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Mayor Says He is ‘Concerned’ About Restaurant Dining Areas that Drivers Can’t See Through

12:01 AM EST on December 15, 2020

Pedestrians are endangered by dining areas that are not transparent. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

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It's a setback setback.

The winter weather doesn't only mean less daylight, but also less daylighting at corners with restaurants operating on the curbside as many eateries are using heavy, opaque materials to allow patrons to dine in relative warmth — but creating dangerous conditions for pedestrians and cyclists because car drivers can no longer see through the outdoor dining structures.

When asked about it by Streetsblog on Monday, the mayor said he's concerned.

"I'm really glad you're raising it because I am a Vision Zero believer, and I'm also an outdoor dining believer — it has been amazing step forward for the city, but it has to be safe," he said when asked if the city is cracking down on dining areas that cut off view corridors for drivers even though the structures remain set back from the corner, per city rules.

"We do need to make sure that we've done that piece, right," he added. "We got to keep everyone safe while we're also trying to protect people's livelihoods and give people a real sense of this city able to recover soon."

Streetsblog's question came only after the Department of Transportation declined to provide suitable information regarding whether the agency is cracking down on the use of opaque materials, such as wood or heavy canvas (see examples below).

Officially, the DOT said only that "many" restaurants have been told to move their dining areas away from the crosswalk, but the agency did not say how "many" nor did it address the issue of opaque restaurant side walls. The "winter" dining brochure that is handed to all eateries [PDF] oddly does not say anything about the transparency of the restaurant walls. The program's original requirement that the restaurant must leave eight feet of daylighting remains in force.

That's not good enough, said Lisa Orman of StreetopiaUWS.

"This is yet another indication that the DOT lacks the organizational structure or capability to know what's happening on each and every block," she said. "If they had a framework for public space management and engagement, interfacing with businesses on these life-saving rules and regulations would happen in a much more robust way. We can't fight for life and limb-saving changes to our streets, such as daylighting intersections, and then have that work erased by Open Streets: Restaurants."

Orman did not blame the restaurant owners, who "have so much to deal with right now," but said the DOT needs to create clear guidelines for, well, clear sightlines.

"The structures absolutely need transparent sides," she said. "Many of the restaurants we see on the UWS are almost completely enclosed with wood paneling on the sides. They are impossible to see through for all road users."

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