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Sunday, July 27, 2014         

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Reclaim sidewalks for public


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Tents and shopping carts that were banned from city parks earlier this year would be forbidden on city sidewalks under a bill before the City Council. The measure is important toward reclaiming public sidewalks for all the public. Further, though, if the proposal withstands constitutional challenges, the Council and new Mayor Peter Carlisle must find acceptable alternatives for the homeless to find shelter.

Under the proposal scheduled for a Council vote tomorrow, personal property would not be allowed on sidewalks in Ala Moana, Kakaako, Kalihi, McCully, Moiliili, Makiki, Waikiki and downtown. The bill is aimed at homeless people whose tents or other possessions now block pedestrian traffic or business entrances.

The proposal makes some "beneficial" exemptions, including literature displays and commercial items such as portable tables or furniture. Otherwise, it would create a "pedestrian use zone" of as much as eight feet from the property adjacent to the curb for use by legitimate pedestrians.

According to the bill, pedestrians would include "injured or disabled" people using wheelchairs, crutches, canes, walkers or other devices, but it makes no mention of bicycles or Segways now allowed to be ridden on sidewalks by the healthy. The rules would be in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Parks are essentially forbidden to the homeless from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.

Councilwoman Ann Kobayashi said the bill is similar to an ordinance that she said has been successful in Portland, Ore., in keeping sidewalks clear enough for wheelchairs to pass.

But the policy there has not been trouble-free. After previous attempts over a six-year period that were ruled unconstitutionally broad or vague or in conflict with state law, Portland's city commissioners approved an ordinance in May that manages sidewalks from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. It allows people to sit or lie on the outer edge of sidewalks, leaving 6- to 8-foot zones for pedestrians, depending on the width of the sidewalk.

Honolulu's City Council shelved a bill earlier last year that would have banned sleeping or lying down on public sidewalks, but Kobayashi's bill probably would have the same effect. She said her proposal "is the best we can do to ensure people have the right to walk on the sidewalk."

Sadly, such safe, rightful use of sidewalks has been increasingly blocked in certain spots around town.

Ron Lockwood, chairman of the McCully/ Moiliili Neighborhood Board, said as many as 30 people have created "a big problem" by camping on the sidewalk surrounding the McCully-Moiliili Public Library. However, that board voted last week not to support Kobayashi's bill, essentially agreeing with a homeless man living next to the library who wondered to the Star-Advertiser's Rob Shikina "why they don't find a solution to the problem."

That is the major challenge facing Carlisle and a City Council to be largely replaced by next month's election. This sidewalk bill should be considered a stopgap measure to reclaim public accessways for all. But the hard work against homelessness lies ahead: The state government has taken the lead in providing shelter for the homeless, and the city and state must seek ways to coordinate caring efforts in the months and years ahead.






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