What do Mayors of Pacific Northwest cities have against sitting? Seattle, Portland, Olympia, Anchorage, Berkeley, and San Francisco all have ordinances that restrict sitting on sidewalks. The ordinances have different names, from “Sidewalk Management Plan” (Portland), to “Pedestrian Interference Ordinance” (Olympia), to the slightly less Orwellian “sit / lie ban” (Seattle), but all are weapons against that scourge of downtowns everywhere: sitting on the sidewalk.
Saturday, March 31, 2012
SIDEWALK SITTING BAN
It all started in Seattle, where, in 1993, then-City Attorney Mark Sidran introduced a “sit / lie ban” as part of a package of “civility laws” created to entice businesses to lease downtown offices and storefronts. Gradually, other cities in the Northwest cities followed suit, with Portland’s, Anchorage’s, and San Francisco’s bans all taking effect between 2009 and 2011.
Why ban sidewalk sitting? To “clean up” downtown streets of the homeless, of course. Some of the ordinances are quite explicit about this, while others are not. In an official video explaining Portland’s Sidewalk Management Plan, for example, the Mayor’s Deputy Chief of Staff explains: “As you see we have multiple users on our sidewalks, going from one of our transit stops, visiting one of our mini-retailers in downtown Portland, or just travelling from Point A to Point B. So you can see as a city we have to be able to manage usage of the sidewalks.” (The evidence doesn’t bode well for those who deny that the homeless are the intended targets: between August 2007 and June 2008, 72.3 percent of the 159 people receiving warnings or citations for violating the Sit-Lie law were homeless.)
All of the ordinances work in more less the same way, by criminalizing sitting or reclining on downtown sidewalks for a period of time, usually 6AM until 12AM or so. However Portland’s Sidewalk Management Plan is interesting in that it proposes a 6' - 8' "pedestrian use zone" in which pedestrians "must move immediately to accommodate the multiple users of the sidewalk." Importantly, the zone measures out from the property line, ruling out leaning on (or sleeping on) buildings.
Quite honestly as New Yorkers, it’s hard for us not to scoff at this nonsense. If such ordinances aren’t needed in midtown Manhattan—which hosts some of the busiest, most diverse sidewalks in the world—are they really needed in the relatively serene downtowns of the Pacific Northwest?