Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on July 28th, 2010 at 9:36 am
With funding-related legislation a non-starter in Salem this coming session, the City of Porltand Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) instead sees an opportunity to work toward major, statewide policy changes that would support its transportation goals.
High atop their list of priorities for the 2011 legislative agenda is a much-anticipated strategy to wrest authority of setting speed limits away from the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and give it to local jurisdictions. Currently, ODOT sets speed limits, even on streets owned and managed by cities and/or counties.
Shoshanah Oppenheim, who works on streetcar project management for PBOT, is working on the bureau's legislative strategy. At this month's Bicycle Advisory Committee meeting, she said, "This session is going to be very challenging for any funding opportunities... We're being realistic that making a run for money shouldn't be our number one goal."
"A long-term strategy to improve the safety of our streets and to promote cycling and part of that includes more control... of defining speed limits..."
-- Shoshanah Oppenheim, PBOT
Oppenheim says their legislative package will focus on three main areas; preservation and maintenance of our current roads by going after larger pieces of existing revenue streams and creating new ones (through new fees or fines), improving the safety of the system for all users, and reducing impacts on climate change from the transportation sector.
A key part of Adams' efforts for a safer transportation system is the ability to reduce speeds on neighborhood streets. Slower speeds are absolutely critical to saving lives and creating a comfortable biking environment and Adams has been working on this issue with ODOT for over a year now. With the City about to announce ribbon-cuttings on a host of new bike boulevards (a.k.a. "neighborhood greenways"), Adams has the added, on-the-ground impetus to move on this issue.
In a conversation today, Oppenheim said PBOT has, "A long-term strategy to improve the safety of our streets and to promote cycling and part of that includes more control to the jurisdictions of defining speed limits in certain situations and we're working with ODOT to develop a strategy of what that would be."
Speed limit authority might not be the only thing PBOT looks to change in Salem. At the Bike Advisory Committee meeting earlier this month, Oppenheim refferred to the "antiquated nature of our motor vehicle code" and said that any opportunities to review the current code so "We have better tools for a safe bicycling environment" would be explored.
Oppenheim also made it clear that PBOT would be looking for setting speed limits only in specific, defined circumstances. Instead of a blanket revision to speed limit-setting authority -- which ODOT is unlikely to simply give up easily -- it's more likely that PBOT would look to create a new legal designation for bike boulevards. Then, once bike boulevards are defined in the Oregon Revised Statutes, they could lobby for the legal authority to lower speed limits on such streets.
Currently, PBOT is able to change speed limits, but only after going through a request process with ODOT. Learn more about how ODOT sets speed limits in this BikePortland article from November 2009: Speed limits and ODOT: A primer.
To learn more about the City's 2011 legislative agenda, come to a Community Town Hall on August 2nd at City Hall.