Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Council votes unanimously to pass anti-panhandling ordinance

Posted By on Tue, Feb 14, 2017 at 6:18 PM

  • Nat Stein
On Tuesday at its regular meeting, every single City Council member voted to pass the "Median Access Ordinance" — a measure aimed at curbing (so to speak) people's right to stand on certain medians.

The medians now off-limits are those deemed to be dangerous. Criteria that'll be used to determine what makes a median suitable for pedestrian use include: speed (i.e. medians in a road with a 30 mile per hour speed limit or greater); volume (i.e. medians in roads classified as a freeway, expressway, parkway, principal arterial, or minor arterial on the Colorado Springs Major Thoroughfare Plan); and slope (i.e. medians that don't have a flat area at least 4 feet in diameter). The city's traffic engineering department will inspect medians throughout the city, then post notice signs at medians that the city no longer considers safe for you to stand on.

Ten days from now, when the ordinance takes effect, occupying a median that's visibly demarcated as off-limits could earn you a ticket carrying up to $500 in fines and/or probation. But you won't go to jail.

Some key points from the city's press release:

• The legislation is necessary because "an overwhelming number of drivers in our City have expressed concern about the safety of persons standing on narrow or sloped medians, and the distraction and safety hazards they pose to adjacent traffic."

•  It was developed "at the direction of the Mayor and City Council, Traffic Engineering, the Colorado Springs Police Department, and the City Attorney’s Office [who] worked together to develop this ordinance."

• When it comes to enforcement, "there is no 'education' period because this is a safety issue, and signage will inform pedestrians where median access is prohibited. CSPD is hoping for voluntary compliance."

So, all that said, read back on our previous coverage to see why some view this measure as unfairly targeting the city's homeless population, members of whom regularly solicit donations in public spaces like medians. Note that courts have held that medians are part of the public forum where free speech is protected and that passive solicitation — like, say, flying a sign — is a First Amendment right. Local laws aimed at stamping out panhandling on medians have been struck down elsewhere in the country, but the City Attorney's office claims that our new ordinance is "narrowly tailored" to address public safety, so as to skirt the constitutional issue.

The American Civil Liberties Union disagrees. Spokesperson John Krieger said Tuesday evening that "it's still our position [the ordinance] is overly broad. We will watch enforcement patterns closely to see if this ordinance is, in fact, enforced selectively against homeless people."

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