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NYC floats plan to ban souvenir, food vendors from Brooklyn Bridge in bid to ease pedestrian traffic

If someone tries to sell you the Brooklyn Bridge, they shouldn’t do so from its walkway, the city Transportation Department says.

Street vendors would not be allowed to set up shop on the bike lane or walking path of any city bridge, according to a draft of a proposed DOT rule published last week in the City Record.

The rule change would bar any “peddler, vendor, hawker, or huckster” from the pedestrian or bike lane of any bridge. It’s aimed squarely at the Brooklyn Bridge, where vendors gather near the Manhattan approach to sell food, art and tourist-oriented tchotchkes.

“The Brooklyn Bridge has been called America’s Eiffel Tower, and it’s important that all New Yorkers and the millions of people who visit our city each year can enjoy it without impediments to safety and pedestrian mobility,” Transportation Commissioner Ydanis Rodriquez said in a statement to the Daily News.

“These proposed rules would make it safer and easier for pedestrians to enjoy the Brooklyn Bridge and take in the world-renowned view of New York Harbor,” he added.

Transportation officials wrote in the City Record that the change would “enhance pedestrian safety, ease overcrowding and promote the safety and security of the bridges.”

Department data shows an average 34,000 pedestrians walked the bridge’s central wooden deck on weekend days last fall — up from an average of 17,000 in the fall of 2021, when the walkway was closed to bicycle traffic.

“These high pedestrian counts make vending along the walkway an unsafe condition, particularly in areas where the width of the elevated pedestrian walkway narrows to 5 feet,” the rule proposal reads.

The average width of the pedestrian walkway is 16 feet, with narrower sections throughout.

When bikes were moved off the bridge’s pedestrian pathway, more space opened up for vendors, said Mohamed Attia, managing director of the Urban Justice Center’s Street Vendor Project. “Now there is even more space for pedestrians and vendors to coexist,” he told The News.

That fact gives the city less cause to remove the vendors, Attia said.

Vendors more than a dozen tables stretched nearly to the center of the bridge from the Manhattan side on Tuesday.

“We were surprised that they allowed the stalls to be here, because it’s such a busy area,” said a tourist from New Zealand who gave her name as Elaine. “And New York City is quite security conscious, so to have this here was quite surprising.”

“It’s nice to be able to have these things if you feel the urge to purchase, absolutely,” she added.

Anthony Vas, who was selling paintings made on maps of the city sees the setup as good for visitors. “They can get souvenirs for a fair price, you know? Not overpriced souvenirs,” he said.

Vas, 33, said he’d been vending on New York City streets for 14 years, first in Times Square, then on Fifth Ave. Each time, he said, the city eventually pushed him out.

“Where are people supposed to work?” he asked. “What’s the purpose?”

Vas said police have recently been showing up multiple times a day to ensure all bridge vendors are licensed with Department of Consumer and Worker Protection. Most of the vendors have proper licenses, said Attia, the vendors’ advocate.

Attia called the DOT proposal to ban vendors from the bridge “disappointing.”

“Vendors make the bridge more welcoming to tourists,” he said. “They want to see activity happening on the bridge.”

“Banning vending shouldn’t be the answer to any question,” he added. “The city should really take advantage of street vendors as an industry and create pathways for them to operate legally.”

The DOT has scheduled a virtual public hearing on the proposed changes for Nov. 15 at 10 a.m.


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