It’s official: 20 mph speed limit on City of Portland’s legislative agenda

Posted by on October 18th, 2010 at 11:23 am

Sharrows on N. Concord-2

Streets like N. Concord Avenue would
have 20 mph maximum speed limit.
(Photos © J. Maus)

The City of Portland has released their draft 2011 Legislative Agenda. As we hinted might happen back in July, that agenda includes an initiative to reduce neighborhood speed limits to a maximum of 20 mph on certain streets.

Mayor Adams has made it clear for a long time that he wants the Bureau of Transportation to have more authority to set local speed limits (currently all speed limits are set by ODOT, but can changed by request). However, instead of looking to make a wholesale transfer of authority, it looks as though PBOT will try to create a blanket law that would set a 20 mph maximum speed limit on all streets designated as “neighborhood greenways” (which is how I suspected they’d go about it; read end of this post published last month).

Here’s the language from the draft legislative agenda:

SPEED LIMITS – Introduce legislation creating a “Neighborhood Greenway” designation that would establish a reduced speed limit of 20 miles per hour (mph) in particular areas where improvements have been made to address bicycle and pedestrian safety.

This method of tying a new law to a specific traffic designation reminds me of how PBOT and the Bicycle Transportation Alliance worked with the Portland Police Bureau on the Vulnerable Roadway User statute. The BTA’s lobbying efforts in Salem helped create the VRU law. Once codified in the Oregon Revised Statutes, the Portland Police Chief was able to create a new traffic investigation threshold tied to that specific designation.

With speed, PBOT will have to take two steps in the legislature. First, they’ll add definition of “neighborhood greenways” into Oregon law and then add an exception into the speed law that specifically calls out a lower limit on neighborhood greenway streets (sort of like specific laws around school zones).

Rob Sadowsky, executive director of the BTA, says reducing speeds on neighborhood greenways is a key piece of the puzzle. “For neighborhood greenways to function as intended, they need to have slower speeds. It’s the missing piece.” Sadowsky also thinks tying lower speed limits to streets where biking is prioritized will help win hearts and minds of people who don’t bike.

“There are a lot of neighborhood folks that’d love to see lower speed limits on their streets. So if this passes, and you want 20 mph limits, then get out and support a neighborhood greenway… This could help us go from people who look at these facilities as bike-specific, to really understanding the connection between livability and traffic calming. That’s exciting because it can build a constituency base we didn’t have before.”

Browse our “speed” story archives for more background on this topic.

The City will hold Town Hall on their Legislative Agenda tomorrow. Details here.

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cyclist
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cyclist

Auto compliance with speed limits is about the same as bike compliance with stop signs. Sure, there will be some enforcement actions that will generate some tickets and maybe a story or two in the local news, but the lower limit will not change behavior.

Drivers will drive at what they perceive to be a safe speed regardless of the law (just as cyclists will run stops and reds when they think feel it’s safe to do so). The best way to slow drivers down is to narrow the streets they drive on, anything else simply won’t work.

The best way to get cars off of bike boulevards is to make more frequent use of barriers (such as the one at 13th and Spokane or the one at Ankeny and 20th) that make the streets inconvenient for drivers but still allow them to be through streets for cyclists.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

i think this law will could help the city dedicate more resources to traffic calming. its also smart politically because residential homeowners typically want to slow vehicle traffic in their neighborhoods.

a very important question: would the speed limit apply to cyclists?

if so, i am totally against this. 😉

David Parsons
Guest

Well, if you regularly travel at > 20mph on your bicycle, you can always do what I do and move to busier streets. 20mph on Clinton/Woodward is a pain because of stop signs and rough pavement, but it doesn’t take much effort to maintain 24mph (downhill; 19mph uphill) along Division St and still avoid the (few) red lights there.

A. Lewis
Guest
A. Lewis

It doesn’t matter the speed limit — it’s only as good as the Police enforcement. I live in a very busy, very narrow, 20mph zone…with kids, strollers, crosswalks, a Tri-Met bus. And the cars go by at 30 or more regularly. All while the City of Portland Police officers sit at Jim and Patty’s Coffee, or Starbucks, and have their coffee. Daily. We’ve been in contact with the Police repeatedly. Nothing’s changed.

todd
Guest
todd

Excellent. I see this as restoration instead of novelty. A little historical digression: in Portland’s main development decades, when the “bike boulevards” and our houses were new, automobile speed limit legislative debates tended between the hyperbolic poles of 2mph and “racing” at 30. 12-15mph is what seems to have struck these non-habituated people as a reasonable maximum for operation in towns. We have the same streets.

