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There's this part of the city code, but it has to do only with newsracks on the transit mall, and it appears to be way out of date.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.