DC Council passes new street vending regulations

So I came across this story over at WJLA's web site, with the headline "D.C. Street Vendors Protest Planned Regulations." I see the word "protest" and "regulations" and think there might be something interesting here. There probably is, but you'd have absolutely no idea what the actual story is based on the text of the article. We've got another example of a news article that tells us absolutely nothing useful. The piece starts off with:

WASHINGTON - The D.C. Council passed legislation Tuesday to more closely regulate D.C. street vendors, dozens of whom gathered outside the Wilson building to protest the bill.
"If you come up there -- everybody knows me," said Gibril Mansaray, a vendor who has sold hot dogs and ice cream outside Howard University for decades.

He worries the new rules will deny him his long-held and coveted spot.
So what exactly does it mean to "more closely regulate" street vendors? Well, you won't know by reading the article. And if you turn to Google, you won't find much more information either. I know, maybe try the DC Council's web site? Good luck with that one.

From what I can piece together, looking through the sordid history of street vending regulations, is a story something like this:

Until 1998, street vending was operated with very little oversight and vendors worked on a first-come, first-serve, "I've got dibs" system. This had problems, as there were no regulations (and also no revenue from tax or license fees). In 1998 the Council passed legislation that directed the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) and the District Department of Transportation to coordinate in the creation of licensing for vendors. There was also a moratorium implemented on new vendors.

In 2006, the moratorium was lifted, and DCRA and DDOT were put in charge of regulating via temporary/emergency legislation. After the 1998 "crackdown," DC has been vastly underserved by street vending. All sorts of very strict regulations existed that required carts to be a certain size (limited options to mostly just hot dogs) and that they must be parked parallel to the sidewalk, be at least 300 feet from any churches, so on and so forth.

This Washington Post piece from 2008 lays out the problems facing anyone who tries to "innovate" in street vending:
The problem was that in January 2007, when the city started issuing new licenses to the 600 operators hoping to snag one, the old regulations for street carts were still in place. It wasn't supposed to be that way, Williams says. The agency had hoped to finish its study, present its findings to the council, and get all the necessary approvals and regulations in place before issuing new licenses. But the council was impatient to jump-start the city's moribund street scene, which had dwindled to an estimated 600 licensed vendors from the thousands who lined the streets in the 1990s.

The council's decision to lift the moratorium did give Washingtonians some new flavors on the sidewalks, including Korean barbecue at the Little Yellow Cart at 14th and L streets NW and Delle & Campbell's Middle Eastern bites at their original spot at 14th and G streets NW. But it also left vendors -- at least those outside the demonstration zone -- to contend with the city's antiquated regulations.

Vendors still must store their carts in a depot overnight and conform to all the fussy sidewalk regulations. And they still have to design their carts to be no more than seven feet long and 4 1/2 feet wide. "You can only do hot dogs with that [size] unless you're very innovative," says Gabe Klein, co-founder of On the Fly.
So why did I include this huge block of text? So you'd be sure to see that last quote. Gabe Klein, the co-founder of On the Fly, is now the Director of DDOT.

The temporary legislation which has been floating around for years now gives DDOT and DCRA the power to create the regulations regarding the size, design and location of street vending carts. The "Vending Regulation Act of 2009" which was passed by the DC Council would make this power permanent. (Note, because the DC Council's web site is terrible, I am unable to link to the text of the Act. However, that link provides a summary.)

Who would like to bet that Klein is going to relax the regulations, hopefully opening up street vending to all sorts of new designs and options? I'd imagine that's a pretty safe bet.

And who would be threatened by the prospect of a wave of new and innovative street vending? The existing street vendors. Who staged a protest. Finally, it all makes sense.

But you wouldn't have known that from reading the WJLA article. Or even from a quick Google search. Of course, it's not even as simple as this (long) blog post makes it out to be, but TV/Internet news can't really be bothered to do any analysis. It took me maybe a half hour to dig up and piece together what I have so far on this story.

Here's how I imagine the "writing" process at ABC7: a news crew gets video footage of protest. They collect quotes from protestors and get a reaction quote from some Councilmembers. They write up a story about the protest. Perhaps they do an Internet search for vending regulations, but come up with little. So they run the story without really explaining what it is about.

So again, way to go "Internet" division of ABC 7. Kudos, however, for at least covering the story.


  1. So what this really boils down to is more competition....of course.

  2. what the hell is this garbage? Information? Independent investigation? Content?

    Also, it sounds like "more closely regulate" means "to loosen regulations." That's a nice way to define "closely."

  3. God forbid someone be able to get something other than a hot dog from a vendor.

    Thanks for digging up the real story!

  4. There's a street vendor selling chicken jerk wraps at 4th and e nw (right by the courthouse and dc gov offices). it's not everything but at least it's a step towards innovation. and they are dang good too.

  5. The comments above are mostly a perfect reflection of the society that permits the actions highlighted in the article.