Days before Mayor Charlie Hales declared the sidewalks around city hall and the Portland Building a "high-volume pedestrian zone" where no one is allowed to sit or lie down—ostensibly because of safety reasons—his office began entertaining an audacious plan that would spread that same designation throughout much of downtown Portland's commercial district and beyond.
The Portland Business Alliance on July 16, "as promised," sent Hales and his chief of staff, Gail Shibley, detailed maps and an email (pdf) laying out its "suggestions" for dozens of additional block faces meant to bear that designation. The plan would encompass all of SW Yamhill and SW Morrison from 2nd to 10th, snake down much of SW 3rd, and turn part of the way down several intersecting side streets.
And, suggesting the conversation wouldn't stop at downtown, the email, obtained by the Mercury in a public records request, also mentions conversations with the Office of Neighborhood Involvement on several other targets for possible expansion, but specifically spells out SE Hawthorne from 34th to 50th.
Two days later, on July 18, Shibley forwarded the maps to policy director Josh Alpert, and directed him to send them to the Portland Bureau of Transportation if he hadn't already.
"Our thinking is that if you simply designate the retail streets of Morrison and Yamhill, the furnishing zone problems will migrate right around the corner, continuing to cause obstructions for parking, sidewalk passage, and interfering with commerce," wrote Lynnae Berg, the PBA's director of downtown services and a former assistant Portland police chief. "We understand it covers a lot of geography."
The PBA's map marks a major expansion of the designation, which the city's sidewalk law permits when safety is an issue or a sidewalk is too narrow to hold a pedestrian zone and a zone along the curb where free speech conduct, including sitting down or lying down, is permitted. The high-volume designation essentially declares the entire sidewalk area a pedestrian zone.
Sidewalks currently bearing the designation, aside from the new additions around the city's government buildings, include West Burnside and certain streets touching MAX tracks. (A map and an explainer is here.) The practical effect of the designation is that it overlays something the PBA spent considerable time lobbying for in Salem this year—a site-lie ordinance—on a patchwork of high-profile streets downtown.
Hales has promised his administration would be turning to laws already on the books to manage what he called, in his state of the city speech, an "epidemic" of homelessness and aggressive panhandling. He's already worked with prosecutors to refine how and when cops crack down on homeless camps in and around downtown.
It's unclear whether the PBA is the only group who's been consulted on sidewalks. Hales' office, contacted for comment on Friday, has yet to explain whether the list is advisory or part of an ongoing effort to roll out broader sidewalk plans. PBOT also has yet to comment, but tends to defer to Hales' office on sidewalks issues.
The PBA also has yet to respond to a request for comment. It attached pedestrian counts in its email to bolster its wish list, saying it considered "historical complaints and issues" and that it also consulted with cops and ONI. It does not mention any consultations with civil liberties advocates.
Update 3:30 PM: Hales' spokesman, Dana Haynes, says he spoke with Shibley about the office's intentions. I'm still hoping to learn whether this map is part of a broader conversation about planned sidewalk changes—presumably involving ONI and the police, as the PBA has indicated—or not.
She said she wanted to make sure PBOT had a copy of the map, because any actual change in sidewalk usage would start with their engineers. She wanted to make sure they’d seen the proposed changes to the map. They did not go with any orders from the mayor’s office to take action.
We didn’t want to be accused of seeing the map, then throwing it away without sharing it with the appropriate folks.
Becky Straus of the ACLU of Oregon, who helped fight against HB 2963 in Salem this past session, hadn't heard of the maps when I called her for comment. The ACLU has been watching Hales closely as his administration works end-runs around the death of the sit-lie bill. Among the questions advocates are asking is whether this kind of loophole—for complaints and not for traffic safety—is allowed under the city's sidewalks law.
"So this is the PBA's wishlist?" she says. "We' d like to see a bit more discussion of that."
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