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Mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone addresses off-street path safety concerns

Posted by on October 27th, 2020 at 9:51 am

A rider on the Springwater Corridor path.
(Photo: Michael Andersen/BikePortland)

During a live, online conversation with a supporter Monday evening, mayoral candidate Sarah Iannarone was asked how she’d address safety concerns and homeless camping on the Springwater Corridor path — an issue that has challenged Portland leaders for nearly a decade.

The interview was with Portland-based attorney Alan Kessler. Kessler asked Iannarone to repeat an answer about the issue he overheard her share at a recent open house hosted by “cycling lawyers” (who he described as “the lycra folks who go on fast carbon fiber bikes and go for long rides”).

Before I share the exchange, it’s important to know a bit of context on the issue. We first reported about fears of criminal activity and assaults on the Springwater in 2011. By early 2016 the number of people living along the path and the safety (and other) concerns of people using the path had skyrocketed. That summer an estimated 400-500 people lived along the path in southeast Portland and it became a very high-profile political issue. Former Mayor Charlie Hales ordered the people and their encampments to be removed in September 2016. The issue has flared up once again as people have returned to the camps.

In last night’s interview with Kessler, Iannarone explained why people like living along the paths and said she’d call for a community summit and maybe even a “ceding” of the paths on a temporary basis so right-of-way negotiations could take place.

Screengrab from the live interview.

Here’s the exchange (slightly edited for clarity, it starts at about 5 minutes, 26 seconds into the interview which is posted here):

Kessler:

“I heard you at an open house hosted by a bunch of lawyers, and some of them were cycling lawyers, and they were talking about the Springwater Corridor which used to be for bicyclists a wide open, nice space to bike. And over the last decade, we’re seeing more and more people camping there and we’ve seen more reports that people are not feeling safe on the bikeway or are being assaulted… The question they asked you is ‘How are you going to deal with that homeless problem on my bikeway?’… I loved your answer so I’m going to ask you: How are you going to deal with the problem of me not being able to bike on that bike way?”

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Iannarone:

“Well, you have to ask yourself why two marginalized groups in the city are forced into the same tiny 8 feet of space all around it. Why is this small multi-use path cyclists best option? And why are people without housing also finding that a desirable place? Meanwhile, we have miles, acres of this city covered in asphalt, dominated by the automobile — primarily a little bit of transit, and some freight — but primarily single occupancy vehicles going to-and-fro. You have to ask yourself: How have we equitably allocated urban space for various communities and modes of transportation and interest groups? And how are we going to negotiate that in the future?

One conversation we may need to have is a summit between the cycling community that relies on the multi-use paths and the people residing along them. I’ve spent time on “The Cut” in St Johns, I’ve spent time with people experiencing homelessness along the I-205 multi-use path, I’ve spent time with the folks evicted along the Springwater Corridor… and I’ll tell you this, they don’t really like living there either. But why are they living there? Well, a path is infrastructure. The same way as we want to walk out of our sidewalk and onto a street to get to things that we need; when you’re living along a multi-use path you can give people directions to where you’re living. There’s a milepost, you have an address. There’s a dry walkway should it be raining and need to get to the nearest transit stop to get to a service organization so you can either send some mail, receive some mail, pick up the check — these are the kinds of things that we take for granted when we’re housed. For people without housing, that path is in fact a lifeline.

And so, we may have to do some immediate negotiation in the short term about maybe even ceding those multi-use paths for a short time but then trying to make sure that we’re carving out greater space on the right-of-way.

What I want to do is bring the community together to enhance understanding of the different groups. There’s a lot of acrimony between a lot of groups — cyclists and people without housing, cyclists and motorists, and motorists, you know, and transit — we’ve got to get people talking more civilly so that we can start to hammer out solutions to our biggest problems. Because right now, having hundreds of people concentrated along the paths is not working for anyone involved.”

Iannarone is campaigning hard in the final week before the election to unseat Mayor Ted Wheeler.

