If you’re an elder trying to navigate Portland with a walker, or a Metro rider wanting regular bus service that you can count on, or anyone who has ever walked on a Portland sidewalk, you have Bobbi Keppel to thank for speaking out on your behalf.

Keppel, 83, is the city’s foremost advocate for pedestrians and people who are aging (and who isn’t?). A longtime member of the Portland Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee, she is often the lone voice raising important issues such as:

 Why are some crosswalk buttons inaccessible to people in wheelchairs?

Could rotary brushes be attached to the city’s sidewalk plows so they do a better job of removing leftover snow?

Why isn’t the city using low-energy LED lights to make it easier for people with limited vision to walk at night? “Adequate lighting requirements go up as age goes up. … I would definitely be turning the lights back on,” Keppel says.

A retired clinical social worker, Keppel does thorough research. She’s comfortable discussing technical topics such as the correct location for sidewalk cuts or the best type of paint for street markings.

“Some of my best friends are engineers,” she says with a smile.

Keppel also is a lifelong activist who brings organizing skills from past involvement in civil rights, the women’s movement and other causes. She shows up at lots of municipal meetings, as well as those of the Munjoy Hill Neighborhood Organization. She encourages residents who share her concerns to contact their city councilors.

“Bobbi has been a dedicated and extremely knowledgeable advocate for the rights and safety of pedestrians for longer than I can remember,” said Zack Barowitz, who chairs Portland’s bicycle-pedestrian committee.

“One of our main priorities has been compliance and enforcement of the sidewalk snow-clearing ordinance,” Barowitz said. “Sidewalk snow removal is important on many levels: accessibility, social justice, economic development and basic human dignity. Bobbi has been instrumental in our efforts to raise awareness of this issue.”

Keppel said her involvement began in 2006, when Kevin Donoghue, a candidate for the City Council District 1 seat, knocked on her North Street door. She gave him an earful about Metro bus and pedestrian issues.

After Donoghue won the election, Keppel was invited to join the bicycle-pedestrian committee. She is the only consistent voice representing elders’ concerns.

Trim and fit, Keppel walks a half-hour a day for exercise as well as to get where she wants to go. She uses trekking poles for balance and for strength training. She wears a light around her neck at night.

Speaking on behalf of other active elders, she said, “We need to have shade in the summer. We need to have places to sit down. … All of us are cursing the (poor condition of the) sidewalks.”

One of Keppel’s big beefs is the city’s weak snow removal ordinance.

The ordinance requires that property owners clear sidewalks within 24 hours of a storm, but it isn’t clear when the clock starts ticking. Those who fail to remove snow get a written warning after each storm before any citations are issued.

“As far as I know,” Keppel said, “citations are as rare as hens’ teeth except in the downtown business district.”

Keppel has lived on Munjoy Hill for 25 years. She has seen sidewalks in her neighborhood that are clogged with snow all winter. Based on her observations, she believes many offenders are absentee landlords and people who own vacant lots.

Keppel says of the landlords, “They’re off in sunny Florida. Why are they worried? Especially because no one has ever enforced (the ordinance).”

The bicycle-pedestrian committee has proposed strengthening the ordinance so that the city issues more citations and fewer warnings. The group also is calling on Portland to do a better job on the sidewalks cleared by city workers.

Replacing brick sidewalks is another of Keppel’s crusades. The tips of her trekking poles sometimes get caught between the bricks. Wet leaves, ice and uneven or crumbling bricks add to the dangers.

Keppel helped inspire my recent column about brick sidewalks. After the column appeared, Portland City Manager Jon Jennings told me that his staff is working on a proposal to change the policy that now requires brick sidewalks in large swaths of the city.

Keppel would like to replace brick with “the safest possible sidewalk surfaces.”

She mentioned as one possibility permeable concrete or asphalt. It’s laid on top of two feet of gravel and a pipe that collects excess water.

Keppel said that has been used for 30 years in another city with very cold winters, Madison, Wisconsin. Although it’s more expensive than brick, she said, it lasts much longer.

Sounds good to me. Thank you, Bobbi, for all you do to make our city safer.

Shoshana Hoose is a freelance writer who walks and bicycles in Greater Portland and beyond. Contact her at [email protected].