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Open Streets helped keep local restaurants and bars – and the entire city’s economy – afloat during the pandemic
Using sales revenue data, “Streets for Recovery” report finds business at restaurants and bars on car-free Open Streets far outpaced nearby corridors.
NYC Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez today announced the release of Streets for Recovery: The Economic Benefits of the NYC Open Streets Program report (Streets for Recovery) a landmark report developed in collaboration with Bloomberg Associates, which for the first time uses data from the Department of Finance to highlight the economic benefits of Open Streets on the City’s critical hospitality industry during the height of the pandemic. Today’s announcement releasing the report results was held along the Doyers Street Open Street in Manhattan’s Chinatown, among the corridors that the report showed gained strong financial benefits as a car-free Open Street.
“At the height of the pandemic, as businesses closed down and New Yorkers lost their jobs, Open Streets and outdoor dining helped keep our restaurants and the city’s economy afloat. And as New York City comes back, this program will continue to be a critical driver of a strong, equitable recovery,” said New York City Mayor Eric Adams. “This report echoes what we have heard in communities across the city: Opening our streets can kickstart small businesses, create jobs, and lift up neighborhoods. Our administration will continue working to craft a permanent outdoor dining program that will keep local restaurants vibrant and that all New Yorkers can be proud of.”
“Open Streets has been a life preserver for struggling businesses during the pandemic and the program’s success confirms we can both sustain and grow economic vitality by reimagining the use of our public spaces.” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez. “We are grateful to have the support of Mayor Adams, the City Council, borough presidents, the private sector, and Bloomberg Associates as we use this groundbreaking research to inform our work and ensure the Open Restaurants program becomes permanent.”
“The NYC Department of Finance was pleased to assist with this innovative project by providing the relevant sales tax data that is found in this report, while protecting the anonymity of individual filers’ records,” said Department of Finance Commissioner Preston Niblack. “Equipped with this data, elected leaders and other stakeholders will be able to make more informed decisions on how to best utilize public spaces for the economic benefit of local businesses and the communities they serve throughout our City.”
“New York’s streets are as adaptable and resilient as the New Yorkers who live and work on them,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, principal with Bloomberg Associates and former NYCDOT Commissioner under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg. “Open Streets showed that outdoor, dining, drinking and activity didn’t just bring vibrant street life to a locked-down city, they represented an economic strategy that supported neighborhoods during hard times and can now help the city recover.”
Streets for Recovery
The Streets for Recovery report, completed in collaboration with Bloomberg Associates, is a first-in-nation dive into the economic benefits of Open Streets. It takes a comprehensive and empirical look at the program’s effectiveness in supporting the restaurant and bar industry in New York City over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Analysis of five car-free Open Streets corridors – in Chinatown and Koreatown in Manhattan; along Vanderbilt Avenue and Fifth Avenue in Brooklyn; and Ditmars Boulevard in Queens – showed that restaurants and bars on car-free Open Streets strongly outperformed those on nearby “control” streets that maintained vehicular traffic.
- Open Streets corridors significantly outperformed nearby control corridors on three key metrics:
- Sales growth
- Growth in the number of restaurants and bars
- Ensuring businesses remained open
- Sales growth at restaurants and bars on Open Streets corridors significantly outpaced sales growth in the boroughs that the corridors are in.
- On Open Streets corridors, a higher percentage of restaurants and bars were able to stay in business during the pandemic than across the rest of the same borough.
- All Open Streets corridors saw faster growth in the number of new restaurants and bars that opened during the pandemic when compared to the rest of the same borough.
With the results of this report, DOT will continue to work with stakeholders to transform streets into public space at a greater scale, with a diversity of designs, and in more equitable geographies than ever before.
The social and economic impacts of COVID-19 transpired differently across the City’s boroughs and communities. To capture these differences, the report analyzed the performance of restaurants and bars on induvial Open Streets when compared against the performance of restaurants and bars on nearby streets (or “control” corridors) that were not Open Streets.
NYC DOT developed this study with support from Bloomberg Associates, which provided technical expertise; Bennett Midland, which performed the data analysis and conducted stakeholder interviews; and the NYC Department of Finance, which provided summaries of sales tax data while protecting the anonymity of individual filers’ records.
The report evaluates how Open Streets impacted sales at restaurants and bars on participating corridors, and how the program affected the survival of firms on those streets, specifically looking at three key metrics over the first 18 months of the pandemic:
- Sales growth at restaurants and bars
- Change in the number of restaurants and bars
- Survival of restaurants and bars
These metrics are based on state tax collection data that was collected and aggregated by the New York City Department of Finance. The study period for the analysis is from March 1, 2020 through August 31, 2021.
Open Streets Background
In May 2021, the New York City Council passed legislation to make Open Streets a permanent program. This bill codifies the Open Streets program as part of the City’s administrative code. Through a permanent Open Street program, DOT has created a portal of engagement with the public to allow for a range of activities that promote safe and accessible transportation, economic development, support schools, and provide new ways for New Yorkers to enjoy cultural programming and build community.
Today’s event was held along the Doyers Open Street in Chinatown, which is among the five Open Streets analyzed in the report. Building on the success and support from the community during the pandemic, DOT recently converted Doyers Street into a permanent pedestrian plaza, which features a distinctive design with a fully painted roadbed. More on the Open Streets program, including how to apply, can be found at nyc.gov/openstreets.
Bloomberg Associates is the philanthropic consulting arm of Michael R. Bloomberg’s charitable organization, Bloomberg Philanthropies. Founded in 2014, the organization works side by side with client cities to improve the quality of life for residents, taking a strategic, collaborative and results-oriented approach to make cities stronger, safer, more equitable and efficient. Its team of experts and industry leaders has worked with cities across the globe on hundreds of projects in order to ignite change and transform dynamic vision into reality. More information is available at associates.bloomberg.org, at www.bloomberg.org and on Twitter.
