Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn Bridge vendors may soon be banned

Worries about overcrowding and safety on packed walkway

July 25, 2023 Mary Frost
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New York City plans to propose a new rule as soon as this summer that will prohibit vendors on the pedestrian walkways of all New York City bridges, including the tourist-packed Brooklyn Bridge.

Despite bicycles being rerouted to the bridge’s street level, the Brooklyn Bridge walkway is sometimes so crowded that pedestrians are brought to a standstill, especially in the claustrophobic, narrower sections. Dozens of street vendors, at times taking up roughly a third of the pedestrian walkway, add to the crush.

The city briefly cleared vendors off the bridge in January, after a particularly dangerous crowding situation occurring on New Year’s Day. “The Brooklyn Bridge is a stampede risk right now. Doesn’t seem like anyone monitors the crowds. It was scary,” Kathy Park Price tweeted under a photo showing a human logjam as far as the eye could see.  

This vendor was selling churros on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway this past weekend. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

The city eventually backed off, however, and the vendors returned.

The proposed rule(s) will “clarify that vending is prohibited on the elevated pedestrian walkways and their approaches of bridges. While existing rules imply that vending is effectively prohibited on bridges, an explicit restriction would clarify the city’s complex vending rules and aid in enforcement efforts,” the city stated in the City Record on May 17, 2023.

The city says the objective of the proposed rule is to “enhance pedestrian safety and ease overcrowding on the elevated pedestrian walkways of bridges.”

“Our office has been having ongoing conversations with DOT and DSNY [Department of Transportation and Department of Sanitation] regarding the safety issues that have resulted from increased vending on the Brooklyn Bridge,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle on Monday. “I support the planned DOT rules to prevent vending on the Brooklyn Bridge and I am eager to see the rulemaking process begin this summer.”

This vendor seems to have a permanent spot against one of the bridge’s towers. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

The proposal of a new rule is followed by a public hearing/comment period. After that, the rule is adopted with a date that it goes into effect, Restler’s office said.

The new rule can’t come soon enough for Doreen Gallo, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy. Not only has she been pushing to get rid of the vendors on the bridge, but also the handful of vendors permanently ensconced in the “no standing zone” at the pedestrian entrance to the bridge. In order to keep their lucrative but illegal parking spaces, these vendors sometimes sleep in their cars and trucks in front of the bridge’s narrow stairway entrance. Exhaust from the diesel trucks fills the air under the bridge overpass. 

Doreen Gallo, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Last year, in an effort to circumvent the law, the vendors actually removed the no standing sign at the foot of the bridge entrance. Gallo had the sign replaced, but she is frustrated that NYPD is still not enforcing the law. 

“We should hold NYPD accountable for not enforcing the vendors parking day and night in the zone,” she told the Eagle.

A handful of vendors are permanently ensconced in the “no standing zone” at the pedestrian entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge on the Brooklyn side. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

It’s their livelihood, vendors say

According to The Street Vendor Project, operating under the auspices of the Urban Justice Center, there are as many as 20,000 street vendors in New York City. The organization claims that the vendors are victims of New York’s “aggressive” quality-of-life crackdown. 

“Vendors have been selling on the Brooklyn Bridge for years and years, and provide a vital service to tourists. This is their livelihood,” Matthew Shapiro, legal director of the Street Vendor Project, told the Eagle. “A lot of people depend on this location to make a living and support their families.”

Shapiro said he understood that “a lot of people use the bridge, but since the city widened the path [when the bicycle lane was moved to the vehicle level] there’s a lot more space there now.” The vendors are mostly immigrants and military veterans, he said. “It seems unfair to say, ‘Sorry, now you don’t have a job.’”

A steady stream of vendor displays take up roughly one third of the pedestrian walkway. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

Rather than kicking vendors off the bridge, there should be more of a focus on educating them on the rules that apply to vending on city sidewalks —- such as tables being limited to 8 feet in length and allowed to run only along one side of the walkway — Shapiro believes. “These kinds of decisions are often made without regard to vendors’ livelihoods,” he said. “Let’s see if we can work together to resolve these issues.”

According to City Limits, the Department of Consumer and Worker Protection and NYPD together doled out 5,197 tickets to vendors in 2022, 2.8 times more than in 2019.

The Brooklyn Bridge walkway is sometimes so crowded that pedestrians are brought to a standstill, as happened this past weekend. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
This vendor sells locks to tourists, who write something on them and then lock them onto parts of the bridge — which is also against the law. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle
There are several of these professional video recording setups, with rotating turntables and speakers blasting the song “New York” along the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

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