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The Street Vendor Opportunity Bill

A Proposal to Increase Economic Development and Promote Small

Business Growth by Revising NYC Laws on Street Vending


Since 1866, when the first peddlers parked their pushcarts on Hester Street on the
Lower East Side, street vendors have been a hallmark of New York City.1 Wave after
wave of immigrants and entry-level entrepreneurs have used vending as a
steppingstone to success on their way to realizing the American Dream.2 The primarily
Jewish and Italian peddlers of yesteryear have today been replaced by Egyptians,
Chinese, Mexicans, African-Americans, and many others –but vendors continue to be a
symbolofourci t
y’sambi ti
onandcul t
ur alvibrancy.3 For the millions of loyal customers
who patronize them daily for their friendliness, convenience and low prices, street
vendors are also an indispensable part of life in our city.4

As long as there have been vendors in New York, however, merchants and real estate
owners have sought to drive them off the streets.5 Over the past twenty years, these
business interests have united into powerful Business Improvement Districts (BIDs),
which have campaigned to limit vending to unprecedented levels. Big businesses, many
of which can trace their roots to the street, have pulled up the ladder behind them.6 At

See Suzanne Wasserman, The GoodOl dDaysofPov er ty:TheBat tl
eOvert heFat eofNewYor kCity’
Side During the Depression, May 1990, at 168 (Attachment 1).
See Balancing Safety and Sales on City Streets, New York City Department of Consumer Affairs, February 1991, at
4 (Attachment 2); Karen Kreps, The Road to Riches: Success Can Start in the Street, N.Y. Daily News, January 6,
1981 (Attachment 3).
See Deborah Sontag, Unlicensed Vendors, Unfettered Dreams, N.Y. Times, June 14, 1993 (Attachment 4); Peter
Blauner, Out of Africa: the Senegalese Peddlers of New York, New York Magazine, February 16, 1987 (Attachment
5). Street vending has become a source of economic self-sufficiency and black pride in the African American
community. See Regina Austin, “ An HonestLi v
ing”:St reetVendor s,Municipal Regulation, and the Black Public
Sphere, 103 Yale L.J. 2119 (1994) (Attachment 6).
A wealth of evidence demonstrates that, unlike big businesses, everyday New Yorkers love street vendors. A 2001
survey of 834 New Yorkers found such wide broad support for street vendors that the vast majority of respondents
were opposed to police enforcement against them. See Crime, Police and the Community: A report by the Citizens
Crime Commission of New York City, July 2001 (available upon request); Joseph Dolman, Rudy’ sWaronVendor sI s
a Street Crime,Newsday ,June23,1999( Attachment7)( describi
ngt hediver serangeofNewYor kers,“fr
om CEOsi n
their $2,000 suits to bike messengers in their spandex ,
”whol ineupf orcoffee from a vendor every morning); Trine
Glever, Midtown Munchers, N.Y. Daily News, August 24, 1994 (Attachment 8) (interviewing New Yorkers about
vendors); Wendell Jamieson, Golden Jeered in Street Vendor Raid, Newsday, July 24, 1991 (Attachment 9)
(describing how New Yorkers came the defense of the vendors during a raid by Brooklyn Borough President Howard
Golden); Dave Goldiner, City ban to cart off vendors,N. Y.Dai l
yNews,May24,1998( Att
achment10)( “ManyNew
Yorkers consider the carts an irreplaceablepar toftheirl
uncht i
mer outine”)
See Daniel Bluestone, ThePushcar tEvil:Peddl ers
,Mer chantsandNew Yor kCi t
sSt reet
s,1890-1940, Journal of
Urban History, November 1991 (Attachment 11); The Good Old Days of Poverty, supra note 1.
See New York in Transition: Itinerant Peddlers and Vendors Everywhere, New York City Department of Business
Ser vices,Nov ember1992( notingt hatthefounder sofSear s& Roebuc kandGi mbel’sdepar t
ments toresgott heir
start vending) (available upon request); Sam Osman, Will a Peddler Be the Next R.H. Macy?, Newsday, August 17,
1993 (Attachment 12).
their urging, the City Council has restricted vending licenses, declared vast areas of the
city off-limits to vending, and raised vending fines to exorbitant levels. So many
obstacles have been put in place that street vending is no longer a viable path toward
upward economic mobility.7

