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  • Portland Bureau of Transportation

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Maybe it's the larger scope of enforcement, or a weariness over similar efforts that occur every year, or a rising awareness that this city's housing market feels crazily unfair. Whatever the reason, people are infuriated this year over the police department's push to get "entrenched" campers out of the Central Eastside.

Street Roots' Israel Bayer had sort of a here-we-go-again attitude when I talked with him late last month. After being out and about and witnessing officers sending people packing, though, he became convinced the effort was deeply troubling. Activists are holding up signs and calling cops "pigs" as they record the cleanups, and, weirdly, getting into skirmishes with small-town mayors. Longtime Portland City Council gadfly Joe Walsh didn't even bother coming into council chambers Wednesday morning. He sat out front of city hall with a bullhorn, accusing Mayor Charlie Hales of heartlessness (you could hear his garbled shouts from the building, but not really his words).

Even Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, one of the city's top partners in the fight against homelessness, has voiced reservations about the effort, saying it doesn't make sense to push people around when they have nowhere to go. (Cops acknowledge that's happening, but say they need to encourage more "low-impact" living—not people setting up tent camps for days and weeks on end).

While all the energy and rage—and applause from plenty of people who want to move the homeless out of their 'hood—is going on across the river, there are also changes afoot downtown. As we report in this week's Hall Monitor, the Portland Bureau of Transportation is getting ready to expand the number of downtown blocks where people aren't allowed to sit during the day.

Starting July 1, PBOT plans to expands the "pedestrian use zone" on eight blocks, essentially eliminating from 7 am to 9 pm the ribbon of sidewalk where people are allowed to sit or lie down. There are already something like 32 of these downtown (depending on how you count the weirdly shaped ones). There's a map up above, with the existing no-sit sidewalks in orange, and the new ones in red. (Here's a rich and full-sized PDF version (complete with the hands-holding-a-charm-bracelet-covered-heart iteration of PBOT's $5,000 new logo), since our site is an image prison.)

That amounts to three stretches of sidewalk near MAX stops, the entire periphery of the big food cart pod at 10th and Alder, and the NW Hoyt-facing side of Powell's.

It could have been far more drastic than this. The Portland Business Alliance has been pressing the city to push the number of no-sit blocks up to roughly 120, but PBOT staffers found most of those requests didn't have any basis in reality. The bureau only expands the pedestrian zone if there are safety concerns raised by people sitting—like that they might fall into traffic or on the MAX tracks, or create tripping hazards on narrow or particularly crowded blocks.

Here are the actual city rules:

B. The Director of the Bureau of Transportation may determine to designate a sidewalk area in the following situations:

1. All street corners where the pedestrian use zone encompasses the entire area bounded by the extended frontage lines and the streets.

2. Locations adjacent to high volume or high speed traffic with no parking or furnishing zone or with narrow sidewalks with no buffer.

3. Locations where a critical mass of pedestrians warrant a wider area.

4. Locations at Food Cart “pod” frontages that create queuing conflicts.

5. Locations adjacent to parking curb zones to four feet from the curb to allow for access and ingress/egress of parked vehicles.

6. Locations at designated loading platforms for bus, Light Rail, and Streetcar to reduce conflicts of cross traffic for access, loading, and queuing.

7. Locations adjacent to active transit trackways for Light Rail or Streetcar with no travel lane buffer.

PBOT's incremental expansion isn't drawing any of the heat of the police campsite enforcement. The bureau talked over its decisions with advocates, and they're largely pleased with the process.

"We wanted to be thoughtful and deliberate about this," said Bryan Hockaday, a staffer in Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick's office. "We really want to be able to make sure that people are safe and have access to the sidewalks."

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That doesn't mean that PBOT's done designating. Hockaday says the bureau will continue to look at PBA's requests—and downtown blocks in general—to assess whether they need greater restrictions.

As I noted in the column, though, there's not much hard proof that even these eight blocks pose huge safety challenges, either. The city couldn't offer up a list of formal complaints or dicey incidents at any of these locations. And when I went and checked them out the other day, there were just two people seated on the sidewalk: Women eating their lunch on the curb near the food carts.

That problem's solved beginning July 1.