Street Fairs Testimony

In October 2016, a public hearing was held to discuss proposed amendments by the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO) of the Mayor’s Office of Citywide Event Coordination and Management (CECM) to rules on street fairs and street closures. We testified that street fair regulations should be data-driven and rational, and that an excessive number of street closures creates an excessive burden on the Times Square area. You can read that testimony here.

The City ultimately decided not to update the rules. At a December 2016 hearing to extend the existing moratorium on street fair applications, the Alliance laid out general principles for regulating street fairs. Read that testimony below or here.

Comments by The Times Square Alliance to The
Mayor’s Office of City Wide Event Coordination and Management
Street Activity Permit Office
December 2, 2016

Thank you for allowing the Times Square Alliance the opportunity to comment on the Street Activity Permit Office (SAPO)’s proposed extension of the moratorium on street fair applications to 2017. 

We would like to thank Michael Paul Carey and the de Blasio Administration for beginning a dialogue to address longstanding concerns about the impact of street fairs on neighborhoods, while balancing the benefits to local non-profits, street fair vendors and other groups. 

We feel strongly that there is great value in continuing to examine ways to make the distribution of street fairs more equitable, data-driven and sensitive to neighborhood concerns, even though the initial proposals put forth by the administration were deemed not to be practicable.

With respect to the current proposed rule changes, we support extending the existing moratorium.

As we have stated before, we continue to believe that Times Square has a unique set of facts that necessitate a neighborhood-specific solution:

Street fairs in Times Square create an excessive burden on an already overburdened neighborhood. Near-weekly street closures have caused extreme congestion, hurt local businesses and overwhelmed the area.  The part of the City which is the busiest and among the most traffic-congested on weekends has more street fairs than any other.

Times Square is already extremely dense and congested. The neighborhood represents just 0.1% of New York City’s total area, yet it has 21% of the city’s hotel rooms, 95% of the Broadway theaters, and a greater concentration of subway stations than any other neighborhood. An average of 480,000 pedestrians visit Times Square daily—this figure does not drastically fluctuate between weekdays and weekends. 
Unlike other business districts and much of Manhattan, Times Square is busier, not slower, on weekends. 54% of weekly Broadway attendance is crammed into the two days street fairs occur -- Saturday and Sunday. At the same time, multiple data sources indicate that weekend vehicular traffic in Times Square often exceeds weekday traffic, unlike other parts of Midtown.   
Despite the intensity of weekend activity, Times Square has a disproportionate number of street fairs. Community Board 5 has 30% of all Manhattan street fairs. Times Square is 11.8% of Community Board 5, but has 51% of CB5’s multi-block street fairs. Times Square represents one-tenth of one percent (.1%) of the city’s land area, yet has ten percent (10%) of all street fairs citywide.
Making visitors to the city needlessly exasperated threatens thousands of jobs and millions in net new spending. The very people inconvenienced by street closures who come to NYC to visit Times Square’s hotels, theaters and restaurants on weekends brings net new dollars – and tens of thousands of jobs – to NYC’s economy. Times Square’s actors, stagehands, musicians, hotel workers, and restaurant employees all depend on Times Square’s thriving tourist economy, which supports 354,000 jobs and $5.5 billion in state and city tax revenues. 
In light of the above facts, we feel two principles should guide the Administration in permitting street fairs. One is that every neighborhood and every community is different. The second is that objective data about vehicular and traffic congestion, as well as the distribution of fairs by neighborhood, should be used as a filter for deciding not so much if a given street fair should occur, but rather where it should occur.
With respect to the first point, there should not be a "one size fits all” solution to this issue. In some areas of the city, street fairs are important economic drivers, drawing additional foot traffic and activating commercial centers. In Times Square, however, the excessive number of street fairs in an already excessively congested neighborhood at peak times exacerbates existing congestion and blocks access to local businesses and entertainment venues. In some instances, they can even create a safety hazard. 

New York City is a collection of diverse, unique communities; the characteristics that define our neighborhoods must be considered when drafting rules that govern the location and frequency of street fairs.
With respect to the second point, data should drive decisions. CECM should use the Department of Transportation, the Taxi and Limousine Commission and land use and destination venue data to see which streets at which times have the greatest congestion and traffic pressures, even without street fairs. That should be put together with information about the relative number of fairs on those streets, compared to other streets and neighborhoods, to make decisions about whether or not to deny a particular location or time for a particular street fair.
We strongly encourage the City to either use existing data or undertake an independent study to determine the impact of near-constant street fairs on the Times Square area, and to engage in a serious discussion with us and other stakeholders about comprehensive reform. 

The Alliance recognizes that street fairs play an important role in the fabric of New York City, that street fair vendors are a hard-working part of the city’s economy and that non-profit organizations often receive essential revenue from these events. In no way do we seek to prevent such organizations from raising funds through street fairs, or to limit vendors’ capacity to earn money from a multitude of fairs. Indeed, we know that many neighborhoods and fellow BIDs want more street fairs and we support them in that.  However, we ask that the city also keep in mind the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers employed in and because of Times Square when it considers the equitable distribution of street fairs.
Thank you.