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Monday, June 11, 2007

The next crusade

If there's one thing that Fireman Randy and those obnoxious publicity-seekers civil rights heroes at the Merc taught us over the weekend, it's that the sidewalks of Portland belong to everyone. Anything that offends this holy precept -- even something as unobtrusive as duct tape on a sidewalk -- should be ripped up by roving bands of vigilantes and thrown into the garbage.

And now that they've rid us of the tape that "greedy" people used to reserve spaces for the Rose Festival Grand Floral Parade (funny -- I'll bet there's still a lot of it on the parade route -- any chance of a cleanup crew reunion today?), it's time to turn our attention to another encroachment on the public rights-of-way. This one is way worse than tape on the ground. It stands three feet tall or taller, and could seriously hurt you if you run into it. It impairs driver visibility, gets in the way of disabled pedestrians, and is all over town. And it's not there just a week or two out of the year -- it's 24/7/365.

I'm talking about newsracks.

Are these things legal? I've been cruising around on the City of Portland website to see what I could find out about that. As best I can tell, there's precious little regulation of them on the city's books. There's this part of the city code, but it has to do only with newsracks on the transit mall, and it appears to be way out of date. There are also these guidelines, which are supposed to keep them away from intersections, but you don't have to walk far in Portland to see countless news boxes that violate these rules.

Other than that, I can find nothing that the city does to police newsracks. Nothing about size, number, materials, liability, insurance, stability, location -- nothing. Maybe I'm not looking in the right places, but somehow I doubt that.

Now, obviously there are some freedom of speech issues lurking in the wings here -- the city couldn't start picking on particular types of publications based on content -- but it's fairly obvious that municipalities can have rules about various aspects of the placement of newsracks. Just a quick run through Google reveals that Medford has them, as does Beaverton. Groovy Palo Alto appears to have a fairly extensive permit system for these dispensers. A Google search also reveals that the newspaper distributors hate such rules, and if a municipality tries to enact them, there's an organization that will help local news dealers fight them.

But hey, this is Portland, where the sidewalks must be free! Free! Fearless journalists work tirelessly through the night, and city commissioners boldly risk their political necks, to keep them that way.

And so I'm sure that as we take up the issue of whether people should be able to place tape on the sidewalks to reserve viewing places for a parade once a year, we'll also take up the issue of hundreds of ugly and potentially dangerous commercial fixtures that clutter up the sacred public right-of-way all year 'round. Are there really no rules in Portland about them, other than the few I've found? And if there are rules, are they ever enforced? Maybe Transportation Sue or Sam the Tram could clue us in.

I think we've got the makings of another special Portland moment here, people. I just know the local media will be all over this story. Look for it to be featured prominently in all the Rose City's fine publications, both mainstream and alternative.

Comments (27)

Jack this has been a problem that many folks including myself have looked into and tried to curb. The City Lawyers will tell you that it is a free speech issue. It is possible, the caviot is that you need to provide space for anyone who wants to distribute literature. The boxes are very obnoxious, they are stung together with as many of twenty down a street and ugly as sin. as they age the springs on the covers sometimes hang open and the pretty color brochures scatter to be litter. The newspaper boxes like are shown in your organization link are actually a better solution that what is out there and in use in New York and other cities. I looked at purchasing some of these and "renting" space as a way to pay for upkeep of not only the boxes but other maintenance costs of streetscape. In other cites these newspaper boxes are oncorporated with benches, bus shelters, and planters so they are not quite as obnoxious as the one shown.

I dunno, I have to agree with Fireman Randy (there is a first time for everything...)

If you want to see the parade, get up in the morning and stake your claim. Taping off an area of the sidewalk is just sad...

I sympathize with Randy, but let's not go whole hog and ban the duct tape entirely. . . . How about a couple simple rules: You have to clean up your own duct tape after the parade (lots of tape is still adhering well, despite the street cleaning)and if you're not there, in person, say 3 hours before the parade starts, anyone should feel free to take over your "reserved" spot, even sitting in your cheapo chairs you illegally placed.

I believe that despite the free speech issues, they have managed to keep them off the transit mall in the past and will continue to do so when it is reconstructed. I don't think the same applies for most MAX stations though, so it will be interesting to see how that plays out when MAX meets the Mall.

You mean our overseers and lords haven't regulated this part of our lives yet?

Wha-hoo lawsuit lottery here I come!


I'm in agreement. First, other city regulations ban tieing or chaining anything to city street furniture like light poles, signal poles, fire hydrants, etc. Newspaper vendors routinely violate this.