“When we open our streets to pedestrians, we also create walkable communities where New Yorkers want to spend both time and money,” said Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams. “This report proves what we’ve long suspected: the Open Streets program is a great idea not only aesthetically but also economically, and I’m excited to see it expand in all five boroughs so that every New Yorker can enjoy car-free streets in their community.”
“The Open Streets program has been an important tool to create more space for people on our streets and encourage activity in our communities,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine. “As we work towards a full and strong economic recovery, we must continue to creatively activate our streetscapes in ways that support thriving, diverse neighborhoods.”
“Open Streets are about harnessing the power of public spaces – our ability to create focal points for culture, community, and joy,” said Brooklyn Borough President Antonio Reynoso. “Right now, commuter cars and trucks are congesting our streets and polluting our air, but this is also a city of walkers and bikers and we’ve got to build it around keeping all road users safe. DOT Commissioner Rodriguez is adding to that momentum, showing in Streets for Recovery that Open Streets are not only good for our climate and community, but a chance to strengthen our economy and bolster the hospitality industry. Thank you to the DOT and our partners who are showing the way toward a safe, successful city crisscrossed by Open Streets for New Yorkers to enjoy.”
“The Open Streets program has been nothing short of transformational for families in Queens and across the five boroughs, especially in communities that have historically lacked both open space and safe streets. But not only do our Open Streets allow for enhanced community programming, they also increase the economic vitality of our neighborhoods, as the DOT’s report clearly outlines,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards Jr. “I’m proud to be a staunch supporter of such a successful initiative, and I look forward to working with our city and community partners to expand the number of Open Streets here in The World’s Borough.”
“As the COVID-19 pandemic took a toll on health, wellbeing, and local economies, the Open Streets program strengthened communities during a time of shared difficulty,” said Council Member Carlina Rivera. “I commend the Department of Transportation for conducting an economic analysis of the Open Streets program, which shows that when the streets are opened to the public, neighborhoods and business benefit. I am proud to have been the prime sponsor of the legislation that passed in May 2021 that made this successful program permanent, and look forward to working with the Department and advocates to expand pedestrian spaces on the Lower East Side.”
“This ground-breaking report confirms with data what we believed anecdotally, which is that the recipe of Open Restaurants mixed with Open Streets, enhances the already strong economic and social benefit and impact of outdoor dining,” said Andrew Rigie, Executive Director, NYC Hospitality Alliance.
“We are absolutely delighted to read about the results of this important DOT report and so glad to hear the good news that many have already known: that many mom-and-pop eateries here on Doyers Street have benefited enormously from the Open Streets during this critical period. Said Wellington Chen, Executive Director of the Chinatown BID/Partnership. “The program not only created more usable rent-free space and allowed everyone to enjoy and operate in a safe and great fresh air environment while generating so many more economic opportunities.”
“This new report from DOT and Bloomberg validates what we as safe street advocates have been saying for years: initiatives like the Open Streets program create safer and more vibrant areas for local residents, pedestrians, and cyclists, and they also greatly benefit nearby businesses due to increased foot and bike traffic,” said Ken Podziba, President and CEO of Bike New York. “It’s essential that Open Streets and similar projects continue so that these neighborhoods can sustain and grow both the safety and economic benefits realized over the past two years.”
“RPA is pleased to see great new research from DOT in their Streets for Recovery report, that highlights the many positives of prioritizing our streets for people over cars,” said Maulin Mehta, New York Director for Regional Plan Association. “Working with the Al Fresco NYC coalition, we’ve heard from countless small-business and restaurant owners on how open streets have benefited their businesses and local communities, and it’s great to be able to quantify those benefits. We look forward to working with NYC DOT in the future to ensure that all neighborhoods in NYC have the ability and resources to make safer and more pedestrian-friendly open streets and open restaurants in a way that is equitable for all.”
“The Streets for Recovery report confirms what many New Yorkers have seen with their own eyes for the past two-and-a-half years: Open Streets are an enormous activator of public space and have provided a huge boost to New York City’s crucial hospitality industry,” said Eric McClure, Executive Director of StreetsPAC. “People gravitate to these car-free and car-light spaces, and the bottom lines of restaurants and bars on Open Streets are the conclusive proof of that. The economic impact of people-friendly spaces is clear, and we hope the City Council and the Adams administration will move quickly to pass and enact the pending legislation fine-tuning the Open Streets program so it can expand into every corner of the city.”
“New Yorkers love Open Streets — and this new report confirms that. The Open Streets program saved 100,000 jobs and gave countless New Yorkers vital access to new public spaces,” said Danny Harris, Executive Director at Transportation Alternatives. “All New Yorkers deserve permanent Open Streets and the benefits that come with them. We look forward to working with Mayor Adams and DOT to expand and build on the program’s success.”
“The data is clear – Open Streets are good for businesses. These public spaces are a valuable amenity that drive economic growth of neighborhoods,” said Jackson Chabot, Director of Advocacy and Organizing at Open Plans. “If New York wants to lean in on boosting business post-pandemic, well-managed Open Streets should be part of the toolkit,”
“Like bus lanes, open streets provide critical economic benefits and are well worth the transformation of public space,” said Riders Alliance Senior Organizer Jolyse Race. “Despite the outrageous claims of NIMBY drivers waging transportation culture war on our streets, public space belongs to everyone and should be put to use equitably. More transformation, not less, is essential to meeting the moment in our city and the mandate of our Streets Plan.”
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