“There is something magic about 20 mph… We can substantially reduce the likelihood of fatalities in our streets by having this important piece of legislation in place.”
— Tom Miller, PBOT Director
House Bill 3150 (PDF), which would give municipalities across Oregon the authority to reduce speeds on some residential streets to 20 mph, was the subject of a public hearing last Friday. The bill is a companion* to Senate Bill 344 and the City of Portland Bureau of Transportation has made it one of their top legislative priorities for the 2011 session.
[*HB 3150 differs slightly from SB 344 in that it not only addresses the speed limit issue, but it also seeks to official define the term “neighborhood greenways” in Oregon law.]
At a hearing of the House Transportation and Economic Development Committee on Friday, HB 3150’s chief sponsor, Representative Ben Cannon, introduced the bill by saying lower speeds would, “… reinforce and improve the experience for those using a neighborhood greenway.” Testifying in favor of the bill were newly appointed Director of PBOT Tom Miller and Portland City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield.
“Why 30 mph or 25 mph down to 20 mph?,” Miller said in his testimony, “There is something magic about 20 mph.” Miller told committee members that FHWA studies show a person walking has a 40% chance of being killed when struck by a motor vehicle at 30 mph; but that same person has just a 5% of being killed when the car is going 20 mph. “We can substantially reduce the likelihood of fatalities in our streets by having this important piece of legislation in place,” Miller said. He was also sure to point out that there is no financial cost to this bill: “We have an opportunity today to save lives on our streets without any cost whatsoever to taxpayers*.”
[*This was in reference to State of Oregon taxpayers. New speed limit signs would come out of city funds, at a cost that Burchfield says is about $75 in labor per sign.]
If HB 3150 were to become law, any Oregon city would be able to set a 20 mph speed limit if a road met the following criteria:
- The street must have 2,000 or fewer motor vehicle trips per day and of those, 85% or fewer must already be traveling at 30 mph or less.
- The street must also already have some type of signage, markings, or infrastructure that indicate the presence of people walking and biking.
If those criteria are met, city crews wouldn’t be able to just go out and start putting up new speed limit signs. As written, the law would require city transportation departments to share with City Council the specific streets they want to apply the new speed limits to. The council would then adopt an ordinance giving the green light to the changes.
Note that the 2,000 or fewer vehicle trips limit is the same standard already in use by PBOT in identifying their growing network of neighborhood greenway streets.
Burchfield, speaking to the committee on Friday, said this law would be a cheap way to save lives. “We know that the risk of injury goes up dramatically as speeds go up. This is just one tool, but it’s a cost-effective tool.”
The eight member committee didn’t seem to have any major objections to the bill, but no vote was taken. They’ve scheduled another work session on the bill today and a vote is likely. If your representative is on the committee, please consider dropping them an email or phone call to voice your opinion on this proposed legislation (the Co-Chair of the committee is Beaverton rep Tobias Read).
Stay tuned for more updates and browse past legislative session coverage here.