The Street Vendor Opportunity Bill8 will promote economic growth and small business
development by establishing a system whereby hard-working people can once again
make an honest living on the street. First, the Bill will revise the licensing cap to bring
into the system those vendors who are already on the street, but without licenses. This
will increase tax and licensing revenue to the city, reduce sidewalk congestion, and
ease the enforcement burden on the NYPD. Second, the Bill will establish a sensible
and objective system, in line with current city standards, for determining which sidewalks
are too congested to allow vending. Finally, the Bill will adjust the penalty schedule to
make the fines paid by vendors more in line with fines paid by other small businesses.

License Restrictions

At the urging of merchant associations and chambers of commerce, in 1979 and 1983
the City Council put limits, for the first time in New York City history, on the number of
vending licenses and permits issued.9 Food vending permits were reduced drastically,
from almost 12,000 to only 3,000 –despite the fact that an estimated 25,000 pushcarts
oncer oamedourci ty’
sstreets. Merchandise licenses were arbitrarily capped at 853 –
despite the fact that other large cities such as Los Angeles, Chicago, and Washington,
D.C. do not have license ceilings.11 The vending community, which has always been
made up primarily of recent immigrants and people of color, did not have enough
political influence to oppose this dramatic assault on their livelihoods.12

These artificial ceilings have created such a long waiting list that that the Department of
Consumer Affairs (DCA) has not even taken new names since 1991. The limits have
also been counterproductive. While the big businesses that fought for the ban sought to
reduce competition from vendors, many studies have since shown that vendors actually
help the stores by drawing shoppers to commercial districts.13 Additionally, rather than

See Mariam Sami, Vendor sCan’ tBuyASpot , N.Y. Times, August 24, 1997 (Attachment 13) (quoting a vendor who
had been driven from his vending spot and was planning t ogobac kt oMor occo:“ Iam anAmer icanci tizenintheland
ofoppor tuni
ty,butt herei sn’tany ”
See Street Vendor Opportunity Bill (Attachment 14)
See Local Law 50 of 1979 (Attachment 15), Local Law 17 of 1983 (Attachment 16). Both laws were proposed by the
business community and passed at their urging. See Jill Smolowe, Merchants Propose a New Ban on Street
Peddlers, N.Y. Times, December 1, 1980 (Attachment 17); Memo from Susan Heilbron to Mayor Edward Koch re:
Local Law 50 of 1979, September 7, 1979( At
tachment18)( “facedwi thov erwhel mi
ngs uppor tgivenbynumer ous
mer chantandci vicgr oups,t heBi llpas sed”).
See Barbara Ross, City & Vendors Cook up Plans to Restore Carts, N.Y. Daily News, November 27, 1994,
(Attachment 19); New York Food Museum, (Attachment 20).
See Balancing Safety and Sales on City Streets supra note 2 at Attachment 2. Also, United States military veterans
ar enotsubj ecttot heci ty’sli
censingc ap.SeeNY General Business Law, Article 4, § 32 (Attachment 21).
For example, at a public hearing for Local Law 50 of 1979, not one vendor spoke out against the bill. See Transcript
of Public Hearing on Local Laws held before Mayor Edward I. Koch, September 7, 1979 at 4. (Attachment 22)
Unfair competition is the most common complaint big businesses have against vendors. See Testimony of Carole
Devitt, New York State Food Merchants Association,August20,1979 ( Attachment23)( “food v endor scompet e

easing sidewalk crowding, as the merchant associations had wished, the cap creates
congestion by inviting a proliferation of unlicensed vendors. With no incentive to obey
the numerous time, place and manner regulations the city places on license-holders,
unlicensed vendors tend to congregate in the most congested areas of the city, where
they can sell their wares quickly while evading arrest.14

Numerous studies, including two city reports, have concluded that raising the licensing
cap is a good idea.15 First, it will create jobs and stimulate economic development by
promoting entry-level entrepreneurship across the city. A recent report by the Center for
an Urban Future recommended that the city reduce barriers to entry for immigrant and
minority-owned small businesses, which are a vital engine for economic growth.16
Second, lifting the cap will increase city revenues from sales taxes and licensing fees.
While licensed vendors are required to pay sales taxes before renewing their licenses,
unlicensed vendors have no such incentive.17 Thus, by granting licenses to people who
are already vending, the city stands to collect up to $25 million every year in additional
tax proceeds as well as $2 million in licensing fees.18