Asked for how he’d deal with these path issues, Wheeler’s campaign manager Danny O’Halloran (who initially contacted BikePortland about Iannarone’s comments) said, “Mayor Wheeler has prioritized compassionate alternatives to people camping on the streets… this week, the mayor is asking Council to approve additional funds to make sure we are able to keep our shared community spaces safe, clean, and accessible to everyone. The mayor will continue to find solutions to help those struggling into housing and maintain our public spaces for the whole community.”

UPDATE, 11:55 am: Iannarone has shared more to help explain her comments:

“First off, unlike our incumbent mayor, I rely on our multi-use paths for my transportation, especially the I-205 path. The conversation needs to stop being “how do we get these people out of sight” and become “how do we get these people housed?” I’m not talking about closing our MUPs, I’m talking about the reality on the ground. Wheeler never met a problem he didn’t want to arrest. I’m trying to broker peace in this City. Wheeler’s campaign is too busy complaining about my social media to generate an original idea. We need to use our resources to get people safe housing. Meantime, we might need to strike a deal for camps to remain there until they have safe alternatives, a deal that involves sanitation, not obstructing the pathway, lighting & safety protocols.”

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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cmh89
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cmh89

I voted for Sarah and I think her weakest area is in regards to homeless folks. I agree with her that one of the main problems is that we shove cyclist into the same spaces that homeless folks like to live, but these encampments are not just problems for cyclist. They are problems for the (usually) working class communities that live near them. I doubt she has spent any serious time in the cut. She is a politician. I’m sure she went there in the day and handed out sandwhiches or what not. As a cyclist, I bike down the cut during the day and sometimes at night, but the reality is that the folks who live near the cut suffer far more than cyclist who would like to use the peninsula crossing trail do.

Homeless advocates need to acknowledge that homeless people are in fact people. There are good people and bad people who live on the cut. If advocates want the good people who live in the cut or the springwater corridor to be left alone, they need to be willing to acknowledge we need to do something about the bad people. I wouldn’t want to live near what goes on in the cut and neither would you, and neither do the good people who live there. We all have a shared problem and pretending that all homeless folks are just down on their luck isn’t going to solve it. A summit is a stupid idea because the people who shooting heroin and driving their cars into the path don’t care about their “neighbors”

RudiV
Guest
RudiV

If we “cede” these paths, we’re never getting this infrastructure back.

Chris I
Guest
Chris I

We’ve already ceded the I-205 path. I can’t vote for anyone who says they will eliminate sweeps completely, because we will lose the few remaining paths that we can use. We need policies that add affordable housing, and policies that provide shelters, but you also need to be able to force people either into the shelters or out of our city, or we will never get these spaces back. We need carrots and sticks. You will never clean up these areas without a stick.

FDUP
Guest
FDUP

“the lycra folks who go on fast carbon fiber bikes” do not belong on a multiuse path Like the Springwater to begin with; I’ve had more trouble with irresponsible time trialers on the Springwater than I have with the camps.

maxD
Guest
maxD

What a scary and disappointing response! “temporarily” giving up our public spaces? Can you even imagine ever unravelling that? It is is so heartless and so so unrealistic. WE need to make our public spaces safe and open and accessible, and not let them be occupied. WE cannot have a solution to homelessness include sanctioned shantytowns. We need to re-establish a civil society with equal protection and responsibilities for everyone. I agree that the infrastructure is not fairly allocated, but removing public openspace is unacceptable. I think the model adjacent tothe Hawthorn Viaduct seems ok for temporary housing. Maybe that could be expanded on other City/State owned lots. Maybe use the City-owned parking structures for temporary housing. But not parks, and not bike paths. I think Sarah’s proposal pits the homeless against the working poor for resources.

Jon
Guest
Jon

This is not hard and there is no reason for a summit. There are people blocking and making a bike path un-usable by riders trying to safely get around by bike. The paths need to be clear and safe. Full stop and period. There should be no question about “ceding” the few non-car bike routes even on a temporary basis. I cannot believe I’m hearing what is supposed to be serious candidate express these ideas.

