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Manhattan BP Asks DOT To Take Street Parking For Street Seating

12:02 AM EDT on May 21, 2020

Gale Brewer wants a lot of these. Photo: Charles Komanoff

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is calling on the Department of Transportation to allow huge amounts of public seating in place of parked cars, with a rapid expansion of the usually slow-walked Street Seats program.

In a letter to the DOT, Brewer demands a "massive expansion" in Street Seats, parklets that offer public space along the curbside or on wider sidewalks, as a way to help the city's restaurant industry use the increased amount of open streets that are being rolled out.

"Because most businesses do not operate on an ‘open street’ and cannot have a sidewalk café, DOT should undertake an expansion of the Street Seats program to offer them aid," Brewer wrote.

Installing a Street Seats parklet usually takes about seven months to complete, according to the DOT, because of the need for agency and community board approval, design of the parklet and building out the physical place to sit (which might explain why there are only two-dozen citywide). Brewer's letter asks the DOT to use "low-cost, temporary materials such as plastic delineators and planters" instead of the wooden platforms or other materials that are usually used to build Street Seats.

The parklets are always sponsored and managed by a local organization or business, but the seats are fully public spaces — indeed, businesses cannot use the Street Seats for commerce. But Brewer is asking the DOT to temporarily waive the no-commerce rule, and allow restaurants to take orders from people sitting in the seats, which she says will spur the creation of more of the parklets.

Brewer wrote that the public should still be given access to any Street Seats built under the new rules allowing transactions in the seats, and a spokesperson for the borough president said the idea isn't for the parklets to become the property of any particular restaurant in the area. The spokesperson classified loosening commerce restrictions in the parklets to a form of economic aid, and said that the model had worked in other cities.

"It is important to note that the proposal calls for the the seats to be offered as public space if pedestrians want to sit on them in addition to allowing transactions," said Brewer's spokesperson Aries Dela Cruz. "Allowing transactions is not a new idea and is in fact used most successfully in Montreal, where Street Seats are ubiquitous. And because the seat replaces parking, often Alternate Side Parking, it results in a net increase in public space for New Yorkers, as it transitions from a space utilized by just one person to one utilized by many."

The letter came on the same day that a coalition of organizations asked the mayor to expand the size and scope of the city's open streets program and 24 City Council members wrote the mayor to ask him to give restaurants outdoor space.

The DOT did not respond to a request for comment.

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