Good morning. My name is Kit Hodge, and I am the Campaigns Director for Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocates for walking, bicycling and sensible transportation. Thank you for the opportunity to speak today.
I am here today to talk about using vendor regulations to improve walking conditions, retail activity and overall safety and quality of life in New York City.
As we all know, the proliferation of street vendors on sidewalks in crowded areas of our city is a problem. Despite a number of efforts, we as a city have yet to find the right balance of space allocation on our streets and sidewalks. Though Introduction 621 appears to be a well intentioned attempt to improve the situation, Transportation Alternatives cannot support the bill in its current form.
Vendors are attracted to foot traffic because pedestrians in New York City are walking dollars. Ground floor retail businesses, from bodegas to Starbucks, gravitate toward areas with high levels of foot traffic because they know that they will make the most money there from the flow of walk in traffic. Not surprisingly, vendors operate on the same principle. The presence of local retail stores and vendors are usually a sign of a healthy, thriving street. New York City is a walking city, and pedestrians are the lifeblood of our prosperous shopping districts and the eyes on the street that help keep our neighborhoods safe. Vendors, many of whom are recent immigrants, often play vital roles in the success of our streets, and should be treated with dignity and respect.
Unfortunately, our current solution of making pedestrians and vendors compete for space on our inadequate sidewalks has only led to conflict, and retail business drain. On major streets all over the city, overcrowded sidewalks reduce walking to a miserable stop-and-go shuffle. Along with personal discomfort, pedestrian congestion causes travel delays and forces people into the street, leading to more conflicts with cars, injury and even death. Congested sidewalks also punish tax-paying businesses; pedestrians are less likely to stop into a store if they have to push through a crowd of people to get there. Obviously, this problem warrants serious attention, especially when you consider that upwards of fifteen to twenty thousand pedestrians per hour travel along on some midtown streets, and that number is only expected to increase.
While Introduction 621’s purported goal of easing sidewalk congestion is a good one, the bill does nothing to address the real problem. Instead of making pedestrians compete with vendors, we should increase the space for this good traffic by decreasing space for the traffic that clogs up our streets. Drivers, many of whom are cutting through the area, are allocated far more street space, on average three to six times more, than pedestrians. Almost all of these drivers are using the street to leave the area, often to leave the city, evading routes that require them to pay their fair share for their passage.
Rather than passing Introduction 621, the Council should draft and pass an alternative bill enforces a “pedestrian first” street management policy that will simultaneously improve pedestrian conditions, vendor opportunity, retail activity and quality of life on our thriving streets.
In practice, such a policy would entail but not be limited to:
• Minimum sidewalk widths for given volumes of pedestrians based on pedestrian “level of service” methodology.
• Pedestrian-only hours on select commercial streets; vehicle access would be permitted in the morning or overnight.
• A rational parking policy that would encourage high parking turnover, less through traffic. A sensible parking policy would allow the city to reclaim street space for temporary or permanent use by vendors. For example, instituting angled parking (back-in only) would preserve current volumes of parking spaces while also freeing up space for vending on the street; designated vendor spaces would be protected by bollards.