Sharring experiences in urban infrastructure delivery.

News Racks–Managing the clutter

By: Tom Davis Category: Sidewalk Features

The downtown area of Houston Texas was plagued by the multi-colored boxes offering “news” papers that often only provided free advertisements for used cars, real estate, etc. The common Newsracks 900 Main SW 2007-09-30 - b.jpgview was many were far from “news” but would contain some thread of news that–in the mind of the legal eagles–qualified them as something protected by the first amendment: i.e. Freedom of Speech. That left us with distribution boxes full of papers few read that quickly became a hazard to the pedestrian and private property when they fell into the main path of the sidewalk or the street; blew into the building’s glass store fronts, contents pull out and set on fire; and created what appeared to be disorder and visual blight.

The case was made that the practice of placing them in the public space was a hazard to the public an the unregulated mode that depended on the owners to properly maintain them. In fairness some publishers boxes were well made and kept in good order. But those were the minority.

Finally enough support was found on City Council for this issue and concerned groups–lead by the Houston Downtown Management District–lead a process to work out a solution with the vending box companies and the advertisers. RegulatedVendingBoxes04.jpg

After many meetings and both sides gaining an understanding of the needs and concerns a new ordinance was proposed to Houston City Council and it was enacted. The gist of the ordinance was:

  • after a short period all boxes must be registered and moved to specific locations displaying their permit sticker;
  • all boxes must be mounted to a specified concrete base to maintain the permitted location;
  • after a longer period all boxes must be a specified color–dark green.
  • the management of the new permit areas was assigned to the City’s Parking Management Division as they already have parking enforcement officers on the street and that person can also monitor compliance of the vending boxes.RegulatedVendingBoxes01.jpg

The phasing in of the requirements allowed the vendors to use their current investment and phase out the non-compliant boxes. That greatly reduced the protests that the ordinance would “put me out of business”.  The permitting locations provided City approve locations and at major properties the boxes could be installed and not “disappear in the night”. The properties had a common color box in a specified location and did not object–at least did not object as strongly.

So far this scenario has worked.


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