“The present position was that a few people claimed the right to build cars of enormous weight and speed and to monopolise the public roads for the running of those cars. They claimed the right to drive the public off the roads. Harmless men, women, and children, dogs, and cattle, had all got to fly for their lives at the bidding of one of these slaughtering, stinking engines of iniquity.” ( http://hansard.millbanksystems.com/commons/1903/jun/11/the-speed-of-motor-cars )

In 1896, in Pennsylvania, both houses of the legislature passed a bill requiring “all motorists piloting their ‘horseless carriages’, upon chance encounters with cattle or livestock to (1) immediately stop the vehicle, (2) ‘immediately and as rapidly as possible… disassemble the automobile,’ and (3) ‘conceal the various components out of sight, behind nearby bushes.'” Alas, the governor vetoed it; Standard Oil was after all the dominant business in the state. ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Red_flag_laws )

are
Guest

plus one to comment 3.

Matt Morgan
Guest
Matt Morgan

So the obvious question here is about enforcement. Do I think the speed limit on SE Taylor should be 20Mph. Heck yes! However the main problem is people already break the current limit with impunity. You’d actually need police out to enforce this. And if they are going to sit on the most high traffic streets that are border line Main Streets vs. This Neighborhood Greenway thing then that is not helping me out. It’s just a scam to increase ticketing revenues. We surely do not have the funds to increase patrols to the smaller streets that actually would need this enforced. Standard Portland — good intentions that just aren’t thought through. Just install speed bumps and let speeders pay there ‘fine’ with shock/strut replacement.

Tourbiker
Guest
Tourbiker

20mph speed limits would effectively move bikes out into the lanes if they can maintain 16-20mph s I see it.

does anyone know how this will effect the “bike lane” Laws?

sharetheroad
Guest
sharetheroad

The new 20 mph sounds great provided that the cyclists obey it as well along with stoplights and stop signs. And oh yeah, how about getting off the sidewalks. The last time I looked up a definition of sidewalk it pertained to pedestrians, not cyclists.

PS – I, too, am a cyclist, but I am also holding myself accountable to the same traffic laws that motorists have to abide by. Afterall, share the road means we ALL must obey the laws.

PPS – Lastly, I also realize that I am no match for a 4000 lb car, irrespective of how great their brakes may be.

— “sharetheroad”, I deleted portions of your comment because they were unnecessarily confrontational. Please remember, I welcome your participation, but in the future I will simply delete your comments if they include things like that. Cheers — Jonathan Maus

Oliver
Guest
Oliver

🙁 Darn, for one small second I was thinking they were considering reducing the speed on garden variety residential streets.

Twenty is Plenty.

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

@tourbiker I don’t think it will have any effect since I can’t think of a neighborhood greenway with a bike lane. Taking the lane is kind of the idea of these streets. I agree that diverters are a good idea to reduce the number of cars traveling on greenways, but it seems like just knowing that a street has a lower speed limit will also help reduce traffic. i.e. why drive a long distance on the 20 mph street when there are 25-35mph streets nearby. I’d like to see them set it at 15mph, but then you would start to see the potential for cyclists getting speeding tickets…

Whyat
Guest
Whyat

People consistently break speed limits already. How would this help at all?

f5
Guest
f5

Whyat I think the basic principle behind speed limits is not that they keep everyone from speeding, but that the speed limits keep the bulk of the traffic at near-the-limit speeds, regardless of the limit.

borgbike
Guest

I’m not so quick to poo-pooing this proposed change. A speed limit change won’t cure the problem but it will have the net result of slowing traffic down. All you need is one driver going the speed limit to slow others down behind them. Plus is we all recognize that 35 mph is too fast for many neighborhood streets. What’s wrong with at least setting an appropriate expectation?

