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Dining sheds are driving them crazy — but they don’t drive

BY LINCOLN ANDERSON | It’s not about being for or against “breaking car culture” — but about residents being pushed to the breaking point.

Downtown residents who this week filed a lawsuit against Mayor de Blasio’s Open Restaurants program held a press conference at Ludlow and Rivington Streets, in the heart of Hell Square, Thursday morning.

As Diem Boyd, an area resident and the founder of LES Dwellers, put it, Hell Square “has gotten a lot hotter” — in the negative sense — since the outdoor dining initiative launched 16 months ago. The program, pitched as a lifeline for pandemic-ravaged restaurants and bars, has deluged the nine-block area with thousands of more people coming to party and whoop it up, she said.

“Bars, clubs and restaurants have tripled in size,” thanks to all the new outdoor seating, said Boyd, a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “N.Y.P.D. is incapable of dealing with it. The cops can’t handle it, they told us. It’s a circus atmosphere. It has doubled, tripled the amount of people in the area. This is what happens to a neighborhood when bars, restaurants and nightlife are favored over residents.”

Meanwhile, local mom-and-pop businesses, like pet stores, tailors and others, aren’t getting the same kind of help from the city and are suffering, she noted, calling it a lack of “street equity.”

“At the heart of this is street equity and the soul of New York City,” Boyd stressed. “The time is now for a bold vision for our streets that does not involve cars or bars.”

Meanwhile, advocates for reducing the amount of cars and parking on the streets, like Streetsblog and others, have tried to spin locals’ opposition to the outdoor dining sheds as just priviledged, wealthy residents wanting to selfishly protect street parking spaces for their cars. Transportation Alternatives also supports the Open Restaurants program.

But most of those at Thursday’s press conference said they don’t even own a car.

Stu Waldman, age 80, another plaintiff on the suit, bicycled over to the Lower East Side press conference from his home in the West Village. He used the bike paths.

“The West Village, Chelsea is among the lowest car-owning areas of the city,” he said, speaking after the press conference. “I haven’t owned a car for 15 years. I bike, walk, take the subway. Cars are not part of the culture here. I’m pro-bike.”

In fact, Manhattan has some of the lowest car-ownership rates in the entire city.

Waldman scoffed at the idea that the dining sheds would lead to fewer cars on the streets, calling it a “red herring.”

“The sheds take up 3 percent of the parking spaces in the city,” he said. “Do you think someone’s going to give up their Escalade for that? They just drive around the block more looking for a parking space.”

He suggeseted an alternative: “Get rid of the sheds and get bike racks to replace them.”

Diem Boyd, founder of the LES Dwellers, spoke at the press conference about the legal effort to keep Mayor de Blasio’s Open Restaurants program from becoming permanent. (Photo by The Village Sun)

Similarly, Boyd said, “This is kind of like a red herring — ‘if we don’t want the sheds, we’re for cars’ — no.”

“I don’t drive. I don’t have a license,” she said. “You don’t want me on the road. I tried to get a license and I failed three times. This is not a fight about parking,” she stressed. “We are talking about quality of life.

“Ninety-nine percent of these people around you don’t have cars, we don’t drive,” she stressed of the activists. “What we want is truly public streets — not privatization. The sheds are privatization.”

Boyd slammed anti-car activist groups who try to spin the outdoor dining sheds as a way to “reclaim public space.”

“If they were really about public space, they would not be privatizing it for the restaurant industry and landlords,” she declared.

Instead, she said, public streets should be reclaimed by filling them with “loading zones, trees, parklets, space for pedestrians and bikes, space where mothers can walk with babies in strollers, benches — where everybody can sit, not just if you buy a $25 burger or beer.”

Micki McGee, a leader of South Village Neighbors, said she doesn’t disagree with anti-car activists, in terms of the city being overrun by auto vehicles, but that lining streets with dining sheds is not the best solution.

“The city ceded space to cars in the 1930 and ’40s,” she said. “But now ceding it to one industry, does that make sense in terms of planning? Do we want one industry to be supplanted by another?”

Asked if she had a car, she responded, “A car? No, of course not. That’d be madness. It’s too dificult in the city, it’s too expensive.”

McGee spoke of the desire to live in a “15-minute neighborhood,” where New Yorkers can walk to everything they need within that time span — but which is becoming increasingly harder with the spread of the bar and restaurant “monoculture,” as many dub it.

