Trading ‘spaces’! Parking lanes may get sidewalk cafes this summer

Trading ‘spaces’! Parking lanes may get sidewalk cafes this summer
NYC Department of Transportation

The only bad thing about our borough’s roads is that there’s no place to sit and have a meal.

Of course, that could change this summer when the city widens a pilot program to allow “pop-up” cafes in the parking lanes of commercial streets like Fifth Avenue or Smith Street.

Such public spaces are level with the sidewalk, have tables and chairs, are ringed with a barrier of planters and typically cost $10,000 to build, according to the city.

The first “pop-up cafe” proved to be a hit in Lower Manhattan last summer, and next year, a dozen more are expected to be built around the city.

Restaurant owners in Park Slope have already started expressing interest.

“It would make the neighborhood cozier,” said Irene Lo Re, the president of the Fifth Avenue Business Improvement District and the owner of Aunt Suzie’s Restaurant. “It would add a dimension of warmth to neighborhood.”

Lo Re added, “It gives the opportunity for more expensive restaurants to reach a different market, and for the cheaper ones to do something fun.”

But many drivers think any loss of parking — especially in Park Slope — isn’t fun at all. The Department of Transportation, which is behind the program, hopes to avoid a kerfuffle over parking by requiring that the local community board approve each café proposal.

“Obviously, there will be an impact on parking,” said Craig Hammerman, the district manager of Community Board 6, which covers the restaurant belt of Park Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. “But there are a lot of people that don’t own cars that this wouldn’t affect at all — they would love the opportunity for more outdoor uses [of the sidewalk].”

The first pop-up café was unveiled last summer on Pearl Street in Manhattan. There, a café called Fika and an Indian restaurant called Bombay’s collaborated and built a public space that occupied the parking in front of both eateries.

It was a stylish wooden platform surrounded by waist-high planters and — best of all— it brought in customers, according to Madeline Hjeln, the manager of Fika.

“It helped business, people liked to hang around there,” said Hjeln. “It really brought some beauty to the street. Normally, it was just commercial trucks out front.”

The Department of Transportation is accepting applications to create pop-up cafes. The application is online at www.nyc.gov/dot. Applications must be received by Friday, Dec. 3.