The City of Ithaca received approval to close one of its most prominent streets downtown, and potentially one more as well, in order to help some restaurants provide outdoor dining to customers. The closure started June 25, with buy-in from almost all restaurants on the block.
The 100 block of North Aurora Street (commonly referred to as Restaurant Row) is now closed to car traffic to allow restaurants to extend their dining areas to the curb of the street's sidewalks. The actual street is open for pedestrians. The city received approval for the plan from the state's Department of Transportation on Thursday, and is looking at potentially adding the 100 block of West State Street, on the other end of the Commons, to the plans as well. The West State Street aspect is pending review by the city's Planning Department, according to Mayor Svante Myrick.
The city's been working on the plan for some time, Myrick said, and Governor Andrew Cuomo's announcement this week that people in the Southern Tier could dine-in at restaurants if outdoor seating was made available accelerated Ithaca's process. Cuomo said the rule only applies if the restaurant can provide seating that allows customers to maintain social distance, plus staff must wear face-coverings and customers must keep their face-coverings on when not seated. Dine-in service at restaurants hasn't been allowed since March 16.
"We're trying to do it as soon as possible," Myrick said in early June. The city ordered barriers and received Department of Transportation approval, the final step necessary in closing the street.
Myrick said the city's been working with the Downtown Ithaca Alliance on how to pull off the plan logistically. The barriers that have been ordered are concrete and would be placed at the end of each block to protect eaters and pedestrians -- something Myrick acknowledged was added to the plan while thinking about the 2014 truck accident that killed bartender Amanda Bush and destroyed Simeon's Bistro.
There isn't a firm timetable in terms of when the streets would be re-opened, but Myrick said he wasn't very concerned about re-routing traffic.
"It's actually not that big of an inconvenience, because it's already one-way traffic there on Aurora Street," Myrick said. He continued that, if the city does receive approval to close the 100 block of West State Street too, it would have a similarly limited impact because people traveling on that road know that it dead-ends at the Commons, so they could just turn a block earlier than they normally would have. Cayuga Street would remain open for vehicular traffic, with the crosswalk and traffic lights still in operation.
Feedback from restaurant owners along the block has been positive, Myrick said, with many being eager to come back strong after months of either slashed services or complete closure.