Sandwich boards…moved

Sandwich boards done right in Pioneer Square

Isn’t it nice when progress is easy?

Poorly located sandwich boards, aka A-frames, next to businesses have always been an annoyance for many pedestrians. They force us to walk around them, they sometimes narrow sidewalks to single-file, they can be tripped over, and in some places they’re clutter.

I’ve taken to moving many of the worst ones to the side, sometimes day after day, hoping that the owners will get the message. That doesn’t work very well, though it solves the problem momentarily and is satisfying.

Lo and behold, there’s an easier way. SDOT will come to the rescue upon request. With great effect.

The signs are rarely legal, according to this City web page. ”Currently, A-frame signs are illegal except in a City-approved district that has obtained a street use permit to allow and regulate A-frame signs (see BIA).” These districts, where A-frames still face strict rules, are Pioneer Square, Broadway, and the Pike Place Market. A City web page about sidewalk cafes says that even legal A-frames must provide six feet of clear space past seating areas.

I’ve talked to some businesses directly, whether they storm out their doors indignant about “property rights” (this has come up twice, related to poor education presumably), or because I contact them. Sometimes they agree to keep the signs along the curb out of the way. Other times they don’t.

That’s when it’s time to contact SDOT. They regulate signs upon complaint. Just call (206) 684-5267 and leave a message with the address and business name.

I don’t know what they tell the offending businesses, but it works! A few days after a recent complaint about two businesses, both signs went to the side out of the way of pedestrians, and they haven’t offended again. SDOT appears to be enforcing the spirit of the law rather than the letter. I support the enforcement-as-appropriate approach.

There’s a legal side to this. I’m no lawyer, but if someone trips on a sign the City was warned about, shouldn’t the City be liable if it didn’t crack down, and the business be liable if it ignored a City request? Isn’t the business liable regardless? (Any lawyers want to clarify that?) Since liability law is often an excuse to shaft pedestrians (light poles three feet from curbs, crosswalk markings taken away, overly wide streets), it’s nice if the same system helps us occasionally. If the sign is a potential tripping hazard in your opinion, the City will enforce the law to protect itself from costly judgments.

On another tangent, some business owners complain that moving signs hurts business. Maybe that’s true for them personally, but overall, we’ll all buy the same amount of stuff. If the signs have an effect, it’s to move some sales from some businesses to others. Basically illegal signs move sales from complying businesses to non-complying ones. Moving the signs should even the playing field for the good guys.

Now it’s time to try the same thing with parking lot signs. King County’s parcel viewer is good for identifying absentee owners, which could expedite the process for SDOT…

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  • complacent ped

    Thanks Matt. A common annoyance that we often become complacent with. I justify my complacency with this and like offenses (construction signs and closed sidewalks, utilities in the sidewalk, garbage cans blocking the pathway, etc.) as everyone understanding pedestrians are the most able to negotiate obstacles and, thus, should respect such by not giving me dirty looks or, worse, a ticket when I safely j-walk. However, I still can’t help but notice the most egregious offenses, such as those obnoxiously large parking signs smack in the middle of the curb ramp at a corner. That’s just inconsiderate.

  • legal beagle

    hmm…. shouldn’t those illegally placed signs be considered “litter” and be fair game to place in the nearest public trash receptacle?

  • Roger P.

    The vast majority of A-board signs that I see are near the curb or the building front, outside of pedestrian paths on most sidewalks. The “obstacle course” that illustrates your text looks like anything but — there’s a clear, wide and open pedestrian way right down the middle of the sidewalk, where it should be. Where’s the beef?

    The average sidewalk cafe is far more obstructive to pedestrian traffic than a lowly A-board sign. You sound like one of those annoying neighborhood minders, always on the lookout for one violation or another that you can enforce. Maybe you should’ve been a cop, or a building inspector. More suited to your temperment, methinks.

  • Matt Hays

    The picture and caption aren’t mine….I’m trying to change to “Sandwich boards done right in Pioneer Square.”

    Those are off to the side as I’m recommending.

  • Roger P.

    Ah, thanks for the clarification Matt. I hereby retract the harsh language in my post above.

    I think that attractive and well-placed sandwich boards add to the vitality of urban neighborhoods. Perhaps the City ought to permit them citywide — maybe selling $50 permit stickers for them, to collect a little rent for the use of public sidewalks. When a merchant buys his/her permit, it should be accompanied by a simple one-page list of rules about sign placement, so they are all “done right” as illustrated in Pioneer Square.

  • John L.

    I raised this issue on MyBallard.com 9 months ago, and a group of us started a letter-writing campaign about the many blocking signs along the south side of N. W. Market St., especially between 17th and 24th. Some of those boneheads actually believed they owned the sidewalk in front of their store. We got the several offending businesses to stop blocking the sidewalk, though I think calling the city is much better.

  • Ilo

    Thanks for this article. It should help in placing responsibility for a SCAT sandwich sign that blew off the sidewalk yesterday and landed on my car leaving two well-placed dents in my fender.

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