Urban Tribe - Ride with your kids in front.

Portland ‘Transformation’ bureau unveils a new trick: ’20 is Plenty’ signs

Posted by on March 24th, 2016 at 3:49 pm

The anonymous street-safety activists at PDX Transformation are following the lead of successful campaigns in New York City and the United Kingdom to spread the idea of driving at nonlethal speeds.

The group took responsibility last weekend for hanging a set of signs that look like legal speed-limit signs but aren’t.

KATU-TV’s Reed Andrews reported Wednesday that the signs were “donated by someone who works for a sign-making company.”

The Portland Bureau of Transportation says it doesn’t condone the signs. PBOT says it plans to have maintenance workers take them down, but it’s not an immediate priority.

“We’re not going to be playing whack-a-mole,’ said PBOT spokesperson Dylan Rivera.

The street signs are part of a continued effort by the bike advocacy group PDX Transformation.

“We can only do so much. We don’t have unlimited funds,” PDX Transformation said. “We’re just proving it doesn’t take much to do something significantly. The whole environment of that area completely changed.”

The signs were donated by someone who works for a sign-making company. About half have been deployed so far, and the group plans on putting more out wherever they see the need.

The group has previously propped open TriMet’s swing gates crossing the Orange Line on the way to Tilikum Crossing and placed traffic cones alongside bike lanes.

According to the American Auto Association Foundation for Traffic Safety, a car that hits a person traveling at 20 mph is approximately half as likely to cause either a fatality or a serious injury as one traveling at 25 mph.

For a serious injury, the probability is about 17 percent compared to about 30 percent; for death, it’s about 8 percent compared to about 14 percent.

After the British “20 is plenty” movement, the Scottish capital of Edinburgh lowered speed limits citywide to 20 mph in 2000 and began enforcing them in 2014. Last year, New York City lowered the default citywide speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph and created “slow zones” of 20 mph in some areas.

There’s been local action on this front, too. In 2011, the City of Portland won the right to cut speed limits on neighborhood greenways, the traffic-calmed side streets where biking and walking is prioritized, from 25 mph to 20 mph. Some neighborhood greenways are now marked with 20 mph signs, but not all.

And it’s all part of a much older movement, peaking in the 1920s, that unsuccessfully attempted to install “governors” in all motor vehicles that would have limited their speed to 25 mph.

Apparently the movement for slow driving in cities remains very much alive.

“We just placed an order for more signs,” the organization tweeted today. “Want one where you walk/ride? Hit us up.”

— Michael Andersen, (503) 333-7824 – michael@bikeportland.org

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  • bikeninja March 24, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    I like the 25mph governors idea from the 1920’s. This would solve many of the problems with Karz. Making them less lethal, reducing fuel use and emissions and most of all discourage people from driving them. Modern GPS technology could be used to make sure nobody cheats.

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  • Justin March 24, 2016 at 4:38 pm

    Love it. I’m constantly thinking everyone seems to drive so fast. I’m 40 btw, not 90. But having used bike as main transportation for several years, I find that behind the wheel of a car I have become Mr. LaidBack

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    • Mark March 25, 2016 at 10:57 am

      Me too. I moved to Portland sixteen years ago with a serious case of car-head. I immediately noticed all the people riding bikes, and bought a used mountain bike to ride around the city. As I began to ride more and more, my car use declined, and on the occasions that I did drive, I was a much calmer and more careful driver.

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  • Todd Hudson March 24, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    Some nefarious individual put out traffic cones on Burnside at SE Gilham yesterday. Was it the Transformation Bureau? We’ll never know….

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    • Chris I March 25, 2016 at 7:50 am

      Cones for what? I am not aware of a marked bike lane at that intersection.

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  • Tom Hardy March 24, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    PBOT not transformation said on TV they would be busy pulling them down. I say “Don’t bother!” They have a budget to remove the signs but not to put them up?

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    • paikiala March 25, 2016 at 2:15 pm

      PBOT has no objection to private signs placed on private property that do not appear to be official. Signs like these are not the same. If the color was different, and the location was on private property, there would be no issues.
      Why not blame Ptransformation for expending already scarce PBOT resources?

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  • Dan A March 24, 2016 at 5:11 pm

    I’d like to put one of those in front of my house…

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  • q March 24, 2016 at 5:28 pm

    Even 20 is too fast for some streets, and it doesn’t make sense that the City isn’t free to set lower limits. Think of neighborhood streets that are very low-volume for cars, without sidewalks, but popular for walking and biking, such as streets that are also Regional Trails. Residents know about the other users, and drive slow themselves, but non-residents do not.

