City considers new guidelines for Sidewalk Management Ordinance

by Joanne Zuhl

In the current edition of Street Roots we revisit Portland’s Sidewalk Management Ordinance, which, given it’s political ancestry, has charted a smooth course over the past seven months it’s been enforced.

But concerns were raised at yesterday’s meeting of the Portland Sharing Public Sidewalks Advisory Committee over a plan to label sidewalks, including some areas that would now ban sitting or lying altogether. The committee was convened by City Commissioner Amanda Fritz as a sounding board for the ordinance’s performance.

As part of the ordinance, the Portland Bureau of Transportation was charged with developing a plan to label downtown sidewalks according to the pedestrian use zones carved out in the city’s sidewalk management ordinance. The labeling process — a $90,000 project with ongoing monitoring — has been one of the lagging issues on the ordinance, which prohibits people from sitting or lying down in the pedestrian right-of-way, between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. It does, however, make allowances for sitting or lying in a two-foot zone on the curb edge of the sidewalk.

Under the proposal from PBOT, some sections of sidewalk would be declared totally off-limits to sitting or lying, primarily along those sidewalks with Max train stops. That includes stops along Yamhill and Morrison streets, and under the Burnside Bridge. PBOT says that at high volume transit stops, the pedestrian zone applies to 50-feet in each direction of the stop, or the entire block. On a typical sidewalk the zone is between six and eight feet, depending on the width of the sidewalk.

Here’s the map, with the yellow areas indicating places where sitting on the sidewalk is entirely prohibited.

Also marked as pedestrian only is a section of West Burnside from Park Avenue out to the I-405 ramp. PBOT is also proposing that the pedestrian use zone – in which people cannot sit or lie down – would encompass the entire sidewalk in “any areas of sidewalk that do not meet the preferred sidewalk pedestrian sidewalk width corridors and the sidewalks do not have a buffer from vehicle traffic lanes.

“That creates a not very safe position for people to be sitting in that zone,” said Rich Eisenhauer, program manager with PBOT.

The criteria for prohibiting sitting, and lying, altogether, also includes all other sidewalks wherever “police data indicate a high level (to be defined) of conflicts, and if the sidewalk has a high level (to be defined) pedestrian flow during peak hours. While this is an initial proposal from PBOT, it is coupled with months of reports from the Portland Police Bureau that show a concentration of warnings and citations happening around Pioneer Courthouse Square, and two services for people on the streets: Portland Rescue Mission and Transition Projects Inc.

Under the proposed guidelines, PBOT would have the authority to change the sidewalk designations for sitting and lying down without going before council.

Of the $90,000 price tag, approximately $22,000 is for signage and the rest for monitoring. The signs drew their own line of fire.

“This is one of the most boneheaded signs when you talk about enforcement of an ordinance that was framed from beginning to end to be respectful of people with disabilities.” Tricia Knoll, a representative from the Human Rights Commission at the meeting.

Arwen Bird, also on the Human Rights Commission, uses a wheelchair, and was equally critical of the signage, saying that it was “emotionally painful to me to have read these signs.” Bird offered to work with PBOT to help develop more suitable language.

“Put the money toward places to sit and be dry,” said Knoll.

There was no consensus, much less approval, of the proposed guidelines or signage. It will be the focus of the next committee meeting.

Commissioner Fritz acknowledged the lack of support from the committee, and said that the money, which was allocated in the previous budget cycle, didn’t have to be spent. “We could put the money back, in essence,” Fritz said.

This is an initial proposal from PBOT, and Eisenhauer said that his bureau will wait until the committee comes back with a decision on the proposal before moving forward.

Bird has said repeatedly that the biggest obstacle for her isn’t people on sidewalks, but A-boards, signs and café settings – summertime’s “restaurant creep.”  In the past, enforcement by PBOT has been almost nonexistent because of a lack of resources. Eisenhauer said two years ago the bureau put in place a much higher-priced permit and fine system – $250 for citations — equal to a sidewalk ordinance violation, with the intention of applying that money toward enforcement. After going through a lengthy notification process, the bureau began issuing warnings last summer, however, there have been no citations given to businesses under the new ordinance, Eisenhauer said.

4 responses to “City considers new guidelines for Sidewalk Management Ordinance

  1. In some places of the Pearl District it is impossible for anyone with a wheelchair or walking bicycle (correct — no riding bicycles on sidewalks between Hoyt and Jefferson) when there are tables, waiters and diners everywhere, on top of the parking machine and some of the diners’ dogs. There is one certain Italian restaurant on “J” Street that I feel is among the worst offenders on this, during sunny seasons it has outdoor seatings against the exterior wall AND on the curb side, leaving only about 1.5 feet of walking space, which is often occupied by a waiter. The problem is this place is between a popular city park, a popular shopping destination, and a certain institution of higher education, as well as a popular fitness club. Why hasn’t the City of Portland enforced its own sidewalk regulations on this? I thought the latest son-of-sit-lie was about making the sidewalks more ADA compliant? This is such a joke.

  2. Hi Amanda,
    Thanks for your comments. The Pearl District actually has sent in a request to have the sidewalk management ordinance extended to cover all of the Pearl, however, Commissioner Fritz has said that they are committed to giving the ordinance a full year before considering it’s expansion, which is still several months out. That, and there are questions that will require some due diligence on whether the Pearl would qualify for it’s pedestrian traffic, et al. We’ll be staying tuned.


  3. Sidewalk management ordinance has as I see it already made an impact on the pedestrian movement downtown. I find spending $90,000.00, on signs that are offensive and unecessary is appauling! Those that have bussiness promotion sings, tables and chairs, and other items that obstruct the sidewalks are a greater problem to those with disabilities. When is the committee going to see fit to enforce sitations for their obsticales? This is frivious and a waste of tax payer money.

  4. Beyond the signage itself there seems to be a couple of things that are a bit troubling. The first being that these changes don’t technically have to go before council. After several months of good faith on both sides of the fence — if these structural changes happen — the question becomes what else within the ordinance can change w/out it going before council.

    On one hand, it’s important to note that some of the locations, like in front of Pioneer Square need to have further discussion. Having two feet on the curbside of these locations does create an interesting quagmire. There’s a lot of traffic right there — bus, train, passengers, etc. I would argue that it isn’t safe for anyone to sit down less than two feet from the Max platform at the Sixth and Morrison stop.

    Saying that, we know that people experiencing homelessness at these locations are considered a nuisance and have been being run off by Tri-Met security, and the Feds who oversee security at the courthouse on Sixth. For better or worse, large crowds of people do gather, especially during the summer months.

    Another important note is that PDOT and the city have argued that one of the reasons the A boards have not been enforced, or followed up on is because the lack of funding and resources within the bureau. This thinking could be called into question knowing that there appears to be enough capacity at the bureau to go towards a draft proposal, mapping, and proposed signage changes.

    Personally, this proposal would sit much better w/me knowing that the A board requirements are being upheld, and knowing there is a mechanism in place to oversee this particular aspect of the ordinance. Not having that, it creates an unfair playing field and one that risks taking us all back to a place where loggerheads are more common than collaboration.

    – Israel Bayer

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