Last month we shared the news that the City of Portland, with full support from adjacent businesses, planned to move forward with a pilot program to make SW Ankeny Street carfree between 2nd and 3rd Avenues.
The City plans to re-program the space by prohibiting motor vehicles and effectively turning the narrow street into an extended sidewalk with seating for nearby cafes. Business owners love the idea (they even agreed to pay the City for lost parking revenue) because Ankeny’s narrow sidewalks make outdoor seating impossible.
With support from businesses and PBOT, a grand opening was slated for June 21st, the official start of summer.
But when the ordinance came up at City Council this week, the plans hit a snag. City Commissioner Amanda Fritz voted against it and since it was proposed as an “emergency” ordinance (in order to meet the June 21st date), it had to pass unanimously. With Fritz’s no vote, it failed 4-1.
“… the ordinance… walls off what is currently public space for the exclusive benefit of a handful of business owners, while making no provision for the benefit of anyone who can not afford to patronize these businesses.”
— Michael Moore, Sisters of the Road
Fritz, who was recently named to head the newly formed Office of Equity, has concerns that the new arrangement might impact access to the street for members of the public who cannot afford to eat at one of the restaurants.
Michael Moore is on the Board of Directors for Sisters of the Road, a local non-profit that works to reduce homelessness. He testified at the Council hearing yesterday and found an ally in Fritz.
Here’s an excerpt from Moore’s testimony which outlines his concerns with the ordinance:
“…Promoting equity starts with city government policy itself, which must put equity foremost in all applicable decision making. We at Sisters do not believe this ordinance, as currently conceived, does that.”
Specifically, Moore said that the ordinance “walls off what is currently public space for the exclusive benefit of a handful of business owners, while making no provision for the benefit of anyone who cannot afford to patronize these businesses.”
Writing after the meeting on a local transportation activism email list, Moore said, “Fritz indicated support for our issues with all this. She said she would not vote for it unless some provision is made for seating being available for people who are not customers of the businesses along that block.”
At Council’s afternoon session, Commissioner Randy Leonard worked some procedural magic. He introduced a motion to remove the emergency clause from the ordinance and then called another vote. That motion passed and then the ordinance passed 4-1. Since yesterday was its “first reading,” the ordinance will have to come back to Council next week where it’s expected to pass again. It will then go into effect 30 days later, which would be July 23rd.
While Moore and Commissioner Fritz feel like the plan sends the signal; “If you don’t have money, you aren’t welcome here” (according to Moore’s testimony), PBOT sees the proposal as an overall benefit to the community.
PBOT spokesperson Dan Anderson told us today that if passed, the proposal, “Would be a net gain for the public and not have an adverse impact on the movement of people and goods.”
Anderson says people will still have room to pass through the street on the sidewalks (just as they do today), but instead of parked cars and motor vehicles in the street, “The public will have cafe space.”
As it stands now, this will be a pilot program and the permit will expire on November 1st. I’ve asked PBOT if bicycle access would be maintained once the new seating is put in place. I’ll update this story when I get the answer.
PBOT says they continue to work closely with the businesses along Ankeny and they remain supportive of the project — even with the extended timeline.
Commissioner Fritz, who I just heard from via telephone a few minutes ago, said she has no problem with the proposal in general. “We’re working on the detail of whether we can add a bench or something so that people who are not in the restaurant can also have a place to sit in the right of way,” she said, “And I’m looking forward to another hearing next week.”
UPDATED, 5:45pm: According to PBOT, once the plans are in place, there will be no dedicated space on the roadway set aside for through bike traffic. Bike traffic will be expected to walk on the street and treat it like a large sidewalk.