The big concern to me is that speed limits will be limited to “greenways.” The only streets where I think 35 mph is appropriate in my neighborhood are MLK and maybe parts of Williams and Vancouver. It seems so weird that the city still has to go through the bureaucratic rigmarole of getting a greenway designation just to make a common sense speed limit change.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

I was hoping the 20 mph would apply to all small streets, not just the greenways… actually I was hoping the 20 mph applied to all the non-highway streets…

anybody have links to stats that show the lower school speed limits helped reduce accidents?

Mike G
Guest
Mike G

How about enforcing the road laws on cyclists first.

spare_wheel
Guest
spare_wheel

@david parsons, i think missed my “;)”.

Matthew Denton
Guest
Matthew Denton

Most police officers don’t write tickets until you are 5-10 miles over the speed limit. What this law does is change that threshold from 35 to 30. You won’t get a ticket on your bike at 21, no more than the police will give a ticket to a car, but this law does have an effect.

On my “4 block long dead into parks, with a stop sign in the middle” street, people still go 30 every day and they probably would even if the limit was 20, but they wouldn’t go 35 without risking a ticket. (What those people tend to end up with tickets for are DUIs, not speeding, but that is another topic.)

sharetheroad
Guest
sharetheroad

Jonathan –

My comments were not meant to be confrontational, but rather conversational amongst cyclists in Portland. Since becoming an avid cyclist, I empathize with how confrontations occur between cyclists and motorists. That’s why I have done my part to obey all signs and stoplights, even while I see many cyclists treat these as options. Thus, what we have had is a conversation that is between the motorists and cyclists. But as a pedestrian who has almost been hit by cyclists who refuse to get off the sidewalks, I think it’s time to get this topic front and center. Moreover, I think it’s incumbent upon an organization such as yours to use its bully pulpit to address a very real concern. That was my intent, pure and simple. Ta!

sharetheroad,

thanks for the comment. I agree this conversation must be had and if you checked our archives you’d see it has been on several occasions. I appreciate your much more productive tone. thanks for making your point so well! – Jonathan

jim
Guest
jim

If you have bio-swales but no bike path, is it still a greenway? It’s still paid for with sewer money

John
Guest
John

I’m glad that the city has all this extra money to spend on committees to decide on such trivial matters. Maybe they will find some money to generate another committee to finally put sidewalks in my neighborhood. Hell I’d be happy just to get a curb so my lawn & driveway doesn’t flood with every heavy rain.
Thanks Sam.

Tom
Guest
Tom

The 20 mph limit will also apply to cyclists, meaning some cyclists will have to slow down. This may be good or bad depending on your perspective.

This proposal may also lead to calls for off street routes such as Springwater and Lief Ericson to have speed limits.

are
Guest

re comment 8, if you are traveling the same speed as nearby motorists, the far to right law does not even apply — that is, you do not need to even look at the exceptions, though lane too narrow to safely share would usually be available anyway. however, where there is a striped bike lane the mandatory sidepath law supersedes far to right, and you would be legally required to get in the bike lane. this is why we need to resist the striping of streets where the existing configuration implies taking the lane. moving to the right does not magically become safer just because someone puts down paint.

Lance P.
Guest
Lance P.

Am I the first to notice that that lady behind the wheel in the picture is using a cell phone while driving on a neighborhood greenway? How is this still acceptable? People like this should be fined higher and higher until they wake up and stop putting other people in danger. Also, why don’t we sit on a greenway and take pictures all day of people talking on their phones and their license plates. Then we would mail them off to the police (if they decide to listen that is).

are
Guest

bjorn 11, while that is generally true, there are exceptions, such as tillamook from about 38th through 43rd or so. this should be sharrowed (or unmarked), not striped.

Jen
Guest
Jen

Most of the “neighborhood” streets are so narrow with parking on both sides and limited visibility. I would love for them to just set the “standard” speed limit at twenty, with “major” roads being the exception.
I understand the need for higher speeds for some roads, and those could be posted as such.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

This is an improvement…but I would suggest 15 mph to include school zones and these ‘neighborhood’ designation. Other states set school zone speeds for neighborhood arterials at 15 MPH. I would include language to include an enforcement ceiling of 18MPH max.

