Public Telephones on New York City Sidewalks
Manhattan Community Board 5 (“CB5”) appreciates DOITT’s Request for information (“RFI”) and request for public comments with respect to sidewalk based Telecommunication devices. CB5 agrees with DOITT that the current “Payphone” devices are outdated and that a transformation is called for in their amenities, design and placement. Further, we are pleased that DOITT is engaged in an evaluation to implement changes in the October 2014 new franchise contract.
Likewise, CB5 recognizes the 2014 new Payphone franchise contracts as an opportunity to change and update the way New York City has conceived and employed the use of public payphones. We are happy to make the following recommendations.
In summary, CB5 supports telecommunication/advertising devices, provided that each unit has a significantly reduced footprint and that the modern amenities include Wi-Fi and touch screen devices. In addition, there should be a decreased in the overall number of units and None of the existing installations should be grandfathered. Further, Community Boards should be given a prominent voice in the process to add or remove devices and guidelines similar to those used for newsstands should be followed.
CB5 is in agreement with many of the opinions and concerns voiced by the other Community Boards, and more particularly that of Community Board 4:
CB5 supports the incorporation of free Wi-Fi services within a defined radius. Such Wi-Fi services would be useful in the installation process with telecommunication and phone services in order to avoid the disruptions currently caused by cable cuts due to groundwork. We envision a small computer touch screen with one button free access to nearby mass transit and bike share locations; 911, 311 and 511 contact; Community (including Community Board) events. Amenities for charge could include telephone calls and cell phone battery recharge. Both coin and credit card payments should be allowed.
Understanding the city’s desire to maintain advertising revenue, the screen could employ advertising adjacent to touch screen information and on the full screen while battery recharging is in process. As a feature installed on the telecommunication/advertising panels, the panels should have a “strip” or other form of capability to notify the public of impending emergencies such as hurricanes or evacuations.
While all installations should include basic services, including 911, 311 and 511 as one touch feature, the mix of amenities could vary based on location, need and Community Board recommendations.
CB5 requests a substantial redesign of the sidewalk telecommunication devices to a two-panel slim profile fixture that is no more than one foot deep, with no pedestrian protections or other overhangs. The devices should be placed so that none of their elements projects more than three feet from the curb and do not cause vehicular distraction.
These two-sided devices should include a steel and glass design, consistent with existing Cemusa bus shelter and newsstand designs (the devices could also be integrated with them). We recommend that no more than one unit be permitted per block (including intersection). We feel strongly there should not be free standing advertising panels. At a time when the city is seeking, as stated in the DOTT RFI, to reduce sidewalk fixtures this would be a dangerous and unnecessary precedent.
Telecommunication devices should maintain the highest degree of handicap accessibility. This should include sliding display panels to enable wheelchair accessibility, brail number and lettering, and include verbal-to-type conversation features. Specific efforts should be made for any proposed installations of this type especially in neighborhoods that contain a higher percentage of disabled residents and services for the disabled.
While there continues to be a need for payphone/Telecommunication devices, given that the greater percentage of the population is cell phone savvy, far fewer of these devices are needed. We propose that the placement of telecommunication devices go through a process similar to newsstands, that include Community Board review and approval, as well recommendations for amenities and placement of advertising panels. The new franchise contract in 2014 should not grandfather in current payphone locations and DOITT and/or franchisee recommendations for placement of telecommunications devices should be guided by:
CB5 also opines that this process should be used in the recommendation for Telecommunication device removals and that there also is a process for Community Board initiated removal of devices.
Digital Panels are now the norm and are much easier to maintain, provided that the degree of illumination is at a brightness level that will not impact surrounding residences or ground floor businesses or create pedestrian or driver glare.
In historic districts and other areas where illuminated panels might have a negative impact Community Board Five recommends that non-lit panels might be more appropriate and should be subject to Community Board and Landmarks review.
CB5 strongly object to the use or employment of moving animation, “news zippers,” video, or frequently changing panels that may cause or add to visual clutter and likewise would increase driver (or bicyclist or pedestrian) view time to an unsafe level.
While a reduction in the overall number of telecommunication devices might create concerns for advertising revenue, placing the advertising panels overhead will create a greater visual impact and greater demand for these limited spaces. While CB5 does not have exact data on how the advertising dollar might be allocated, we theorize that an increase in charge per unit could more than make up for number of units at present.
Additionally, advertising on touch screens, banners, and on information pages will create additional advertising space.
Community Board Five does recommend that an in depth study comparing engineering and manufacturing costs to a reasonable projection of revenues be conducted immediately. Such a study should include input from other large cities which may have already undergone these technological changes. It should also include information regarding which franchises might be interested in this project.
Community Board Five requests that any proposed design be brought back to the board for comments and strongly recommends that any new phone units which are purchased or created for this project be American made and manufactured.