Earlier this month, the Council’s Laws and Rules Committee voted unanimously to approve a new city ordinance which would levy $100 fines on anyone caught smoking beneath the portico which covers sidewalks on portions of Wall and North Front Street in the heart of the Uptown Business District. The legislation will go before the full common Council on Tuesday, Sept. 4.
Mayor Shayne Gallo requested council action on the issue in response, he said, to complaints from Uptown business owners about smoke and cigarette butts, particularly outside of a number of neighborhood nightspots. Gallo said that he witnessed the problem firsthand when he counted over 60 cigarette butts littering a half-block stretch of Wall Street beneath the canopy.
“These butts end up in the storm drains and it’s gotten to the point where it’s becoming a public health problem for our sanitary sewer,” said Gallo. “The Rondout Creek is not an ashtray.”
Reaction to the proposed smoking ban was decidedly mixed on the streets of the Stockade District. Maria Philippis owns Boitson’s restaurant on North Front Street. Philippis said she welcomes the ban. Restaurant patrons, she said, would still be free to enjoy an after-dinner smoke on one of the benches which stand adjacent to, but not under, the canopy. Meanwhile, she said, pedestrians would not have to run a gauntlet of cigarette smoke beneath the canopy.
“I have to push my baby in his stroller through these clouds of cigarette smoke,” said Philippis.
But a few doors down at noted tavern Snapper Magee’s, manager Bekkey Williams expressed skepticism that the ban would accomplish much. The bar, Williams said, enjoys a robust late night business; on a busy weekend night there could be 20 or more patrons outside enjoying a cigarette. If they were banned from beneath the canopy, Williams predicted, the action would simply move a few feet over, where the canopy ends, or out in the street.
“I get how people walking by with kids don’t want to go through a crowd of people smoking, but I still think its open air,” said Williams, grabbing a quick smoke on a break. “Besides, it’s not going to stop people smoking around here, and it’s not going to do anything about the cigarette butts. People are going to be disrespectful no matter what.”
Oh, it’ll be enforced, vows Gallo
Enforcement has been a vexing issue for other smoking bans, including a widely flouted one on the grounds of City Hall. But Gallo said he had written a provision into the legislation that will allow city code enforcement officers, including parking enforcement personnel to write tickets for smoking under the canopy. Additionally, Gallo said, he could direct police to begin enforcing littering ordinances — which carry a $250 fine on Uptown butt flickers.
Slideshow image: Bekkey Williams enjoys a smoke under the canopy at Snapper Magee’s. (Photo by Jesse J. Smith)