Squish! NYC sidewalks to get jam packed if a new bill is passed, business group says

graphic of NYC street in the daytime with a street vendor parked by curb
Graphic provided by the NYC BID Association

New York sidewalks already feel squished; one business group says that sardine-like feeling may get even worse soon.

The NYC BID Association, which represents all 76 business improvement districts (BIDs) in the city, is taking umbrage with a bill floating around the City Council that, if passed, would allow street vendors to set up shop on sidewalks further away from the curb. 

According to the bill, known as Intro. 0024, the city would permit vendors to place their pushcarts two feet from the curb. It also states that if there is an obstruction on the sidewalk, vendors can “place their carts as close as possible to the obstruction.” It is not clear right now what an obstruction is, but it could allude to items such as trees or planters on NYC sidewalks.

Current law only allows carts to abut the curb. But the proposed change could put the carts before safety and space, according to Robert J. Benfatto, co-chair of the NYC BID Association.

“They want to allow the carts in front of the obstruction as long as they’re within what’s called the 12-foot clear path,” Benfatto explained. “The 12 feet includes the carts and the setup, and in essence, puts the carts in the middle of the sidewalk.” 

This could possibly give New Yorkers only five feet of sidewalk room, or even force them into the street, Benfatto explained, adding that vendors are only able to set up shop on about 20% of the sidewalks in New York. 

“It will be crowded. And also if you have limited mobility, are blind or have poor eyesight, it’s tough because you won’t have a straight line anymore,” he said. 

street vendor cart parked on NYC sidewalks in daytime
Graphic shows a pushcart on a NYC sidewalk, detailing the amount of clear space for walking if the bill becomes law. Graphic provided by the NYC BID Association. 

Pedestrian traffic flow ranges throughout NYC, and some neighborhoods, including downtown areas, are bustling. 

In fact, according to research from MRI Real Estate Software, which tracks pedestrian traffic, NYC sidewalks have recently become more crowded. According to the data, pedestrian traffic across NYC downtowns rebounded in February from January by an increase of 2.3%. 

Cederick Johnson, senior director at MRI, works with many BIDs in Manhattan that want to attract more pedestrian traffic. 

“That is good for area retailers and it can support an atmosphere of vibrancy,” Johnson said. “But there’s a fine balance between encouraging pedestrian traffic through desirable vendors and creating congestion, which discourages pedestrian traffic. We also have to consider whether the vendors are pop-up or permanent, and whether they’re using social channels to attract customers.”

But for now, Benfatto and other BID representatives are concerned about pedestrians and whether Intro. 0024 will pass.

The bill’s lead sponsor is Manhattan City Council Member Carmen De La Rosa. It is currently under consideration before the Consumer and Worker Protection Committee, which De La Rosa chairs, and cites concerns around vendors’ safety.

“Currently, the law requires pushcarts to abut the curb, endangering the safety of vendors who must exit their carts onto the street, and potentially, into oncoming traffic,” the bill’s summary reads.