Second, as you note, the Pedestrian Design Guide calls for not only the corner, but 5 feet from the corner on either side should be free of newspaper racks, etc.

Yet, the city does nothing about these racks, even though they're not banning them (the free speech issue), but just regulating their location, for public safety reasons.

Perhaps Randy Leonard has enough courage to confront this issue too.

Is anyone else not surprised that the advocates of the selfish parade behavior would not offer to clean up the aftermath of the behavior they are advocating?

But it's good that the evidence was left for now as a daily reminder of the rude behavior by some. Let's hope Randy follows through and bans the growing problem of taping off the parade.

Although I don't condone Fireman Randy's approach to this, I must admit that I agree with the concept.

To tape off a portion of the sidewalk, or street, and expect to be able to show up an hour before the parade and obtain a decent seat from which to watch is pathetic. That they subsequently leave it all behind and expect city crews to clean it up just augurs for some kind of limitation. I personally don't think that there should be any kind of defacing of public property to assure seating at a public event. It should be "first come, first served."

That said, I've seen the "first come, first served" types be just as big a buttheads as the tapers. Full grown adults who set up lawnchairs right at the line, blocking the view of those (usually children) seated on the curb or ground and thus requiring that they stand to watch the entire parade, can be greedy, insensitive bastards, too. And, I don't care where they come from.

It came to be such a predatory jungle out there at the curb that I quit going. It just was not worth wrangling with morons so kids could see the parade.

I say cancel the whole thing. Then we wouldn't have to deal with taking tape up off the sidewalks, the navy swimming upstream to spawn, nor policing the Scum Center.

While we are on the subject of obstructing sidewalks (and I hope you are listening FIREMAN RANDY)I see that the "NO CAMPING ORDINANCE" is working really well in OLD TOWN (especially under the burnside bridge ). I find this almost laughable since this problem is literlly feet away from the old town community policing center. As a Portland Saturday Market Vendor, I must walk the gauntlet of squatters every Saturday and Sunday in order to get to the info booth, restrooms and my storage area. These people squat all day long. They generate piles of garbage and vomit. They pick fights with each other and even have sex out in the open. While some are clearly mentally ill (no fault of their own), many are simply punks, drug dealers/users, and panhandlers looking for drug money. The fights, garbage etc. seems to be getting only worse as the summer arrives. On Saturday, while waiting for the storage area to open, one of the squatters got up from his nap, pushed aside his garbage, unzipped his pants,and wagged his penis at everyone. No wonder my sales are down! We certainly don't get the tourists down at the market like we used to in years past. I wonder why?!!! What good is an ordinance if you have no intention of enforcing it? Shame on you for letting the problem get this bad. Thousands of people come to the market every week-end. We are a top tourist attraction and are advertised in many publications and tourist guide. This disgusting spectacle gives people a horrible impression of our city.

in the spirit of recent parade activities, i've decided to start a fine new Portland "tradition".

from now on, i'll use duct tape to reserve a choice parking spot for myself in parts of town that i frequent.

also, thanks to the hundreds of pounds of tape (not to mention chalk and paint lines) left annually by parade-goers, i'll be sure to get that front row window seat i like on the bus.

the Max? i'll be riding first class, thanks to my fresh roll of yellow "Do Not Cross" tape.

that parking spot in front of your house? sorry, i'm reserving it. early bird gets the spot, man.

I see that the "NO CAMPING ORDINANCE" is working really well in OLD TOWN

You're surprised? This is the city that gave them public land for a permanent campsite (Dignity Village).

Heh...Is that any worse than paying them to build condos?

Those boxes resemble linchpins....

I'll refrain from commenting on your buttoned-down horror at the populist reclaiming of the parade route (except to say that for the first time ever, I actually considered taking my kids to the parade, since I might actually be able to find a spot without being shoved to the back by somebody who slept in but felt entitled to my spot because they had taped it off last week).

I just wanted to mention that I almost got arrested one night for body checking a USA Today stand to the sidewalk downtown. It was very satisfying. The rent-a-cop at big pink was unimpressed though, and dropped a dime on me.

If we are going to complain about things blocking/obstructing the sidewalks how about the Greek Cucina on SW 4th& Washington? It has tables and a fence that obstucts more than 50% of the sidewalk in front of their place. Do they need or have a permit to do this? Does anyone know?

There are extensive rules about sidewalk cafes in the City Code, here.

The City Lawyers will tell you that it is a free speech issue. It is possible, the caviot is that you need to provide space for anyone who wants to distribute literature.

Obviously many other municipalities' lawyers have seen it differently.

