July/August 1998, p.10

Hizzoner's Wienie Roast

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In late May, Mayor Guiliani announced a ban of food carts from 144 blocks in Manhattan. At first glance, the ban appears to be yet another short-lived crackdown. There goes Rudy picking on yet another disenfranchised, immigrant-dominated industry. While the policy's goal of easing sidewalk congestion is a good one, it does nothing to address the real problem. Cars are allocated far more street space, on average three to six times more, than pedestrians.

On major streets all over the city, overcrowded sidewalks reduce walking to a miserable stop-and-go shuffle. Along with personal discomfort, pedestrian congestion causes travel delays and forces people into the street, leading to more conflicts with cars. Obviously, the problem warrants serious attention, but removing a couple hot dog carts won't do much when you consider upwards of 10,000 pedestrians per hour travel along on some midtown streets.

Here are two things the Mayor should consider to improve pedestrian flow. One, change the regulations that control street function. For example designate certain parking spaces for food vendors like they do in Washington, DC. Or better yet institute "ped only" hours on certain commercial streets while still permitting vehicle access in the morning or overnight.

Two, physically change the street by widening the sidewalk. For example, in Greenwich Village, the Village Alliance BID, concerned about crowded sidewalks and hoping to spruce up the 8th St shopping district, plans to widen the sidewalk by four feet on both sides of the street.