By Carla Zanoni
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Police are taking a new crack at an old problem — street vendors on the eastern stretch of West 181st Street.
Captain Jose Navarro, of the 34th Precinct, said his officers plan to soon start ticketing street vendors who break the law by selling their wares without permits or crowd large swaths of sidewalk space.
"We want to respect their right to make a living, but they make it unsightly," he said of the estimated 30 to 50 street vendors who cram the sidewalks between Broadway and Audubon Avenue each day.
"There is no reason we can't have this beautiful neighborhood, like downtown."
Angelina Ramirez, who became director of the Washington Heights Business Improvement District last August, said her organization was making sure vendors knew the rules they must follow and said they understood there would be consequences if they did not abide by such practices.
"If they don't comply after being warned, the police will proceed with ticketing," she said.
But she cautioned that the move is not intended to drive out the area vendors. She emphasized the community is commited to finding other options for the vendors to continue earning a living, such as making a designated area for vending, or helping vendors move into storefront retail space.
"This is the way they feed their family," Ramirez said. "This initiative is not anti-vendor, anti-immigrant or anti-poor."
Matthew Shapiro, a staff attorney at the advocacy group Street Vendor Project, said he lauded attempts to better educate vendors, but said the cumbersome nature of the laws could make that a challenge.
"People don’t even know what the rules are most of the time," he said, calling the city's current regulations "complicated and convoluted."
He added the city should proactively engage vendors and enforcement so they better understand the laws.
Ramirez said that police have promised to immediately clear areas such as crosswalks and bus stops to improve traffic flow and safety on the bustling street.
"To have merchants there is not the best way to go, as it causes more chaos and congestion," she said.
Ramirez said she would be meeting with Community Board 12 officials next week about street vending issues throughout all of Washington Heights and Inwood, and hoped to spearhead a task force made of CB12, elected officials, the NYPD, vendors, community leaders and residents, who would work together to address the problem.
"Our main goal is for the neighborhood to be clean, safe and vibrant," she said. "In order to do that, we have to do it collectively, together."