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Iannarone: We need to re-imagine how we equitably allocate public space.

Wheeler: We’ll keep doing what we’ve been doing.

Champs
Guest
Champs

If the question is “how can Iannarone make me feel less bad about voting for Wheeler” then this is the correct answer.

Out of all the right-of-way in Portland… the slice she’s willing cede is dedicated to active transportation?

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

Most comments are already complaining about giving space to people, much like cyclists complain about giving space to drivers. I’d love to feel safe biking on paths and streets, but I cede that it’s more important for PEOPLE to feel safe somewhere (anywhere) in the city. Those people chose the paths as their safe space.

We already don’t bike there. What do we lose by officially giving up on evictions for the time being and trying to make a space that those people want to move into?

Mike
Guest
Mike

> And so, we may have to do some immediate negotiation in the short term about maybe even ceding those multi-use paths for a short time but then trying to make sure that we’re carving out greater space on the right-of-way.

Many people here aren’t reading. She’s talking about ceding the path in return for taking more space from cars. This is the correct answer. To simply keep clearing the path every 3 months will result in no change at all.

Allan
Guest
Allan

Comments really had me thinking of responding but I feel like the article doesn’t include any links to Sarah’s larger plans around houselessness. When I have heard her talk about this in the past it came across as a just way to work on this problem. https://sarah2020.com/en/policies/housing-for-all/

Kathleen Walker
Guest
Kathleen Walker

Do you realize how hard it was to get regional trails built? With the situation today, the chance of getting any kind of trail or park built – let alone a regional trail – will be slim and none. And Slim left town. No camping should be enforced in our public parks and along our trails! The garbage and human waste is sickening. The idea you could “cede” the trails that we are paying to build and maintain, and somehow get them back is ludicrous. The management on the Springwater and other Portland regional trails are screwing our opportunity to build future trails for decades!

Brian
Guest
Brian

I don’t understand this comment, in particular: “One conversation we may need to have is a summit between the cycling community that relies on the multi-use paths and the people residing along them.” What would “we” hope to accomplish with this conversation? What is needed is for those in positions of power in our city, such as mayor, to provide places for people to safely exist. Why did it take a pandemic to provide a parking lot with fresh water, port-a-potties and some pallets? Why isn’t the answer to this question more specifics on where people can safely live within our community and have access to a variety of needed resources? Maybe even some resources that help people with a transition to earning an income. Her answer reads like such a non-answer to me.

Pat Lowell
Guest
Pat Lowell

This is exactly the kind of ridiculous response I would have expected from Iannarone. I’m so sad for our city that our choices for mayor are her or Ted “I hate this job” Wheeler.

Steve Hash
Guest
Steve Hash

If anyone has a Wheeler yard sign, my corner lot on a bikeway is available..

matchupancakes
Guest
matchupancakes

This proposal to review reallocating the right of way (i.e. streets) for community needs is what is missing far too often during discussions. If we are to address houselessness it is going to take a citywide response. Interim solutions and policy will get us there while the housing inventory catches up. For example, a tent will fit inside the space of a car parking spot and there are miles upon miles of space for parking throughout the city that are underutilized. Some people do not want group living (i.e. shelters) nor to be inside all the time year round. Having a solution that does not force people under freeway overpasses and onto multiuse paths is better than what we’re experiencing today. Put human rights and people first.

Aaron
Guest

What craven, opportunistic, anti-homeless bullcrap from Wheeler’s campaign.

If you’re upset about people camping on the springwater, a) you should be more empathetic to the plight that brought them there, and b) you should be upset at the politician who has done nothing to tackle our housing crisis for the last four years that got us into this mess.

Wheeler ran on a platform four years ago of tackling the housing crisis, and things have only gotten worse. Sarah’s got a 3200 word plan for addressing our housing problems. https://sarah2020.com/en/policies/housing-for-all/

J_R
Guest
J_R

If you want to cede something in public ownership or public use to the homeless, let’s have a discussion of which property to cede. I suggest city owned golf courses. What’s your idea?

