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PBOT-backed legislation would change speed limit authority

Posted by Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) on January 19th, 2011 at 11:48 am

A ride with the family-9
Portland hopes new law will lead to
20 mph limit on streets like these.
(Photo © J. Maus)

As we reported back in October, the City of Portland is working the legislature to gain more control over speed limits. Mayor Sam Adams is aware of the impact high speed motor vehicles have on our neighborhoods and has pushed for a new approach to speed limits for years.

PBOT, which Mayor Adams oversees, wants their own engineers to have the authority to decide what speed limits are appropriate for residential streets where they are currently building a network of interconnected "family friendly" bikeways. (Note: Currently, ODOT is in charge of setting speed limits — even on roads they themselves do not own and maintain.)

Now that the legislative session has begun, I thought it would be wise to track how the City of Portland is approaching this issue.

PBOT Project Manager Shoshanah Oppenheim says Portland supports two bills — one from the House, the other from the Senate — that would authorize local jurisdictions like PBOT to designate speeds under certain circumstances. Both bills would seek to amend ORS 810.180, which sets out the rules for "designation of maximum speeds."

Senate Bill 344 (text) is sponsored by two Portland Democrats, Senators Ginny Burdick and Rod Monroe. The bill would give a "road authority" (like PBOT) the ability to designate a new speed limit that is five miles lower than the existing one. In order to exercise this authority the road must be located in a "residence district." In addition, the road must have an average volume of fewer than 2,000 motor vehicles per day, 85 percent of the vehicles must be going less than 30 mph, and there must be a "a traffic control device on the highway [road] that indicates the presence of pedestrians or bicyclists."

On the House side, Oppenheim says another Portland Democrat, Rep. Ben Cannon plans to introduce a similar bill. It's in this bill where PBOT will seek the define the term "neighborhood greenway" (which is their new name for bike boulevards — it would be a significant legislative victory to have them defined in Oregon statute). At the moment, no such bill has been introduced, but Oppenheim supplied us with a draft version.

Similar to SB 344, the House Bill would allow PBOT and other road authorities to lower the existing speed limit by five miles an hour and would give them the ability to place a new speed limit sign at the beginning and end of each segment of neighborhood greenway. Neighborhood greenway would be defined just like the conditions we listed above for SB 344 — any road with fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day traveling at slow speeds and has infrastructure that indicates the "presence of pedestrians or bicyclists."

Why has PBOT introduced two bills that are essentially the same? Oppenheim says, "By submitting bills in both chambers our sponsors have more options on how to proceed and increase opportunities to advance the bills."

It will be interesting to watch how/if the debate on these bills evolves. Remember, current statutes call for a residential street in Oregon to have a speed limit of 25 mph. That means PBOT is hoping for a 20 mph speed limit... But wrestling any authority away from ODOT won't come easily and it could have interesting transportation implications for the future — as would having neighborhood greenways earn the respect of being officially defined in state statute.

— Stay tuned for developments on these bills and the others we are tracking. Check our 2011 Legislative Session story tag for past coverage.

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  • 9watts January 19, 2011 at 11:54 am

    Jonathan,

    thanks for keeping tabs on this for us. Interesting how the language is written, specifically pegged to a maximum number of cars per day. I look forward to those numbers coming down for all sorts of reasons.

    But I admit that I don't understand this part: "85 percent of the vehicles must be going less than 30 mph."

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 19, 2011 at 12:14 pm

      That's what's known as the 85th percentile speed... It's a standard measurement of analysis used by traffic engineers to determine the prevailing speed on a given street. For example, if you complain about speeding on your street, pbot would come out an measure the 85%-ile speed. if 85 % of vehicles are going a safe, legal speed, they'd be unlikely to move forward w your complaint.

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  • Katie January 19, 2011 at 11:56 am

    These are exciting bills. How can we best support them?

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    • Jackattak January 19, 2011 at 1:55 pm

      Agree with Katie. Jonathan - What can we do to help support this, outside of emailing our local reps?