“I moved here from California because I didn’t want to drive,” she said. “I’d been in two accidents. I could live in a 15-minute neighborhood. That’s the kind of neighborhood that’s being destroyed by Open Restaurants. We won’t have a 15-minute neighborhood — we’ll just have a 15-minute nightlife area. Then we’ll have to buy a car.”

Lief Arntzen is married to Kathryn Arntzen, the president of the Central Village Block Association, who is the lead plaintiff on the lawsuit.

Asked about “break car culture” advocates and their claim that the lawsuit is driven by car owners who want to keep their parking, he said it’s simply off-base.

“It’s bulls—,” he said. “Totally BS. The word [‘parking’] is used in one affidavit out of 108 pages. I think ‘parking’ is only mentioned on one page or one-and-a-half pages. One woman mentions it in her afidavit. They need to read the lawsuit.”

Arntzen admitted he does, in fact, own an automobile.

“I work in New Jersey,” he said. “There’s no other way to get out there, other than buses. But it’s not about cars,” he said of the struggle to rein in the sheds.

Another plaintiff, Marcell Rocha, a fashion stylist and editor who has lived on Orchard Street for 13 years, would not even think of owning an automobile.

“I don’t have a car,” he said. “Can you imagine driving here?”

“This is really not about the cars,” said Anette Frey, who attended the press conference. “It’s about the quality of life of residents.”

Frey lives “two doors down” from the Emma Peel Room, on Broome Street, and said the cloud of outdoor cigarette smoke from the bar is terrible.

On the other hand, while most of the plaintiffs are not drivers, Boyd said, the newly expanded party scene is actually attracting cars to the Downtown area.

“The people that live here do not own cars,” she stressed. “All of the people driving in here — the partiers — have cars.

“If you actually read the case, it’s about people’s lives that are being totally disrupted.”

9 Comments

  1. LES3025 LES3025 October 21, 2021

    They can say they aren’t for cars all day long, but the fact is that they are opposing Open Restaurants without any viable alternative, which will result in cars going right back in the streets. They know this.

    It’s fairly disingenuous for Diem to say, “The time is now for a bold vision for our streets that does not involve cars or bars.” She isn’t proposing one and never advocated for this before. In fact, there was just a bold proposal to remove cars from SoHo in favor of pedestrians and transit (https://gothamist.com/arts-entertainment/radical-plan-revive-pandemic-stricken-soho-remove-cars), and there is nothing on the Dwellers’ Web site or Twitter feed about it. I don’t recall the Dwellers saying anything when a car drove through a store on Orchard Street. But the Dwellers seem to always be willing to absolve a driver who hits a shed (https://twitter.com/lesdwellers/status/1443592060477612032?s=21) or promote car culture by scaremongering about bikers (https://twitter.com/lesdwellers/status/1441437647461883910?s=21).

    Same thing for Annette Frey, who says here, “This is really not about the cars.” She owns a car (https://twitter.com/annettefrey/status/432664401661796352?s=21), has complained in the past about the cost of parking (https://twitter.com/annettefrey/status/1141857604643303424?s=21), and has said she wants the cars back instead of the sheds (https://twitter.com/annettefrey/status/1415378803652694020?s=21).

    I don’t doubt that these people’s primary motivation is their hatred of bars and outdoor dining. But the fact is they are knowingly promoting the interests of car owners (who are on average much wealthier than non-car owners) and standing against much-needed pedestrianization. They shouldn’t get to act like they are champions of “street equity.”

    • Resident Resident October 21, 2021

      LES3025, if you were to read the actual lawsuit, you would see quite clearly it is not about cars. It’s about quality of life.

    • newyorkjew newyorkjew October 22, 2021

      Good try at using the car red herring to slyly advocate for the Open Restaurants program You wouldn’t be on the payroll of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, would you?

      • LES3025 LES3025 October 22, 2021

        I don’t think I’m being particularly sly. I’m advocating for it pretty blatantly. It gets rid of some cars, it lets you eat outside, it keeps small businesses open and service workers employed. There’s a lot to like. Not sure why you think I’m paid by the Hospitality Alliance. Two-thirds of the city agrees with me. I’m representing the overwhelming majority viewpoint.

