However, these are some of the hardest hit industries in the country, and Old Astoria Neighborhood Association (OANA) believes that their recovery should be our number one economic priority. They are among our largest employers and their recovery is imperative.
There are obstacles. This last weekend was an example of how opening without proper infrastructure can be a disaster. While our restaurants were able to offer window service (including alcohol), those waiting for service on the sidewalks were not properly observing social distancing.
This phenomenon existed throughout the city, and promises to get much worse as the weather warms.
Two solutions are unacceptable: closing the restaurants for pick-ups and using the NYPD to police social distancing. (You cannot mix alcohol and policing, it’s a recipe for disaster).
We would like to offer a third solution: create enough space so that tables can be placed outside while observing social distancing regulations.
This could be done by closing streets to vehicular traffic temporarily for part of the day, say from 6 to 11 p.m. This way deliveries and services will still be available during the day, and local retail will not be negatively affected.
This might be done under the Open Streets program by the Department of Transportation. However, the restriction against economic activity should be lifted, especially as funding for the program has been negatively affected.
This will make enforcement of social distancing much more feasible. Perhaps an association of business owners can work together to enforce these regulations, as they know that ignoring these can lead to the closure of their business completely.
When this proposal was brought up at a recent Community Board 1 meeting, there was significant pushback, with board members stating that they did not want to close a bus route.
However, we feel that buses are given wheels for a reason. A temporary route change down a neighboring street is a small price to pay for the jobs and economic activity closing a commercial street would create.
Another negative would be that if anyone parked their car in a closed area, they would have to accept they cannot move it until after the restrictions are lifted. Frankly, after a few days of not being able to get to their car, habits would change. An example of this is when we close streets by our schools.
When one weighs the increased economic activity and more effective social distancing against the inconvenience of losing parking for a few hours or perhaps having to walk a block to catch a bus, we think the conclusion should be obvious.
During the quarantine, we have all shown a willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. This is a temporary extension of that attitude.
Richard Khuzami is president of Old Astoria Neighborhood Association. Frank Arcabascio is president of the 30th Avenue Businessman’s Association.