Citi Bike Users Out of Luck as Midtown Restaurant Steals Space from Bikes Instead of Cars

Diners at this Midtown bistro may not even be aware of it, but they are eating in a place reserved for Citi Bike users.
Diners at this Midtown bistro may not even be aware of it, but they are eating in a place reserved for Citi Bike users.

Deux Amis? More like Sans Amis!

A French restaurant in Midtown is defying the city Department of Transportation and continuing to serve customers in a covered sidewalk space in the middle of a Citi Bike dock!

The trouble started back in late June, when the bistro, Deux Amis, put tables in the middle of the Citi Bike dock on the south side of E. 51st St. between First and Second Avenues, covering up some dock space with official-looking blue plastic bags (see photo below, which shows plenty of space where the cars are parked):

deux amis early

The plastic was covered with printouts of an email from Department of Transportation suggesting that what the restaurant was doing was legal.

But the city’s open restaurant plan, which now includes more than 8,600 eateries, does not allow restaurants to block Citi Bike docks, or other obvious infrastructure such as fire hydrants, bike lanes, or bus lanes. The printed-out email from the department merely indicated that the restaurant could join advantage of the program, but the rules state that the restaurant must tell the truth during the self-certification process.

deux amis noteAfter first learning about the situation back in June, Streetsblog reached out to the DOT and was told that the agency had indeed written a cease-and-desist letter to the restaurant’s owner.

But the restaurant neither ceased nor desisted.

This week, a Streetsblog reader sent over the picture that is at the top of this article. It shows tables and barriers cutting off about half of the docks from the 32-dock station.

The restaurant could not immediately be reached for comment.

Deux Amis is not the first restaurant to willfully run afoul of the city’s self-certification system, which has been generally free of speed bumps. Some restaurateurs have complained that city inspectors have demanded changes and been vague about the specific rule being violated, but a City Hall source said that more than 6,500 restaurants have been inspected and very few have received warnings, and even fewer, roughly 8 percent, have received cease-and-desist letters. In either case, the restaurant has 24 hours to fix the problem, and send in photos as evidence, before a fine is issued. (City Hall has not provided the number of fines, but it is believed that very few fines have been issued.)

The situation at Deux Amis is not uncommon, however, as restaurants seek to capitalize on the city’s open restaurants program, which allows eateries to take back curbside space from vehicle storage. But there have been speed bumps: In the West Village, actress Sarah Jessica Parker opined on Instagram that a Citi Bike dock on W. 11th Street was preventing her favorite restaurant from setting out tables — a position that was quickly slammed by activists as short-sighted because the real enemy are the cars that take up virtually all of the curbside space on the block.

Indeed, Citi Bike posted a response about the company’s common cause with the actress: “When cars come off the streets, the possibilities for restaurants, bikes and pedestrians to co-exist — and thrive — are endless.”

Meanwhile, some residents are able to see that cars are to blame for congestion and the inability of restaurants to thrive. On Duane Street in Tribeca, residents are asking the city to make the roadway completely car free.

“The resulting open plaza — like a New England town green — could be a real boon to the neighborhood’s restaurants and a respite for residents, especially during these times,” the Tribeca Citizen reported.