Evanston officials want to cut the number of newspaper boxes in town by about 40 percent and spend roughly $50,000 to place all the papers in city-issued boxes at just 17 locations.

Public Works Director Suzettee Robinson told aldermen Monday night the change would reduce sidewalk clutter and improve walkability in the city’s business districts.

Perhaps driven by a shift in readership to online publications, the number of news boxes found in city counts has declined from 298 at 59 locations in 2012 to 223 at 46 locations this year.

The new plan would replace publishers’ individual boxes with uniform clusters of identical boxes, similar to ones at the Technological Institute on the Northwestern University campus.

Newsracks at the Tech Institute.

Robinson says each cluster of racks would have room for eight publications, providing a total of 136 slots.

Based on a city tally, 31 publications have news racks in town, although that tally misses recently installed racks from the China Daily.

So, under the city plan, most publications would only be able to find slots at about half of the new combined rack locations.

Most of the proposed rack locations are either downtown or at train stations, with a couple at other major intersections.

Alderman Delores Holmes, 5th Ward, complained that none of the proposed locations are on the city’s west side, except for one at the intersection of Dempster Street and Dodge Avenue.

City Attorney Grant Farrar said he doesn’t believe there would be any First Amendment issues with the plan to restrict the number and location of news boxes, because the restrictions have a reasonable basis.

Robinson said publishers are supposed to get a permit to place boxes on the city right-of-way now, but that hasn’t been enforced in the past.

Under the new plan, she said, publishers would have to apply to place their papers in a box, but the city wouldn’t attempt to restrict which publications could receive a permit.

City Manager Wally Bobkiewicz said that if there was sufficient demand, the city could increase the number of boxes.

Robinson said that if a publisher placed its own boxes on the sidewalks after the plan was in place, they’d be given 48 hours notice to remove it before the city confiscated the boxes.

None of the aldermen objected to the plan during the discussion session at Monday night’s Administration and Public Works Committee meeting, and it’s expected to return to the City Council for formal approval later this spring.

Bill Smith is the editor and publisher of Evanston Now.

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  1. Newspaper Boxes

    As part of Saturday's Clean-Up Evanston Day, a group of 17 Church Street Station resident volunteers plus one very nice young man from Northwestern University spent two hours cleaning up the block bordered by Maple, Church, Oak, and Davis including below the Metra viaducts along both Church and Davis specifically targeting the newspaper boxes that line the crumbling Metra walls.  They (and other volunteers) filled 20 City-provided trash bags.

    The following update was provided by one of our volunteers to Catherine Hurley (Sustainability Programs Coordinator) as input:

    "Several volunteers took on the big job of cleaning the area under the viaduct and the stairs and ramps leading to the Davis Street Metra Station.  They also tackled the viaduct on Davis just east of Maple.  The viaduct on Church Street is chronically problematic because of the press boxes that are lined up by the stairs.  These boxes are a constant source of blowing papers.  Some days blowing papers line the entire staircase leading up to the station.  I understand several calls have been made to the city requesting these polluting boxes be removed.  We would like to again request that these boxes be removed permanently or relocated to a less windy location."

    With the proposed rack locations for downtown Evanston, here's hoping the City addresses the problem.  I'm an advocate of freedom of speech, but with it comes the responsibility of not creating other public nuisances.

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