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City engaged in battle against speeding epidemic

Posted by on June 12th, 2015 at 11:59 am

N Willamette Blvd bike lanes-6

PBOT has asked the state for a trial of new speed limit zones they say would reduce collisions.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

Of all the ingredients that make up a dangerous roadway environment, most pundits and policymakers agree that speeding is one of the biggest threats. At a meeting of transportation advocates hosted by Portland Mayor Charlie Hales and Bureau of Transportation Commissioner Steve Novick earlier this month, the scourge of speed was a constant thread through the discussion.

“If you can eliminate speeding, you can reduce a lot of the carnage on the roads.”
— Roger Geller, PBOT

“One of big things we’ve learned from Europe is speed kills,” PBOT’s bike coordinator Roger Geller said as Hales took notes, “If you can eliminate speeding, you can reduce a lot of the carnage on the roads.”

Oregon Walks Executive Director Noel Mickelberry had perhaps the most repeated quote of the day when she said, “I’d like to see speed framed the same way that drunk driving and seatbelts have been framed in the past.”

At the press conference that followed, Commissioner Novick underscored the speeding issue by making a direct appeal to Portlanders. “I think that we, as drivers, need to think of slowing down as an investment in our community safety and ask ourselves: ‘Am I willing to extend my commute by two minutes or five minutes today in order to make it safer for kids to walk to school — or for anyone walking or bicycling in the same space?'”

The talk is there; but words alone will not make people slow down. While groups working on Vision Zero are scheming about a public marketing campaign and Mayor Hales has said he’ll have city workers sign a “Travel With Care” safety pledge, PBOT is waging their battle against speed on two other fronts: the use of fixed photo radar cameras and an attempt to wrest some control of local speed limits away from the state.

If both or either of the these efforts are successful they could have a major impact on traffic safety.

Here’s the latest on where things stand…

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House Bill 2621 – Fixed photo radar cameras on high crash corridors
House Bill 2621 is a major legislative priority for the city this session. If it passes, it would allow PBOT to install a total of 20 cameras on “high crash corridors” (streets with an above average rate of collisions) over the next three years. If all goes according to plan, official state estimates reckon the new cameras will result in 274,000 additional citations between 2015 and 2018. That could lead to a potentially significant change in road user behavior (not to mention a much-needed revenue stream).

“It is very much alive… We are very hopeful about passage.”
— Leah Treat, PBOT director on HB 2621

Will it pass? On paper, it looks like HB 2621 is on life support; but supporters remain optimistic.

In an email this morning, PBOT Director Leah Treat wrote, “It is very much alive and the bill is working its way through the process, which is fluid right now. We are very hopeful about passage.”

But will it run out of time? The session is only expected to last another two weeks (June 26th is the targeted session end date) and HB 2621 has still not even been heard by the Senate. It passed the House Transportation Committee in April but was referred to the Ways and Means Committee (due to it having a financial impact) and just last week it was moved to the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Public Safety. Sources say it will pass out of that committee any day now and that support exists from both parties in both chambers. The (legislative) clock is ticking.

More local authority to set speed limits
Right now, the Oregon Department of Transportation holds all the cards when it comes to setting speed limits — even on streets that are managed and owned by cities. PBOT can request changes on a case-by-case basis; but they want broader authority. The City already notched a victory on this front in 2011 when they won the legal right to set speed limits at 20 miles per hour on residential streets where bicycling and walking are prioritized (a.k.a. neighborhood greenways).

Now PBOT wants to go a few steps further. Back in March, former City Traffic Engineer Rob Burchfield wrote ODOT with an official request to do a two-year trial of an “Alternative Speed Zoning test.” The impetus for the trial was explicitly described as a way to help PBOT “achieve Vision Zero goals.”

Currently, when ODOT’s Speed Zone Review Panel gets a request to change a speed limit, ODOT engineers do an investigation to determine if it’s “safe and reasonable” to make the change. It’s not surprising that ODOT engineers might have a different idea about what’s “safe and reasonable” than PBOT engineers do.

In his letter (PDF), Burchfield put it this way:

“Based on our preliminary investigations regarding international practice for the elimination of fatal and serious injury crash events, consideration of all users of the public rights of way should be considered when determining the safe operational speed of a roadway. In most cases, pedestrians and cyclists will be the most vulnerable user, while occupants of motor vehicles will be the least vulnerable.”

