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.