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Proposed city law would have effect of curtailing median panhandling

       About a year after Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers declared that panhandling on street medians was dangerous, city legal staff has drafted an ordinance addressing the issue.
       It doesn't use the “p” word.
       But that's by intention, according to comments at the Jan. 9 City Council work session by Anne Turner of the City Attorney's Office. The goal is to have a law
This slide describing the rationale for a new median-safety law was presented by staff at the Jan. 9 City Council work session. The law is to go before council for a vote at its Jan. 24 formal meeting.
Courtesy of city staff, from Springs TV
that is “content neutral,” she explained to council - meaning it's not directed at any types of behavior in particular - so that it stands a better chance of holding up in court.
       Council's plan is to vote on the ordinance at its next formal meeting, Tuesday, Jan. 24.
       As written, it would apply to anyone on a median of four feet or less on any streets with speed limits of 30 mph or more, as long as applicable signs are posted. The penalty would be up to $500.
       No jail time would be involved, Police Chief Pete Carey said, elaborating that officers would be directed to first make sure that a person is actually lingering on a median and not just temporarily stuck between busy lanes of traffic.
       The law appears to stand a good chance of passage, based on council comments at the work session. The way they spoke also made it clear that, no matter how the law
This slide outlines how a city decision would be made under the proposed ordinance about placing a prohibited-use sign on a street with a median.
Courtesy of city staff, from Springs TV
reads, the city safety concern is directly tied to the phenomenon in the past year and a half of panhandlers using medians to seek money from motorists.
       Several councilmembers related scary scenes they've observed, including people straddling medians with one or both feet in traffic; balancing on wheelchairs; playing guitar; accompanied by a baby, a bicycle or a dog; and standing in a way that blocks drivers' views of oncoming traffic.
       Motorists themselves reportedly can add to the problem. City Councilmember Andy Pico said he's seen people throw money toward panhandlers as they drive by. Chief Carey shared an image of people falling off medians, prompting drivers “to get out of their vehicles offering assistance.”
       Technical support for the ordinance came from City Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager, who provided information about increasing pedestrian fatalities nationwide. The 4-foot width comes from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which has determined that the distance is the “acceptable pedestrian clear space.”
       A 30-mph speed translates to an average stopping distance of 200 feet, Krager explained. “It's getting pretty iffy to stop quickly when something such as a pedestrian falling off a median happens,” she said.
       Only Councilmember Jill Gaebler expressed criticism of the ordinance draft. “I'm a little concerned,” she said. “these are individuals standing on medians because
The narrow median separating traffic on 31st Street between Highway 24 and Colorado Avenue would likely be off-limits for people such as this panhandler, based on a proposed city ordinance.
Westside Pioneer file photo
they don't have any money. What we really want to do is protect them. I don't want this to be about fines; I want it to be about protecting our community members.”
       She was countered by Councilmember Helen Collins, who said that while she didn't want to penalize the needy, the public needs to be educated to some facts. “These people are being dropped off at strategic points, there's a box of signs and they're handed a sign,” she said. “They [the public] need to know that a lot of these people aren't desperate. They don't pay taxes. They're probably getting paid 60 times more than City Council.”
       The need for the law came about after council was forced to remove nearly all city laws on public begging after panhandler-sympathetic court rulings in 2016 equated the practice with freedom of speech. The rulings included standing on street medians, with no distinction about width.
       Turner said she did not know the position of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has supported such rulings and challenged city panhandling justice previously. But she reassured council that her review of the issue indicates that the city should be OK with a “finely tailored ordinance” that specifically meets “the needs of the community” with regard to median safety.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/10/17; Transportation: Cimarron/I-25)

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