Nosy Neighbor: Who Enforces Sidewalk-Café Regulations?

Can you do a post about the restaurant sidewalk seating along Greenwich St.? Who enforces the regulations? Who monitors sidewalk erosion? Each year, the sidewalks lose more and more “walking area” to the ever-widening “seating area.” I think it is about two inches per year. Specifically, the Harrison, Maryann’s flower pots at its entrance, Sarabeth’s sandwich sign plopped in the middle of the sidewalk and its uncorralled seating, etc., etc., etc.Anonymous

Personally, I don’t feel strongly enough about this to work up a rant—one of the charms of Tribeca is its wide sidewalks, and if you forget that just go to the West Village where passing people requires going into fifth gear so you can get back to your side of the road in time. (I will say that Locanda Verde‘s pretty flower pots are far worse offenders than any you mention; as you can see above, if the café at Sarabeth’s isn’t eight feet from the sidewalk edge, it’s awfully close.) But I can answer the questions.

Licensing is handled by the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, which has a “New York City Sidewalk Café Design Regulations Guide (PDF) on its page about sidewalk cafés. It’s all more complicated that it probably needs to be, but here’s the most relevant part:

••• 8-foot clear path – All sidewalk cafés must maintain a minimum clear path of eight (8) feet between the outer limit of the café and any object near the curb, including the curbstone.
••• Larger clear path – When a sidewalk is wider than 16 feet, the amount of clear path that must be kept is the greater of half (50%) of the distance from the building to the curb line.
••• Obstructions – These are fixtures and sidewalk “furniture” that are placed on City streets, like fire hydrants, parking meters, traffic lights, mailboxes, benches, planters, and so on. These include fixtures installed by the City, Federal government, private business, and civic groups with City approval.
••• Weighted objects – Carpets, sandbags, or any other tripping hazard must never be placed upon a sidewalk.
••• Service aisle – A minimum 3-foot wait service aisle is required in all cafés (enclosed, unenclosed, and small unenclosed). The aisle is necessary to ensure that no public space is used by the café to service its clientele. It also makes sure that the café is disabled-accessible, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Also: Sidewalk cafés need not be “corralled.” The only real distinction that the city makes is between ones that are “enclosed” (like Super Linda‘s atrium or Pepolino‘s European-style tent), i.e., require heating and/or air conditioning, and ones that aren’t.

I don’t know if the DCA actively polices the size of sidewalk cafés, although seeing as how fines are an important Bloomberg-era revenue stream, I wouldn’t be surprised if it did. (I recently heard about the city cracking down on sandwich-board signs, but I couldn’t get anyone to talk about it.) It’s possible that the DCA leaves it to the community boards. Each sidewalk café application (and subsequent renewal) must go before the community board. Having watched many discussions of the Community Board 1 Tribeca Committee—there’s one member who is not embarrassed to take a tape measure out to verify that everyone is playing by the rules—I’m guessing that the city waits for the community board to raise an alarm. If you want to bring up an issue with CB1, you can do so by emailing or calling 212-442-5050.

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What’s happening to my parking lot?
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How come every every film and TV shoot seems to have a trailer with doors marked “Lucy” and “Desi”?



  1. This has to be the best and most informative “Nosy Neighbor” to date. I gotta wonder if the 8 ft clear path is inclusive/exclusive of the baby strollers and dog tails/paws parked next to the table? “Yes, I would love to sit at the table closest to the sidewalk with complete strangers whizzing by – within inches of my baked ziti au gratin – sounds lovely. And can I pay you as well?”

  2. Greenwich Street does become a little unbearable in the Summer. I do think seating areas should be “corralled.” If no one is going to monitor or enforce them then it will be as ridiculous as restaurants being allowed to post “Grade Pending” signs when they don’t get a good inspection.

  3. CB1 takes this seriously, if you go to them, they will talk to you about it. But if you have photographs and measurements, even better.

    I’ve been on CB1 and been part of these discussions, though it is not one of my bugbears (everyone has their causes) I happen to like Laconda Verde’s flowers (and Iike the ones outside of Le Petite Aubeille as well) but if you are finding foot traffic too much, go and complain.

  4. To those complainers. I for one like the sidewalk cafes. it is a slice of life that makes Tribeca what it is. If you can’t seem to pass on these sidewalks I respectfully suggest you A – either cross the street to in front of IPN where the street is wider or B – walk in the gutter.

  5. Thanks, Milo, for missing the point of my nosiness, oops, I meant the anonymous nosiness. There is no desire to get rid of sidewalk seating, but to make sure that they don’t take over the entire sidewalk – because that never happens. But I like your suggestions – if the sidewalk seating makes the sidewalk impassable – just walk to the other side of the street or in the gutter. You should rewrite the regulations. CB1 are you taking notes?

  6. I actually love sidewalk seating, but i do also have a baby and need to pass by in a stroller from time to time. none of the places noted above bug me, in fact i think they do a reasonably good of balancing outdoor space while respecting the right of passerbys as well. the one place that does not, IMHO, is MaryAnn’s. the seating on Harrison, not to mention the enormous potted plants there, had actually forced me to maneuver my kid and i, half on/off the sidewalk the other day. So very not cool.

  7. Actually, Sarabeth’s is 10 feet clear to the curb

  8. @Stewart: You’re right. I meant to the lamppost.

  9. Along with the trees and planters on the west side of the street, sidewalk cafes were part of the vision of the planners when the debate over the narrowing of Greenwich St. took place years ago. Obviously, for better or worse, their vision has come to fruition.

  10. I do Like Side walk seating.and yes they are a part of Tribeac but you give some places 1 inch and they take 1 foot . why is no one on here talking about the BICYCLES that would run you down on the sidewalks…