Finally, raising the cap will minimize the significant strain on police resources that is
caused by criminal enforcement against unlicensed vendors. The NYPD arrests more
than 7,500 illegal vendors each year, costing as much as $15 million and further
clogging our already overburdened criminal justice system.19 Rather than arresting and
booking these vendors, police resources can be better spent enforcing the numerous
time, place and manner restrictions that already exist to control sidewalk congestion.

unfairly withretai lgr ocerswhomustcompl ywi t
hmanyr egul ati
onswhi chv endor sav oi
d”);Geor geE.Jor dan,125
Street Battle, Newsday, December 21, 1992 (Attachment 24) (referencing store owners who believe that vendors,
who don’ tpayov erhead,c ompet e unfairl
ywi th their prices); Isaac Armony, Merchants vs. Hobo Peddlers, N.Y.
Downt ownNews,December8,1969( “’Thosepeddl ersar et akingourbus i
nessaway ,
’claim manyst oreowner s” )
(Attachment 25). However, many studies have shown that vendors actually help nearby stores. See John Gaber,
Manhat t
an’s 14 St reetVendorMar ket:I nf
ormalPeddl er s’Compl ement ary Relationship with New Yor k Ci t
Economy, Urban Anthropology, Winter 1994 (Attachment 26); Hilary Russ, Sold Out: What happens to the
neighborhood when street vendors disappear? City Limits, September/October 2002 (Attachment 27); The Good Old
Days of Poverty, supra not e1at212( “Ir
oni cal
lyby1940,t heEastSi debusines scommuni t
y ,whichhadf oughtf ort en
years to remove the embarrassing pushcarts, now complai nedt hatt hei
rr emov alir
reparablydamagedt heirtrade”).
See Balancing Safety and Sales on City Streets, supra note 2 at 25 (contrasting the behavior of licensed vendors,
who have an incentive to obey vending regulations, and unlicensed ones, who oftenl eave“ inahur ri
edr etreatfrom
lawenf orcement ”).
See Balancing Safety and Sales on City Streets, supra note 2 at 23-27; New York in Transition, supra note 6 at 69.
See Engine Failure: With Economic Woes That Go Well Beyond 9/11, New York Needs a Bold Vision To Renew
theCi t
y’sEconomy , Center for an Urban Future, September 2003 at 27-29 (Attachment 28). See also William Mellor,
Is New York City Killing Entrepreneurship?, Institute for Justice Report, 1997 (Attachment 29).
See NYC Administrative Code § 20-455( b)(
4)( “
[Allappl i
cat i
onsf orali
cense]shal lrequire…pr oofthatt
heappl icant
has obt ained … a cer t
icate ofaut hor i
ty designating the appl icant
s’sal es taxi denti
cat i
on numberand a t ax
clearanc ec erti
cat e” );§17-309 (b)(4) (same).
See Linda Ricci, Urban America: Hawking Neighborhood Justice: Unlicensed Vending in Midtown Community
Court, 12 Yale L. & Policy Rev 231 (1994) (citing a New York City Department of Finance estimate) (Attachment 30).
See Testimony of Robert Hettleman to New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, April 7, 2003
(Attachment 31). The cost of each arrest in urban areas, inclusive of police, court, and jail resources, has been
estimated at more than $2,000. See also Jeannine Munde, City Streetfight: Vendors vs. Retailers, Daily News
Recor d,May31,1985 at4 ( “
The pol ice depar t
mentspentappr oxi
mat el
y$3 mi lli
on in 1984 ridding the cityof
vendor s…” )(Att
ac hment32) .

