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Opinion: D.O.T. puts dining sheds over our safety

BY LESLIE CLARK | Should a restaurant be allowed to have a dining shed on a street that is so narrow that emergency vehicles might not be able to get past that shed?

That question was recently answered twice by a Department of Transportation Dining Out NYC rep who said in a hospitality industry presentation — and then again in a public hearing — that D.O.T. would help that restaurant get permission to stick its shed into that critical 15-foot-wide emergency travel lane.

Dining Out NYC’s own rules seemingly say otherwise. Section 5-11 (b) (1) (iv) (C) states: “A 15-foot emergency travel lane must be maintained on every roadway, provided that the Department may permit an emergency travel lane width of less than 15 feet upon the issuance of a letter of no objection from the New York City Fire Department.”

Note the language here. An “emergency travel lane” is the road space needed for fire trucks and ambulances to get to emergencies. Keep in mind that response times to serious, life-threatening medical emergencies have increased dangerously by 60 seconds in the last year alone. That’s one minute more for an ambulance to get to your home if you’re having a heart attack or stroke.

Response times for E.M.S. ambulances have risen since 2017. (NYC Analytics)

And “upon the issuance of a letter of no objection” is D.O.T.-speak for a waiver, i.e., official wiggle room for a restaurateur who chose to lease a space on a charming little street in historic Greenwich Village or the narrow streets of Chinatown or the caverns of the Financial District — and now wants to put a dining shed in that narrow street.

You would think that New York City D.O.T. would put your medical emergency over a restaurant’s desire to sell a $29 plate of gnocchi with a $25 glass of Barolo on a charmingly narrow little street. Yes, of course, you would think so. But read on. …

In a presentation to the hospitality industry on Mon., June 17, the following question was raised by an anonymous restaurant owner: “My restaurant is on a very narrow street; so I’m worried about the 15-foot emergency traffic lane requirement. How can I get a waiver so that I can put up my shed anyway?”

The Dining Out NYC representative answered: “If we believe the E.M.S. lane cannot be met, we will request a waiver on your behalf. We cannot guarantee a waiver since they are issued by F.D.N.Y.” Again, this was an anonymous question. So, the city rep knew nothing at all — and didn’t seem to care — about the measurements or uses of that anonymous street somewhere out there in our city.

The same question came up at a Thurs., June 20, D.O.T. hearing on an application for a roadway shed on narrow W. 10th Street in the West Village. This time, a Dining Out NYC rep showed a slide indicating that the “restaurant has applied for [an] emergency travel lane waiver.” A member of the public asked: “Did the restaurant ask for that waiver, or did the D.O.T.?” The rep replied that D.O.T. requested a “review and waiver” from the F.D.N.Y. on behalf of that restaurant.

I know a lot about this particular street where D.O.T. is facilitating a “waiver” for a restaurateur who wants to put up a roadway shed. The street has an important east-west bus route, a shared bike lane, the 6th Precinct and the New York City Bomb Squad. It is so narrow that the applicant’s 7-foot-wide shed would reduce the width of the emergency lane used by ambulances and fire trucks to slightly more than 9 feet.

The New York City Department of Transportation is asking the Fire Department for a waiver to allow a 7-foot-wide outdoor dining setup on narrow W. 10th Street.

I know this because I live further up this narrow block. Before the temporary emergency outdoor dining program, it never occurred to me to worry about whether a fire truck, an ambulance or a police car could get to my front door. Nor did it occur to me that D.O.T. would ask the F.D.N.Y. to narrow a travel lane that their own vehicles need — just so that a restaurant can serve ceviche along with a glass of Grenache to a handful of customers in a roadway shed.

Will the F.D.N.Y. really issue these waivers? Better question: Does it make sense for D.O.T. to spend taxpayer dollars running interference on behalf of restaurants — and thereby pressuring the F.D.N.Y. to put its own frontline workers — and local residents and other workers — at risk?

At the end of day, what matters more to New Yorkers — access to overpriced pasta or access to an ambulance when their lives are in danger?

