One challenge of keeping our sidewalks downtown and in our neighborhoods reasonably safe and attractive is managing the use and appearance of newspaper and periodical vending boxes. It is not unusual to see them damaged or covered with graffiti and stickers or used as trash bins. In some cases a dozen or more are lined up at the curb in many states of disrepair and damage.
In late 2011, I started reviewing what standards Seattle has for reasonably regulating the placement and maintenance of the boxes on public sidewalks. I learned that our Seattle code had a provision for creation of a rule that would govern placement and maintenance standards of these boxes.
What I learned was that even though the code allowed for creation of such a rule, none had ever been written. So essentially there was little that the City was able to do when there were problems with the boxes.
I requested SDOT to develop a rule as allowed in the code. I requested SDOT to work with the owners of the vending boxes and also with the publishers of the newspapers and periodicals that use these boxes to develop the rules and procedures. I was always mindful of the importance of protecting the First Amendment right of the owners and publishers to place these boxes on public property.
This rule represents a year of work with a dedicated group of newspaper publishers to understand their concerns and issues related to the placing and maintaining of these boxes in the public right of way. We learned much from our discussions with this group.
A few highlights of the process and the rule include:
- A shared understanding of the expectations for vending box maintenance
- A new web-based tool (currently in final development) that will enable joint reporting (city, external stakeholders and the general public) of vending box maintenance issues, and enable us to track metrics on repairs and frequently tagged locations
- A construction coordination requirement for public and private construction projects requiring noticing and coordination with vending box owners for the period of construction and returning the boxes to a reasonable location after construction is complete
- SDOT will be taking a more active role in enforcement, after all other avenues of repair/replacement/outreach by the publishers has occurred
- The stakeholder group will continue to meet monthly (or as needed) to share information, review data from the soon to be launched website and confer on any other modifications needed to the rule or the code in order to keep vending boxes in good repair.
I have linked a copy of this new rule to this blog post and welcome your comments.