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Vendors and Local Communities

While the current economic turmoil has most eyes fixed on the budget, there is a long-standing issue in Queens over what to do about vendors. Vendors have a long history in New York City, and are undoubtedly an important part of the cultural fabric. Many of us have fond memories of eating hot dogs from a push cart in lower Manhattan or getting ice cream in Central Park. However in Queens, where vending is a relatively new phenomenon, there have been recent problems between vendors and the local communities.
Specifically, while it is natural that most vendors want to set up business in areas with high traffic volume, locating in these areas creates multiple problems for pedestrians and local businesses. Oftentimes the size of the carts either forces pedestrian traffic to narrow on the sidewalk, which in turn leads hurrying pedestrians to spill out into the street.
This creates a definite safety hazard as well as affecting motor vehicle traffic. Another safety risk is the use of propane tanks - particularly those tanks that are left on the corner of a cart at the edge of a street corner. This is a potentially huge risk, as any errant driver could ram into it at any moment.
There are also sanitation issues involved, primarily with food vendors. Given the high density of both foot traffic and commercial businesses, the added trash creates a greater likelihood of infestation. This problem is particularly prevalent along Roosevelt Avenue. While the problem is not solely because of vendors, the added refuse does exacerbate an already difficult situation.
I’m aware of the difficulties vendors face in New York. Their business is governed by a complex framework of laws and legal decisions across federal, state and local levels. A 2006 Justice Center study discovered that only 26% of vendors believed that they had an adequate understanding of the city vending laws. This is somewhat understandable considering that the same report also stated that there are over 20 different rules that dictate where vendors can conduct business, which differ depending on the wares being sold, the days of the week and the times of the day.
In the City Council we are addressing the issue with several new pieces of proposed legislation. The bills include clarifying the spaces in which vendors can and cannot vend (such as over ventilation grills, cellar doors, etc), more clearly defining obstruction for the purposes of general and food vending on crowded streets.
Additionally, they would prohibit general vendors from leaving their stands or goods unattended for more than 30 minutes at a time, regardless of whether they are actively vending. Also there is proposed legislation that will allow for easier enforcement of already existing laws.
Helen Sears is the Councilmember for the 25th District, representing Elmhurst, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Corona, LeFrak City and Rego Park.

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