Mayor Calls for Safer Streets and Sidewalks

And he’s not talking about traffic safety…

Dear Community Members,

I’m pleased to announce the Street Access for Everyone (SAFE) Initiative. At next week’s Council session, I’ll be introducing a resolution to find citywide solutions to the issues of street disorder and sidewalk nuisances.

I’ve been hearing concerns from the business community and residents-downtown and in other neighborhoods-about street disorder: things occurring in our business districts like aggressive panhandling, public drinking, intimidation or harassment, and sidewalk obstruction.

Through this resolution, I’ll be creating the SAFE workgroup, comprised of representatives from the police, businesses and social service agencies. By November 1, this group will develop recommendations that preserve the dignity of the homeless while ensuring public safety and livability for Portlanders and people visiting our business areas.

I’m particularly interested in solutions which will get to the root of the problem of street disorder by focusing on community-driven prevention and intervention efforts strategies like neighborhood action plans, partnerships with the police, and basic amenities like public restrooms.

The SAFE workgroup will be holding community forums in June and again in October to seek public input. If you would like to contribute ideas or stay informed of developments and opportunities to give input, please contact, or call 823-7715. You can also directly input your idea onto our blog:

I hope you will join me in keeping Portland’s streets accessible to everyone.


Tom Potter



15 responses to “Mayor Calls for Safer Streets and Sidewalks”

  1. These priorites seem bizarre. When did the perception of danger and the inconvience of ignoring a homeless person become more important then actual dangers like agressive drivers or badly designed intersections. How many auto related deaths and injuries this year compared to street violence?

  2. Cab,

    I don’t think it’s bizarre. Granted, we could be putting more resources into it, but we are actively working traffic safety issues.

    On the other hand, my partner and my step-daughter both have an aversion to using the bus because of the behavior of people they sometimes encounter. I also know some women reluctant to be on the transit mall at night.

    Perception is sometimes reality and these perceptions can cause people to wrap themselves inside an automobile when the could be walking, biking or using transit.

  3. Check out the survey Israel was so kind to point out on Rocket Poetry. In my opinion, this stuff is overblown and being driven by people that don’t even live downtown.

    Rocket Poetry

  4. Chris – I fully agree.

    One thing we have learned in the past fifty years is that perception and reality are intertwined in a dynamic way.

    For Portlanders that have never taken the bus, perception of public transport is everything because they have not encountered reality.

    Public relations is a necessity in this age for any business, institution or individual.

    Of course, it would be nice if all you had to do was “walk the walk” and demonstrate through action…but it just doesn’t work that way. Even as an individual one needs to use discretion.

    I’m not advocating public manipulation, corporate style. But the onus is on the entity, whether its public or private, to provide the public with information. Its simple: in order to avoid misunderstanding you just do your due diligence.

  5. Nathan,

    “For Portlanders that have never taken the bus, perception of public transport is everything because they have not encountered reality.”

    What world are you living in? Portland’s one of the safest cities in the world, and you’re telling me people don’t want to take the bus because they are scared. I would suggest they are sheltered.

    “Public relations is a necessity in this age for any business, institution or individual.. I’m not advocating public manipulation, corporate style.”

    Than what are you advocating for?

  6. I’m not saying we shouldn’t work on cleaning up the streets a bit. I’d love to have more cops “walking” the streets. I just feel the issue is overblown and another example of the PBA mentality. They see everything through the Suburban lense. They want a sterilized mall so people who come downtown once a year can feel comfortable.

    I think those people who live and breath cities are more comfortable with the nuances of the street. A steet youth playing chess with a business man in pioneer square to me is a beautiful site, to many its scary. Statistics read that one should be more worried on the drive to the city then actually walking around, but for some reason the fear is placed on the less dangerous activity. Why?

    As long as this directive doesn’t go too far and clense the street of vitality, I think its a good thing, but lets not let scared people define our city for us.

  7. Cab, I appreciate your perspective. I’m personally pretty comfortable walking almost anywhere in the city at night, and pretty tolerant of what I find going on around me. But I have had a pan handler threaten me with physical harm on NW 23rd. My concern is twofold:

    1) The behavior has gotten truly out of hand. I’m definitely not in favor of criminalizing homelessness, but there is behavior going on that just doesn’t belong on our streets.

    2) Lots of people, even urban dwellers, are more sensitive to the behavior than I am.