Reach out to your city councilmembers — New York City D.O.T. listens to them. You can find yours at

Clark is a member, CUEUP (Coalition United for Equitable Urban Policy) Facilitation Team.


  1. Georgette Fleischer Georgette Fleischer July 10, 2024

    Should a restaurant be allowed to sell advertising unrelated to its business on the side of its dining shed?

    That’s what is happening as I write at 19 Cleveland restaurant at 19 Cleveland Place, Pasquale Jones at 187 Mulberry Street, and The Folly at 92 West Houston Street.

    I have notified DOT, and hope it will act promptly before other licensees follow suit.

  2. Leslie Clark Leslie Clark July 9, 2024

    That portion of West 10th Street is the only portion that has parking on the NW side — because there is a police precinct there. Anyone else agree that there should be parking in front of a police precinct?

  3. Choresh Wald Choresh Wald July 7, 2024

    That block of West 10th Street is so narrow that it doesn’t have a “shared bike lane”: There are markings on the street that indicate a bicycle can legally use the full lane because it would be too dangerous for a motor vehicle to pass by the bike rider.

    It is mind-blowing that free car parking is allowed on the south side of the street; it needs to be completely removed in order to provide easy curb access for emergency vehicles.
    This op-ed brings out a false narrative where a 7-foot-wide dining shed is more obstructing to emergency vehicle access than the current space allocation of a 9-foot-wide free car parking lane.

  4. TheFixIsIn TheFixIsIn July 6, 2024

    I don’t even know where to start on this. For the past several years the DOT has shown that it can’t or won’t enforce the rules of outdoor dining. The sheds have become derelict shanties attracting drug addicts and the unhoused and can be scary places to walk by during off hours. Most operators barely even use them, and don’t commit staff to their operation, so they exist on a threadbare budget and get used for overflow on special occasions, otherwise sitting fallow. When they are deserted, the operator is usually long gone (having gone out of business) and it is the DOT who comes in to remove the shed. The DOT is fully aware of this and yet it still seems to operate by giving the operators not only a massive benefit of the doubt, but (in the case of impinging upon an emergency lane) a free pass. It is like our national politics, whereby everyone seems to be looking the other way when the rot and illegitimacy is right under our noses! One question: WTF is the Manhattan borough commissioner of the DOT, Ed Pincar, thinking and doing? Why in the world would he direct his department to apply for waivers on behalf of an applicant without the applicant’s request? Is he in the pocket of the hospitality alliance?

  5. evlover evlover July 6, 2024

    I can’t believe the city has become so obsessed with outdoor dining that it’s putting people at risk of death. Loud music, loud diners, trash, no sidewalk space. Has the city lost its mind? Why are we allowing this to happen? These restaurants are profiting off public spaces we, as taxpayers, are paying for!

  6. I need a hero I need a hero July 6, 2024

    It is INSANE that this is even a thing. The sight of these Covid subsidies infuriates many Village residents because sheds reflect ineptitude by our elected leaders. They are parents who can’t seem to take away the lollipop. Hochul trashes congestion pricing, the entire GOP embraces dictators/criminals, and local NYC leaders twist themselves into a pretzel to avoid prioritizing residents over industry every time.

    • evlover evlover July 6, 2024

      Well said!

  7. David R. Marcus David R. Marcus July 5, 2024

    The City (as in Mayor Adams) and his DOT have no business promoting the financial asks of private companies (restaurants), let alone doing so to the detriment of the taxpaying public and the residents of all those neighborhoods and communities that are being forced to navigate between dining sheds just to get home.

  8. Starship Trooper Starship Trooper July 5, 2024

    The real problem is that the folks that run the DOT and NYC are brain-dead

    From the news that I read…Sounds like the fire chief is also someone in way over their head, appointed to “check a box” rather than do a job….

    They don’t live in the real world
    Just look around …what is it that you see?

    DA Bragg letting everyone go (and there is a pattern of those he doesn’t)
    Dangerous subways even during the day
    The list can go on and on

    We need to vote all these folks OUT
    Forgot about the person with a “D” in front of their name
    Look what they have done
    They have turned this once-vibrant city into

    Start in NOVEMBER
    Vote these people out

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