Thursday, October 8, 2015

On East 86th Street, Sanitation Improvements and Street Vendor Challenges

86th Street, Before(L), After (R) (A.Fine)
First the good news: East 86th Street is getting cleaner! As we all know, East 86th Street has been a mess the past few years. "Ready, Willing, and Able", the charity that employs homeless to clean while they train to re-enter society, left in 2011 and trash cans have been overflowing into the streets ever since. Until now! I highlighted the problem on March 16th with a post titled "Garbage Problems On East 86th Recall Bad Old Days." That post seemed to have prompted a copycat report on WCBS-TV news the next day: "Residents, Business Owners, Want City To Curb 86th Street Trash Problem." While there was no credit attributed to A Fine Blog, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and the point was to get the word out and draw attention to the problem. This had an immediate, but far from long lasting impact. Tickets were written the next few days, and the Dep't of Sanitation quickly cleaned up the mess, but the problem came right back a couple of days later. So, more perseverance was required. I took my complaints to our receptive councilman, Ben Kallos. I kind of feel sorry for him, as I'll admit, I'm persistent, and to this day maintain a healthy back and forth with his office. I complained to Sanitation, the Health Department, Consumer Affairs, 311, the Mayor, the Borough President. And, I have encouraged friends, family, and neighbors to do the same. Finally, we are seeing progress! A week back I noticed that the garbage cans were no longer overflowing, rather, there were full green garbage bags alongside the cans that were suddenly being emptied regularly. As it turns out, Sanitation has partnered with local merchants and the merchants are now helping prevent the mess. The difference is significant. Because the cans are now being emptied more often you can tell that there is a lot less litter on the streets and there is no longer the unsightly "snow cone" of garbage on every corner. Additionally, more and bigger garbage cans are coming to the area.
Big Belly, 86th + Lex
This morning I was heartened to see two brand new "Big Belly" solar-compactor garbage vessels on the SE corner of 86th and Lex. It also comes on good information that lager garbage can trios (includes a regular refuse can, a can for paper, and another can for cans and bottles), should be deployed on or near Third Avenue in the mid-80's. Fingers crossed! Three times the garbage cans will hold three times the garbage! So, that is the progress. 86th Street is looking cleaner. We have a way to go, but I want to thank Councilman Kallos' office for being responsive and actually getting results. I would also like to thank everyday citizens who have joined in the cause to be the squeaky wheel that gets the grease!

86th + Third Avenue, Early Morning
We still have plenty of challenges on East 86th Street. The vast proliferation of Street Vendors is at or near the top of the list. The problem is obvious. They take up an incredible amount of sidewalk space in perhaps the most congested residential areas in NYC. They take valuable parking spaces (all day long) from customers who might otherwise park and shop at rent paying, tax-paying stores in the neighborhood. They have no concern about litter or regulations, and there is no uniformity to their stands. In short, they are a blight. In getting started on this issue, I've read up on the rules and regulations, and I attended my first Community Board (CB8) meeting on the problem. I was stunned at my findings. Among them:

- The City Council is considering increasing the number of vendor permits. Shortly after the meeting, CB8 has come out opposed to these increases.

- The City allows vending in front of residential buildings that are zoned residential with a commercial overlay. In other words, buildings zoned for apartments and stores. Yet, in my book, the commercial overlay relates only to the building use, not the use of the sidewalk!

- Aside from in front of the Metropolitan Museum, no street vendors are allowed on Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue. Hmmm, convenient.

- Apparently, there is a very influential street vendor lobby that both the City Council and CB8 appear to be intimidated by. Who knew?

- There is a widespread myth that street vending is some magical, entrepreneurial path to larger business success. The truth is, that might have been the case on Orchard Street in 1915, but today entrepreneurs can utilize street fairs, flea markets, and that thing known as the internet if they want to start a business.

- The three agencies that are responsible for enforcement (Health, Consumer Affairs, Sanitation) are all understaffed with inspectors combined numbering in the dozens, total.


86th bet Third and Lex
Oddly, it seems that our quality of life and our common space are being held hostage by a very small group- the street vendors. There are only a couple thousand permits for all of NYC, yet they practically own the streets. Personally, I would be perfectly happy if there were none of them. The sidewalks would be clear, parking more readily available for businesses that pay rent and taxes, and the streets would be cleaner, more pleasant and more passable. If we are forced to live with vendors I have a couple of ideas. First, the physical stands should be standardized. Second, there must be enforcement. Did you know that street vendors cannot be within 10' of the edge of a crosswalk, within 15' of a fire hydrant, or within 20' of the edge of a door? There is very little enforcement and hence virtually no compliance. Since the agencies responsible have no man power, perhaps it is time to empower traffic agents with the authority to write tickets to non-compliant vendors. There sure is no shortage of them.

Let this be said. I am not against people trying to make an honest living. I don't even have that big of a problem with food trucks so long as their numbers are limited and they are diligent about keeping the area near the truck clean. Who doesn't like a decent truck Taco here and there? What I do have a big problem with is complete disarray on our sidewalks. The problems are numerous, pervasive, and need to be addressed. The sidewalks belong to all New Yorkers. We should not be forced to live with unsightly filth, and unnecessary congestion in densely populated residential areas. 86th Street is finally making progress, let's make this a trend!

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