  8. Ed, I think there’s some miscommunication here.

    “What world are you living in? Portland’s one of the safest cities in the world, and you’re telling me people don’t want to take the bus because they are scared. I would suggest they are sheltered. ”

    -i agree…pdx is super safe by any standards. But if u talk to beavertonians (or other burb people) you might find that they perceive danger where there is none. Don’t u remember like 6 months ago…pdx spent almost as much $$ on crime perception as on crime reduction. Personally, I think crime is overated…at least in the cities I’ve lived in.

    As far as “what are you advocating”:

    Well, I’m advocating exactly what I said outreach by public institutions in order to provide information to the public. Public relations is neither good or bad…its all in how u do it

    Anyways, no harm done Ed but I’d suggest you read a little more carefully next time.

    And on the homeless issue, let’s face it, Portlands in a bad way on that one. There aren’t many (any?) Western cities that have homeless prevelance like portland.

  9. There aren’t many (any?) Western cities that have homeless prevelance like portland.

    In Chicago, there are WAY less homeless people with over 3 times the population. It could have something to do with the climate though.

    Homelessness is a controversial issue, and a large part of making safer seeming streets. While I understand that most of them don’t represent any real danger, they do make people feel uncomfortable, including myself. I don’t mind the occasional beggar, but sometimes when there’s someone asking you for money or a cigarette every 30 feet it really starts to wear on you, to the point where you start avoiding certain sections of town. I’ve never felt comfortable in some parts of Old Town, so I simply don’t go there. I’m sure I’m not alone on this.

    Let me state what will not solve, or even help, homelessness or homeless people. More free beds and free meals WILL NOT get people off the street. It will BRING more people to the street by making homelessness attractive. How can you expect people to get a job and pay for their food, shelter, etc. if we just give it to them? We have made Portland a very attractive place for homeless people to live, and so there are a large population of them. Some people will call me cruel, but how do you teach a person responsibility? Certainly not by giving them free food, shelter and clothes.

    I’m not against compassion, but the public should not finance these sorts of things (compassion should be in the private sector).

  10. Perception is reality. But that is part of the problem with announcing a program to attack the “problem”. It legitimizes people’s concerns about safety. If you have a solution to real safety concerns then by all means implement it, but if you are addressing perceptions its counter-productive to make a big public show of it.

    I also think that much of the perception is driven by political conservatives, including suburban businesses, who want downtown Portland perceived as dangerous. There is a desire to suggest that progressive politics isn’t capable of providing public safety. That tolerance of diversity is equivalent to tolerance of disorder.

    I doubt that many of the real safety concerns are caused by the homeless. In fact, I doubt most “street disorcer” is caused by the homeless. Most people who are homeless avoid willingly making themselves the object of attention. And not all pan handlers are homeless.

  11. PBA has been badmouthing Downtown for so long that some people are beginning to believe it, and we live in such a harmless little town!
    My greatest concern on the streets of downtown and our neighorhood business districts is with speeding cars. Already this year several members of our community have lost their lives due to excessive speeds.
    I hope we can apply as much energy to this problem as to the one noted in the your message. We need to get 20MPH posted in every neighborhood business district, painted crosswalks with signs at all major crossing points, strict enforcement of speed limits and removal of right turn lanes, especially on W & E Burnside.

  12. So far I’ve read what a bunch of men have thought about this subject… now what do women think about safety? I know many women who are verbally assaulted (typically with sexually-demeaning verbage), sometimes physically – almost on a daily basis in downtown Portland. This is a far cry from what I experience. However, even with my street-saavy experience, I have been grabbed or penned in by bums begging (demanding?) for money on occasion. Definitely keeps you on your toes…

    I’d just like to remind people that experiences are very different from the two sides of the gender fence. Oh, and I am only referring to daytime, middle-of-the-working week in Pioneer Square stuff, not drunken, ‘middle of the night in club central on Burnside’ stuff.

  13. The quality of the downtown experience seems to be closely intertwined with the sharing of the public space with lesser endowed citizens, many homeless. Many of us have become uncomfortable with folks of lesser means and would rather avoid them, and their domain, and that sometimes means staying out of downtown. People who dress in rough, dirty, ill-fitting clothing, possibly adorned with tattoos and piercings are somehow threatening to the orderliness demanded by the visitor from the suburbs.

    What a selfish and narrow-minded consideration!

