Brooklyn Boro

Residents push to ban Brooklyn Bridge vendors before hearing

The meeting will take place Nov. 15

November 3, 2023 Mary Frost
Pedestrians walk by vendors on Brooklyn Bridge
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BROOKLYN BRIDGE — Dangerous overcrowding, security worries, trash and the obstruction of glorious views are just some of the reasons local residents are supporting a proposed city rule that would ban vendors from the tourist-packed Brooklyn Bridge.

Since bicycles were rerouted to the bridge’s vehicular level, dozens of vendor carts, tables and elaborate video set-ups have taken over a third (and some claim more) of the pedestrian walkway. The bridge’s promenade is sometimes so crowded that pedestrians are brought to a standstill, especially in the claustrophobic, narrower sections.

The Department of Transportation’s hearing is taking place Nov. 15 online and by phone, and dozens of people have already left their comments on the NYC Rules website.

“The Brooklyn Bridge has become overrun with vendors,” Dorothy Leon wrote in part. “If there ever were an emergency situation requiring people to get off the bridge quickly, these tables would be a hindrance to the flow of people. I have stopped walking on the bridge because of this worry.” 

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Leon added that the numerous vendors make it hard for visitors “to experience the splendor of the bridge as well as the magnificent views of New York City, the East River, and the vast harbor.” 

“Rather than a walk in the open air with the view of the majestic bridge, it feels like you are at a carnival somewhere, and an overcrowded and unsafe one at that,” Joseph E. Neuhaus wrote.

“I got stuck at multiple points on the walkway due to crowding and choke points at various vendors,” commented someone calling themselves PS. “If there were to be any sort of danger that required the people to evacuate the bridge it would [be] impossible for anybody to leave in time and likely a stampede condition would also be created.”

One long-time food vendor was even caught on video defecating between cars at the stairway entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge on Cadman Plaza East.

Numerous 360 degree video booths with swinging cameras take up space on the Brooklyn Bridge walkway. Photo: Mary Frost, Brooklyn Eagle

Hit in the head by a motorized camera

Especially unbearable to some are the numerous, identical 360 degree video booths — where a customer stands on revolving platform with a swinging video camera, while a loud snippet of the song “Empire State of Mind” repeats endlessly.

The experience is “insufferable,” PS said, with the “360 photo vendors blasting [the] same 8-second sample of a music track the majority of the length of the bridge.”

“The limited space on the Brooklyn Bridge should be for people walking/visiting and not 360 videos,” wrote Austin (who did not give a last name).

“… Junky Chinese $1 magnets, trash under tables, and blaring revolving picture stands,” Babette Krolik wrote.

“Please enforce these rules immediately,” Adam Orden wrote. “I was recently struck in the head by the swinging arm of a motorized camera that was operating from a platform.”

The Brooklyn Bridge walkway is sometimes so crowded that pedestrians are brought to standstill, as happened this past weekend. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

‘Potential disaster,’ ‘terrorist target’

Gary Dennis emphasized the possibility of a preventable disaster taking place on the bridge.

“All it will take is the perception of someone with a gun to cause a stampede off the bridge,” he wrote. “All those tables with all those keychains, refrigerator magnets, and other junk will be very much in the way.”

Mark Crawford commented, “Unfortunately, I no longer feel that [it] is safe to walk the bridge anymore due the constant high level of congestion. It could now easily become a terrorist target.”

Doreen Gallo, president of the Cadman Park Conservancy, has been working for more than a year to get rid of the vendors on the walkway, and also those permanently ensconced in the “no standing zone” at the pedestrian entrance to the bridge next to the park. 

Not only do they take away from the monumental beauty of the bridge, but the vendors park and sometimes double park directly in front of the narrow stairway, presenting serious security issues, she told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“It is unacceptable that it’s taken this long, especially post 9/11,” Gallo said Friday. 

Dozens of street vendors, at times taking up roughly a third of the pedestrian walkway on the Brooklyn Bridge, add to the crush during pedestrian “rush hours.” Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

A bit of support for the vendors

As of Friday, few commenters stood up for the vendors. One who did was Matthew Sarker, who wrote, “Some of these vendors could be migrants just trying to make it. Rather than regulating symptoms, work WITH them to find viable spots … A city that supports entrepreneurship deters crime and makes our streets safer.”

Ken Bookbinder feels that the vendors attract tourists to the Brooklyn Bridge, which he sees as a good thing. 

“People come from all over the world to shop on the Brooklyn Bridge,” he wrote. “Partially because it is the Brooklyn Bridge and partly because of the merchandise there. If the city feels it is unruly, then regulate it.” 

In July, Matthew Shapiro, legal director of the Street Vendor Project, told the Eagle that the vendors provided “a vital service” to tourists, adding, “A lot of people depend on this location to make a living and support their families.”

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

Restler: ‘Ongoing conversations’

The amendments to its traffic rules that DOT is proposing actually apply to all bridges in New York City, according to the Rules statement. But the enormously-popular Brooklyn Bridge is its main target.

“Our office has been having ongoing conversations with DOT and DSNY [NYC Department of Sanitation] regarding the safety issues that have resulted from dense vending on the narrow Brooklyn Bridge walkway,” Councilmember Lincoln Restler told the Brooklyn Eagle on Friday. “I am eager to hear from the community and share my support for the planned DOT rules at the upcoming hearing.”

The public hearing will be held online and by telephone on Nov. 15 at 10 a.m. In addition, people can submit comments online here.

Comments close by Nov. 15.

This vendor is breaking the sidewalk vending rule of a maximum 8-foot length for their display. Photo: Mary Frost/Brooklyn Eagle

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