He then gave two examples of new speed zones PBOT would like to establish:

  • Streets designed for people cycling, with bike lanes, that do not provide buffered space from motor vehicle traffic should not be posted higher than 30 mph, and
  • Streets where people walking, biking, and driving share the same space, should not be posted greater than 20 mph.

To go along with these changes, PBOT also wants to collect data, work with the Police Bureau to do random enforcement of the new speed limits, and produce a report showing how the changes have affected roadway safety.

With Burchfield no longer at PBOT (he left back in March), this effort to set new speed limits has been handed over to Margi Bradway, PBOT’s Active Transportation Division manager. For this effort to succeed, Bradway needs to not only convince ODOT of its merits, she’ll also need to find funding in the budget to ramp up enforcement. PBOT can’t rely on cameras alone to handle all the rampant speeding.

We’ll know more about this effort next week when PBOT is scheduled to make a presentation in front of the Speed Zone Review Panel in Salem.

Stay tuned. I’ve been openly critical of PBOT and Mayor Hales for being all talk and no action when it comes to Vision Zero and I’m eager to change my tune.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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Adam H.
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Adam H.

Should be 20 MPH maximum speed, not 30 MPH.

9watts
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9watts

“Oregon Department of Transportation holds all the cards when it comes to setting speed limits”

To whom is ODOT beholden if not the grandma or the child or the adult or the toddler who wants to cross a street!?

“Currently, when ODOT’s Speed Zone Review Panel gets a request they conduct an investigation to determine if it’s ‘safe and reasonable’ to make the change.”
= makes my blood boil

9watts
Guest
9watts

“Bradway needs to not only convince ODOT of its merits, she’ll also need to find funding in the budget to ramp up enforcement. PBOT can’t rely on cameras alone to handle all the rampant speeding.”

This is great! We know we have a speeding problem but we can’t slow people down (reduce speed limits) because it costs too much. Lewis Carroll had nothing on these clowns (and I don’t mean Margi Bradway).

Dan
Guest
Dan

From what I’ve heard, when ODOT wants to rethink a speed zone on a road, they look at the speed that 85% of drivers travel and set it around that. So if you’ve got a road that’s 35mph and most people drive 45mph on it, when ODOT does a study on that road they are likely to raise the limit to 45mph.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

I never see any traffic enforcement on SE Hawthorne, where many people drive 35-40 MPH in what is now a 25 MPH zone.

And you shouldn’t discount motorists running red lights as another major hazard to cyclists, I see motorists doing this regularly, I can rely on seeing at least two or more instances of flagrant red light running by motorists on my six mile one way commute almost every day.

Tim Davis
Guest
Tim Davis

Like you said on last week’s KBOO Bike Show, Jonathan (and I’m so glad that you did!), speed enforcement sidesteps the REAL issue, which is streets that are designed (by 1950s-era traffic engineering guidelines) to move cars at VERY high speeds. If you want slower speeds, don’t design streets in which it’s easy to drive 40 mph!

We need to have as many streets re-designed in the Dutch woonerf style as possible. This *automatically* keeps speed down by making everyone hyper-aware of everything in their field of vision. Plus, such streets are absolutely BEAUTIFUL.

Brett
Guest
Brett

Insurance markets could play a role. People willing to plug one of the company’s dongles into their car computer can prove they don’t speed and command lower rates.

Dan
Guest
Dan

I mentioned this in an earlier story, but it’s more related to this one. We are asking for a 20mph school speed zone on either side of a busy intersection on a 35mph arterial near us. But we are hearing now that there are developers on the outskirts of the area who have made significant financial contributions to try & keep the speeds on this particular road high, with little interruption, so that the buyers of the houses they are building will be able to get to work quickly (nevermind the fact that the intersection itself will probably affect their travel time more than the school speed zone would). The point is, it sounds to me like travel priority on this street is being BOUGHT by developers with deep pockets, and it has nothing to do with the kids who have to cross it.

J_R
Guest
J_R

I don’t believe the city is engaged in a battle against speeding. I think they are sitting around complacently watching an increase in speeding by motorists. As I’ve pointed out before on this forum, there is very little traffic enforcement.