    There is some irony that the better financed among us spend thousands of dollars to travel overseas and spend time in the midst of those country’s poor, visiting their markets, eating from their street vendors, haggling with their merchants, watching them dance and sing as we snap pictures and hand out tips? And then we can find no tolerance, let alone a kind consideration, for the poor on our own sidewalks?

    What’s with that?

    One important difference between our dirt poor folks, often the homeless, and the dirt poor overseas, is outright begging overseas is usually only engaged by the people who cannot (not WILL not) give something in return. The dirt poor in the 3rd world are not marginalized as they are here. They are generally engaged citizens. They engage in some very creative enterprise for a few cents. They rarely beg without offering something in return, even if just a tattered postcard. There is an exchange of value. Here we have an exchange of value, but it is sometimes negative – gimme some money and I will stop bothering you.

    Can this be turned around? Can we in Portland learn something from the 3rd world? Can we improve our city for rich and poor alike by helping the poor to find more creative means of survival? Perhaps the economics that tourists find so fascinating can be adapted here, providing our poor with a means of income and dignity? Maybe, too, our new 3rd world style Portland would be so interesting and even fun that tourists would flock here, instead of all the way to Bangkok, or Mumbai – cities greatly enriched by all their citizens, including their poor.

    Some of our downtown merchants have grown fearful of the poor people and are leaving. Those that remain are engaging the PBA and their private militia to patrol the streets, to scour the debris, to attempt to polish downtown into an outdoor version of a sterile suburban mall. Is this what we want in our otherwise richly multi-cultural city? If the poor must live and attempt to thrive downtown, perhaps we can all benefit by helping them get started in a direction that not only sustains them (they don’t ask for much) but adds interest and vitality for everyone.

    Instead of sweeping the streets of musicians, and sidewalk merchants, let’s help them to succeed. We don’t seem (most of us) to have a problem with our growing number of street food venders. They are a great model of the sustainability of a modest commercial venture that adds value for all. Anyone who has enjoyed the vital street markets of the 3rd world knows they are great places for merchants and shoppers. We have many downtown locations where the sidewalks are ample and could be used for the displays of merchants without impeding passing foot traffic. Why don’t we have year round thriving street and night markets like those we love to visit in foreign lands? I would rather have 10 simple sidewalk merchants peddling their wares and foods along Broadway than one Cutter’s Jewelry with it’s bitter owner glaring out the window, his brow knotted in contempt for his fellow human beings. I will cheerfully ignore his soon boarded doorway to listen to the street fiddler playing some hot Irish licks with his case open for tips.

    The 21st century ways of the world, the so-called global economy, are not benefiting most of us. A few elite are doing much better, the middle class is drifting down, and the poor are increasing at a dreadful rate. We cannot simply hope the poor will go away and stop bothering us. (Indeed, we might join their ranks some day.) What we can do is assist the poor to learn how they might find a sustainable means of living, with us and among us, as valued friends and contributing citizens. They are not, by choice or ability, going to rejoin the middle class, but perhaps with some attention to how their peers overseas manage, they, and we all, might do quite well.

  14. Michael, if you’re playing devil’s advocate, I’ll bite.

    People who dress in rough, dirty, ill-fitting clothing, possibly adorned with tattoos and piercings are somehow threatening to the orderliness demanded by the visitor from the suburbs. What a selfish and narrow-minded consideration!

    First of all, for decades Portland has been well known and respected around the country for being very clean and safe, an admirable trait, and many citizens would like to keep it that way, which is not “selfish or narrow-minded”. There are many Portlanders who are frustrated with the “problem” the city is having with homelessness. To label a person who feels uncomfortable around masses of homeless as “a visitor from the suburbs” is ridiculous. (For the record, I’m not suggesting homeless people should be swept away)

    They rarely beg without offering something in return

    This is simply not true. Have you been to any of the places you’ve mentioned? They do beg (without anything in return) and sometimes with such intensity that you’ve never seen in this country.

    Maybe, too, our new 3rd world style Portland would be so interesting and even fun that tourists would flock here, instead of all the way to Bangkok, or Mumbai

    People are not traveling there just to see the poverty. They’re going to experience the culture. And by the way, Bangkok is not at all third world. A common word to describe the Thai economy is Tiger.

    Why don’t we have year round thriving street and night markets like those we love to visit in foreign lands?

    I agree and we’ve got a great start with Saturday Market and the several farmers markets around town, but I don’t see what this has to do with poverty. Yes lots of poor places have markets, but lots of rich places do as well. Taiwan is well known for its lively night markets, and it’s one of the wealthiest countries in Asia. The night market shop owners in Taiwan are certainly not living in deplorable third world conditions.