    Also, as shared-use, “woonerf” streets grow (I hope) there will be a real need for limits below 20 mph. Many streets basically serve only the residents who live along them, and could be transformed into usable public spaces that cars occasionally cross, instead of no-man’s-lands empty except for cars, but those types of spaces were never envisioned by the people who set min. speeds no lower than 20 or 25 mph.

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    • J. E. March 24, 2016 at 5:38 pm

      Like most transportation woes, you can thank ODOT for the 20/25mph speed limit minimum. (Kudos to PBOT for circumventing that downtown by timing the lights at 14mph. If only every intersection could have stoplights…)

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      • B. Carfree March 24, 2016 at 7:38 pm

        Actually, in ODOT’s definitions of the basic speed law, they say that on narrow residential streets the basic speed law limit is 15 mph. The narrow street without sidewalks would seem to qualify.

        Of course, basic speed laws are only as good as enforcement, something we simply lack.

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        • Dan A March 25, 2016 at 9:29 am


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          • paikiala March 25, 2016 at 2:34 pm

            ORS 811.111, (d), sub-subsection (A), provides another, less often used, statutory speed, 15 mph, where the residential street is ‘narrow’ (ORS 801.368).

            The ‘roadway’ has to be in a residential district.
            The roadway has to be for 2-way traffic.
            The roadway has to be narrow, by definition 18 feet or less in width.
            the key language, for me, is the definitions of ‘roadway’.

            801.450 “Roadway.” “Roadway” means the portion of a highway that is improved, designed or ordinarily used for vehicular travel, exclusive of the shoulder. In the event a highway includes two or more separate roadways the term “roadway” shall refer to any such roadway separately, but not to all such roadways collectively. [1983 c.338 §83]

            the key language is ‘ordinarily used’. Getting to the point that PBOT agrees that the portion of the roadway ordinarily used for ‘vehicle storage’ is not part of the ‘roadway’ is what is preventing more streets in Portland from being legally posted for 15 mph.

            If there is any confusion, some form of delineation could certainly clarify the ‘ordinarily used for vehicular travel space’ from the ‘ordinarily used for storage space’. Such delineation could be roadway markings, like an edge stripe, or could be something more physical.

            Here are some examples in Portland that delineate the roadway from the storage space:


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  • rachel b March 24, 2016 at 5:41 pm

    Love this. But I’d be thankful if they’d just go the posted speed limit (25mph) on SE 26th. Unfortunately, that long unimpeded stretch between Clinton & Powell just screams “SPEEEEEED!!!!” to drivers. They come off the blocks, raring to go, long stretch of nothin’ but pavement, no crosswalks, no traffic calming, nothing to stop them from the bliss of stepping on it all the way from Clinton to Powell. It is a problem. Especially with a school on that stretch. And a street lined with residences. And heavy ped and bike traffic. I am a broken record.

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    • Jeff March 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm

      What would it take to get a painted crosswalk with yellow signs at the bus stop at 26th and Tibbetts? Seems having that half-way down the stretch might help some. And Trimet and People’s Food Co-op (for customers walking there) would be in favor.

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      • Paul Atkinson March 25, 2016 at 10:06 am

        The painted crosswalk sounds like a bucket of paint, some masking tools, and an evening’s work. Not sure about the yellow signs, but a sufficiently transformative-minded couple of individuals could probably get the striping done for a minimal investment.

        If I were to do that (and, I’m sorry, I’m unlikely to do so) I’d make sure to learn what the official measurements are so the new markings fall within city code. And I’d try to figure out what kind of paint is likely to hold up to drivers best. I can’t imagine it’s terribly difficult, but sadly this can’t be accomplished with just a couple cones.

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        • Paul Atkinson March 25, 2016 at 10:08 am

          Note, though, that a quick Googling shows at least one man went to jail for doing this (in CA, not OR). Because *that* is a good use of city resources.

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          • Paul Atkinson March 25, 2016 at 10:13 am

            Of course, painting a crosswalk where the city hasn’t painted one is an illegal way to improve the city.

            But because I’m already down that rabbit hole a little…


            $105 gets you 5 gallons (and free shipping!). That ought to hold up great.

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          • Adam March 25, 2016 at 2:06 pm

            I think the important thing about doing this is, do it without bragging to everyone about what you did.

            We need a Banksy of the crosswalks!!!!!

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            • rachel b March 25, 2016 at 3:56 pm

              Hah! 🙂

              I think we need a Banksy of the Skies as well. Was paying particular attention (in my friend’s car) to what the view is at the intersection of SE 26th and Clinton, heading south. I notice people take off very fast from that intersection. It’s because all you see is the “goal” from there: the lights at the intersection of SE 26th and Powell. Visually, it cues the driver to GOGOGOGOGOGOGO! all the way to that light. There are no obstacles in the way, nothing to visually break that stretch and tell a driver SLOW DOWN.

