Volume 80, Number 43 | March 24 - 30, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Thumbs up for pop-ups

Mayor Bloomberg and Janette Sadik-Khan, his Department of Transportation commissioner, have been doing an excellent job, in our view, in their ongoing efforts to make our city more pedestrian and bike friendly, by adding more public plazas and more bike lanes to our streets.

Though the mayor and Sadik-Khan have taken criticism from a small but vocal group who don’t like either the bike lanes or the plazas, we continue to support these initiatives wholeheartedly. Change is never easy and there will always be some who are unhappy with the new. But now with spring arrived, both the bike lanes and plazas — like the massive one in Times Square — will be used even more heavily, showing their value and popularity.

Another new D.O.T. proposal, for so-called sidewalk “pop-up cafes,” seems to us, on its face, like yet another good idea from the city. Under this pilot program, a regulation-size platform would be built to extend out into one or two parking spots in front of a business — such as, say, a sandwich shop — to provide additional public seating space. Unlike, for instance, the spacious new public plaza in the triangle north of 14th St. at Ninth Ave., this program is designed for areas with narrow streets, lacking large swaths of road space that could be converted to use for pedestrians or passive recreation.

A dozen of these cafe spaces will be added around the city under this pilot program, which is slated to run during the next two years from May 1 to Oct. 15. With the list of applicants narrowed down to 17, about half of them are for establishments in the Community Board 2 area (south of 14th St., north of Canal St., and east of Bowery/Fourth Ave.)

The pop-ups would have seating and tables and be open for anyone to use for free. No alcohol or smoking would be allowed. C.B. 2 is stipulating that the pop-ups be closed up in the evenings at 9 p.m.

One could grab a chair and read a book, or go inside to the business and order a sandwich or coffee, etc., and then eat it at the sidewalk extension. The concept is simply to provide a public space where none currently exist — such as on Sullivan St. in Soho, for one, where neighbors, to hear them tell it, are unhappy that several sidewalk cafes they used to enjoy were recently found to be illegal and forced to be removed.

Of course, these unique sidewalk-extension spaces can only be allowed if they’re safe. The ones that will be sandwiched between parked cars sound pretty well protected, and the few where the applicants wouldn’t have parked cars flanking the pop-ups are on streets with light traffic. We would like to hear more assurances about safety. Over all, though, if some tweaks are needed, then so be it, but we think this sounds like a good program — and is similar to ones that are currently in use in Europe and Asia, and in other innovative cities like San Francisco and Montreal.

Pop-up proponents also argue — effectively, we think — that so much of our streetscape is currently given over to cars that one sidewalk-extension cafe on a block is a small amount to ask. In fact, it represents another way to reclaim our streets from automobiles and parking. Most Soho residents don’t even own a car, and many, we think, would probably prefer having a nice public seating space rather than another parking spot for a gas guzzler owned by some out-of-town tourist shopper.

We’re giving our thumbs up to sidewalk pop-up cafes. It’s another innovative idea that will help make our city more livable in the Jane Jacobs tradition, bringing life and positive activity to our streets.

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