Remember that 20 mph is the threshold where pedestrian injuries start to climb higher vs. setting a speed limit based on the upper threshold of neighborhood traffic like bicycles (on level routes)…and a bit higher than the average speed of an urban bus. 20 mph is still to high for some new C type riders to feel comfortable in mixed traffic. Research also shows that drivers are much more likely to practice constant ‘yield’/ ‘give way’ behaviour when operating at 15 mph and less. Go lower if possible.

And if needed…think of how to market this legislative change to rural communities for a win win…for their votes…perhaps add flexibility to raising the speed limits of rural highways with good safety records and modern design (wide shoulders, fog lines, etc.)

Bjorn
Guest
Bjorn

@John The responsibility to pay for sidewalks and paving of unpaved streets actually falls to the homeowners and can be assessed. Sam has tried very hard to create a way to get sidewalks built without having the full cost go to homeowners due to the fact that most streets that are either gravel or lack sidewalks in Portland are in lower income parts of our city. However if you wish your street to have a sidewalk you can complain to the city. They do respond to complaints about specific streets and if they get enough they can require a block to be improved and levy an assessment based on frontage to everyone who lives on the street. I think they should be doing this much more often than they are, although they could allow people to pay over time or place a lien on the home in the amount of the assessment so that people would not have to pay until they sell. If you bought a house without improvements you realistically knew that you might have to pay for them eventually.

John
Guest
John

@Bjorn The problem is that the city did assess the homeowners in my area (Cully) about 20 years ago in order to get sidewalks, and they never came through. Instead the city decided to spend the money elsewhere.
This has been brought up repeatedly in the last couple of years by the Portland Tribune & other papers, so Sam would have to try really hard to avoid the facts. But that should be expected from the guy who was quoted as saying “it’s shameful that Portland still had gravel streets” when (pre-mayor days) being a part of getting “the last gravel street paved”. However, I can show you miles of unpaved streets in my neighborhood.
I guess the city of Portland ends at NE 33rd.

beth h
Guest

I feel like I keep raising this issue but that no one is hearing me. The roads MUST be made safe for EVERYONE, not just for people who can ride fast. Otherwise, tha roads aren’t really safe.

I don’t see a 20mph speed limit for cars as an effective step towards that ideal:

1. Bicyclists will still have to share the roads with cars that can go much faster — and are much bigger and therefore far more dangerous.

2. Enforcement of speed limits is already pretty hit-or-miss for both motorists AND bicyclists. Where’s the funding for increased police presence that is needed to more effectively enforce a new law such as this?

3. Imagine what could happen if a law is passed requiring a motorist to travel no faster than 15 to 20 mph, while operating a vehicle that’s capable of going over 100 mph. Do you really think that most motorists will just roll over for this? I can feel the road rage already.

When we start having real discussions about separate bikeways, then I will know that something real is happening. Until then, all these smaller efforts (without funding or real teeth) will continue to feel (to me at least) like the band-aids they are.

Tourbiker
Guest
Tourbiker

One of my pet peeves is SW water as it makes the “S” curve in front of OMSI.

there’s already a bike lane striped there but no room for it with the center islands; separating the directions.

I routinely take the lane thru there especially when trucks are involved.
much to the dismay of many a driver behind me. I regularly travel the posted speed of 20mph or at least 16.
a 10ft wide truck with mirrors sticking out =12ft + 4ft of bike lane is just too crazy close for me.
In my book personal safety trumps written laws every time.
You will stay behind me till I get to a more suited passing point.

jim
Guest
jim

I never drive faster than 20 mph on Concord allready, I don’t think too many people do. I do however drive Concord everyday now since the traffic restrictions were removed.
20 mph is apropriate on those narrow streets. Wide arterials like Denver should be left alone though.

Ron Richings
Guest
Ron Richings

You might be interested to know that Vancouver, BC a year or so ago adopted a 30 Km/hr (about 18 miles per hour) speed limit on local street bikeways.

From a recent Vancouver City Council report:

“In June 2009, Council endorsed significant enhancements to the City’s local street bikeways to enhance safety and comfort for cyclists, including the reduction of speed limits on local
street bikeways to 30 km/h. The change is intended to reduce the speed differential between cyclists and motor vehicles on local street bikeways, making the routes more comfortable for
a broader range of cyclists.”

