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New Bill Would Allow Some Street Vendors on Bridges Amid Push for Total Ban

“I believe strongly that a full ban on vendors is not necessary,” Council Member Gale Brewer said on Wednesday.

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

The Brooklyn Bridge’s bustling entrance on the Manhattan side.

New York City street vendors could be permitted to sell their wares at certain locations on certain bridges, according to a new proposal in the City Council that aims to stake out a middle ground as the city prepares to clear sellers off the Brooklyn Bridge and other spans.

Upper West Side Council Member Gale Brewer's new bill would limit vending on bridge walkways to paths that are at least 16 feet wide, and require sellers be at least 20 feet apart from one another. Bridge approaches, which are hotspots for vendors, would also be off-limits to the sellers, according to the proposal. 

The Brooklyn Bridge pedestrian path varies in width between 5 feet and 16 feet, excluding its approaches, meaning Brewer's bill would allow some vending on the wider parts of the span in limited capacity.

“I believe strongly that a full ban on vendors is not necessary,” Brewer said during a Council oversight hearing on street vendors on Wednesday.

“There are spots on bridges that are appropriate for vendors and they are identifiable and they can be enforced, particularly on [the] Brooklyn Bridge.”

The Department of Transportation in October proposed new rules to completely ban open air commerce from all 789 city-owned bridges and bridge approaches, citing concerns of overcrowding and overloading on the Brooklyn Bridge in particular.

The 140-year-old span went from hosting a few vendors a few years ago to an overwhelming number of sellers, who've become increasing brazen: Some sell booze, according to reports — while others offer photo ops with a live snake or 360-videos on the bridge with Mayor Adams’s signature walkup jingle “Empire State of Mind” playing in the background on a loop.

Besides its approaches, the Brooklyn Bridge has three 16 foot-wide sections where Brewer's bill would permit vending — at either end of the boardwalk and in the middle — according to a DOT schematic from 2016. 

The Brooklyn Bridge is 16 feet wide at the ends of its boardwalk and in the middle. Image: DOT

Brewer said she agreed that the city needs to get the crowding situation on the bridge under control. She told Streetsblog she wanted to compromise to allow vendors to earn a buck and tourists to purchase souvenirs on the iconic overpass. 

There can be room for some vending, Brewer said — so long the city enforces the rules.

“It’s a long walk, and having something to be of interest, in addition to the amazing scenery — and it’s also a place for people to make ends meet,” the veteran uptown lawmaker told Streetsblog. “The tourists are always looking for something to buy, you and I may not be.”

“It’s a good livelihood for the vendors, at the same time you have to be safe, right now it’s not safe,” the pol added. “I think once people know what the law is and it’s clear. People want clarity, on both sides.”

It's unclear how many vendors could fit on the limited three sections of the Brooklyn Bridge.

Pedestrian counts doubled to a whopping 34,000 on a single weekend day the city measured last year, after former Mayor Bill de Blasio gave people more space by moving cyclists from the crowded boardwalk to a separate path in the roadway in 2021. 

Transportation officials have worried about the 1883 structure’s ability to handle the extra weight of carts, tables, wagons, and generators the vendors haul onto the connector, however bridge officials have not voiced similar concerns about the roughly 116,000 motor vehicles that traverse the crossing each day. 

The DOT rule change received significant support from residents, politicians, and tour guides at a public hearing last month. Proponents of a total ban urged the city to implement it as soon as possible.

Vendors, on the other hand, begged for a compromise. 

Vending ban proponents including Council Member Lincoln Restler (D-Brooklyn) have said the Brooklyn Bridge “is not the place" for street sellers. Restler declined to comment on Brewer's bill. 

Vendor advocates cheered the proposal for offering some relief from the impending DOT regulations, but warned the rule requiring space between vendors would be tough to enforce. 

"We just believe that this requirement is sort of impossible to follow, or even enforce," said Mohamed Attia, a former vendor and now the managing director of the Urban Justice Center's Street Vendor Project.

Existing rules already ban vending within 20 feet of a building entrance. It could cause complicated disputes if two vendors claim a space, Attia warned.

“You will just create all these conflicts between vendors. Everyone will say ‘I came first, he should move,’ and how [would] the officers would actually resolve such conflict,” Attia said. “This is very vague and impossible to apply on the streets.”

Brewer's bill could come up for a vote as soon as next week's Council Stated Meeting on Dec. 20, according to the pol.

A DOT spokesman said the agency will review the bill, but declined to say when the agency's proposed ban will take effect.

"It’s important that all New Yorkers and the millions of people who visit our city each year can enjoy the Brooklyn Bridge without impediments to safety and pedestrian mobility. NYC DOT is reviewing the legislation as we continue to process feedback on our proposed rule," said DOT's Vin Barone in a statement.

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