              Flashing yellow lights overhead (or something overhead–the balloon creatures they’re using to scare off the sea lions?) seem appropriate, esp. for a school zone, starting at around Tibbetts. Signage should be upped, too.

              Drivers likewise approach the Clinton intersection (driving north from Powell) ridiculously fast–even large vehicles, semis and schoolbuses. If the fact that there’s a 4-way stop ahead (and a tricky merge with cyclists) doesn’t deter speeders, I don’t know what will. EXCEPT DISPLAY RADAR CAMERA SPEED SIGNS. Oh, please, Santa! Bring them to SE 26th!!! Before it becomes a “high speed crash corridor.”

              We just need something to visually cue drivers NOT to step on it all the way to Powell, and vice versa. Break up that drivers’ dreamy view.

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      • paikiala March 25, 2016 at 5:04 pm

        Did you request one from PBOT? safe@portlandoregon.gov

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  • grrlpup March 24, 2016 at 7:06 pm

    I love them! I saw one the other day but didn’t know PDX Transformation was responsible. It’s so much more relaxing as a driver, too, when we’re all going neighborhood-friendly speeds.

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    • Dan A March 25, 2016 at 9:30 am

      Indeed, when I drive the speed limit in my neighborhood, I always end up with someone tailgating me.

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  • Tom March 24, 2016 at 8:32 pm

    I don’t know why PBOT would take them down. They are not real road signs, but obviously simply advertisements of a recommended max speed. Is PBOT going to also remove the thousands of event poster advertisements on telephone poles around town. I recommend to keep moving them around to different locations. PBOT will get weary of showing up to remove one just to find out its already been moved. Neighborhoods should be allowed to advertise speed recommendations that are appropriate and safe for them.

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    • Mixtieme March 24, 2016 at 8:48 pm

      In fact residents already do this with that yellow plastic, ball cap wearing kid holding a flag and running straight into traffic. Apparently those aren’t worth removing, maybe shoulda, couldove used them when marking the locations of fatalities last year.

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    • nuovorecord March 25, 2016 at 8:10 am

      So what is to be done then, when some frustrated driver posts a “should be 40” sign in a 30 mph zone, for example?

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      • BB March 25, 2016 at 9:25 am

        “Frustrated Drivers” are too busy / important / in a hurry to even slow down, much less stop to post a sign on a pole.

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      • Paul Atkinson March 25, 2016 at 11:20 am

        That seems to be a false equivalence.

        One sign encourages people to do something legal (driving 20) to enhance safety.

        One encourages people to do something illegal (drive 40) that will be dangerous.

        How are those the same? Just because they both involve speed signs?

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        • nuovorecord March 25, 2016 at 3:47 pm

          My response was simply to play devil’s advocate and point out that the city puts itself in an awkward position by allowing these signs to remain. Both sides can use guerrilla tactics and the city should carefully think through the unintended consequences of turning a blind eye.

          I support lower speed limits, by the way.

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  • Robert Chapman March 25, 2016 at 2:36 am

    15 mph feels about right in my neighborhood. When I check my speedometer I tend to be +/- 3 mph of that goal. We have free parking on both sides of the street and Interstate Ave/ I5 cut through traffic. Walking down the sidewalk is as pleasant as breathing through an exhaust pipe regulator these days.

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  • Dave March 25, 2016 at 7:29 am

    Are the signs for sale? And where?

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  • Scott Kocher March 25, 2016 at 12:12 pm

    More evidence supporting lower speeds:

    Elderly pedestrians are about 5x more likely to die in a crash at a given speed.
    That means If we change our residential speed limits from 25 mph to 20 mph to match the 20 mph statutory speed for business districts, even that alone won’t provide Vision Zero for people 65 and older. It’s Vision 15% or 20%, depending whether you figure drivers go five over.

    In Portland, more than half of all our road deaths are pedestrians. Put that another way: more of us and our friends and family are killed as peds than using bicycles, cars, trucks and motorcycles combined.

    Small differences in traveling speed can result in large differences in impact speed (because braking distance is proportional to the square of the initial speed). For example, think of two cars are traveling side by side, one at 31 mph and the other overtaking at 37 mph. A child runs onto the road at the point just beyond which the 31 mph driver can stop. The 37 mph driver will only be able to slow to 27 mph at the point s/he hits the child.

    Reducing urban speeds just 3 mph overall results in 30% reduction in pedestrian fatalities. Calming the fastest roads saves the most lives.

