Winter 2004, p.11

Reclaiming the Streets
City Council’s Weak Vendor Box Law is Failing NYC Pedestrians Only 20 boxes removed and half of owners continue violating law

Dozens of illegal vendor boxes take away valuable sidewalk space around this subway stop on the Upper West Side.
Dozens of illegal vendor boxes take away valuable sidewalk space around this subway stop on the Upper West Side.

New York City pedestrians are getting squeezed out of already scarce sidewalk space. Contributing to the problem is the continued proliferation of newspaper vendor boxes illegally clustered around subway entrances and crosswalks. The problem is especially acute in some of the most crowded parts of the city, especially the Upper East Side, Upper West Side and Downtown Brooklyn.

City Council’s Local Law 23 was meant to solve the problem by giving the New York City Department of Transportation the authority to regulate the placement and maintenance of vendor boxes on New York City sidewalks. However, at a November 2003 City Council oversight hearing, the City DOT released statistics showing that 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.

At the hearing, T.A. urged the City Council to revise the law to ease the ponderousness of the current reporting and enforcement clauses so that the City DOT can immediately remove illegal vendor boxes. Currently, if the agency finds a newspaper vendor box in noncompliance with the law, it must jump through a series of bureaucratic hoops that can take a year or more to complete. First the agency must notify the vendor box owner to correct the problem. Then if the condition is not corrected, the agency can serve a Notice of Violation on the owner. Notices of Violation then go to the Environmental Control Board, an administrative tribunal that holds hearings and adjudicates various “quality of life” infractions of the city’s laws and rules. If the Environmental Control Board issues an order, the City DOT can remove the box.

The City DOT has recently hired five more news box inspectors, which is a good step towards getting this law back on track. Now the City Council needs to revise the law to allow the agency to do its job, and to get illegal vendor boxes off city streets.

Pedestrian Manifesto: Walkers Come First

City sidewalks are public space, not display areas for private property. 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 put pedestrian needs before other sidewalk uses.

Survey Finds Bus Stops a Mess after Storms

Four days after a three-and-a-half inch snowfall in New York City, only 12 of 50 bus stops visited by Joe Rappaport, an amNewYork reporter and long-time transit advocate, were completely clear of slippery ice and snow. Sidewalks were cleared at 26 of the 50 bus stops. The street itself, which is also a part of the stop because buses sometimes cannot pull up to the curb, was clear at only 17 of the surveyed stops. But as is often the case in New York City, keeping the stops clear is a complicated matter. Riders who want the street or sidewalk at their stops cleared should call 311.

Read the latest news on this subject.