Is Sidewalk Dining to Blame for Dyckman Street’s Traffic Nightmare?

mamajuana_TSWWL.jpgMamajuana Cafe. Photo: The Streets Where We Live
Last week I took my first cab ride in recent memory, from Midtown home to Inwood. It was Thursday night, and pretty early -- around 10:00 -- when we exited the West Side Highway onto Riverside Drive and made the left to Dyckman/200th Street. As we passed the bustling Mamajuana Cafe, near the corner of Seaman Avenue, its outdoor tables packed as usual, and the cab driver inched among revving motorcycles, honking livery cabs and boom-car drivers who seemed to have no purpose there other than to cruise the block, I muttered something to the effect of "I'm glad we don't live down here."

Right now, Mamajuana is at the center of a long-standing dispute over the proliferation of restaurants and bars -- those with outdoor space in particular -- on Dyckman and the immediate vicinity west of Broadway. Residents who live nearby say the crowds drawn by these establishments have commandeered the area, clogging sidewalks and streets and generating excessive noise at all hours, and are calling on Community Board 12 and area officials to encourage a more balanced mix of "daytime" and "nighttime" businesses.

Mamajuana's owners, who operate several other restaurants along the Dyckman corridor, counter that they are providing jobs and bringing much-needed street life to the neighborhood. The restaurateurs have repeatedly claimed that most of the noise comes from vehicle traffic, which they have no control over.

The issue could be coming to a head soon. In the last few weeks, CB 12 committees have passed a resolution against an expansion of Mamajuana's sidewalk cafe and tabled a vote on the renewal of its liquor license, pending a succession of upcoming neighborhood meetings.

CB 12 has expressed its discontent with the Dyckman scene before, but DNAinfo reports that the 34th Precinct and Assembly Member Denny Farrell have also come out against renewing Mamajuana's liquor license, a decision that ultimately rests with the State Liquor Authority. Outcry over Mamajuana has prompted to the SLA to conduct an examination of the Dyckman corridor. At the same time, residents are opposing the issuance of new sidewalk cafe permits, claiming that current outdoor dining space already constitutes an "attractive nuisance."

No one at this point seems to dispute that noise and traffic on Dyckman are out of control (see lede paragraph), and Mamajuana's owners have a history of hostility toward neighborhood concerns. But take a look at the above video shot by Maggie Clarke, a member of local advocacy group Inwood and Washington Heights Livable Streets and a leader in the effort to curb nighttime noise on Dyckman.

How many of the horn-honking, crosswalk-hogging, box-blocking drivers, and motorcyclists with illegal mufflers driving and parking on the sidewalk, are these businesses responsible for? And if you take them away or get them under control, how much "nuisance" would there be?