Land Grabs By Restaurants Will Not Save Industry

An interesting article appeared in the New York Times yesterday, relating to the re-utilization of city streets and sidewalks. If you live in an urban environment or commute to it, you might have noticed that restaurants, bike lanes, schools and newly ordained parks are usurping land. As usual, city officials are late to respond to these land grabbers, and the problems they are causing.

The hostile takeover of city streets can be divided into several categories, each with different issues, beneficiaries and those who are disadvantaged.

It should be noted that now is an opportune time for city planners to make productive changes to our city landscape. It’s a rare opportunity to better use city streets for more productive purposes than just a growing number of cars that create more pollution.

Let’s focus on restaurants first. Eateries are not allowed to serve people meals indoors because it will increase the spread of the virus. The solution: take over space outside of restaurants including space that was formerly used for pedestrians, car traffic, bikes and parking.

It sounds like a good idea, but there are drawbacks. The first thing is brutally obvious, but no one seems to recognize it. When the weather gets colder in New York and other cities in colder climates, makeshift sidewalk city street cafes will disappear. These outdoor oases are not the long-term savior of the restaurant industry. But there is hope that meals will once again be served inside before the cold weather arrives. Then again, what will be the inclination of diners about eating inside after Covid supposedly subsides?

The restaurant industry has a temporary respite, not a solution to their dilemma, with their land takeover. And one more thing, the number of meals being served are far fewer now than before because of the limited space available and distancing. It would be folly to make a financial bet on the success of restaurants in New York moving forward. Miami is another issue. It will be able to serve meals all year long.

Some entrepreneurial merchants are spreading to areas outside of their stores to sell their wares. Once again, this is a temporary fix because of the weather. But it may give a boost to those trying to survive past the pandemic. Security and overcrowding are issues that these creative salespeople must deal with.

Many people are shunning public transportation and are driving to work. Traffic jams are becoming more ubiquitous as additional private vehicles are infesting the city. They’re in conflict with restaurants, bikers and pedestrians.

It’s not clear how more car traffic will be helpful looking ahead. They will create more congestion. And, parking will be scarcer and more expensive. Will the subways and buses once again transport people to work, or will they remain cesspools and homes to germs, disease and rodents.

Even schools are taking to the streets but, this strategy has limitations as well. Security for the kids outside of their buildings is an issue and, once again, weather will cause problems. If it’s raining, or snowing, do we want the kids unprotected. If schools close down streets, traffic jams will become more prevalent.

Many major cities are depending upon biking to ease congestion and pollution. It’s a great idea, but the plan interferes with other others who want access to the bike lanes and the streets, like restaurants. In fact, I was out to dinner at a restaurant on the street a few days ago and bikers were zooming through the dining area.

Changes cannot be accomplished without careful planning. All cities are different and have individual problems that are unique to them. Change is possible, but there will be winners and losers. It will take great leadership, and New York City has a shortage of these kind of people.

It may be an ideal time to force commercial deliveries to be made at night and to end double parking by chronic offenders including delivery company vehicles. And, authorities should consider disallowing private cars to freely enter the city each day.

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