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City Seeks All-Out Ban on Vendors on Every Bridge

The city seeks a "span ban" — thanks to vending overcrowding on the Brooklyn Bridge.

File photo: Gersh Kuntzman|

Vendors and tourists crowd the Brooklyn Bridge’s Manhattan end.

Call it the span ban.

The city published proposed rules on Friday to completely ban vendors from bridges, specifically citing overcrowding on the Brooklyn Bridge, which has become packed with sellers hawking goods to the tens of thousands of people crossing the iconic span’s walkway each day. 

Pedestrian counts doubled on the Brooklyn Bridge after the city moved cyclists from the shared boardwalk to a new dedicated bike lane in the lower roadway in 2021, according to Department of Transportation figures, but the number of people selling Big Apple-themed wares to them has also shot up, and officials cited concerns of overcrowding, national security, and even whether the 140-year-old monument would be able to handle the extra load. 

“The Brooklyn Bridge has been called America’s Eiffel Tower, and it’s important that all New Yorkers and the millions of people who visit our city each year can enjoy it without impediments to safety and pedestrian mobility,” said DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez in a statement. “These proposed rules would make it safer and easier for pedestrians to enjoy the Brooklyn Bridge and take in the world-renowned view of New York Harbor.”

The regulations, published in the City Record on Friday and which Streetsblog first teased in May, will ban any “peddler, vendor, hawker, or huckster” from setting up shop on pedestrian paths, bike lanes, and approaches of DOT’s 789 bridges, which most notably include the four East River connectors of the Brooklyn, Queensboro, Manhattan, and Williamsburg bridges, but also hundreds of spans where vendors sell food and goods. 

An average 17,000 pedestrians crossed the Brooklyn Bridge on a weekend fall day in 2021, according to DOT, around the time then-Mayor Bill de Blasio opened the hugely popular two-way bike lane in the roadway below. Last year, that number swelled to around 34,000 pedestrians traversing the elevated walkway, according to the agency's stats.

Vendors — both those with the hard-to-get permits and without — arrived in larger numbers to capitalize on the higher foot traffic. The longtime sellers trading in Big Apple-themed tchotchkes, realistic-looking fake license plates, and $1 water found themselves competing with ever-more brazen entrepreneurs offering 360-degree video shootings against the backdrop of “Empire State of Mind,” freshly mixed cocktails, and even a photo op with a live snake!

The so-called "Souk of the Sky" has become a safety hazard on the pathway that averages 16 feet in width, but narrows down to a mere five feet at some sections, according to DOT, threatening fire safety, overcrowding, national security, and the bridge’s stability. 

“DOT has concerns about the effect of the carts, tables, wagons, generators, and similar items on the structural load capacity of the Brooklyn Bridge,” the agency wrote. 

The 1883 bridge also carries some 116,000 motor vehicles a day, according to DOT's latest public numbers from 2018, but the agency did not mention any such concerns about those heavyweights.

The slated changes will clarify the rules around vending and make it easier for cops to boot bridge brokers, since the city’s complex regulations currently only imply that selling is not allowed on the bridges, officials previously said

Police nevertheless already started doing sweeps of the bridge at the behest of Mayor Adams at the beginning of the year, booting any and all vendors in a January raid, including longtimers like M.D. Rahman, known for selling hot dogs and $1 water near the entrance since 2003 with his recording playing an intoxicating loop: "One dollar for the water!"

One vendor advocate called Hizzoner's move "disappointing," calling on City Hall to work with the sellers rather than against them.

"For more than a decade, street vendors have operated on Brooklyn Bridge and they have been a staple of the bridge and a tourist attraction!" said Mohamed Attia, a former vendor and now the managing director of the Street Vendor Project, an organization within the Urban Justice Center. "Banning vending on bridges shouldn’t be the way to address congestion concerns, on the contrary, helping vendors comply with the siting rules will make the bridge safe and viable."

Adams shifted the city’s street vendor enforcement from the NYPD and the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection to DSNY in the spring. New York’s Strongest has since been scaling up its police force and has led some controversial efforts, such as the crackdown on the popular Corona Plaza hub in Queens.  

DOT officials didn't immediately say when they hope the rule will take effect, but the Post previously reported that the agency expects to implement the change this fiscal year, i.e. before the end of June, 2024.

DOT will hold a virtual hearing on its proposed rules on Nov. 15 at 10 a.m., to tune in via Zoom click hereAnyone who wants to comment on the proposed rule at the hearing must sign up to speak via the city rules website at http://rules.cityofnewyork.us or calling 212-839-6500 by Nov. 14. If you can't make it, you can submit comments in the following way:

  • Through the city rules website at http://rules.cityofnewyork.us.
  • Via email to rules@dot.nyc.gov.
  • Via snail mail comments to Paul Schwartz, Deputy Commissioner of Bridges, New York City Department of Transportation, 55 Water Street, New York, NY 10041.
  • Via fax to 212-839-9685 (It would be interesting to know how many people testify by fax, wouldn't it?)

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