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  • Adam March 25, 2016 at 2:03 pm

    I would like to see note of those “State Law – Stop For Pedestrians in Crosswalk” neon signs.

    Any chance we could get some variation of those knocked up?

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  • Adam March 25, 2016 at 2:11 pm

    If a car traveling at 25 mph is twice as likely to kill me as a car traveling at 20, why are our streets not just simply ENGINEERED for 20mph?

    Why not just have speed bumps every block, on every side street as standard?

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    • paikiala March 25, 2016 at 2:43 pm

      The state sets speed limits that are different from statutory. If you are asking for the legislature to change the residential statutory speed limit to 20 mph, this is not exactly the right forum.

      PBOT cannot legally cause speeds on a street to drop below statutory speed limits, on average, per a determination by the City Attorney when speed bumps were first contemplated and installed.

      The typical speed over a speed bump is in the 17-20 mph range, and depending on the spacing and 85th before install, speed bumps would have to be placed about 400 feet apart on every street to achieve the statutory speed of 25 mph (about 2 for every 3 blocks in the city).
      Speed bumps cost about $2200 to install apiece.

      The cost to install speed bumps as proposed would likely be in the millions, and they certainly are not needed everywhere.

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      • Eric Leifsdad March 25, 2016 at 11:41 pm

        Just close the street to through auto traffic and none of that state highway statutory nonsense applies. If we’re going to be a great bike city, we need to stop acting like cars are sacred.

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  • Lori March 25, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    This is great! My only concern is that people might think all of the 20 mph signs are unofficial and stop respecting them. Contradictory thought, but maybe stickers (“IS PLENTY”) to stick to the real signs, too?

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  • Agent 1 March 26, 2016 at 12:17 am

    If you want these signs, we’ll be putting up a lot more in the coming weeks, but you can also order some yourself from myparkingsign.com. They’ll probably give you a deal if you tell them what you’re doing.

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    • clarence March 26, 2016 at 4:28 am

      Sweet! Spread this video too! https://vimeo.com/139553406

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      • eddie March 26, 2016 at 7:03 am

        Even in incidental clips of that video you can see plenty of streets in London where there is plenty of human activity but NO CARS whatsoever.

        Something we totally lack in Portland, except in super rare instances, as in the alley by voodoo donuts downtown. Imagine a car free section of every neighborhood…

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  • clarence March 26, 2016 at 4:27 am
  • eddie March 26, 2016 at 6:57 am

    Why are cars allowed to move so quickly through cities, anyway, since road and city planners must know that any vehicle moving faster than 20 mph is exponentially more likely to kill pedestrians / cyclists?

    Does this mean that someone, somewhere, decides that a certain amount of “collateral damage” is acceptable? That the benefit of being able to drive quickly is worth the danger of killing and maiming people?

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    • Dan A March 26, 2016 at 7:18 pm


      Ask your coworkers if they’d be willing to have a commute that is 1 minute longer every day, in exchange for 1 less person dying in Oregon per year. IF they say yes, how many more minutes would they add to save 400 lives?

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      • Eric Leifsdad March 26, 2016 at 10:32 pm

        Sure, but it’s more like 5 minutes rather than 400 more. It shouldn’t take more than a mile to get off of neighborhood streets, though cars will need to go around instead of through neighborhoods.

        Has there been a study done on average speeds of commute traffic in the metro area? The google maps estimate suggests 15-25mph from 10 miles out of downtown in most directions — around 42mph free-flowing, but rarely better than 30mph if the sun is out. This is why we have rat-running: if you drive aggressively 10mph over the posted speed and roll most stop signs, you’ll be faster than sitting in traffic on the freeways and arterials. Might kill someone, definitely driving like a total jerk, but faster and you almost definitely won’t get a ticket from PPB.

        But, then spend how much time in the gym and/or at the doctor or dead? Instant ramen is also fast and easy.

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        • Dan A March 28, 2016 at 11:32 am

          Right, I know it’s not 400 minutes. I just pose it as an exercise. What is the value of a stranger’s life, relative to your time?

          I think most people would be willing to add a little time to save some lives. But how much time? How many lives? Would they, hypothetically, agree to 30 minutes more per day (15 minutes each way) for zero traffic deaths in Oregon? Ask people and I think you’ll find them working out the value of their time vs strangers’ lives.

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    • El Biciclero March 27, 2016 at 2:30 pm

      It’s a simple formula: power creates laws, money creates power, time is money. Therefore, those with power create laws that allow them to save time and make more money, giving them more power to create more laws…

      What, you don’t have money?

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