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.
Here’s the exchange (slightly edited for clarity, it starts at about 5 minutes, 26 seconds into the interview which is posted here):
“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?”
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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