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June 3, 2013- By Steven E. Greer, MD
Last month, the transportation subcommittee of the Upper West Side’s Community Board 7 voted to approve a resolution cracking down on ugly or abandoned newsracks. The resolution supports the efforts of the Upper East Side CIVITAS group that wants to give the City DOT more power to remove the newsracks. CB7 member Marc Glazer drafted the resolution, which encouraged the city and DOT to act. The full CB7 board will vote on the official resolution June 4th.
Newsracks dispensing free “throw away” local papers have plagued New York City sidewalks for decades. Despite often being nothing more than pure advertising fliers, they have been hard to remove because the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that they are protected as agents of corporate free speech.
In 2002, New York City passed “Local Law 64” that keeps the newsrack concept, but eliminates the numerous individually-owned versions and replaced them with a single design. They were to be operated by a private franchisee that was selected though a competitive bidding RFP process. According to the Associated Press, “The new kiosks are owned by a single franchisee, Cemusa, chosen by the city through competitive bidding to run New York’s “coordinated street furniture franchise.” This includes public toilets, bus stop shelters and newsstands.”
In 2004, the free newspaper coalition successfully watered down Local Law 64 removing restrictions on dirt and graffiti. The amendment is found here.
In 2005, a coalition of newsstand vendors filed a lawsuit with an order to show cause seeking to preliminarily enjoin the Cityfrom enforcing Local Law 64, and the court ruled in 2007. According to the AP, “The coalition argued that as many as 60 vendors would be forced to relocate. But in a unanimous opinion in Uhlfelder v. Weinshall, the court upheld Local Law 64, rejecting arguments that the city violated vendors’ First Amendment rights by turning over the newsstands to a franchisee and that the city violated applicable environmental and land-use review procedures.”
Cemusa operated approximately 300 newsstands in the city, as of 2007. However, they are not adequately addressing the tens of thousands of small newsracks cluttering the sidewalks. CB7 member Marc Glazer estimates that there are more then 1,000 newsracks in his Upper West Side community board district alone, and the problem has worsened over the last five years since the financial collapse of 2008 and city budget woes.
Mr. Glazer said, “When we clearly identified the newsracks operated by the Learning Annex as abandoned and violating numerous provisions (of Local Law 64), we contacted the City DOT. They agreed that they should be removed, but did not do anything. They said that the DOT had no place to store them.”
Rita Hirsch, Co-Chair of the CIVITAS Streetscapes Committee, explained, “My understanding is that the city decided not to include multitrack newsrack boxes when Cemusa got the contract for the newsstands. The modern multitrack boxes installed by Madison Avenue BID, 34th Street Partnership, Bryant Park, and Grand Central Partnership are all paid for by Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Note, there are no boxes around the United Nations, St. Patrick’s, Temple Emanuel, or City Hall because of security concerns!”
Mr. Glazer recently attended a breakfast meeting hosted by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn. He raised his hand and explained his concerns with the newsracks. Ms. Quinn stated her support and promised to assist CB7.
In Tribeca, Lynn Ellsworth is the Chairwoman of TribecaTrust.org and is also trying to clean up her streets and remove the newsracks. She has brought the problem to the attention of the CB1. However, the Tribeca subcommittee of CB1 has passed no resolution of its own.
Scott Stringer, the Manhattan Borough President, has made attempts to improve upon the situation. In 2011, he passed a resolution to remove the newsracks.
In Battery Park City, approximately 20 newsracks with various violations have sprouted up on South End Avenue and North End Avenue. The problem has gone unnoticed by the Battery Park City Authority and Battery Park City subcommittee of the CB1. After complaints with the city “311” service were filed and the City DOT was notified, efforts are now underway to possibly remove some of the boxes. In addition, all of South End Avenue, including the sidewalk, will be redesigned by the DOT as part of an overall effort to improve safety.
The Battery Park City block formed by Vesey Street, North End Avenue, Murray, and the Route 9, within which is located the Goldman Sachs headquarters, has no containers of any kind on the sidewalks, including trash cans. The reason is that newsracks or trashcans are security risks since explosive devices can be placed inside. After the April 15th Boston bombings, Goldman Sachs stepped up security even further and no longer allows livery cab drivers to leave their cars unattended on Vesey Street.
The replacement solution for the hodgepodge of mismatched plastic and beaten up metal newsracks seems to be the multitracks purchased for $10,000 by the various BID’s mentioned above. Of all of the communities acting to clean up the newsracks, Battery Park City is the most capable of installing multitrack system, given the large budget surplus. Stay tuned.