Closing Public Space

In addition to restricting licenses, big business interests have restricted vending by

gradually limiting the public areas where vendors may vend. With the goal of eliminating
vendors entirely, the BIDs have pushed the city to carry out six rounds of street closings
over the last twenty years -- in 1988, 1994, 1995, 1998, 2000, and 2004.20 More than
200 streets are now closed, and the list of restricted streets stretches 29 pages long.21
Huge swaths of the city, especially in midtown and downtown Manhattan, have been
declared off-limits, even in wide plazas with little foot traffic.22 Indeed, it often seems to
vendor st hatt heyhav ebeenout lawed“ i
nal loft hear easwher eitisf
inanci all
yv iabl
Additionally, rather than spreading vendors evenly throughout the city, street closings
often create congestion by causing vendors to crowd together on the few blocks that
remain open to them.24

The problem with street restrictions is that the city has never established any objective
criteria for determining which streets are too congested.25 In 1995, the Giuliani
administration established the Street Vendor Review Panel, with three members
appointed by the Mayor and one by City Council. The Review Panel was charged with
deciding which streets should be declared off-limits, but with no objective criteria, the
process soon became an exercise in political influence. Within four years of its creation,
the Review Panel closed hundreds of blocks at the request of the BIDs, without opening
a single block at the request of vendors.26 Its sole City Council member called the
Rev i
ewPanelpr ocessan“ out rage”wi th“noi nputf rom elect
edof fici
als,”whi l
etwol ower
cour tsdecl ar
edt hatthePanel ’
sdeci sionswer e“ar bit
yandcapr ici
ous. ”

See Ken Foskett, Vendors have beef with Bill limiting them, N.Y. Daily News, March 18, 1988 (quoting a
repr esentativ eoftheFi f
thAv enueAss oci
ont hat“ifwehadourway ,theywoul dbet ot al
lyel iminated,”)(Attachment
33); Janet Allon, Vendors: Congestion vs. Digestion,Oct ober1,1995 ( “Midtown r etail
ersand r estaurantshav e
lobbi ed the c ityf
ory earst or estri
ctal lstr
eetv endor
achment34) ;Dan Jani son,More Vendors Curbed,
Newsday, June 1, 1998 (the biggest force behind [the closings] was the Downtown Alliance, a well-heeled business
gr oup” )(
At t
achment35) ;Denny Lee, ToRel ieveSi dewalkCrowdi ng,CityTr i
msSt r eetVendor s’Hour s, N.Y, Times,
January 16, 2000 (Attachment 36); Joe Mahoney, Dealt oCurbPeddl ersOK’ D, N.Y. Daily News, February 27, 2004
(describing street closings in the area around Ground Zero) (Attachment 37).
See 6 RCNY § 2-314 (Attachment 38).
22 th st th th
See, e.g., Broadway between 50 and 51 Streets; Sixth Avenue between 49 and 50 Streets; Third Avenue
th th
between 48 and 49 Streets; Water Street between Wall and Governor Streets; Gold Street between Spruce and
Frankfort Streets (Attachment 39)
See Testimony of Elinor C. Guggenheimer before City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, October 6, 1976
(Attachment 40); Fred Kent III & Andrew Schwartz, Save the Vendors, Change the System, N.Y. Times, June 6, 1998
(At tachment41)( decr yi
ngt heel i
mi nat ionofvendi nginlar
gesect i
onsoft hec it
y,decl ar i
ngt hatNew Yor k’sv endi ng
regulations are embarrassingly out of date compared with other American cities).
Gretchen Dykstra, NYC Commissioner of Consumer Affairs, has acknowledged as much. See Vendor Fact Sheet
submitted by Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra to New York City Council Committee on Consumer Affairs, April 7,
2003 (Attachment 42).
See Testimony of Elinor C. Guggenheimer, supra note 20 at 4-5.
144 blocks in midtown and downtown alone were closed in 1998. See Frankie Edozien, City Plans Ban on Food
Carts, N.Y. Post, May 24, 1998 (Attachment 43).
See Testimony of Council Member Noah Dear, Street Vendor Review Panel Public Hearing, December 16, 1999,
pp. 20-22 (Attachment 44), See Mat terofBi gAppl eFoodVendor s’Associ at
ionv.St r
eetVendorRevi ew Panel , 224
A.D.2d 219 (1 Dept. 1996) (Attachment 45); Mat t
erofBigAppleFoodVendor s’Associ ati
onv.St r
eetVendorRev iew
Panel, 90 N.Y.2d 402 (1997) (Attachment 46).

