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NYC seeks to rein in Lower East Side nightlife scene with new rules

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The mayor unveiled a new quality of life campaign for a six-block area on the LES—with more than 80 bars and restaurants

Lower East Side at night
The Lower East Side has one of the city’s most robust nightlife scenes that, for area residents, creates major quality of life issues.
Flickr/Satish Indofunk

The Lower East Side is the de facto nightlife destination of New York, and with that comes a slew of quality of life issues that arise in the midnight hours.

Neighborhood groups like the Lower East Side Dwellers Association have been working to combat the ills for years, but their efforts are finally being matched by a city plan that aims to bring quieter, cleaner streets to the city’s densest nightlife hub. The plan, created by the Office of Nightlife and announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio on Tuesday, will target a six-block area on Ludlow and Orchard streets between Houston and Delancey—home to some 80 bars and restaurants.

“It should not be a choice between a vibrant, exciting nightlife industry or livable neighborhoods,” Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday. “It should be possible to have both in this great city and that’s exactly what this [Office of Nightlife] is all about.”

Officially dubbed the Lower East Side Late-Night Quality of Life Improvement Plan, the program will enact new parking regulations—including a “No Standing” rule that will eliminate night street parking and ease congestion and noise pollution from honking—new street sweeping hours to better align with when bars close, an extended street sweeping schedule along Ludlow Street, and increased scrutiny of unlicensed for-hire vehicles.

The plan will also fund a new power washing truck for the LES Partnership and will include a “Night Owl” etiquette campaign with PSAs on local LinkNYC kiosks.

“Residents, small business owners and community leaders have been fighting for relief from the quality of life impacts of nightlife on the Lower East Side,” City Councilmember Margaret Chin, who represents the area, said in a statement. “We need a clear plan that pushes businesses to be good neighbors and makes sure that all residents feel respected.”

The improvement plan comes none too soon; area residents have raised concerns for years. A 2017 study conducted by graduate students at Hunter College’s Department of Urban Policy & Planning found that the area bound by East Houston, Allen, Essex, and Delancey streets is home to the highest density of on-premise liquor licenses throughout the five boroughs. The area colloquially known as “Hell Square” has seen an increase in crime in a time when crime levels have dropped throughout the city, and quality of life has decreased with noise pollution and rising rents that lead to a higher turnover rate in the area, according to the Hunter study.

The zip code that covers the Lower East Side ranked the second highest in terms of noise complaints to 3-1-1 in both 2018 and to-date in 2019, city data shows.

“[F]or everyone who comes here to visit and it’s a night out, remember the people for whom it is a night in—the people that actually live here and who we have to respect because it’s their community,” Mayor de Blasio said on Tuesday. “And for everyone who comes here to enjoy it, here’s a simple message: Just because you had a great party, doesn’t mean the Lower East Side should be left with a hangover.”