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Street Vendors Turn UES Streets into 'Downtown Cairo,' Critic Says

 Some Upper East Side residents are rankled by street vendors, with one critic even saying that they made the streets as un-walkable as "downtown Cairo."
UES Street Vendor Controversy
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UPPER EAST SIDE — Street vendors are "plaguing" the Upper East Side and making parts of Manhattan's most exclusive streets resemble "downtown Cairo," residents complained during a recent community meeting.

The fed-up neighbors took aim at the mess and stench on tony streets, including Fifth Avenue, at Monday night's Community Board 8 vendor task force meeting.

"There's areas that we avoid walking along, that we try to avoid completely. It's so very sad. Fifth Avenue, around 57th Street, who wants to walk there? It's like you walk in downtown Cairo," Upper East Side resident David Idzchak said.

The heated meeting followed a recent proposal that street vendors be forced to use matching furniture and a standardized font on their signs. CB8's vendor committee has also voted to push for electronic ticketing and barcode identification systems for the street stands.

Committee chairwoman Michele Birnbaum has said vendors are "proliferating in our streets."

Idzchak said the proposed measures are necessary because vendors pose serious quality-of-life concerns. He said he recently spotted a stand with "flaming smoke" and a "horrible smell" at East 72nd Street and Fifth Avenue that forced him to walk to the other side of the street.

"This is unbelievable. This makes no sense. If I want to do barbecue on my terrace I can't, but on the street I can," he said.

Avi Weiss, who lives on the Upper West Side, echoed Idzchak's concerns. He said he was compelled to come to the meeting from across town because he, too, believes vendors are ruining the neighborhood.

"The scourge that has been plaguing you guys on the Upper East Side has been managing to make its way to our little oasis," he said.

Weiss added that vendors "think this is an inalienable right to drop right in the middle of the city and set up shop."

The logistics of the proposed, tech-savvy ticketing system also were discussed, but some wondered how electronic ticketing would work — and whether it might be premature to suggest the plan without knowing how to carry it out.

Birnbaum, who first floated the e-ticket idea in April, said it wasn't the committee's responsibility to iron out the technical logistics, just to propose ways to improve the quality of life in the neighborhood.

"We don't know exactly how they make an electronic ticket. They know how they make an electronic ticket," she said. "They have to figure out how they correctly do it."

Officials with The Street Vendor Project, which in the past has typically opposed additional regulations, said it did not have a position on the committee's proposals.