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Boston City Council Looks Into Sidewalk Signage Ordinance

The Boston City Council is looking into revising a city ordinance regarding signage for storefronts and businesses.

The council held a working session this week about the ordinance that is coming to an end on May 21. The original ordinance, stating businesses did not need a city permit to place free-standing sandwich boards on public sidewalks, was proposed in 2015 by Mayor Walsh. In 2017, the City Council rejected continuing the pilot program, but then passed an amended version of the ordinance in May 2018 to be reinstated for one year. The Council can now either vote to extend it or try to make revisions.

Councilors meet with Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher to discuss signage ordinance.

Currently, businesses do not need a city permit to place free-standing sandwich boards on public sidewalks as long as they follow the requirements. Signs can be up to 24″ x 36″ in size and must have the phone number of the business. Displayed content is limited to goods for sale, excluding alcohol or tobacco. The sign must be maintained in good condition and can only be outside during hours of operation.

Councilor Josh Zakim said while he is in favor of businesses trying to market themselves and lure in more traffic, he said many of the signs have created a disturbance.

“It’s difficult to navigate,” he said.

He mentioned Newbury Street as an example of sandwich boards being all over the place on small sidewalks, making it hard to walk down. Others mentioned the North End having a similar problem.

Inspectional Services Commissioner William Christopher stated that he is not in favor of changing the ordinance, but wants to have more enforcement.

“We need to pick them up and throw them in the truck,” he said of signs that do not meet the requirements.

Christopher believes it is important to have uniformity across the city when it comes to this ordinance, but Zakim sees things differently.

“We have different zoning in different areas, sometimes just a few blocks apart,” he mentioned.

Michele Messino of the Newbury Street League said if there is true enforcement on the signs, then they would be removing almost all of the sandwich boards on Newbury Street.

“It just isn’t working,” she said. “We failed on this project.”

She said a major issue is weather and often the wind blows signs over onto the street or walkways.

Councilor Michael Flaherty suggested they do a sting one Saturday afternoon where they collect incorrect signs in popular areas to send the message that the city is taking this seriously.

Christopher was hesitant about that idea because he didn’t want the public to perceive them targeting only one area.

6 Replies to “Boston City Council Looks Into Sidewalk Signage Ordinance

  1. There is absolutely no place for these in the North End. They are a constant impediment to traffic on already overcrowded sidewalks that are way too narrow to begin with. Especially maddening on Salem St., where 3′ wide sidewalks are routinely narrowed down to 1′ several times per block.

    1. You need to be an Navy Seal to navigate the sidewalks in the NE :::: Solution? Let’s add more signs, + scooters to join the occasional bicycle rider who uses the sidewalk as a bike path.

    2. Too bad pedestrians are fighting with shop owners over the scraps of the City’s right-of-way. If we subtracted the line of parked cars on Salem Street, the sidewalk could become more than wide enough to accommodate signs, pedestrians, strollers, wheelchairs, etc. etc.

  2. This has become a serious problem throughout the city and a true hazard for walkers and stroller and wheelchair navigation.
    In years past, they allowed second floor businesses to have these in front of buildings where signage was not allowed
    or where there was only designated signage for first and ground businesses.
    Considering the amount of foot traffic, bikes and scooters on sidewalks, etc, these should all be banned from June 1 through
    August 31 at a minimum.

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