In the city’s never-ending quest to rid its median strips of panhandlers, the latest strategy seems to be to destroy their habitat.

Recently a traffic island was removed from the intersection of Congress and St. John streets. Along with it went the flower bed, the flowers and a “Wrong Way” sign indicating to traffic that Congress Street is about to become a one-way thoroughfare. Ironically, all that remains of the island are its inhabitants: the panhandlers.

Traffic islands make roads safer for motorists and pedestrians by calming traffic and shortening crossings. So if the purpose of removing the island at Congress and St. John streets was to get rid of panhandlers, than it was done so at the expense of everyone else. Removing pedestrian refuges simply because they may be used by panhandlers is a step in the wrong direction for Portland.

If, on the other hand, the island was removed as part of the incremental implementation of the 2013 Libbytown traffic study, then it may be a step in the right direction.

The study – widely approved within city circles – calls for the restoration of the one-way stretches of Congress Street and Park Avenue from their current status as urban superhighways back to two-way streets. The goal is to make these streets quieter and more functional – complete with bike lanes and on-street parking.

As interesting new retail is beginning to cluster near St. John Street (including Salvage BBQ, American Roots, Bunker Brewing, Huong’s Vietnamese Restaurant, the Gear Hub and Architectural Salvage) and emerge at Thompson’s Point (Bissel Brothers, the Museum of Cryptozoology and the Portland Transportation Center), now is a prime opportunity to re-establish and reconnect this re-emerging district of Portland.

Zack Barowitz

Damon Yakovleff