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.