Evanston looks to cut number of newspaper distribution boxes by more than half

Evanston+currently+has+46+newspaper+distribution+box+locations+throughout+the+city.+In+order+to+reduce+clutter+on+sidewalks%2C+the+Administration+and+Public+Works+Committee+heard+a+proposal+Monday+to+cut+the+number+of+box+locations+to+17.

Kelly Gonsalves/Daily Senior Staffer

Evanston currently has 46 newspaper distribution box locations throughout the city. In order to reduce clutter on sidewalks, the Administration and Public Works Committee heard a proposal Monday to cut the number of box locations to 17.

Kelly Gonsalves, Reporter

Evanston’s public works staff proposed Monday a plan to cut the number of newspaper distribution box locations by almost two-thirds to clear street clutter and maintain the city’s rights-of-way.

The Administration and Public Works Committee encouraged city staff to move forward with drafting an amendment to Evanston’s newspaper box policy, which will decrease the number of citywide box locations from 46 to 17. The proposal came in response to an increased number of vendors placing boxes on city streets without first seeking necessary permits, public works director Suzette Robinson said.

“(It’s an) opportunity to consolidate the boxes to more central locations in an effort to clear up the clutter, create a more uniform look along the street and increase the walkability along those corridors,” she said.

According to Robinson’s presentation at the meeting, there are currently 223 boxes at 46 locations citywide, a 25 percent decrease since 2012, and 31 different publications that use them to distribute print products. The proposed amendment would consolidate these boxes to 17 locations concentrated in the downtown Evanston area. Each location would feature a single corral containing four boxes. Each four-box unit would cost about $1,500.

The policy update would also include more specific regulations for how vendors request use of each newspaper box and would require a city permit to be visible within the box. Any additional boxes placed without city permission would be removed after 48 hours, Robinson said.

Ald. Ann Rainey (8th) raised concerns about issues of freedom of speech that could arise from only allowing certain publications to use the limited number of boxes.

“I think you’re getting into a real tricky territory. It’s sort of like censorship,” Rainey said. “I think we have way too many boxes and way too much junk, but I think once you start saying, ‘You can be here, and you can’t,’ then I don’t know.”

But a city attorney, Grant Farrar said concerns about the public safety, welfare and access to city streets should allow the city to make the proposed policy changes.

Ald. Delores Holmes (5th) also pointed out that there is no current system in place to restrict any vendor from removing another vendor’s materials from a box and replacing them with their own publications.

With the committee’s approval, city staff will move forward with drafting the revision to the ordinance and collecting feedback from the public, Robinson said. The staff will come back to the committee with a formal proposal including a finalized number of boxes and a list of locations in about two months, she said.

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Twitter:@kellyagonsalves

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