Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's administration on Thursday moved further away from its plan for a widespread ban on sidewalk vendors in Manhattan, announcing that it would work with the City Council to instead regulate the number of people who sell food, tube socks, comic books and paperbacks on busy streets.

City officials insisted that they still wanted to end vending on many sidewalks to reduce congestion, though they said they had not decided how many. But it was clear from testimony before a City Council committee Thursday that the mayor was seeking a compromise in his aggressive campaign to combat clusters of food carts and street artists."There's a middle ground between having no vendors entirely on a street as opposed to a limited number - perhaps one, perhaps two is something that is manageable," Joseph Rose, the city's planning director, said after an appearance before the council's Transportation Committee.

Rose's comments marked the second time in just over a week that the administration had scaled back what was once an ambitious plan to ban vending on 144 blocks in Manhattan. And together, the moves amounted to an unusual concession for the mayor, who has seemed to revel in fighting what he considers quality-of-life offenders like reckless cab drivers, turnstile jumpers, "squeegee men" and, most recently, sidewalk vendors.

But while the public has been largely supportive of much of Giuliani's quality-of-life crusade, the planned vending crackdown produced little enthusiasm. Thousands of customers signed petitions opposing the bans and applauded when vendors shut their carts for a day.

In addition, lawyers for the city have voiced concerns about fighting lawsuits by vendors and street artists. Rose said the administration was now willing to replace or reshape the Street Vendor Review Panel, a body dominated by mayoral appointees.