    A few elite are doing much better, the middle class is drifting down, and the poor are increasing at a dreadful rate.

    A common statement, but again, not at all true.

  15. Good points, Isaac. It is clear I have a hard time expressing my point. I tend to rattle on, and sometimes fail to make a point concisely, as needed.

    You got me on my direct experience of the 3rd world. No, I have not been to India. I have, however, spent time as a tourist in China, Thailand, Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar, Tanzania, and Morocco. Some of these visits were brief, and some were several weeks. I did get a pretty good view of poverty far, far worse than we have here. Still, for example, in 3 weeks in Tanzania, with much time walking in ramshackle towns and villages made of tied sticks and mud, I was rarely approached for an out and out handout. The most aggressive beggar who offered nothing and wanted money was a child with his crippled and blind father (grandfather?) in hand. Virtually everyone else offered something in exchange – a postcard, a hand made craft, a piece of painted fabric, a dance, a song, a shoe shine, etc. Visits to Asia were similar. There were literally hoards of people trying to “sell” me something, but it was not nothing. (I was quick to learn “wa bu yaow” to politely turn down the hundreds of persistent vendors who followed me around China. It was rather novel, too, be treated like a rich celebrity.)

    I think what I am trying to propose is that these folks have a concept that is largely foreign to us, here. It is a kind of micro-commerce that allows them to eek out the tiny bit of money they need to get by one more day. It is not something just for the tourists, either. In Tanzania I saw “stores” where the wares were literally a few sticks stood on end, for sale for construction or fire. Shops in the neighborhoods might have a case of two of bottled water, nothing else, hoping to sell a bottle or two. The shopkeepers sit by patiently for hours/days waiting for a sale. It should not be thought that I recommend we adopt this for the most part, but for a few, it might be an improvement. I could not do it; at least I don’t think I could. But given the choice of begging with a cardboard sign at a freeway ramp, or hustling shoe shines from a wooden box downtown as the lawyers show up for work, I would choose the latter. I could feel much better about myself as a very modest business man, than as a beggar. There would be some dignity in it.

    My difficult to convey idea of micro-commerce as a substitute for begging is not only hard to express to you, but even more so to the prospective merchants I have in mind. Most of them have not had the luxury of visiting other countries where they could witness this for themselves. What it might take is some kind of seeding project, where someone like myself puts together a turn-key operation, perhaps complete shoe shine setups, and gives them away to folks who might be willing to give it a try. Other concepts would have other kinds of seeds.

    You mentioned that as tourists we visit other countries to experience their cultures. May I propose that our formerly tidy, orderly, and polished downtown experience is in the midst of a cultural change? That what was before is not now, and will not be again, because the we not only have many new ethnic peoples in Portland, but many new alternative life-styles, too, many of which are very poor. This new, maybe unwelcome, culture might possibly develop into something interesting and rewarding.

    I mentioned attributes of the punk or grunge culture (I think that is what they are). Have you ever spent any time with these people? I was at a picnic in Laurelhurst Park when a young couple dressed in the most bizarre styles stopped to see what we were doing. (We were playing music.) I talked to them for a while and it turned out they were lovely young, intelligent people who shared an interest in the same music. Further, my son is one of these people, by choice. He lives in another city, much of the time on the street. I am sure he scares some people, but he, too, is actually a wonderful young man. I don’t pretend to understand him, but he and his peers are part of a growing part of our society. Wishing or pretending they were not a part of us will not make them go away. Nor would I want them to. I think they have simply yet to find a means we can all agree on.

    You pointed me to a link that challenges that the rich are growing richer while everyone else is doing worse. The title of that page is “A Minority View” and I think that is a fair assessment. I may be guilty of following the news from a liberal point of view, but everything I have heard for at least several years would say the majority view from liberals is as I proposed. I could “debate” you on this with an exchange of citings, but I think you already know what I am talking about.

    Saturday Market has some of the attributes of the kind of commerce I suggest, but it is not it. It is much too elite in its demands and its customary clientele. The farmer’s markets turning up here and there are close, very close, and with time may become more than mostly groceries. I was at the People’s farmer’s market just today. A bunch of really nice people. There was music and good food in a fun, wholesome atmosphere. It is fun to imagine them growing into something much grander.

    Again, I ramble…

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