Last month there was a hit and run accident at the bridge near the bridge that resulted in the New Mexico Department of Transportation moving the vendors from the north side of the highway where they were set up very near the road to an area that NMDOT District 5 acting engineer Paul Brasher told me been planned as the new vending area. The vendors cooperated and moved to the area which is behind where the ice cream bus parks. The vendors stayed there for a few days but didn’t get nearly the foot traffic as before which resulted in a drastic drop in sales for them. It was also complicated by one vendor trying to tell others where they could and couldn’t set up and saying different things on different days which caused some vendors to set up where NMDOT had posted no vending signs and had told us that they didn’t want us setting up. After a week had passed, the vendors observed that the safety situation had just shifted and not improved. Tourists were still parking right at the white line of the highway and traffic was moving much faster without the cluster of vendors around the roadside. One vendor talked to the local magistrate judges and found out that the case law involving roadside vending had evolved and that there was a case in Mora where the vendors had won and the case in Taos that I was a defendant in years ago had been used as a precedent. The bottom line was that any citations for vending by the bridge would be dismissed in court. Upon hearing this, a group of vendors decided to go back to the north side to set up. They have been visited by local law enforcement officers several times and the officers have stated that they have no intention of citing them at present. If the NMDOT puts up no parking signs, they may receive parking tickets but that hasn’t happened yet.
This has shown one of the fundamental flaws in the approach that has been taken over the years in dealing with the vendors at the gorge: Plans are always drawn up without consulting the vendors at all or ignoring any vendor input that conflicts with the proposed plans. In this case, the vendors were part of the safety issue at the gorge bridge but they certainly weren’t all of it and moving them to a rough area with little foot traffic while still letting tourists park right on the white line of the highway didn’t make a very good impression on a lot of them. It has also shown that a planned area that has space for 25 or 30 vendors is totally inadequate. It is insufficient for the current vending community, much less for the growing population of the future. The vendors were overflowing that space within days in a fairly slow time of year for vending. The vendors are stating very clearly where they want to be and it is not where the NMDOT or BLM would like to put them. They want to be on the north side of the highway where there is a lot of foot traffic and they are visible to the tourists, not hidden away in a corner of the rest area. Improving that area and making it safe is what they have asked for many times and that has always been rejected. Maybe it’s time to seriously consider it.
The vendors who are setting up on the north side haven’t been nearly as close to the road as before so far. The picture of the tourists parked on the white line and walking on the other side contrasts with the vendors who are all inside the cutout and away from the road. I’ve also included a picture of how it was before to compare it with.