Hearing on Int. 363 – A local law to amend the administrative code of the City of New York in relation to newsracks

Good afternoon. My name is Kit Hodge. I am the Campaign Coordinator for Transportation Alternatives, New York City’s advocates for pedestrians and cyclists. With 6,000 members, Transportation Alternatives is the largest local pedestrian advocacy organization in the United States.

As such, Transportation Alternatives receives numerous complaints about vendor boxes clogging New York City streets, especially in such over-saturated areas as the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Downtown Brooklyn. These newspaper vendor boxes clutter sidewalks, inhibit crosswalk access and block ADA (Americans with Disability) ramps. Safe and free-flowing sidewalks are critical to New York’s economic health and quality of life. Many sidewalks are already too narrow to accommodate the walking majority that travels them each day, and the proliferation of vendor boxes on New York City streets and corners has only added to and compounded these problems.

Transportation Alternatives does not support the adoption of Int. 363, which would amend the administrative code to make it more difficult to regulate the placement and maintenance of vendor boxes on the sidewalks of New York City. Currently, Local Law 23 does not adequately empower the Department of Transportation to regulate vendor boxes where pedestrian safety and mobility are concerned, and Int. 363 would only make the agency’s job more difficult. The Department of Transportation has made commendable efforts to enforce Local Law 23 but has been hindered by the cumbersome reporting and enforcement clauses of the law in its present incarnation. Currently, if the DOT finds that a newspaper vendor box is not in compliance with Local Law 23, it must first notify the vendor box owner to correct the problem. Then, if the condition is not corrected, the DOT can serve a Notice of Violation on the owner. Notices of Violation then go to the Environmental Control Board (ECB), an administrative tribunal that holds hearings and adjudicates various "quality of life" infractions of the City's laws and rules.

This is an overly slow and unwieldy process that administratively and bureaucratically burdens the DOT. Int. 363’s addition of additional bureaucratic obstacles, including the requirement of photographic evidence from two separate inspections and additional notification requirements, will only make the DOT’s job more difficult. For pedestrians, it means that offending vendor boxes might not be off New York City streets for months or even years. At the November 2003 City Council oversight hearing on Local Law 23, the City DOT released statistics showing that, despite the agency’s great efforts, the law is not working. Despite having issued more than 12,000 warning notices and 2,073 summonses, the City DOT has only been able to remove 20 vendor boxes from city streets in the last year. To put this in perspective, T.A. counted 23 vendor boxes at just one corner on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. The agency also revealed that only half of vendor box owners complied with requirement to register and submit proof of insurance for their boxes.

This is why many New Yorkers continue to express frustration with the number and concentration of newspaper vendor boxes on New York City streets, and why the law does not seem to have noticeably reduced these vendor boxes. Rather than weakening Local Law 23 with Int. 363, Local Law 23 needs to be amended so that the Department of Transportation can serve a Notice of Violation to an owner immediately, and remove offending newspaper vendor boxes at its discretion.

Transportation Alternatives urges the City Council’s continued steady support for Local Law 23 of 2002. The assertion by publishing and news organizations that the regulation of the use of public sidewalks curtails free speech is simply not true. The law gives the public the power to regulate what is clearly in the public domain, public sidewalk access and freedom of movement. The City must make the most efficient and equitable use of the scarce sidewalk space that it has, and work to increase space for the walking majority.

However, Transportation Alternatives also strongly urges the City Council to amend the law to streamline the reporting and enforcement process in order to make enforcement of the law more immediate and effective. This will make the Department of Transportation’s job much easier, will help to reduce the proliferation of newspaper vendor boxes on New York City streets, and will rationalize already scarce space for New York City’s walking majority.

Thank you.

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Testimony of Transportation Alternatives New York City Council, Transportation Committee