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      • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 19, 2011 at 2:06 pm

        At this point, yes, email your reps. I'd also say that leaving a comment here is important -- PBOT/ODOT and many others statewide read these comments to get a pulse from the community on the issues.

        Also, stay tuned for opportunities to testify and/or speak up if/when the bills move along in the process.

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        • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 8:13 am

          Thanks, Jonathan.

          PBoT/ODoT - If you're reading: I'm terribly interested in this. Please do whatever you can to slow motor vehicle traffic down as much as possible.

          Thanks, Jackattak

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  • Allan January 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm

    why just 5mph less? What if PBOT decided it wanted to lower the speed limit on Vancouver/Williams from 30->20? this would be illegal. or perhaps they could just lower it twice?

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    • Duncan January 19, 2011 at 12:18 pm

      It is also a safe bet that these streets see 2000+ cars per day.

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      • 9watts January 19, 2011 at 12:27 pm

        today maybe, but in five years?

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        • GLV January 19, 2011 at 1:33 pm

          Add 500 to the current number.

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  • Michweek January 19, 2011 at 12:16 pm

    I strongly support this bill (SB0344) but worry that while it may apply to roads like SE Clinton st and SE Ankeny st, it would not be applicable to roads like SE Ladd ave. due to volume of MV traffic.

    I have had many personal experiences of travelling on Ladd at 25mph (verified by bike computer) only to be passed by a MV going 35mph (approximation) to make sure to pass me with enough time to slam on the brakes before the traffic calming devices.

    A bill that leaves a loophole for moderately-high traffic streets leaves incentive for more MV traffic on residential streets due to "streamlined traffic flow".

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    • jeff January 20, 2011 at 10:36 am

      Mich, most of Clinton is over the 2,000 average daily traffic cut-off, and most of Ankeny is below, but not by a lot.

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  • RyNO Dan January 19, 2011 at 12:37 pm

    Only 5 mph less ? Lame.
    Way to much gobble-y-gook.

    Porltland should lead the way as America's first 25 mph city (except for a few mv-preferred routes at 35 mph, if necessary). 15 mph in residential streets.
    And stop the cut-through mv traffic PLEASE !

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    • Duncan January 19, 2011 at 2:13 pm

      Cut through traffic helps keep the stress down on major streets. You may want to limit it (like at 39th and Clinton) or slow it down (speed bumps) but you dont want to stop it because it would make the thouroghfares so stressed as to be dangerous for bikes/pedestrians.

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      • Greg January 19, 2011 at 8:01 pm

        Not sure I buy that argument, though I've heard it from the city too.
        Having my local neighborhood in a grid allows hurried drivers to self select themselves as the ones who floor it through my neighborhood.

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  • Alex Reed January 19, 2011 at 1:06 pm

    Greater local control is a great idea. I strongly support these bills.

    I assume the legislators included the (many) conditions to increase the bill's chances of passing. I wonder why they're necessary to make the bill pass. Are legislators worried that towns will use through-traffic arterials as revenue sources?

    I suspect the real answer is that powerful groups might be alarmed if the bill allowed reduced speeds on a large number of streets.

    Maybe after it passes and is a success, it can be extended to more streets and more MPH.

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    • Duncan January 19, 2011 at 2:15 pm

      Because in other states where the loval Govt sets all the speed limits they often set up speed limits in a way that allows them to .. um... maximize revenue.

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      • Unit January 27, 2011 at 2:31 pm

        Source for this claim please? This is by-and-large a myth propagated by the state to retain control of what in most states is recognized as a local concern.

        While a few instances of intentional speed traps have likely occurred, it is very few, and pretty insubstantial when you compare it to the tens of thousands of Americans killed annually on overly high-speed American.

        I can't understand why Salem insists on such dangerous micromanagement.

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        • Unit January 27, 2011 at 2:32 pm

          uhhh...[high-speed roadways], sorry for the typo.

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  • Alan January 19, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    "PBOT works to gain speed limit authority in Salem"

    The headline makes me laugh. Wouldn't PBOT rather gain speed limit authority in Portland and let Salem Public Works Dept fend for itself? :-)

    Best wishes to PBOT on their endeavor. Results could be very cool for urban planning.

