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Imperfect Arlington: Unruly newspaper boxes

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Arlington's reputation as a clean, green, friendly utopia on the Potomac hasn't come out of nowhere. Potholes are fixed, bricks are realigned. But there must be some glitches, at least some tiny imperfections in the well-manicured matrix that is Arlington. In Imperfect Arlington, we search for and document these anomalies, and, most likely, take note of how quickly they are repaired into oblivion. Have you caught Arlington off its game? Send us a tip.

It can be tough for pedestrians out there in Arlington, even with all of the county's pedestrian friendly programs. There are all those intrusive A-frame signs on the sidewalks. (Well, except when code enforcement is canvassing.) There are the people riding bikes. It happens. It seems even though their hearts are in the right place, their knowledge of biking laws is a little lacking. And without fail, along any major transit route, there are the newspaper boxes.

The county has rules to crack down on most of this. The zoning code allows the code enforcers to confiscate those A-frame signs. And periodically Arlington police carries out enforcement days to crack down on cars, cyclists and pedestrians not following the rules.

But who regulates whether every publication, advertiser, real estate agent or auto salesman can drop a metal or plastic bin full of propaganda right there on Arlington's beloved sidewalks? No one. And some people aren't happy about it.

The county gets complaints all the time about the boxes blocking the sidewalks, according to bicycle and pedestrian programs manager David Goodman. "There is no permitting process. If you have one, you can put it out there," Goodman says. "There are no regulations that explain where you may or may not put them."{}

No regulations? In Arlington? Where sidewalk signs, dog murals, and even Lego Men are highly regulated? Inconceivable!

Apparently the issue of the newspaper boxes has come up before, but the potential first amendment issues related to limiting the materials from being distributed have always loomed, planning and zoning officials say.

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Well don't give up hope, Arlingtonians. It can't be long until someone figures out how to eradicate these obstacles to the county's uber-walkable communities. Until then, watch your step.