Board 2 asks city to review vendors jamming Broadway

Large food carts along Soho in Broadway, like this one near Broome St., narrow the sidewalk for pedestrians, which becomes even more of an issue during rush hours and on weekends. This photo was taken on Wednesday around noon.   Photo by Sam Spokony

Large food carts along Soho in Broadway, like this one near Broome St., narrow the sidewalk for pedestrians, which becomes even more of an issue during rush hours and on weekends. This photo was taken on Wednesday around noon. Photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  After heaps of complaints from Soho residents about the number of street vendors along Broadway, Community Board 2 is calling on Mayor Bloomberg to take action by reconvening a city review panel that hasn’t been used in more than a decade.

The resolution, which C.B. 2 passed unanimously last week, ultimately seeks to limit the amount of vendors allowed to operate on the stretch of Broadway between Houston and Canal Sts.

“The proliferation of vendors [along that] corridor constitutes a serious and immediate threat to the health, safety and well-being of the public and local residents on the weekends,” the resolution states, “in that sidewalks are too congested by pedestrian traffic to permit the [current number of vendors].”

Many Soho residents have said that those problems are compounded by a lack of consistency and overall effectiveness in the city’s enforcement of current street vendor regulations, such as one that is supposed to stop vendors from operating within 20 feet of a building’s entranceway.

To address the entire issue, C.B. 2 now wants Bloomberg to convene the city’s Street Vendor Review Panel, which would include members of the departments of Small Business Services, Transportation and City Planning. The panel was first created in 1995, but it has not been convened since 2001 — the year before Bloomberg first took office.

The Mayor’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

Pete Davies, a Broadway resident for more than 30 years and neighborhood activist, lauded the C.B. 2 resolution, saying that he and his neighbors — a group called the Broadway Residents Coalition — have been trying to “make some noise” about this issue over the past year.

“We’re very happy to see this, since the review panel is really the key to getting things back together,” Davies said. “The system is just broken right now.”

He explained that his group has been counting the number of vendors along Broadway each weekend for about a year, and claimed they’ve found that there are around 100 total vendors located between Houston and Canal Sts. during a typical weekend day. Around 30 percent of those are food carts, according to Davies’s estimations.

The C.B. 2 resolution specifically highlighted those larger food vendors, which generally use their own diesel fuel generators and have garnered additional complaints for their allegedly careless disposal of cooking grease.

Another of Davies’s points that was mentioned in the resolution was one regarding food carts left on the sidewalk overnight. To do so is a violation of city regulations, but Davies said that his group has found about a dozen carts left overnight, specifically between Houston and Broome Sts.

Sean Basinski, director of a wing of the Urban Justice Center that advocates for the rights of street vendors, declined an interview to discuss the matter, instead sending a statement that revealed an apparently hyperbolic and tangential interpretation of the C.B. 2 resolution.

“Street vendors are a vital part of New York, and Lower Broadway is a busy commercial strip that is enhanced by the presence of vendors,” Basinski said. “Rather than trying to ban vending there, we encourage the community board to work with vendors to find solutions that benefit vendors, shoppers and residents alike.”

C.B. 2 did not call for any kind of outright ban on street vending along Broadway. Instead, the resolution recommends — after the convening of the city review panel — that legislation should eventually be passed to limit the number of vendors there.

Pedro Amin, 31, a full-time worker at the Tribeca Taco Truck, which has been located on Broadway between Prince and Spring Sts. for more than six years, said that he often hears complaints from local residents, even though he tries to keep his part of the street clean.

“They mostly complain to us about the crowds on the sidewalk, or sometimes they just call the police,” Amin said. “I feel bad about it, because I just want to work, and support my family. And I always take the time to sweep the street around the cart.”

Like nearly every food cart worker along Broadway, Amin does not own the cart in which he serves tacos all day. Davies stressed that he and his group understand that fact, and that they are not out to pick a fight with employees like Amin.

“We understand that people who work out there are trying to earn a living, and they’re working their butts off,” Davies said. “And a bad part of this is that when the city issues a violation to one of the employees, rather than the owner, they’re penalizing the wrong person.”

Instead, as the C.B. 2 resolution stated, Davies puts the onus on the city to analyze this situation and come up with effective solutions.

“These food cart workers, along with the residents, are simply being ill-served by the city right now,” he said. “The mayor has allowed this problem to mushroom by not convening the Street Vendor Review Panel at all during his time in office, so of course it’s going to be much more difficult to fix now. It’s become an urban planning issue now.

“We just want the city to seriously look at this,” Davies said, “so they can make a real determination about how to move forward.”