First, other city regulations ban tieing or chaining anything to city street furniture like light poles, signal poles, fire hydrants, etc. Newspaper vendors routinely violate this.

Second, as you note, the Pedestrian Design Guide calls for not only the corner, but 5 feet from the corner on either side should be free of newspaper racks, etc.

Points well taken.

My gosh, has anyone here ACTUALLY BEEN TO THE PARADE?

No one waits until an "hour before" to show up for their spots. The "prime" spots along MLK are occupied by 8 am. The main drags downtown are similarly full by 8:30.

The city can regulate this if they want. Making a stink a week before the parade was simply stupid. The Merc encouraging people to get drunk and go rip tape in some sort of hipster police action is stupider.

And a guy who says "hockey not war" advocating direct action and confrontation and not working through the political process is stupidest of all.

I think the newspaper boxes should be legal, just a long as a homeless person doesn’t trying sitting on top of one or taking a nap inside of one. The same is true for sidewalk cafes, as long as no homeless person tries to sit at one of the tables – I don’t see any problem with them either.

It's the homeless that are the real eyesores and hazards. They are also known to sleep along the Rose Parade route weeks and even months before the actual event - ruining it for everyone else. Thank God for sit/lie!

Cool, I'm "stupidest of all." Thanks, Jane!

"Polical process" includes, nay, requires direct action. I hope I never become so jaded that I look down my nose at it. (I also work within the electoral political process, for what it's worth.)

Yo, Jane...

To answer your question: yes. Many. I even marched in three of them. But, as I noted earlier, I quit going because of the whole b.s. about claiming spots days in advance. It is b.s.

Also, why is "taping" the sidewalk legal? I was arrested for placing chalk on the sidewalk in a Hiroshima Day 'direct action'. We were released, and prosecution eventually dropped, because it was chalk-based whitewash that would wash off with the rain...and if they arrested and prosecuted us, they've have to do the same with every pre-school and elementary child who draws on the sidewalk. Yet... These clowns get to place down duct tape which, in the sun (yeah, as if...) could potentially bond the adhesive to the walkway for years?

Do I detect a bit of a double-standard here?

When I clerked at the old federal courthouse in the 80's, there was a judge who found the string of newsboxes out front to be quite unsightly, and sought their removal forthwith, and with all deliberate speed.
The newsboxes won.

Newsboxes probably can't be banned -- but their placement, size, number, location, etc. can be regulated.

There are already rules in place in Portland, and violations of those rules everywhere you turn. That might be a good place to start "cleaning up the mess left by the greedy."

I'm with you on this one, Jack. Though I'm not sure how I would have the newsboxes be.

I like that they are in front of the libraries and post offices. I like the rows of boxes on Tenth by Willy Week and on Broadway at The O. And I expect they 'belong' near some eateries. In the towns with regulations and codes, there are times with no box around when I'm looking for one, (sorta like ATM machines, or worse, a pay phone nowadays).

The 'manned' news kiosk, as in Eastern cities, (also real live whistle-working, whiteglove-waving traffic cops at intersections), would seem to offer pedestrian employment opportunites, and given Oregon's holdover attendants for pumping gas, surely news hawkers and dancing traffic cops continue the 'by humans, for humans' motif downtown. News kiosks might occupy less sidewalk than ten newsboxes.

The most of the newsbox insult in the city, though, is that they are empty. That's not a newspaper, it's an ink stain. The kiosks, in 'real' cities, offer dozens of titles. Downtown (PDX) vendors could offer the 'usuals' plus the many suburban mastheads, Vancouver's 'Columbian' & asstd., other town papers from around the state and out of state -- say, forty or fifty 'titles,' less than Rich's or Petersen's, more than newsboxes.

And you know what ... nobody'd buy the papers. Because 'kids these days' and urbane urbanites DON'T READ. (Except some do, a little bit, on the internet.) And I don't really blame them because there's no printed news fit worth reading.

We wouldn't much miss the newsboxes if they were removed like the duct tape. (The parade space savers is hardly worth complaining about, the view from the 'back' of the sidewalk, up against some business frontage, is grand and floral and spectacular from the 'cheap seats.')

WW is long gone from 10th.

I knew that the instant I typed it ... but I couldn't remember where WW went. And my peregrinating is much reduced the more I sit, internet potato. I guess I could google the WW street scene ....

And..."Newsboxes" is not an accurate term. Most of the boxes in the "strings of newsboxes" aren't newsboxes, but boxes full of advertising, most notably "apartment guides" and real estate rags.

Most of the "newboxes" are really "pre-filled trash cans." Wait...that describes the O boxes, too. O, well....

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