Council passes bill banning vending in Flushing
by Benjamin Fang
Oct 03, 2018 | 278 views | 0 0 comments | 12 12 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The City Council passed legislation last Wednesday to prohibit street vending and sidewalk obstructions in parts of downtown Flushing.

Passed with 40 affirmative votes, the bill heads to the mayor’s office for his signature.

“We recognize street congestion is an issue in Flushing and will do our part to help resolve it,” City Hall spokesperson Jane Meyer said in a statement, “including exploring all enforcement options for compliance.”

Councilman Peter Koo, who sponsored the legislation, celebrated the passage of the bill with residents of the Sanford Towers Condominium later that night. He said the legislation will finally begin to address the issue of sidewalk vendors impeding on public spaces in the busy area.

“We are one of the busiest transportation hubs in New York City, and we bear a unique burden that distinguishes our problems from other communities,” Koo said, noting that thousands of people compete for space to board 21 bus lines, the 7 train, commuter vans, charter buses and the Long Island Rail Road. “All of this space has recently become overwhelmed by sidewalk obstructions.”

Last year, the city completed a $7.6 million project to widen the sidewalks on Main Street between 38th and 41st avenues. But the Flushing councilman said the larger sidewalks gave rise to a “massive increase” in street vending, both legal and illegal.

“You can see the difference. Once you go near the Long Island Rail Road, forget it, there are so many obstacles to bypass,” he said. “It’s become a snowball effect, where one bad actor allows another to flourish.”

His recently passed legislation will “return” the sidewalks back to pedestrians, Koo said. While he doesn’t object to vendors conducting their business, the councilman said he wants to start with a clean slate.

“We cannot pick and choose who gets to stay and who doesn’t,” he said.

If signed, the law will go into effect in six months. From noon to midnight, seven days a week, food vending would be prohibited in the following boundaries:

• Main Street from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue

• 38th Avenue from Prince Street to 138th Street

• Prince Street from 38th Avenue to 39th Avenue

• 39th Avenue from College Point Boulevard to Union Street

• Lippman Plaza from 39th Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue

• Roosevelt Avenue from College Point Boulevard to Union Street

• 41st Avenue from College Point Boulevard to Union Street

• Kissena Boulevard from 41st Avenue to Barclay Avenue

• Sanford Avenue from Frame Place to Main Street

General vending, meanwhile, would be prohibited an area bounded by Northern Boulevard in the north, Union Street to the east, Sanford Avenue to the south and College Point Boulevard in the west.

Notably, the legislation does not include stoop line stands and vegetable vendors from the ban.

“I took it out because City Hall wants our office to give them two months’ time so they can enforce the laws and make improvements,” Koo said.

But if there is no improvement, Koo said he will introduce another bill in the City Council to cap the licenses issued for supermarket and vegetable stands in the area.

The councilman has another piece of legislation, still in committee, which would ban the use of under-fired charbroilers at mobile food vending units.

Koo said in the future, he’s open to discussing the creation of a designated vending zone, such as a night market, where vendors can gather.

“But we first need to address the problem of congestion that exists today,” he said.

Dian Yu, executive director of the Flushing Business Improvement District (BID), said the bill is “great news” because it will mean cleaner streets and less garbage on the sidewalks.

He’s also concerned about pedestrian safety, which can be a problem with so many obstructions.

“We often see, during high-traffic times, that people avoid the sidewalk to walk on the road,” Yu said. “That’s something we don’t want to see.”

Not everyone is on board with the vending ban in downtown Flushing. Mohamed Attia, co-director of the Street Vendor Project, said the group opposed the legislation. They organized the vendors who will be affected and testified against the bill at a hearing in June.

They reached out to Koo and other council members to explain how the legislation would hurt vendors. Attia said vendors were disappointed in Koo’s position on the bill.

“Vendors would lose their spots where they work,” he said. “It is very important for a lot of vendors who’ve been there to keep their spots.

“It’s not as easy as taking their business somewhere else, it’s hard to find another legal spot,” Attia added. “It takes years for these street vendors to build up these businesses.”

The vendor organizer said when they conducted walking tours of downtown Flushing, the streets were wide enough to have “room for everybody.” He noted that vendors usually work on the streets off Main Street, away from the congestion.

Attia said he hopes the mayor will veto the bill, and that council members will change their mind. However, he acknowledged that that hope is “too late now.”

The Street Vendor Project is focused on passing another bill that would lift the cap on vendor permits. That effort has been stymied so far, with negotiations between the City Council and City Hall going back to last year.

“It’s all about the next legislation,” Attia said. “We hope all the council members support this new bill that is before the council now.”
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