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5 Responses to Board 2 asks city to review vendors jamming Broadway

  1. Georgette Fleischer

    Thanks to the Broadway Residents Coalition and Community Board 2 for raising and responding to an issue that also concerns those of us who live or work to the east and west of Broadway. I, for one, rely on the Prince Street station to get to work, and find the intense overcrowding on the sidewalk due to proliferating vendors psychologically oppressive and physically dangerous. I sometimes must step off the sidewalk and into the street in order to get to my destination. While there is broad sympathy for those working the vending carts, as there is for all who struggle to make a living in our increasingly polarized city, we must make public safety our highest priority. Thanks to the Villager for its coverage.

    Georgette Fleischer
    Founder, Friends of Petrosino Square

  2. Robert Lederman

    Letter to The Villager

    To the editor re: “Board 2 asks city to review vendors jamming Broadway” 1/31/13
    CB#2 has a very long history of harassing and persecuting street artists and vendors. I have testified many times before CB#2, the Police Community Council and the City Council explaining that draconian new laws and new restrictions are not what is needed. Enforcing the existing vending laws, which are 60 pages long, very detailed and which cover all possible scenarios, is what is needed. When CB #2 first started persecuting street artists it caused us to go to court and win the first in a series of rulings that greatly strengthened vending rights. I suggest before you open up this next can of worms, that you might ask Kathryn Freed and Alan Gerson what to expect from trying to eliminate artists and vendors from your community. You might also ask your community board why it approves almost 100 giant street fairs in your district each year, some of which are fronts for organized crime, and each of which causes more congestion than all the vendors being complained about create in their entire lifetimes. Ironically, CB#2 is falling into a trap with this entire idea, which is directly associated with the new BID. BIDS want to take over vending for themselves. Open and unobstructed sidewalks are the very last thing they are interested in. Helping them to do it by reopening the Street Vendor Review Panel will ultimately bring you far more congestion, noise, dirt and tourists than you complain about now. And if you want to relieve sidewalk congestion right away, why not eliminate the thousands of illegal sidewalk planters that landlords, stores and BIDs have installed on SoHo’s narrow sidewalks?
    Robert Lederman, President of ARTIST

  3. Georgette Fleischer

    Robert Lederman is correct to question the number of street fairs in our area, which are recommended too often by Community Board 2, but more to the point, approved with few if any exceptions by the Mayor’s Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO).

    However, Mr. Lederman is incorrect to blame either CB2 or the Broadway Residents Coalition for the proposed SoHo or Broadway BID. As former CB2 Chair, now State Senator, Brad Hoylman testified before the City Council Land Use Committee on November 20, 2012, CB2 voted unanimously not once but twice against the BID. Representatives of Assemblymember Deborah Glick’s and State Senator Daniel Squadron’s offices delivered testimony against, not for the BID, with Councilmember Margaret Chin being the only elected representative standing for it. At that same City Council hearing, it was the BRC that presented the greatest wealth of research, documentation, and argumentation not for, but decidedly against the proposed SoHo or Broadway BID.

    Finally, Mr. Lederman conflates “street artists” with the “larger food vendors” that are the main focus of CB2’s resolution and the BRC’s efforts. The First Amendment rights of artists that Mr. Lederman has worked so hard for do not extend to food vendors: a falafel is not a speech act or any other form of creative expression within the legal meaning of that term. On the other hand, many of the Broadway residents who struggle through the turmoil on our sidewalks are working artists, some certified, others not. Do they not have a right to a safe, healthy, and reasonably stress-free environment?

    • Robert Lederman

      In response to Ms. Fleischer, I am well aware that a significant number of CB2 residents and members opposed the BID, but as we all know, BIDs really don't care about how many people in their district support them. Most BIDS are fronts for a handful, or even for one, real estate developer or big landlord. The BID study done by the City Council in 1995 found that a majority of BID paying businesses never voted for, supported or got any information from their local BID. What I was suggesting is that a BID consultant "suggested" to local residents and some board members that the "solution" for their vendor problem would be a revival of the SVRP. This is a strategy they are trying in various areas of the City. The SVRP never concerned itself with any vendors' rights, particularly street artists. Once a street is restricted it would be restricted to all vendors, including artists. So, while I'm not in any sense conflating food vendors with artists, banning food vendors bans both, and the SVRP would never agree to just ban food vendors. As far as residents' rights, their rights are best served by enforcing the existing vending rules, something the city has never even tried.

  4. Lots of thanks. I like this!.
    Nicely place. With thanks.

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