Laura
Guest
Laura

Under Wheeler, two City/County/Private partnership navigation centers have opened, motels opened for homeless during Covid, and our regional homeless funding program is just getting off the ground. A good start. But ceeding, even temporarily, facilities that were paid for with transportation and parks funding is wrong. Has Sarah looked at the shoreline along OMSI-Oaks Park path or along Johnson Creek recently…the amount of trash and biological waste along our shorelines is stunning.

Kittens
Subscriber
Kittens

Sigh… I voted for Sarah because I think she is worth a try —–but—- comments like her’s are quickly radicalizing me on this issue.

Why does every “good” progressive politician’s statements begin with “lets have a conversation”. How is this leadership? I read this as “I have no idea how to fix the problem and don’t want to even wager a guess”.

The second most common rhetorical device is how The Problem is not a The Problem but part of a bigger problem which is so big we cant do anything about it!

Enough with the excuses, we need solutions and accountability.

JR
Guest
JR

I’ve found myself to evolve on this issue. I used to complain about people living in their RVs and cars in my neighborhood. The unsanitary smells carried dozens of feet away so that you couldn’t walk down a street without wanting to vomit upon passing those locations. The city has added sanitation stations nearby that seem to help a little bit. But the problem has grown to where structures are erected attached to or around the vehicles. The smells are worse, garbage gets blown in all directions, leftover food, cooking charcoals, etc are dumped in landscaping, and very sketchy, aggressively driven cars cruise nearby them. If there’s a summit on these issues, I’d be happy to be present and voice concerns.

Perhaps there’s a middle ground. Perhaps the city can dedicate some vacant lots or extra space for the purpose of creating more sanitary and organized temporary housing. A place with garbage collection, connections to services, public transit and safe bike access, etc. The status quo is haphazard, unsanitary and unsafe for everyone.

Momo
Guest
Momo

I really shouldn’t be shocked at the intense anti-homeless rhetoric in BikePortland comments, but I still am shocked by it nonetheless. 90% of these comments basically amount to “sweep ’em away, get ’em outta my sight!”. This is disgraceful. We’re talking about real people who have nowhere else to go, and I think Sarah articulated well why a path might be a much better option for them then out in a field somewhere. Until we’re willing to house all homeless, we need to work with homeless camps to establish safe practices rather than just sweeping them away, which is basically what she’s saying.

The camp next to the path from Greeley to Interstate is a good example of one that generally works. There’s a fence, the path is rarely blocked, and I think most people would feel safe riding along that path. It’s not perfect, but it overall works. The path along the cut in St Johns is the opposite, it’s chaotic and there’s trash everywhere and it’s blocked very often. It doesn’t have to be that way, and there’s a way to make things safer and more organized that doesn’t involve kicking people out who have nowhere to go.

Matt
Guest
Matt

The paths are gone and are not coming back. And that Iannarone, wow what a smoke screen she puts up. Pretty grim prospects for Portland.

Jered Bogli
Guest
Jered Bogli

I mean as a sound bite I do like “Wheeler never met a problem he didn’t want to arrest.” though coin toss as to weather he’d tear gas them first.

Lenny Anderson
Guest
Lenny Anderson

As we worked to get the Going Street sidewalk to Swan Island widened (“Going to the River) and even during construction, folks were camping up in the trees nearby. Perhaps thanks to them, but more likely to the litter deposited by the thousands of vehicles on Going, things along the widened sidewalk were often a mess. What to do.
How about this: organize the campers to “own” that piece of sidewalk and keep it picked up, and why not pay them a living wage to do it? Maybe enough to rent a room somewhere.

Matt S.
Guest
Matt S.

Maybe she can write her doctoral thesis on this subject…

Scott Kocher
Guest

“Wheeler’s campaign manager Danny O’Halloran (who initially contacted BikePortland about Iannarone’s comments).”
I like to know what the candidates are saying, but I don’t give Ted Wheeler points for pitting people who care about housing and transportation against each other right before the election.

