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That’s one proposal to 'help businesses,' but at what cost?

As its name suggests, Main Street is the commercial spine of Kew Gardens Hills, but since the coronavirus quarantine was declared in mid-March, many of its restaurants and small stores have not reopened. With many consumers staying home and fears that there is not enough room for social distancing, the city Department of Transportation is looking into the possibility of “pedestrianizing” certain streets so that restaurants would have space for outdoor dining.

At a City Council hearing on May 12, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg noted that the effort will be “inter-agency,” managing the spacing and permit issues. Advocates of bike lanes and traffic reduction argued that it would give more space to businesses and pedestrians.

“Restaurants will need to reopen yet maintain physical distancing, which is impossible to do in a limited footprint – but there is plenty of street space in New York,” said Danny Harris, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives in an interview.

Picking up on the idea, Councilman Rory Lancman put out a call for comments on pedestrianizing the “restaurant row” of Main Street. “I’d be interested in hearing what the businesses on this stretch of Main Street think, as well as the members of the Kew Gardens Hills Facebook group,” he wrote.

“It’s certainly an interesting concept for the short term. I wonder if there are enough [people eating] in restaurants on that stretch to warrant it though,” replied Shraga Teichman. The stretch of the southbound Main Street service road between 71st Road and 73rd Avenue has two pizza stores, an ice cream shop, and four restaurants. But it also has a Judaica store, florist, and Main Street Bagels.

“Most of our business is take out,” said Uri Amar, the manager of Main Street Bagels. One car-free Sunday would not hurt his business, but an entire season without parking in front of his store would do more harm than good, he said. “We haven’t fared as badly as the restaurants. There’s definitely a change for the better, but it’s a very slow improvement.”

Alan Sherman feared that the pedestrianization proposal is part of a larger plan by elected officials and advocacy groups to reduce the city’s carbon footprint with coronavirus as the pretext. “They may call a move like this temporary, but they will find a way to make it permanent. Do not give into these people. Do not even attempt to take away parking spots anywhere until they show some respect for motorists and our needs,” he wrote.

In an effort to reduce pollution and promote safer streets, cities across the world have experimented with parking spots being exchanged for outdoor dining. “I’ve seen this in Israel and Europe, and it can work very well,” wrote Howard Schoenfeld. “What you need is a pedestrian mall with a lot of pedestrians. I don’t know if there are enough people in KGH to make it work. Where it works, it works very well. I’m not sure KGH has enough pedestrians; it would actually work very well on Austin Street in Forest Hills.”

Another concern relating to the proposal is the spillover of shoppers parking on side streets. “There would be less parking for the residents, but I’d be willing to be moser nefesh for the businesses,” said Rabbi Elan Segelman, who lives on a block behind Main Street’s shopping strip. “To the best of our abilities, as a chesed, we should help the businesses reopen.”

At this time, there are no plans to close the service road on Main Street, only an open discussion. Perhaps in a not-so-distant future, when coronavirus either dissipates or is eradicated by vaccine, not only will Main Street’s restaurants recover, and cars can have their parking spots, but perhaps a parade would also be in order.

 

By Sergey Kadinsky