Not a Surprise

In New York City, at least, removing cars from streets have had a beneficial effect on the restaurant business.

It turns out that the demands for more parking and better traffic flows don’t provide the benefit that most businesses think that it does:

New York City’s Open Streets program grew out of a clamor for more outdoor space early in the coronavirus pandemic.

But the traffic-free zones also became a vital lifeline for struggling restaurants and bars that embraced curbside dining.

Now, the economic impact of the initiative is being measured for the first time in a new city report that finds that restaurants and bars on the most successful Open Streets reported stronger sales than those on similar commercial streets with car traffic — and in some cases, did better than they did before the pandemic.

………

Mr. Rodriguez is releasing the report on Tuesday as city officials seek to make outdoor dining permanent through an initiative known as Open Restaurants, which has enrolled more than 12,000 restaurants and bars. That initiative grew out of the Open Streets program, which was made permanent in 2021, though its efforts have been scaled back in some neighborhoods.

Critics of outdoor dining have complained that it has increased noise, trash and rats, as well as blocked sidewalks, taken away parking spots and worsened congestion, and they say it is no longer necessary as the city continues to recover from the pandemic.

………

The city report analyzed the total taxable revenue collected by restaurants and bars on five Open Streets in the neighborhoods of Astoria, Queens; Chinatown and Koreatown in Manhattan; and Park Slope and Prospect Heights in Brooklyn.

In 2021, the average total revenue for these five areas was nearly $6 million from June 1 through Aug. 31, or 19 percent higher than the average of $5 million for the three years preceding the pandemic, according to the report.

During the same time period in 2021, restaurants and bars on five commercial corridors near the Open Streets — which were not closed to traffic — struggled. The average total revenue on those streets was $3.6 million, a 29 percent drop from their $5.3 million prepandemic average.

The negative externalities of cars in cities are enormous, and to the degree that local governments attempt to foster development through making their cities “Car Friendly”, they are engaged in a fools errand.

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