location so that customers can socially distance from each other as they await their orders — but the result is that non0customers will potentially end up crammed together.

Streetfilms' Clarence Eckerson noticed the theft of public space earlier this month when filming with bike activist Doug Gordon, whose office used to be near the Clarkson Street burger joint.

"They're taking public space," said Gordon. "As the city reopens, it's going to be a real problem if everybody chooses to do that."

Gordon advocated removing parking spaces to create more room for pedestrians — a win for the restaurant and a win for the city's most-vulnerable, most put-upon road users. (Neither Shake Shack nor the city Department of Transportation responded to several queries.)

The idea of repurposing the public roadway for restaurants has been a hot topic for about two weeks, as restaurateur Henry Rinehart and others have called on the city to close off roadways to cars and give the space to restaurants as a way of jumpstarting the economy, putting people back to work, and expanding the existing notion of sidewalk cafes so that they can simply be socially responsible and safe during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Council Speaker Corey Johnson offered a measure of support in a Crain's op-ed today, co-written with Andrew Rigie of the NYC Hospitality Alliance. For now, Mayor de Blasio has only called the idea "intriguing.")

Council Member Ben Kallos of the Upper East Side joined the fight on Sunday, firing off a letter to the mayor demanding the removal of parking so that restaurants in his district could operate safely. Kallos said his concern came after watching crowds gather outside restaurants in his neighborhood during the warm weekend.

"I have long thought about the fact that on a given street with 5,000 to 10,000 people living on it, there are 50 parking spots — which means that 50 people prevent 5,000 to 10,000 people from having complete streets with bike lanes, bus lanes and micromobility," Kallos told Streetsblog on Monday. "But now people are engaging in risky behavior, so let's create safe spaces to reduce the risk of behavior they're going to engage in anyway."

Kallos likened it to the city's distribution of free condoms.

This is a typical scene outside of a restaurant — this one was in Park Slope — that will continue if the mayor does not create more open space. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
This is a typical scene outside of a restaurant — this one was in Park Slope — that will continue if the mayor does not create more open space. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

"It's like safe sex — wear a condom," Kallos said. "If people are hanging out at restaurants, we need to give them space. I've been all over the world and seen all sorts of configurations for doing this. Plus, it's simply a better use of our streets."

Kallos's letter specifically requested street space for restaurants in stretches along First Avenue from 49th to 89th streets, Second Avenue between 49th to 92nd streets and York Avenue. It was signed by Borough President Gale Brewer and Kallos's East Side Council colleague Keith Powers.

Kallos said City Hall had not responded to his letter as of Monday afternoon.

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