Mike Quigley
Guest
Mike Quigley

These paths are probably safer than the streets. overall. How about the news about a bike rider in Vegas who was killed by being pushed off her bike by a passenger in a passing car. Fortunately, this time, the passenger was also killed when he fell out of the window during the incident, but what the heck! Mean streets about to get meaner after the election no matter who wins?

Matt
Guest
Matt

Yes, no set aside space for the camps is a problem. Let’s put them in the middle of a street in a dry spot under an overpass and then let’s call for a summit while the street effectively remains closed until we brainstorm a solution. Given that streets are on a grid, it would be a mild inconvenience for drivers, whereas the 205 path is a pinch point that is really the only viable option for cyclists. Why treat the MUP path differently from camping in a street?

Fred
Guest
Fred

I was never going to vote for Sarah – no matter how much she bikes. I could never vote for someone in a race as important as Portland mayor when that someone has never held elected office, at any level.

Sarah’s handling of this issue (“ceding the area”) just shows why she’s not ready to be Portland mayor. And it makes me feel better about voting for Ted.

Brighton West
Guest
Brighton West

Have Bike Portland readers become just typical car drivers / “cagers” in disguise?

There’s a lot of “this is my space and those other people should go elsewhere” in the comments. Next, we’ll hear “my taxes paid for that MUP and those homeless people don’t pay taxes!”

It sucks what’s happening along the paths. But these are extraordinary times. We cannot solve this problem overnight (I think that Sarah is recognizing this, and Ted’s overnight-solution sweeps haven’t solved the problem.) But things can be made better and we can come up with a long-term solution that addresses the needs of cyclists and people experiencing homelessness. Golf courses are a great example someone mentioned in the comments.

If I had to choose, I’d rather be a cyclist on Powell Blvd, than living in a tent on the Springwater.

When the car drivers start to convince mayor Ted to “sweep the cyclists off the roads because they are making for a poor driving experience” it will have come full circle.

Note: I don’t want to “cede the MUPs” but, once again, there is a crisis going on and we all need to take a step down to give others a leg up.

Maynard
Guest
Maynard

Use this early and often!! pdxreporter.org
No ceeding of the MUPs Chamberlain Iannorone!!

pdx2wheeler
Subscriber

Portland Metro needs a safe MUP network across the entire region. However when MUPs draw-in drugs, homeless, trash, and security risks then society will never support their creation. As an example, I believe this is a huge reason the Lake Oswego trolley’s right-of-way will never be converted, despite it being such low hanging fruit and holding such enormous potential.

JM
Guest
JM

Thanks for posting this. It has helped me make my decision on who to support.

Lazy Spinner
Guest
Lazy Spinner

Serious question…while we await a solution to this problem that helps both MUP users and the homeless population along MUPs, why can’t we have PPB and Multnomah County Sherriff motorcycle patrols along the Springwater?

I am not advocating camp sweeps, crackdowns, or the police hassling the homeless. It seems to me that a constant police presence patrolling our local MUPs would deter the bad elements while boosting security for MUP users, good folks camping along the trails, and the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to them.

FormerL&CPioneer
Guest
FormerL&CPioneer

After reading Sarah’s response, I’ve determined two things. 1. Sarah is a theorist. 2. In my 50= years of living, theorists get nothing done.

Sarah talks about, “bringing the community together to enhance understanding of the different groups.” There’s nothing to understand. The homeless are homeless because they 1. Choose to be, 2. Are drug addicts, 3. Suffer from mental illness and their families have given up. Cyclists want to avoid getting hit by cars. The city along with advocates for a healthy lifestyle built the bike path to cater to bikes, not encampments where disease and drugs fester. Portland, get your act together. You were once a beautiful, attractive city full of promise. You’re now an embarrassment.

Clint B
Guest
Clint B

Her comment ” ceding those multi-use paths for a short time but then trying to make sure that we’re carving out greater space on the right-of-way.”

that’s a no answer, typical of this political view.

Clint B
Guest
Clint B

One more comment, before I leave this one month old story. The current state of homeless and low safety on the bike trails is why I am not buying a new bike.