Ron Richings

Whyat
Guest
Whyat

Speed limits don’t dictate a vehicles speed on the road- the road does, based on width, obstacles, traffic controls etc. you can lower all the limits to 20mph, but I’ll bet you $100 it won’t make a difference unless it’s enforced.

matt picio
Guest

“reduced speed limit of 20 miles per hour (mph) in particular areas where improvements have been made to address bicycle and pedestrian safety”
So, does that mean 20mph on NE 82nd Avenue at the I-84 overcrossing? I seem to recall a wall built as “an improvement to address pedestrian safety”

John (#29) – Nah, the city ends at 39th. Um.. I mean Cesar Chavez Blvd.

It’s a great point, though – not only Cully, but the neighborhoods in SW Portland were supposed to get sidewalks. Where are they? How about a moritorium on new road construction until sidewalks and the pavement backlog are addressed? (Including a moritorium on extra lanes for I-5 / CRC) If we can’t maintain the current roads, why in the world are we building more?

When you find yourself in a hole, the first thing to do is stop digging.

+1 all commentors pointing out that the limit isn’t very useful without enforcement.

jim
Guest
jim

matt-
For those neighborhoods in sw, were the homeowners responsible for paying for new sidewalks in front of their houses? It seams like when neighborhoods want streets paved it is up to homeowners for that expense also. When I used to do deliveries I found the people that lived on the un-improved streets lived there for a reason. they liked it like that.
Speed limits should be set for what is appropriate for the street, regardless if there is a bioswale on the corner.

jim
Guest
jim

matt-
Good points.
For those neighborhoods in sw, were the homeowners responsible for paying for new sidewalks in front of their houses? It seams like when neighborhoods want streets paved it is up to homeowners for that expense also. When I used to do deliveries I found the people that lived on the un-improved streets lived there for a reason. they liked it like that.
Speed limits should be set for what is appropriate for the street, regardless if there is a bioswale on the corner.

Timbo
Guest
Timbo

The neat thing about 20 mph is it closes the differential between using a car for a quick trip and using your bike. Now they just need to slow the speed on some of the arterials.

TonyT
Guest
tonyt

A. Lewis #4 speaks the truth.

In a rare and perhaps ill-considered moment of candor, a woman I spoke with at PBOT told me in no uncertain terms that the cops won’t give a ticket to someone until they are going at least 11 mph over the limit. So in a 25mph zone, that means a driver has to be doing nearly 50% over the limit to get a ticket.

The reason, according to her, is that the cops’ experience is that any less than that and drivers fight the ticket, and win. That simply means that the PPB traffic division throws away their limited money.

I live on what should be a chill street, but we get tons of speeding cut-through traffic, so much so that the city is spending tens of THOUSANDS of dollars to restrict entry to the street and doing all sorts of calming blah blah blah. Have I EVER seen speed enforcement? Despite requesting it at least a half a dozen times? NO. Gee, I wonder how fast we’d get 9 motorcycle cops if I complained about bikes rolling stop signs.

I’m all for the 20mph limit. But it doesn’t mean sh*t until something seriously changes within the culture of the traffic division and the courts.

wsbob
Guest
wsbob

117th in Beaverton between Canyon and Center street is a north-south connector street near where I live: two lanes of travel, one in each direction, parking and bike lanes on both sides of the street, maybe an eighth to a quarter mile in length. Passes by strip malls and apartments.

Traffic volume generally isn’t heavy, but is enough, coupled with average vehicle speed traveled, to make it hard to get onto the street from the businesses an apartment parking lots.

Walk down the street today to get some coffee…what do I see? City of Beaverton has set out one of those little LED trailers that clocks vehicle speed. This is way cool as far as I’m concerned.

A standard speed limit sign on the LED trailer announces the speed as 25. Not a bad speed for the street if everybody actually drove 25mph on it. Mostly though, they’re probably driving at least 30mph, and probably faster.

With the LED trailer there tonight, it’s amazing how many people keep their speed to 25mph or a little less …22. Over a period of 3-4 minutes, I saw some go 30. Saw one go 35.

Reducing the posted speed from 25 to 20 on this street would probably keep most of the traffic down to 25 mph. Not only would the street be safer, and easier for other road users to exit onto, the wind and tire noise level would drop. That generally translates to improved livability for everyone.

