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Pedestrian safety rules that restrict panhandling get initial approval in Cedar Rapids
Jul. 11, 2017 4:14 pm, Updated: Jul. 12, 2017 12:58 pm
CEDAR RAPIDS - Pedestrian safety rules that would create major restrictions for panhandling in roadways gained initial approval from the Cedar Rapids City Council on Tuesday.
The plan drew backlash from members of the community saying it undermines the most needy, but elected officials said it is a matter of safety.
'Panhandling is fine. You can do it anywhere,” Council member Kris Gulick said. 'We just want you to do it safely. There's not limitations anywhere else in the city.”
Cedar Rapids City Council gave unanimous initial approval - by a vote of 8-0 with Justin Shields absent - to the plan that would clamp down on panhandling on roadways around the city. The pedestrian safety rules need two additional votes to be finalized, setting up a potential effective date in August.
Several people spoke against the plan during a public hearing Tuesday.
'I find the whole idea of this bill deeply troubling,” said Charlotte Martin, 54, a former religious studies professor at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids. 'It looks like it was designed to look like it's about safety, but by my reading is cruel to the most vulnerable and needy members of our community.
'They are sweet. They are needy. They are troubled,” she added.
The main components of the proposed new rules are as follows:
- Pedestrians can be in a median for no more than one traffic light cycle. Therefore panhandlers would be prohibited from setting up at signalized intersections across the city.
- Pedestrians can't enter the road anywhere in the city for the purpose of entering a private vehicle or exchanging anything with an occupant of a vehicle which requires the acceptance or rejection of the items being exchanged. This would essentially ban panhandling encounters citywide in which a motorist hands money to someone.
- Pedestrians can't sit, walk, stand or enter a roadway at these seven intersections: Collins Road and Center Point Road NE, Blairs Ferry Road NE at I-380, H Avenue NE at I-380, Wilson Avenue SW at I-380, 29th Street NE at I-380, and 32nd Street NE at I-380, and 33 Avenue SW and I-380. This would prevent panhandlers from setting up along the road at these intersections unless there is a sidewalk.
The rules don't ban panhandling completely, though. Panhandlers can set up at intersections where sidewalks are present; however, they would not be able to enter the road to take a donation. Panhandling would also still be permitted in parking lots or ramps, sidewalks downtown or around ATM's, all of which would have been banned under previous incarnations of the ordinance.
Courts have thrown out several panhandling rules around the country as violating a person's freedom of speech, prompting Cedar Rapids to craft an ordinance the city views as narrowly focused. City Attorney Jim Flitz described law on the matter as fluid.
'We believe this is the best ordinance that can be drafted in the state of the law as we understand it today,” Flitz told the City Council.
Legislation seeking state authority to set regulations for roadside solicitations of passing motorists for charitable donations was proposed earlier this year, but never gained steam.
Cedar Rapids police Capt. Steve O'Konek, while presenting the proposed ordinance to the City Council, said police calls for service related to panhandling climbed 63 percent from 2012 to 2016 and 25 percent of calls are related to a traffic safety issue.
'We've determined a confluence of pedestrians and vehicles is dangerous to both,” he said.
City Council member Scott Olson, who has been spearheading the effort for several years, noted the ordinance had support from the Continuum of Care, a coalition of dozens of service agencies.
'This is not what we want in our city and not the image we want,” Olson said, noting some panhandlers have refused when offered jobs.
Olson said professional panhandlers have forced the city's hands by using aggressive tactics.
'Professional panhandlers are distracting from those people that really are in need along the streets and made it difficult and made it a safety issue,” Olson said.
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