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) January 19, 2011 at 2:04 pm

      Alan,

      I agree my headline was strange. I actually changed it before even reading your comment. People should realize that while PBOT is the one who began this effort, it would really impact all city/town/county transportation departments throughout the state.

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      • Eric January 19, 2011 at 2:20 pm

        Maybe it would be helpful if you said "at the legislature" instead of "in Salem." It still looks as though you're suggesting PBOT wishes to change Salem laws or local conditions in Salem. This is generally a problem with this metonymic use of "Salem."

        Do you know if PBOT has reached out to other municipalities in order to build statewide support for this?

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      • Alan January 19, 2011 at 2:40 pm

        "PBOT works to change speed limit laws in Salem"

        It's still ambiguous (and funny ;). Maybe 'PBOT asks Salem for speed limit authority' or somesuch.

        Agreed it could make a large difference to all jurisdictions ion Oregon and serve as an example to cities elsewhere. I hope PBOT gets its wish.

        A concern: where the present law makes it very easy for a MV driver to know the basic speed limit in any town in the state (25!), this change could leave out-of-town drivers confused or ignorant of local speed limits. Signage and alert, informed drivers would be the keys.

        Another concern: Compliance by bike riders. Many riders on many streets can go well over 20mph. Lack of compliance already is a big friction point between different mode groups and speeding bikes will be yet another bad example for nay-sayers to point at. If there's to be enforcement, then there will also be pressure on bike riders to carry a license.

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    • Kt January 20, 2011 at 1:01 pm

      KGW has a great headline today: Woman hit by car crossing I-5 dies.

      So.... the car was crossing I-5, right?

      On topic: I am interested in this concept-- hopefully other municipal streets departments will be able to utilize this in their own cities.

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  • Alexis January 19, 2011 at 2:05 pm

    This is an interesting approach because of the way it ties existing volumes and speeds to the authority. Arbitrarily lowering speed limits when road design suggests a higher speed has issues (although I don't recall the citations on this), so this method is positive in that it avoids that area of controversy. However, it would also seriously limit the power of the law, meaning that much more work has to be done on changing street designs to have significant impact. This is a sound approach but a more challenging one.

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  • Lenny Anderson January 19, 2011 at 2:08 pm

    Now if the folks in Salem are really concerned about bike safety, this is where they can make a difference. Bikeways, or whatever PBOT calls them, need to have lower speed limits, at least 20mph, if not lower. This authority should not rest wite ODOT.

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  • Oliver January 19, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    20 mph on ALL residential streets.

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  • Duncan January 19, 2011 at 2:16 pm

    As this would surely "save one child's life" I am waiting for Rep Greenliks co-sponsorship

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  • spare_wheel January 19, 2011 at 2:26 pm

    RyNO Dan
    Only 5 mph less ? Lame.
    Way to much gobble-y-gook.

    I am against a 15 mph speed limit because it would adversely affect cyclists without decreasing risk. Studies of driving accidents indicate that a 20 mph would eliminate the risk of speed-related injury or fatality. (There is a reason that 20 mph was chosen as the speed limit near schools.)

    A review of the literature:
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16256932

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    • Duncan January 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

      even at 20 I would be at risk of tickets on my bike... 16 is what I truck at on level ground with groceries.

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  • craig January 19, 2011 at 2:29 pm

    15 would be even better :)

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  • Allan January 19, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Almost noone gets ticketed for going less than 10mph over the speed limit, so we're effectively reducing the speed you have to go to get a ticket by 5mph

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  • K'Tesh January 19, 2011 at 2:50 pm

    SB 344 — any road with fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day traveling at slow speeds and has infrastructure that indicates the "presence of pedestrians or bicyclists."

    Um... fewer than 2000 vehicles? By Oregon State Law, bikes are defined as vehicles. These roads are the ones preferred by bicycles. I'm worried that they might start counting the bikes on these roads, and then disqualify for that reason.