The Street Vendor Opportunity Bill will take the street closing decision out of the
jurisdiction of the Review Panel and give it to the Department of Transportation (DOT),
which already conducts pedestrian traffic surveys.28 In fact, the DOT already uses
objective, scientific criteria to ensure that newsstands do not cause excessive sidewalk
congestion. These standards, which take into account sidewalk width and pedestrian
usage during peak periods, should be used for general vendors and food vendors.29
This will remove the street closing decision from the political process, while eliminating
the current discrepancies whereby some streets are open to one type of vendor but not
the other. 30

Next, the Bill will refine the regulations on thel

onofv endors’car tsandstands.31
Prior to 1977, vendors were required to stay ten feet from regular store entrances, but
twent yf eetf r
om t heent rancetoany“ t
heatre,moviehouse,spor tsar ena,r es t
other place of public assembly.32”The law made a commonsense distinction between
entr anc est hatsaw heav ytraf
cand t hos ethatdi
dn’t .I
n 1977,at the urging of the
business community, City Council changed the law to require that vendors keep a
twenty-foot distance from all entrances.33 The present law sweeps too broadly and
leaves no room for vendors on many city streets.34 By re-establishing the rational
distinction between these two types of entrances, which is maintained in other similar
laws regarding sidewalk clearances from building entrances, the Bill will maintain the
public safety while giving more vendors space to vend.35

Creating Fair Penalties

Finally, the Street Vendor Opportunity Bill will better align vending penalties with those
paid by other small business owners. By adjusting the fine structure, the Bill will ensure
thati l
legalact ivi
esar e det erred,butt hatv endor s’liveli
hoodsar e notdest r
oy edfor
technical violations. Over the years, vending penalties have increased disproportionately
to other offenses. For example, the maximum fine for sidewalk obstruction by retail

SeeNYC Ci t
yChar ter§2903( a)( 5)( gi
vingt heDOT t hedut yto“ coll
ectandcompi let r
cdat aandpr epar e
engi neerings t
udi esandsur veysi nr egar dtov ehicularandpedest riant raff
). See Midtown Manhattan Pedestrian
Network Development Project, June 2000; Lower Manhattan Pedestrianization Study, November 1997 (Available
upon request).
See 6 RCNY 2-68(b)(6) which describes the required criteria for determining levels of congestion (Attachment 47).
See supra note 21.
For a complete list of current restrictions on the placement of vehicles, pushcarts and stands, see § 20-465(a)-(q)
(Attachment 48) and § 17-315(a)-(t)(Attachment 49).
See Memo from Joel Morrison to the Committee on Consumer Affairs re: Int. No. 1021, April 4, 1977 (Available
upon request).
See Local Law 77 of 1977 (Attachment 50).
Inf act
,the“ t
went y ootr
-f ul
e,”asi tisknown,i sal eadi
ngcompl aintofv endorss ur
vey ed,sec ondonl yt opol ice
harassment. See Results of Survey from First Annual Vendor Convention, November 18, 2003 (Attachment 51).
For example, the law regulating newsstand location distinguishes between retail building entrances (only five feet
required) and entrances to larger establishments like houses of worship, governmental buildings, hotels, office
buildings and theaters (fifteen feet required). See 6 RCNY 2-68(b)(5) supra note 29. Similarly, the recently amended
State law regulating disabled veteran vendors differentiates between regular commercial entrances and those to any
“theatre,mov i
ehouse,i ndoorspor t
sar ena,orpl aceofwor shipors chool .”See NY State General Business Law,
§35a(7)(h)(Attachment 52).

stores is $100, but vendors who obstruct the same sidewalk can be slapped with $1,000
penalties.36 This type of discrepancy is unfair and unnecessary.

First, street vendors are more poorly equipped than other small businesses to pay such
outrageous sums. The average vendor in New York makes only $80 per day, money
which is spent on rent, food and clothing for themselves and their families.37 At this rate,
it takes many months for a vendor to earn enough to accumulate $1,000 to pay off a
single ticket. With complex vending regulations38 and arbitrary enforcement39, even law-
abiding vendors get many tickets. This penalty system is too severe. Indeed, the current
fine structure has already put many hard-working vendors out of work.40

In addition, vendors earn so little money that deterrence can be achieved by less
punitive measures. Rather than fines of up to $1,000, the Vendor Opportunity Bill will
cap the maximum fine at $150, with a graduated penalty system that accumulates
violations over a one-year period, not two years as is currently done.41 Vendors will still
be required to pay their fines each year before renewing their licenses, guaranteeing
responsible behavior. Together, these measures will create a reasonable fine system
that ensures compliance, while not unnecessarily crippling vendors for punitive reasons.

