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Design Engagement Process for Permanent Open Restaurants Program

October 5, 2021

If you’re interested about learning more about the future of outdoor dining in NYC, please read the below press release.

New task force will develop detailed design rules and parameters for roadway seating as next step in making Open Restaurants permanent 

-The following is an excerpt from the City of New York’s press release-

The Department of City Planning and Department of Transportation today announced an upcoming citywide public engagement process for design rules on permanent outdoor dining setups located on city streets. READ MORE BELOW.

“Open Restaurants helped save thousands of small businesses from shuttering, it’s credited with saving 100,000 industry jobs, and providing New Yorkers the opportunity to safely socialize while dining alfresco over a great meal during the Covid-19 crisis. Now as the city transitions from the temporary, emergency outdoor dining program to permanent roadway seating, we commend and look forward to working with the Department of City Planning, Department of Transportation, and community stakeholders in a thoughtful public engagement process to develop the permanent Open Restaurants program that’s standardized, sustainable and transformative for our city’s streetscape, neighborhoods, economy and dining culture,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance.

In 2020, following directives of the Mayor and Council legislation, the City began work on a permanent successor to the Open Restaurants program currently enacted under emergency executive order. The first phase of implementation, a zoning text amendment, is currently in public review, having started the process on June 21, 2021. The permanent Open Restaurants zoning text amendment aims to remove geographic restrictions on where sidewalk cafes can be located within New York City, which stands in the way of thousands of Open Restaurants continuing to have sidewalk cafes post-emergency. Other future phases of implementation will require legislative changes, such as transferring authority for sidewalk cafes from the Department of Consumer and Workforce Protection which previously administered the program, as well as the establishment of siting rules, a fee structure and an application review process for the entirely new roadway program. 

While the sidewalk cafe program benefits from long-established siting criteria – such as “clear path” requirements that ensure tables and chairs are appropriate distances from fire hydrants and neighboring businesses – the introduction of roadway dining has raised novel questions about how to best integrate these new setups into the complex environment of NYC streets. This design engagement process with New Yorkers will focus on clear design rules for dining on city streets. The robust, six-month outreach will culminate with the release of design guidelines next Spring. 

Co-led by DCP and DOT, these in-person and remote roundtables will take place throughout New York City this fall and winter. Specifics on these public outreach sessions will be listed in the near future on the DOT webpage dedicated to Open Restaurants as well as on NYC Engage. These discussions will offer opportunities for New Yorkers to share their thoughts on how Open Restaurant structures should be designed to ensure that the final program rules balance creativity, feasibility and cost as they seek to enhance comfort and safety for all New Yorkers.

On a parallel track, a stakeholder outreach process will be facilitated through a partnership with the Regional Plan Association, Design Trust for Public Space and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. These design and advocacy groups will hold a series of independent roundtables to ensure a robust cross section of challenges, needs and ideas are considered in the design, operations and policy goals associated with the coming Open Restaurants program.

The design and public engagement processes, organized and led by DCP and DOT, will also be will be assisted by an interagency Open Restaurants design taskforce consisting of representatives from relevant agencies involved in managing the restaurant industry or in street planning:

  • Dept of Buildings 
  • Dept of Consumer and Worker Protection
  • Dept of Environmental Protection
  • Dept of Health and Mental Hygiene
  • Dept of Sanitation
  • Economic Development Corporation
  • Fire Department of New York
  • Landmarks Preservation Commission
  • Mayor's Office of Media and Entertainment
  • Mayor’s Office of People with Disabilities
  • Public Design Commission
  • Small Business Services

As we continue to gather feedback from across the city, DOT's new roadway design website will share key areas of design consultation, which includes issues like: 

  • Enhancing safe interactions between diners, drivers, cyclists and pedestrians 
  • ADA compliance and best practices for platforms and ramps 
  • The types of shade structures that can be permitted while still meeting the goals of openness and removability 

Besides engagement events, members of the public can now visit the website to provide ideas and feedback on how these sidewalk and street structures for outdoor dining can best enhance safety, mobility and public access.

The completion of the design engagement process will be marked with the release of design guidelines in Spring 2022, which will detail all the intended design parameters, vetted by the interagency group. 

After that, a robust community and borough level engagement and outreach program will be set up for sharing the design concepts in advance of the City’s rulemaking process known as the City Administrative Procedure Act, or CAPA. It is through CAPA that the City will finalize and adopt formal rules relating to the permanent Open Restaurants program, including rules for outdoor dining structures in the roadway. 

Following adoption of the rules through CAPA, DOT will publish a final visual “manual” of design guidance, including an easy-to-use digital application that will provide a roadmap to restaurants on their outdoor dining structures. This resource will be made available ahead of the official launch of applications for the permanent Open Restaurants program, expected in late 2022.