    I'd propose that SB 344 be changed to reflect the following change:

    SB 344 — any road with fewer than 2,000 motor vehicles per day traveling at slow speeds and has infrastructure that indicates the "presence of pedestrians or bicyclists."

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  • are January 19, 2011 at 3:03 pm

    let's take an example. say, northeast fremont at 33rd. each of these streets is posted 30 already. each of them has volumes way over 2k per day, with considerably more than 15 pct. doing over 30. so under the senate, PBoT would not be able to post either of these streets 25. could we try a little harder here?

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  • q`Tzal January 19, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    My biggest concern with this bill is that it affect very few roads at all and we will be putting a great deal of effort in to a victory that will have little direct gain.

    Feeling a bit masochistic I read through the bill from the link that JM supplied above (THANK YOU!).
    Here is the link to the law as it stands: http://www.leg.state.or.us/ors/810.html

    Now, I'm not that good at legalese but aside from all the other mentioned qualifiers (<2000 MV/d, <35MPH@85%, added signs) it seems that this bill and the current law apply ONLY to "highways".
    The word "highway" suggests that it would apply to designated state highways. This would not include neighborhoods and secondary streets where we really want it.

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  • q`Tzal January 19, 2011 at 3:21 pm

    Ooops, posted too soon...
    Found "highway" in the ORS 801.305
    801.305 “Highway.” (1) “Highway” means every public way, road, street, thoroughfare and place, including bridges, viaducts and other structures within the boundaries of this state, open, used or intended for use of the general public for vehicles or vehicular traffic as a matter of right.

    (2) For the purpose of enforcing traffic offenses contained in the Oregon Vehicle Code, except for ORS 810.230, “highway” includes premises open to the public that are owned by a homeowners association and whose boundaries are contained within a service district established on or before July 1, 2002, under ORS 451.410 to 451.610. [1983 c.338 §51; 2007 c.561 §1]

    So. I guess the Springwater trail is a highway; time to apply for better funding.

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  • random_rider January 19, 2011 at 4:55 pm

    The good: it's nice to see a bill that we can support instead of ones that we have to fight against.

    The bad: it wouldn't make a bit of difference without a level of commitment we have yet to see towards enforcing speed limits / other regulations

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  • Oliver January 19, 2011 at 6:24 pm

    "Compliance already is a big friction point between different mode groups and speeding bikes"

    :( ...as ridiculous as that sounds, it would totally happen too. Not that riders can't do 25+, but that the 'law and order' types would go "look , that bike is SPEEDING"

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  • dwainedibbly January 19, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    It's a good start. I worry that lowering the limits any more than the bill calls for would result in a lot of bad will with motorists.

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  • Kevin Wagoner January 19, 2011 at 7:51 pm

    Why does the number of cars have to be fewer than 2000? It seems like to me that if there were more cars with pedestrians there is a greater risks, which seems to increase the need to do something about the speed.

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  • Joe January 19, 2011 at 7:59 pm

    Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
    That's what's known as the 85th percentile speed... It's a standard measurement of analysis used by traffic engineers to determine the prevailing speed on a given street. For example, if you complain about speeding on your street, pbot would come out an measure the 85%-ile speed. if 85 % of vehicles are going a safe, legal speed, they'd be unlikely to move forward w your complaint.

    way cool good to know.

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  • Steve B January 19, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    This is welcome news, but it paints a dark picture of what's possible in Salem. Controlling speed limits on residential streets is great, but it is the arterials that are the true menace to pedestrians and cyclists. I am sure many at PBOT would agree, but I guess that sort of reform doesn't stand much of a chance, at least not in 2011.

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  • Filmamn January 20, 2011 at 12:25 am

    I propose a solution between cars & cycles. How about some roads are normal speeds for cars that are the norms for most of American cites, but no bikes. Make 'Family friendly' streets car free, such as Clinton & Salmon. Separation is the only way to keep people 'safe'.

    Cars and bikes on the same road are just asking for problems. Cars really have no need to go 15 or 20, and bikes are not safe with traffic at normal auto speeds.

    By forcing autos to go so slow, it will certainly create resentment and backlash.

