Proposed Dayton law on pedestrians, panhandling could be challenged

The city of Dayton's proposed new law largely would ban panhandling along some of the city's busiest roadways and on medians and traffic islands.

The ordinance, which is expected to have its first reading on Wednesday, seeks to improve safety and reduce pedestrian/vehicular crashes, city officials said.

But this is at least the city's third attempt to create an anti-panhandling ordinance that would pass constitutional muster, said Joseph Mead, professor at Cleveland State University and a board member with the ACLU of Ohio.

RELATED: Dayton panhandlers, pedestrian crashes targeted in new laws

“They are trying to find a constitutional way to do an unconstitutional end, which is basically targeting people based on their request for help,” Mead said.

Dayton officials acknowledge that the ordinance, if enacted, could face a legal challenge. But they say the city likely is on strong legal footing.

“There are plenty of streets left in the city of Dayton where people can still exercise that (free) speech,” said Troy Daniels, Dayton assistant city prosecutor.

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On Wednesday, the city commission is expected to have its first reading of an ordinance regulating what officials say are safety concerns along some the city’s busiest and most dangerous roadways.

The ordinance would prohibit pedestrians from coming within 3 feet of any vehicle in operation on about 50 specified arterial roadways, which include interstates, freeways, expressways and other principal routes.

Pedestrians also would not be allowed to be on a median or traffic island unless they are crossing the arterial roads.

Motorists generally would be prohibited from slowing down or deviating from their lane of travel for the purpose of interacting with pedestrians.

These regulations also would apply to the 250 feet leading up to roads that intersect with arterial roadways.

The city also proposes prohibiting people from engaging in distribution, or begging, with vehicles on specified highways, unless the vehicles are parked at the curb or shoulder.

In the last decade, there have been more than 685 pedestrian strikes in the city of Dayton, including some fatalities.

Dayton officials said the number of pedestrian strikes is alarming.

“After so many years as a commissioner, I wasn’t sure I could be shocked much anymore,” Dayton City Commissioner Matt Joseph said. “But that number shocked me.”

RELATED: Dayton woman killed in pedestrian strike

Dayton’s ordinance is modeled after legislation that passed in Madison, Wisc. Madison officials said their law has been very successful.

“Our concern was for safety of the public and for those who were panhandling near busy intersections and thoroughfares,” said Joel DeSpain, spokesman with the Madison Police Department. “Since the ordinance went into effect, we pretty much have no safety issues related to panhandling in these area.”

But it’s confusing why Dayton is spending so much time, energy and police resources on trying to keep desperate people from asking for help, said Mead.

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Dayton has had some of the state’s most aggressive panhandling laws, but the city likely could better use its resources since putting people in jail is the most expensive way to provide shelter to somebody, Mead said.

“When I read this ordinance, it strikes me as a criminal law in search of a problem,” he said. “What is really the issue here? Do we really need another criminal law that goes after people standing on a median too long?”

Violating the proposed ordinance would be a fourth-degree misdemeanor.

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