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Idiotic Sidewalk Closures Illustrate City Hall's Indifference to "The Rest of Us"

You know, I didn't even really think about the absurdity of all the sidewalk closures in Portland until a friend pointed it out. I mean, it was a hassle, it was inconvenient, and it was often dangerous. I didn't like it, but I just kind of accepted it. I didn't really think about the fact that NO other city I have ever been to allows businesses and construction companies to just block off sidewalks like that until my friend pointed it out. And then suddenly, I realized she was right.
For a city that criminalzes homeless people by passing the notorious and offensive "sit lie" ordinance, I find it pretty brazenly ironic that any Joe Business-Alliance can come along and close the sidewalk at will, forcing me to the other side of the street. The "Sit lie," as you may recall, makes it illegal for people to sit, lie, or otherwise block the sidewalks from pedestrain traffic unless they are sitting at tableclothed tables outside the Greek Cuisina, the Taqueria, or any other downtown restaurant, sipping wine and lattes. Poor people, then, are not allowed to block sidewalks with their bodies, but wealthy people can block them with tables, chairs, and construction equipment. Hell, they can even get permits for it. Which is what they often do.

Try walking down Stark street. Go ahead. Walk from Burnside down toward the river. Hey! Look! You can't. For about a month, it's been blocked on the north side by construction, with a big sign stating, "Sidewalk closed to pedestrians by city permit. You must use other side of the street." It's been a bitch, and I've almost been run down in traffic trying to walk around the dusty chain-link fence hitched rudely across the sidewalk. Inside the fence, dirty trucks lounge on the walkway for no obvious reason. It's not like they needed to work on the sidewalk, either. They're just taking up that space because they can. All the construction work is going on inside the building. How likely do you think it would be that a homeless man could get a permit to block even a few feet of sidewalk, just so he could sleep for a few hours? Not bloody likely. But these guys can completely block it for months, just so they can park their trucks there? Why?

I've gotten in the habit of trying to remember to stay on the south side of the street, in order to avoid having to crawl around that jumble. But sometimes I forget and wind up having to walk around it anyway, creeping out into traffic and around the crooked fence. It makes no sense, really. I mean, why can't the sidewalk be left clear? In any other city I've ever been to, there would have been a scaffold or something set up so that pedestrians could walk through.

So I was already annoyed by this situation. But this morning, it was the last straw. I've HAD it with this. This morning as I walked down Stark, I was met with an idiotic new twist to this irritant. There, on the corner of 11th and Stark, I saw a new sign on the south side of the street, exactly matching the one on the north side. Apparently, BOTH sides of the street are now closed on the same block, so that I was greeted with the absurdity of two rude anti-pedestrian signs squatting on each corner, each demanding that I use "the other side of the street." Was I supposed to walk down the middle of the street? Because the "other side" is closed too! Now, I have been slugged in the back with a billy club once for walking in the street. I watched someone get pushed to the ground and arrested by a sneering police officer (officer Jacobellis) once, for stepping off a sidewalk in the wrong place. So I'm left to wonder, where in the fucking hell am I supposed to go???

Of course, I realize the cops aren't always out pounding on people for walking in the street. They save that as a tactic for repressing political demonstrators. But you see my point. There is a lot of muscle put into pushing people around as they try to navigate the sidewalks, and very little thought given to the simple right of a person to just walk through the city. I'm getting mighty tired of it.

As for the block between 10th and 11th on Stark street, I have to ask. Who gave out these permits? Don't they even think about these things for a minute? Do they not even CARE that some of us have to WALK down these streets? I need to get to work in the morning, and I have to try to remember where all the places that I will have to cross the street to avoid construction are, and it gets harder every day because new signs crop up imperiously demanding that I make way for "progress" on every corner. Why?

As my friend so rightly pointed out, this is the only city either of us has ever been to where wealthy contractors can just move in and commandeer the sidewalks. Anywhere else, from San Francisco to Hong Kong, they are expected to make accommodations for the rest of us. They are not allowed to block sidewalks unless, for some reason, they actually NEED to. And even then, they are expected to erect scaffolds or walkways so that people can get by them anyway. And, they are expected to quickly do whatever it is they need to block the sidewalk for, and then get the hell out of the way. They are NOT allowed to just nonchalantly tell me to blow off, like they are here in Portland. No one hands out open-ended permits to lounge around on the sidewalks while workers have to squeeze by, tiptoeing over cinder blocks and squeezed against chain link fences to keep from being run down in traffic. This is ridiculous. Does anyone at city hall even care about this? If so, speak up now. Mr. Sten? Mr. Leonard? Mr. Potter? Mr. Adams? Do you care? Yes? Then DO something.