    Thanks

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    • JM January 20, 2011 at 9:41 am

      Why don't cyclists ride faster. Maybe try oiling those squeely chains so you can ride more than 2 MPH?

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  • Mike Fish January 20, 2011 at 7:58 am

    Slower speeds would be great! I too hope to see Mr. - kids -aren't-safe-on-bicycles support this bill. A good litmus test of sincerity.

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  • jim January 20, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Wouldn't it be better to just use the power Portland already has just to enforce the laws? People drive 5-10 over the speed limit, they talk on their cells. Why not enforce those laws first before making new ones. New laws aren't any good if they aren't enforced

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  • JM January 20, 2011 at 9:39 am

    Seriously, People already drive slower here than any city on the west coast. I know this because of a recent road trip. People drive so friken slow in this city it is rediculous. Most of the time going over 30 on any city street is not possible due to snail drivers. Why not require people riding bikes to wear helmets? Isn't that more important. If you get hit at any speed you are going to smash your head somewhere. Whether it is 20 or 40 MPH.

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    • Jackattak January 20, 2011 at 10:52 am

      Shirley, you can't be serious...

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    • Duncan January 20, 2011 at 1:03 pm

      JM-
      I am glad people drive more slowly here- Portland is pretty small and well connected by freeways, you want to go over 30, get on one of them.

      The reason that most streets arent posted over 30 is that is the point where the chance of a fatality from a collision rise sharply- by 40MPH a pedestrian struck by a car has very small chance of survival.

      The reason that 20MPH is proposed is because a pedestrian struck at a speed BELOW 20MPH has a very good chance of survival. In addition lower traffic speeds encourage walking, lower noise levels and have even been shown to reduce crime.

      I know many bikers are gonna hate this but I often drive up Clinton from New Seasons to my house in the 60's- I know it takes longer than Powell, but it is less stressful. I put the car in second and roll down the windows to smell the flowers- try that on Powell. The difference is about 5 minutes. Maybe the issue isn't how slow we are driving but that you failed to allow yourself enough time to get where you are going.

      Now you want to complain about Portlanders trying to merge, or giving up the right of way and by doing so endagering others- I am with you on that.

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  • Allan January 20, 2011 at 9:47 am

    @JM- it should be safe to ride slow. That's the whole point. If your kid were riding with you wouldn't you want to go slow? Just because someone's tired shouldn't mean that they're at risk for getting run down

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  • Todd Boulanger January 20, 2011 at 8:34 pm

    Good luck Oregon...this is an important law for passage...and improved traffic safety and livability.

    GOOD
    WA state allows cities to evaluate and set the speed limits for its roadway facilities...it works well but only well when a city has the staff with informed and educated professional discretion to do it well (for traffic safety and vulnerable road user mobility).

    BAD
    Though the worst outcome can occur if the local traffic engineer just does a speed study (throws some hose counters out) and sets the speed at 85th percentile...without considering what the safety implications and the surrounding land uses are...one can always add traffic calming to manage speeds vs. change the limit signs to a higher speed.

    CONSIDER
    Consider adding some guidance about facility conditions (width, sidewalks, etc.) to cap the upper limits of speed set in the law ...especially for roadways without sidewalks...or incomplete sidewalk network...there could be a case made per ADA.

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  • Seth Alford January 20, 2011 at 10:36 pm

    Say this bill passes. 20 mph signs go up on bicycle boulevards and other streets. Would SE Salmon be included? If I recall correctly, it has a nice downhill, depending on your direction of travel. I don't get over there that often from the west side.

    Now imagine a future City of Portland administration that was not as friendly to bicyclists as Adams' is. That's not difficult; think of Mayor Potter with someone like Kruger back in charge of Portland Police's traffic enforcement. Remember the Ladds Addition sting operations?

    Now think about that hypothetical future administration setting up a sting on the downhill on Salmon, writing tickets for 21 mph bicyclists. Don't think that will happen? All it takes is someone complaining loudly about those scofflaw bicyclists, which is what led to the Ladds strings.

    I'm not so sure this proposal is a good idea.

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