Portland City Council voted 3-1 Wednesday on a city ordinance that bans daytime camping citywide. It’s a big shift in policy that could have a major impact on cycling.
For about a decade now, we’ve covered serious concerns from bicycle riders about tent encampments located along major cycling routes. A look into the BikePortland archive shows that our first post on the issue was in February 2014 when a large group of people erected tents and shelters adjacent to the Springwater Corridor path under the Ross Island Bridge.
At that time, we didn’t hear much about safety concerns from these camps. That changed in early 2016 when we did our first story about how people who live around and ride on the Springwater near SE 82nd Avenue felt like the growing camp was “a major public health issue.” We also shared comments from people who said they’d been threatened by people who live along the path and have stopped using it at night as a result. The issue would only grow in size and impact in the years after that. In 2019 after a ride on the I-205 path near Gateway Green I posted a story saying the makeshift homes and trash had created “unacceptable” conditions.
Former City Commissioner Chloe Eudaly commented on that post and agreed that the state of the bike path was, “unacceptable and unsafe for everyone involved.” But she also cautioned against the impulse to force and/or “sweep” the people and their belongings away because, “there is literally nowhere for them to go.”
Portland has made some progress on building affordable housing and boosting the number of shelter beds in the past four years. But the number of homeless people has also increased and there are still not enough places for them to go.
Despite that complicated reality, the ordinance passed yesterday makes it a violation to camp on nearly any public right-of-way between the hours of 8:00 am to 8:00 pm. The plan was proposed by Mayor Ted Wheeler to comply with his interpretation of an Oregon law passed in 2021 that requires all cities and counties to ensure their camping ordinances are “objectively reasonable as to time, place, and manner with regards to persons experiencing homelessness.”
The new “place” regulations are the most relevant to bicycling. Here’s the text of that section of the ordinance that lays it all out:
An involuntarily homeless person may not camp in the following places at any time:
a. On a Pedestrian Plaza
b. Upon public docks
c. In the pedestrian use zone, which is the area of the sidewalk corridor on City sidewalks intended for pedestrian travel or access to public transit
d. In a Park regulated
e. Within 250 feet from a preschool, kindergarten, elementary or secondary school, or a childcare center
f. Within 250 feet from a safe parking site, safe rest village, or sanctioned camping location designated by the Mayor.
g. Within 250 feet of lot or parcel containing a construction site
h. In the public right-of-way along “High Crash Network Streets and Intersections”i. Within 250 feet of an Environmental overlay zone, River Natural overlay zone, River Environmental overlay zone, Pleasant Valley Natural Resource overlay zone, or a special flood hazard area.
j. Areas posted no-trespassing by City bureaus.
While bike lanes or paths aren’t mentioned by name, we can expect the ordinance to apply to things like the Esplanade, Springwater, I-205 path, the Columbia Slough path, and so on. Many of the important bike paths in our network (Peninsula Crossing Trail, Springwater, Esplanade, Willamette River Greenway, and so on) are actually city parks, so they’d fall under that provision. And Mayor Wheeler’s office has told BikePortland that the “pedestrian use zone” language will also capture some bikeways.
Now that the ordinance has passed, Wheeler’s office says the City will create a map that clearly shows where camping is banned. If there are bikeways that are not on that map, they have told BikePortland, “We can follow up to see if there are opportunities that may need further consideration.”
Keeping transportation right-of-way clear of peoples’ homes and belongings should not be a controversial idea (although I acknowledge if not discussed carefully, it can lead to bigoted, insensitive comments). In recent days and weeks, Portland has made it clear that transportation right-of-way is not a place for camping. The ADA settlement that City Council agreed to last week is a good example of this, and even Sarah Iannarone — a former mayoral candidate who know heads The Street Trust — shared on her personal Twitter account this week that while she opposes the camping ban, “The city should clear the right of way for use of our multimodal transportation system…”
The ban is due to go into effect next month; but it remains to be seen how enforcement will play out. Regardless, yesterday’s Council vote marked a major turning point for this issue. Hopefully our city will be healthier for it.