Finally, the Bill will take the control over penalty levels out of the hands of the
Env ir
onment alCont rolBoard( “
ECB” )
,which has acted unfairly and arbitrarily toward the
vending community, and give it back to City Council where it belongs. In 2003, with no
notice to vendors, the ECB quadrupled vending fines to their maximum allowable levels
under the ranges established in the Administrative Code. A State Supreme Court judge
recent l
yr uledthatt hi sfi
nei ncr
easewas“ unfai
randcl earl
yundemocr ati
c”becaus et he
ECB failed to allow public input, as required by the City Charter. While the court
ordered a temporary fine decrease, the City has announced its plans to increase them,
once again, after a hearing is held on November 18, 2004. With the bad faith the ECB
has already shown vendors, such action should not be allowed. By eliminating the

See NYC Administrative Code § 16-122(h); See also § 20-472 (c)(2) and § 17-325, which set a range of vending
fines following a multiple offense schedule of up to $1,000 per violation (Attachment 53).
According to a 2004 survey of 100 downtown Manhattan vendors, the average vendor earns only $11,000 per year.
Report pending publication; Survey results are available upon request.
See New York City Council Press Release, Oct. 9, 2003. Commissioner Gretchen Dykstra and Councilman Philip
Reed have denounced the complexity of current vending regulations. “ Ther egulati
onsar esoconv olut
edthatlawy ers
can barely underst andt hem, ”Reedt oldtheCommi tt
eeonConsumerAf fair
s.InApr i
,Dy kstrastat edthat“theCi ty ’
v endi ngl awsar eli
keanoni on.Ithasmanyl ayers,andaf t
erawhi le,onecan’ thelpbutcr y”)(At tachment54) .See
al soEl i
zabethO’ Bri
en,City Pays Damages to Two Soho Street Art Vendors, The Villager, July 9-15, 2004 (“ Police,
pol iti
ciansandot hershav ecal ledforar ev ampi ngoft hec i
scompl exv endingl aws,someofwhi chdat ebackt ot he
19t hcent ury…‘ Therear esomanyr ules,
’sai dRi ckLee,c ommuni tyaf fair
sof f
icerfortheFi rstPr ec i
Ihopet hey
have more clear-cutgui delinesandl anguage” )(At tachment55) .
See Brad Hamilton, You Dirty Dogs: Big Fines Hide Flaws in Vendor Inspections, N.Y. Post, July 18, 2004 (hot dog
vendor claiming to have gotten 46 tickets in six months, and continued to receive them despite his prior violations
having been dismissed) (Attachment 56).
See Nina Bernstein, Cour tRulesi nVendor s’Favor ,Decl ari
ngaFi neI ncreaseI l
legal,N.Y. Times, Sept. 29, 2004
(describing Peruvian hat seller who had become so fearful of getting tickets that she was forced to stop vending)
(Attachment 57).
The Sanitation and Sewer Codes aggregate penalties using a one-year term, while the Department of
Transportation Rules use only six months. See The City Record, October 15, 2004, pp. 4357-4358.
See Ousmane v. City of New York, No. 402648/04 (order of J. Edmead, dated October 4, 2004)(Attachment 58).

current ranges, the City Council will create a fixed and fair penalty schedule that treats
vendors as equals to other small business owners, while maintaining an effective
deterrent system.


The Street Vendor Opportunity Bill will foster small business development and economic
growth by giving vendors--our smallest of small businesses—the tools they need to
enr i
chNew Yor k’
sdiver seeconomy ,ast heyhav eforcent ur
ies.Tomak eanhonest
living, vendors need valid licenses, streets on which to vend, and penalties that do not
threaten their very existence. While acknowledging that reasonable regulations are
necessary, the Street Vendor Opportunity Bill recognizes that powerful corporate
interests have nearly eliminated a New York tradition of street level entrepreneurship.
By returning to vendors the chance for upward economic mobility, the Bill will create a
powerful engine for growth whose effects will reverberate in every corner and
throughout every neighborhood of New York Ci ty

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