    • Carol from East 5th Street Carol from East 5th Street October 22, 2021

      What is your fixation about cars? Who cares if cars used to park on the street? Suddenly in your mind all of the problems about “Open Restaurants,” like noise, garbage, rats. etc. don’t exist — just that fact that some people park their cars on public streets. Who cares?
      Have you ever been to any public meetings about the sidewalk kiosks? I have. I’ve seen grown men cry because their children can’t sleep at night because of the dining kiosks outside their window. Have you ever walked along Avenue A and St. Mark’s Place any evening and wondered how the people upstairs from Yuca Bar and St Dymphna’s could ever stand living there even for a day because of the deafening noise? Why don’t they move? Because they grew up in the neighborhood and can’t afford to move. This is their life. Do you have a problem with that?
      And, oh boy, ONE car drove through a store on Orchard Street. Really?
      Believe me, if you knew Diem Boyd, you would know that she is NOT knowingly “promoting the interests of car owners.” THIS IS A QUALITY OF LIFE ISSUE, NOTHING MORE!

      • LES3025 LES3025 October 23, 2021

        My fixation about cars? This whole blog post that you and I are commenting under is about cars. The people who are quoted in the post (including Diem) are talking about cars and have made prior public statements about cars that are at odds with that they are saying here. I’m just pointing it out.

        But I do think cars are an enormous quality of life issue, to use your phrase. The car driving through the store on Orchard is hardly an isolated issue. Almost every day there’s a story about a car killing or seriously injuring a pedestrian or cyclist. It’s basically legal to kill someone with a car as long as you’re sober and say you didn’t mean to. That’s on top of the other issues like noise and air pollution (I think you mentioned the drag racing). And yet we make it easier for cars to be here by massively subsidizing their on-street parking. So yeah, I think almost anything that makes the city better for non-drivers and makes it harder for cars to be here is a big improvement for quality of life.

        I have watched the recordings of the public meetings. I commented on them at the time on a different neighborhood blog. I actually used to live a few doors down from Yuca Bar for about three years, in a second floor apartment. There was a lot of noise even before the sheds. There are obviously some areas that are problems and have gotten worse. But the solution is better regulation and enforcement in those areas. Not throwing out the whole program.

  2. Amy Gilcreest Amy Gilcreest October 22, 2021

    This is about quality of life. I live in a ground-floor front apt. I am not rich nor do I have a car. I am fortunate to live in a rent-stabilized apt. for over 30 years. My rent is not one of those very low rents, as I pay $1,100 for a one-room studio. I have always dealt with some noise.
    On many of the streets in the W. Village and Lower East Side, dining sheds have taken over both sides of the very small streets. Emergency vehicles can barely make it down the block. These sheds are not supposed to be blocking entrances to apt. buildings, but they do. This is a health and safety issue. I have watched delivery trucks going to these same restaurants try to turn on to my block, Cornelia Street, and not be able to do it, backing up, then turning again, up on the sidewalk, to avoid hitting a shed. When they do the delivery, they block the entire street, with endless car honking until they move. Garbage trucks are even worse in their turning radius.

    Street sweepers cannot do their jobs. Rats have increased in abundance & are not afraid of people. Homeless people spend the night in the sheds (they need shelter, not sleeping in dining sheds). I have constant skunk-marijuana wafting into my apt. Weekends are unbearable as we are on “open street block,” making it an all-night bar atmosphere. There is public urination & defecation. This is not about NIMBY. This is about common sense for the people who live on the block. I write in support of Leif & Kathy Arntzen.

    • LES3025 LES3025 October 23, 2021

      I want to focus on the part where you said “My rent is not one of those very low rents, as I pay $1,100 for a one-room studio,” on Cornelia Street in the West Village. I hopped on StreetEasy and there are only three (3) apartments listed in all of the West Village and Greenwich Village for under $2,500/month. The cheapest is a studio on Perry Street for $2,095/month. So you have a minimum 50% discount on market price for your apartment. And you don’t think that is “very low”?

      I actually think this is a big part of the problem here. People in your situation get effectively trapped in their apartment. There isn’t a single apartment listed in the entire city on StreetEasy for your rent. Obviously there are apartments that aren’t captured there, but it reflects that your options would be limited if you wanted to maintain your rent. So you end up stuck there while the neighborhood changes around you.

      And because many people in your situation are older/retired, they have the free time to show up to the community meetings to complain about it, which creates a disproportionate view of how the broader community feels about it (which all polling shows is overwhelmingly positive). But, at the end of the day, a minority, even a vocal one, shouldn’t get to decide the future of our neighborhoods and our city.

  3. VLM VLM October 25, 2021

    If someone is having fun in New York City, you can always count on Diem Boyd to be there complaining her head off about it. What a tedious person. Why hasn’t she moved to the exurbs yet?

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