- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 18, 2002

The District plans to fix its fractured roads by selling ads on street benches, bus shelters and other street accessories.

The street furniture bill, scheduled to be discussed in a 2 p.m. committee hearing today, gives the D.C. Division of Transportation autonomy in selling space on public furniture to any business that wants to place an ad. All proceeds from the promotions would go to the D.C. Highway Trust Fund used by the city to match federal highway funds.

Transportation Director Dan Tangherlini said the bill is an opportunity for the city to explore better advertising revenue options and get a public benefit.

"Our real interest is to re-compete the contract for advertising on our existing bus shelters," he said. "What we want to do was open it up to see what else is out there."

But the bill has a limited explanation of what classifies as street furniture, giving local preservation and citizens groups pause. Opponents are calling the bill a power grab for the transportation director, who is expected to be confirmed by the D.C. Council today as the permanent head of the agency.

Council member Carol Schwartz, at-large Republican and chairman of the Committee on Public Works and the Environment, said the idea that the city could be flooded with thousands of advertisements is a concern for her.

"I do not want advertising to detract from the beauty of this city," Mrs. Schwartz said. "I think once you open it up, there can be lots of inclusions."

The bill is deja vu for Mrs. Schwartz, who fought and won a major battle in May to limit the number of advertisements that can go up on the sides of buildings.

Advertisements on Metro bus shelters are common in the District.

Metro's 10-year contract with Britain-based Adshel to place ads on its bus shelters will expire Oct. 4, 2003. Mr. Tangherlini said that contract yields about $2 million annually for the city.

"Based on my conversations with businesses locally, around the country and in France, the city could be doing a lot better," he said.

Several major U.S. cities such as San Francisco, Boston and New York, have sold ads on newspaper stands, vending boxes, public toilets and information booths for years.

But there have been some problems.

Newspaper reports out of San Francisco this year criticized Mayor Willie L. Brown and Clear Channel Communications Inc. the media corporation that owns Adshel for forcing papers to do away with free standing news racks in favor of multi-box racks in 1998.

San Francisco entered into a 20-year contract with Adshel to maintain and place newspaper racks throughout the city. Lawsuits ensued, but four years later, the legislation and the program are being pushed forward.

Mr. Tangherlini is working with the Golden Triangle Business Improvement District an organization representing 6,000 businesses in a 38-block section of downtown Northwest to create corrals similar to those in San Francisco for local newspapers.

Ann Hume Loikow, vice president of the Federation of Citizens Associations, said her organization and at least 20 others have a long list of concerns about the bill, which they plan to address today.

"Mainly: Should we be using advertising to pay for street repairs and improvements?" Mrs. Loikow said.

She said that trying to pay for roads with advertising "on the cheap" is inappropriate considering the number of federal and local initiatives available.

The D.C. Preservation League is also opposed to the bill in its current form. Officials there said it bypasses review from the D.C. Preservation Review Board and opens the door to ads that are inconsistent with the board's mission.

Mr. Tangherlini, a veteran of the complicated oversight process in the District, said that creating a review panel was a no-brainer for his agency. And, he said, it was always his intention to solicit ideas from the community on appropriate advertisement and setting limits.

"This will not be Buenos Aires, where we're selling street names," he said.

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