According to the PPB Annual Report, there were 50,000 “citizen contacts” by the Traffic Division personnel. That’s 140 “contacts” per day. There are 51 sworn personnel. It works out to 3 citizen contacts (citations or warnings) per day per officer. I know the PPB Traffic Division has lots of other responsibilities, but fewer than 3 citations per day per Traffic Division officer hardly seems like a “battle” to me.

Source: http://www.portlandoregon.gov/police/article/518831

SD
Guest
SD

On a related note, PBOT has been soliciting input regarding lowering the speed limit on NE Freemont from Sabin residents. I imagine this is extended to other neighborhoods on Freemont as well. Now would be a good time to let PBOT know, either directly or through the NA if you are in favor of lowering the speed limit from 30mph to 25mph or lower.

Todd Hudson
Guest
Todd Hudson

What I discovered this week is Portland Police Bureau offers no easy way to inform them about areas where speeding motorists create safety hazards. On Wednesday, I found this (http://imgur.com/Rb0PWfN) blocking my driveway – an out-of-control motorist slammed into this parked truck. Three months prior at this intersection, another motorist lost control and hit three parked cars (all were totaled). These crashes were caused by drivers who speed through the intersection. People drive through the Burnside/Gilham stoplight like they’re in an episode of the Dukes Of Hazzard.

On PPB’s website, they instruct people with traffic safety issues to contact PBOT. Passing the buck, that’s great! PBOT will redesign this intersection…in who know how many years. Because there aren’t always serious injuries with these crashes (in this week’s wreck, the driver fled the scene), it doesn’t show up on PBOT’s radar.

So I went to the PPB building at 47th/Burnside in hopes of talking to someone. I found a locked door and a sign that read “due to personnel shortages, this building is closed” (which reminds me, to a certain person running for city commission who has written essays about how we should fire police officers to hire teachers….I’m not voting for you).

Enforcement is a big part of this. Speed cameras and local control is great, but neither will be implemented or be on the ground any time soon. Make people know that if they speed they will get caught and the fine will hurt, and people will slow down.

dave
Guest
dave

I went for an in-the-city ride yesterday for the first time in a while, and out of a half-dozen near misses I experienced or witnessed, not one of them seemed to have anything to do with speed. All of them did seem to come down to a delicious mix of inattentive operators (often on both sides), poor infrastructure, and most often, just too many people trying to move through the same space at the same time.

Nathan Hinkle (NearlyKilledMe and The Bike Light Database)
Guest

Good to see the city starting to engage on these issues. Speeding is definitely an issue. It’s the 3rd most-cited cause of near-misses reported to NearlyKilled.Me, after inattentive drivers and insufficient infrastructure. You can see a live-updated graph here.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

There are some factual errors in this article.

The speed zone review committee does not do investigations – ODOT engineers usually do that, using prescribed methods in OAR 734.0015.020.

Flow chart of current process:
http://www.oregon.gov/ODOT/HWY/TRAFFIC-ROADWAY/docs/pdf/speed_zone_flow_chart.pdf

The alternative method (Section 3) is the change being pursued, not the authority to set speeds.

IMO, the current method skews toward auto mobility.
-Crash history on a corridor needs to be higher than typically found on similar corridors to consider speed reduction for safety.
-It’s not just the 85th percentile speed, but the free flow (non-peak) 85th that is the standard for consideration.
-The current methodology mentions other factors (land use, geometry, pedestrians), but is obscure regarding the importance of such factors.

IMO, the proposed methodology focuses on the safety of all users of the right of way and the risks they face if involved in a crash – and it is still a work in progress.

“When the infrastructure cannot be upgraded, at reasonable costs, to the standard required for the existing speed limit, the appropriate action is to reduce the speed limit.” Page 83, “Speed Management”, OECD, 2006.

dan
Guest
dan

Taking a stand against fixed photo radar is basically saying “I want people to drive through these intersections at unsafe speeds”. Amazing (and depressing) that people think it’s OK to take that stance.

Eric
Guest
Eric

30mph would be ok with buffered bike lanes and absolutely strict enforcement. The lack of perceived safety when biking or walking is what keeps people driving their cars even for ridiculously short trips. I think a lot of it comes from noise levels (even at 30mph, it’s far more pleasant to be 15ft from the road — but with anything faster, it’s nicer to be in a car with the windows closed.) 20mph (not 25, not even 22) is an ok speed for shared space. If you’re applying lessons from Europe, remember 30kph = 18.6mph.