David Feldman
Guest
David Feldman

Will there be actual enforcement? Will the fines be high enough both to change the behavior of drivers and to pay for the cost of enforcement? Will the city get beyond the quaint American notion that asking drivers to obey posted speed limits and punishing them appropriately when they don’t is a “hardship?”

Stephen
Guest

Folks they have tried these 20 mph limits in UK, THEY HAVEN”T improved safety.

In fact they may have made it worse. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/road-and-rail-transport/8038821/20mph-limit-has-not-made-roads-safer.html

Part of the reason is that drivers in some cases are SPEEDOMETER watching. Not watching the road or the traffic, but their speedometer to avoid a ticket.

Speed limits need to be based on engineering not class warefare (bike riders against motorists).

http://www.motorists.org has a good section on proper speedlimit setting too.

q`Tzal
Guest
q`Tzal

Absent speed enforcement, which is far too absent, will this speed reduction and redesignation make it easier to apply lesser seen traffic calming measures?

I get the impression that beyond the fire departments the major stumbling block to effective traffic calming improvements is that higher speed designations on the area in question are counter-indicative. Maybe ODOT will be more willing to do advanced traffic calming techniques in areas where the speed limit is below 20MPH.

reopmok
Guest
reopmok

John #29 – I can’t speak for the streets, but at least in my neighborhood it’s the homeowner that is responsible for providing the sidewalk. At least when I bought my house and had to replace mine, the city didn’t pay to maintain that right of way. So if you want sidewalks in your neighborhood, I suggest you start knocking on doors and telling the property owners they need to build one. Maybe you can also pay the $6k-$8k per house it would cost; I’m sure this will assist you in that cause.

Let’s not forget that school zones are also 15-20 mph, but people don’t speed (generally) in those because the cost of the ticket is much higher, and enforcement is much more frequent. If the state had the balls to double the fine in a ‘neighborhood greenway zone,” it’s likely we’ll see better compliance.

Ted Buehler
Guest
Ted Buehler

Like!

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

For all the folks who seem to think that outrageous tickets costs will act as a deterrent to speeding, why doesn’t the high cost of running a stop sign or light seem to deter cyclists from running them?

Mike on Alberta
Guest
Mike on Alberta

I always drive at slow speeds in my car when I’m driving on popular bike routes. While lowering the speed limit is one approach, us cyclists who also use cars can already take the initiative to legally set the pace ourselves.

Timbo
Guest
Timbo

cyclist-46 is correct. A majority of us contributing to this subject would run a stop sign in a second and not think twice about it.

The good thing with the 20 mph speed limit is that some law abiding citizens in their cars will abide by the posted speed. Others will then follow as it becomes a learned behavior and the end result is traffic calming. And traffic calming is a good thing.

Tickets or no tickets some people actually actually do obey laws. Would I run a stop sign in my car? Heck no. It is illegal and potentially dangerous. And NOT considered acceptable by society.

However running a atop sign on my bike is illegal and potentially dangerous also(to us typically) but it is socially OK so we do it.

It is not socially OK (in a car)to speed beyond typical 7 mile per hour lee way over posted speed. Whether that be 25 mph or 20 mph. So the net effect by this is the speed in that area will go down by 5 mph over a period of time.

cyclist
Guest
cyclist

Timbo #48: It might be socially acceptable in the bike community for cyclists to run stop signs and red lights, but for the other 85% of Portlanders it’s a different story.

I’d also argue that socially responsible people don’t have much affect on the irresponsible folks. For example, when I’m stopped at a red light it doesn’t seem to have much effect on the guy who comes up behind me and blows the light. I also regularly get passed when driving the posted limit on Powell or on the highway.

Artificial limits will put a cap on excessively bad behavior, but I’d argue that on a street like Going (a nice, wide bike boulevard between at least 33rd and 17th) auto speeds aren’t going to decline much because the width of the street allows the driver to feel safer at higher speeds. That was the point I was trying to get across w/ my stop sign comparison, people are going to do what feels reasonable and safe to them, even if it’s against the law. Enforcement won’t change that.

are
Guest

on going, i have taken the city at its word and i treat the sharrows as lane positioning guidance. motorists usually get the message and turn off after a block or two.