Westside Pioneer Home Page

Median-safety law passes; enforcement requires signage to be posted

      
In support of the median-safety ordinance, city staff provided a collage of deliberately blurred-out scenes illustrating the dangers of people standing on narrow medians.
Courtesy of City of Colorado Springs
After a public hearing, City Council passed a median-safety ordinance Jan. 24.
       The new law, which has been backed by Mayor John Suthers, makes it illegal for anyone to linger 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.
       As stated at a council work session Jan. 9 - and reiterated on the 24th - the city concern is that the practice endangers not only the people who do it but also drivers passing by, according to City Police Chief Pete Carey and Transportation Manager Kathleen Krager.
       Although the law, by design, does not specify types of behavior, the dozen or so who spoke against the plan at the hearing argued that it was targeting panhandlers - and as a result “marginalizing” homeless people (as more than one speaker chose to define the scenario). One person even demanded that council force developers to build affordable housing.
       Preceding the final vote of approval, two councilmembers offered amendments, both defeated by 6-3 tallies, in attempts to soften the impact. Jill
This was one of the charts that city staff presented to City Council, regarding the need for a median-safety ordinance. "FHwA" is the acronym for Federal Highway Administration, and "NACTO" stands for National Association of City Transportation Officials.
Courtesy of City of Colorado Springs
Gaebler wanted a 60-day warning period before the law took effect. Pointing out complications in this was Anne Turner of the City Attorney's Office, who noted that the prohibition signs will not go up simultaneously, but one at a time, as police and traffic officials identify medians with safety problems.
       Councilmember Murray's proposed amendment was to reduce the maximum fine from $500 to $50. He suggested that would be “more compassionate”; also that police would be more willing to issue a ticket if they knew that the violator would not have to pay too much.
       Previously, District Attorney Dan May had summarized that judges typically show discretion on the size of fines, including consideration of the person's income level - and often suspend fines altogether on the first violation, so as to encourage future compliance.
       Councilmember Don Knight disagreed with Murray's lower-fine philosophy, expressing the opinion that if a potential fine is too low people have less reason to obey the law.
       The ordinance also stipulates that no jail time will be involved and a violator will not be arrested - just ticketed.
       With these facts in mind, Knight asked Carey what would happen if a person refused to leave a median after being asked to do so
Another slide presented by city staff used media headlines as a reflection of city interest in pedestrian/median safety.
Courtesy of City of Colorado Springs
by a police officer. Carey replied that because of the safety aspect, police would have to remove the person from the intersection with “minimum force,” as needed.
       At the Jan. 9 work session, several councilmembers related scary scenes they'd observed, involving not only people on medians but drivers acting unsafely in efforts to give them money.
       According to Krager, the 4-foot width comes from the Federal Highway Administration, which has determined that the distance is the “acceptable pedestrian clear space.” The 30-mph speed translates to an average stopping distance of 200 feet, she said, adding that anything faster would be unsafe.
       Median panhandling became prevalent about a year and a half ago, based on court rulings that such was an expression of "free speech"; however, as Turner has noted, the courts also gave government entities leeway to pass laws addressing safety concerns in a "content-neutral" way.

Westside Pioneer article
(Posted 1/26/17; Community: Public Safety)

Would you like to respond to this article? The Westside Pioneer welcomes letters at editor@westsidepioneer.com. (Click here for letter-writing criteria.)