other cities 09.Aug.2006 13:36

do allow the same

but something you can do is find out from your building department what the cost of such a permit is and lobby your city council to enact steeper permit fees for sidewalk closures, especially those that exceed more than a few days

if the fees are low or non-existent then the contractors are getting free to low-cost parking for equipment and vehicles and should not be subsidized by taxpayer dollars

take the lobbying a step further and promote higher fees with a percentage dedicated to overall sidewalk maintenance around the city

contact 09.Aug.2006 13:39


Use and Construction in the Right of Way - Printable Version

Provides information and issues permits for: banners, bike racks, transit shelters, house moves, miscellaneous permits, i.e., minor encroachments, sidewalk cafes, sidewalk/driveways, and vending carts. Permits are also granted for use of the streets in both parking metered and non-parking metered areas in accordance with City Code. Under certain circumstances permits may be granted to temporarily close parking spaces, sidewalks, lanes and streets. Transit Mall Access permits are also available.
How to Contact Us:
Contact: Customer Service Line
Phone: (503) 823-7002 Select Option #3

Yeah! 09.Aug.2006 14:52

me too.

You know, I've lived in cities all over the country, and I see what you mean. Everywhere else, there is always a walkway through construction sites. Even really involved construction sites, like when they're erecting a whole building or something -- they always put up tunnels that people can walk through. Always!

But not here. Even if it's just some little inconsequential nothing -- like some storefront rennovating, or some minor little project, or even some business wants a pod out front or something, they just let em.

To the person who posted above, thanks for adding that info, but I can't see how increasing the fee is going to help. That just means it will continue to disproportionately favor wealthy people. I mean, how many homeless people do you know who would be granted a permit to sleep on a sidewalk? No, they're just hauled off to jail, even though it would be cheaper to let them have 3 squares of sidewalk. But rich people can just buy off access to our public sidewalks. The sidewalks WE built, for US, to WALK on.

I think the answer is to demand that they stop hogging sidewalks. They need to allow for the fact that some of us still walk where we need to go. If Portland wants to call itself green, these are the kinds of things people at city hall need to be thinking about. It starts from the ground up.

NW 23rd 09.Aug.2006 18:13


Also, why does the city allow resturants to block sidewalks with tables and chairs for extra seating?

Sidewalks are paid for by our tax dollars and are intended for use by pedestrians. Try to walk along NW 23rd ave and see if you can walk two abreast without dodging tables, chairs and latte swillers. (You can't)

tables and chairs 10.Aug.2006 01:00


I'm not bothered by the tables and chairs, because I think sidewalks (and streets) are for more than just circulation. Tables and chairs can improve the conviviality of a public space. But surely a private business should not be allowed to wholly usurp a public right of way with a construction project.

Tables, chairs, sleeping bags and bottoms 10.Aug.2006 07:58


I would not mind tables and chairs, if it were not for the fact that it's all for profit while people who have no place else to go are disallowed from the same spaces simply because they are poor. People who could very easily hang out in tables and chairs in their own houses are allowed to lounge on sidewalks, so long as there is money in their pockets to pay for what they eat and drink there. And people who own those restaurants use our sidewalks to make a lot of money. Why should they be allowed to do that? Why not make them pay a percentage of that money to help homeless people who can't use the damn sidewalks because the PBA lobbied for a law which criminalizes them?

As for construction projects, it's ridiculous that so many downtown sidewalks are blocked off for that, and you must cross the street so many times to get anywhere. Ridiculous. Make them give pedestrains a walkway through any and all construction zones. And stop granting permits to block sidewalks on both sides of the freaking street.

now 10.Aug.2006 11:04

that you've ranted

take the next step


now 10.Aug.2006 16:32

other me

now that you have proposed ACTION
take the next step:

other 10.Aug.2006 18:11


not all pdx indy readers/commenters live in pdx
but for those that do, and a few of them sound local
ACTION is the next step

intersting discussion 11.Aug.2006 17:39

you are right!

Other cities create these tunnels so you can coninute ot walk your usual route and get to businesses. They also have nets everywhere to catch any flying debris. But, no, I have rarely, if EVER seen that kind of set-up in Portland. These days of construction all over town, it makes for ugliness and noise and detours. Just in time for the summer when all the tourists might think about visiting. I wonder how many are left with an unfavorable impression of Portland becuase of all the upheavals? the comment about rich people are OK to lounge around on the sidewalks at expensive cafes and restaurants, while poor people get arrested for doing soemthing similar out of desperation, was a very good point.

Perhaps Try This... 17.Aug.2006 04:40

Sixpack wabc@mutualaid.org

I'm a heavy construction carpenter and have experience with many local construction companies. While the bureaucrats at city hall may give you the cold shoulder for your demands, construction companies are a different story. The companies have much to lose over bad publicity, where the city doesn't care.

Neil Kelly is a company that has made many concessions because of the public response, and other companies would too, if presented in an appropriate way.

Sometimes choosing the best avenue for action is better than choosing the path most taken.