Spiffy
Guest
Spiffy

Streets where people walking, biking, and driving share the same space, should not be posted greater than 20 mph.

I’m reading this as any road that’s not a freeway…

all modes share the same space on most roads… peds cross the road, bikes ride in it… only a road with no crossings isn’t shared by all modes, and those are called freeways…

soren
Guest
soren

NYC recently adopted a 25 mph default speed limit and PBOT asks for 30 mph.

#notvisionzero

brian
Guest
brian

Quit spending money on roads with such terrible compliance. ODOT recently resurfaced a rough patch of N Lombard and I’d be willing to bet that area will see an increase in average speeds.

Peter R
Guest

Cornell though Orenco is a good example of the idiocy out here in the western burbs. The whole Orenco area is flourishing with new development, shopping, etc. Yet the Main road (Cornell) right though the smack dab middle of everything is 45mph. Most people are doing 50+ based on when I drive through there. I avoid biking on it at all costs.

LC
Guest
LC

Easy and cheap: If someone is killed on a road, close the road to private motor vehicles for five years.

lahar
Guest
lahar

I for one would love to see speed bumps on the Burnside Bridge, drivers seem to just floor it because it seems like an open space.

Mike
Guest
Mike

First, I am extremely annoyed to find out that ODOT has the ultimate say on street speeds even when they’re not theirs. Typical for ODOT though, talk a good game but keep it business as usual.

Second, i can not support the Camera bill. Anything that is Portland-centric is unfair to the citizens of the rest of the state. Why not spread those 20 cameras over 4-5 cities throughout the state? Why does Portland have to get everything?

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

To say that the issue of speeding is only an engineering issue is way off base, it’s actually a problem on three fronts,

Education, Enforcement, and Engineering. you have to address all three issues.

And as it stands right now, education seems to be the biggest hurdle. There are people that believe speed limits signs are merely suggestions, people don’t know what many of the infrastructure markers are, and the test to obtain a driver’s licence isn’t about ability to drive, but how well you know “the basics”.

I’ll have to look for it, but I recently saw a graph where speeding was the number one contributing factor in automobile collisions at about 34% of all collisions. Higher than drunk driving and distracted driving. And that those 3 issues put together accounted for 87% of all collisions. Which is why I feel infrastructure and engineering actually plays a very small roll on how safe the roads are. You can’t design around impaired driving or distracted driving. And even speeding can not be fully addressed by engineering alone.

Engineering may help, but the effects of infrastructure are only as good as it is supported in other ways with education and enforcement.

And the sad truth is, is that the only thing that is really being explored for nearly all transportation issues right now is engineering.

El Biciclero
Guest
El Biciclero

I haven’t read all the comments in detail, so I may be repeating someone, but:

“I think that we, as drivers, need to think of slowing down as an investment in our community safety and ask ourselves: ‘Am I willing to extend my commute by two minutes or five minutes today in order to make it safer for kids to walk to school — or for anyone walking or bicycling in the same space?’”

The converse of this idea is that “we as drivers need to think of speeding as an irrational and useless waste of energy”.

I would wonder whether slowing to existing speed limits would “extend” anyone’s commute. What we need are signals that are timed to match the speed limit, as that has seemed to me to be the limiting factor in the length of any trip. It doesn’t matter if I can go 60 mph in between lights if I have to stop for 30 seconds at every intersection.

Suburban
Guest
Suburban

There are no safe routes to schools. There is no (meaningfull or effective) enforcement anywhere in or near Portland. Anything that can be struck by a speeding motor vehichle, in time, will be. I have respect for all those who attend listening sessions and neighborhood meetings- but there is obviously no political will at the state level to slow down drivers. It is not a priority, and there is no battle for such in Portland. Those cashing paychecks as traffic engineers for ODOT do so with blood on their hands, and a mechanism to hide behind. There is zero vision and thousands of unqualified uneducated selfish drivers who live in a limited space.

Angela
Guest
Angela

Think of how much revenue would come in if more speeding tickets were issued. Slowed traffic and money towards bike lane improvements would be a win win (unless you’re the recipient of a ticket but lesson would be hopefully learned).