Nashville’s downtown sidewalk vendors will be barred from the majority of the entertainment district’s main corridors, according to a map of restricted areas adopted Monday.
Metro’s Traffic and Parking Commission approved the map 4-2 as a temporary measure. Sidewalk vendors will be notified of the changes over the next seven business days and enforcement will begin July 21.
Nashville’s Department of Transportation will present a finalized draft of proposed regulations and any necessary ordinance proposals at the commission’s August meeting.
The move comes after Mayor John Cooper asked the commission in June to prohibit sidewalk vending between Union Street and Korean Veterans Boulevard from the Cumberland River to Eighth Avenue, calling vendors “a substantial blight for both pedestrians and brick-and-mortar businesses.”
As many as 250 vendors have active, full-time sidewalk vending permits in Davidson County, and about 500 have “seasonal” vendor permits.
Metro officials report enforcement difficulties
The majority of sidewalk space in the downtown entertainment district is already restricted under current code and regulations, which bar vendors from impeding driveways and roads as well as access to fire hydrants, bus stops and building entrances, among other things.
But enforcement of the patchwork of rules and distance requirements is difficult without clear consensus on where vendors can and cannot be, according to Nashville police and NDOT officials.
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Metro staff and Cooper’s administration point to pedestrian safety as the main driver for tightened vending restrictions. Several downtown streets have been flagged as high in reported pedestrian injuries, though data doesn’t necessarily indicate whether street vendors had any connection with pedestrian injuries.
NDOT Director Diana Alarcon said Monday the new map is intended to provide more clarity for enforcement as further regulation details are hammered out. At the time of the meeting, MNPD had not yet reviewed the draft regulations, one officer said (the draft was distributed to commissioners on July 8).
Businesses, street vendors respond
Speakers representing the Nashville Convention and Visitors Corp., the Nashville Downtown Partnership and The District urged commissioners to put strong regulations in place.
Downtown residents and representatives from ICON Entertainment, Ryman Hospitality and real estate developer Tony Giarratana also voiced support for clearer, more stringent rules.
“We recognize that street vending alone is not responsible for all of the issues facing downtown, but their contribution to an overcrowded and unsafe atmosphere cannot continue to go without strict regulation,” NCVC spokesperson Brady Cannon said.
Brick-and-mortar business owners spoke of guests complaining about crowded sidewalks as well as their own displeasure with the idea that vendors can conduct business downtown without paying property taxes. Some described panic among the hospitality industry at how Nashville’s reputation has changed compared to competitor cities.
Some suggested adapting strategies used in cities like New Orleans and Austin such as designating areas for street vending that do not obstruct the pedestrian right of way.
Vendors said those who are properly permitted and follow the existing rules should not be punished, contending that discarded electric scooters and people experiencing homelessness also obstruct sidewalks.
Street vendor Matthew Edwards has served on the Sidewalk Vending Advisory Committee, a working group comprised of individuals from NDOT, police, vendors, merchants, the Nashville Downtown Partnership, the Metro Health Department and legal counsel.
He said Cooper’s “initiative to put an all-out ban” on street vendors negatively impacted the committee’s progress.
“Let’s find some compromise, but the ban isn’t it,” Edwards said.
Marcus Winkfield, who started a sidewalk vending business in 2020, said Monday’s decision means vendors will be essentially unemployed for at least the next month.
“They just shut us all down,” he said.
Cassandra Stephenson covers Metro government for The Tennessean. Reach her at email@example.com. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.