It’s simple: When we drive too fast, it’s much easier to kill someone. But even with that clear and present danger, the vast majority of us still speed. Our roads will never be safe until we get a handle on this and now the City of Portland has taken a big step in the right direction.
In June of last year we reported that the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) was engaged in a battle against the speeding epidemic. Even before City Council officially adopted a goal of Vision Zero, staff at PBOT were prepping a two-pronged approach to slower speeds: a bill that would allow them to use fixed photo radar cameras and more autonomy from the State of Oregon to set local speed limits.
The photo radar bill passed and was signed by Governor Kate Brown last August. And now, according to a story in today’s Portland Mercury, the state is likely to sign off on the city’s request for an alternative method of setting speed limits.
The problem PBOT has been trying to fix is that the Oregon Department of Transportation has final say in speed limits — not just on their own highways but on streets that are owned and managed by cities. If PBOT wants to change a speed limit, they must file a request with the state. In a presentation to the state’s Speed Zone Review Panel last week (PDF), PBOT said that, “the existing process consumes considerable staff time” and “the process is also lengthy.” They pointed to some requests for lower speeds that have been pending since December 2014.
As we reported last year, PBOT has developed an “alternative speed zone methodology” that would not only speed up the process but would also tweak it in very important ways. In a nutshell, as explained very well in the Mercury article, ODOT’s methodology is based solely on how fast most people tend to drive on a street (known as the 85th percentile speed). This is frankly an insane and unsafe policy that doesn’t take safety into account. Not only that but it only recognizes people in cars when we all know that roads are also used by bicycle riders and other users.
PBOT says their proposed alternative approach would be faster, safer, and would take into account the mix of users on our roads. Here’s how it would work:
- It would only apply to non-arterial streets that are not designated freight routes and that have posted speeds greater than 25 mph (see map below)
- The speeds would be based on the degree of separation between people driving, biking and walking.
Here’s the flow chart created by ODOT to illustrate the current process:
And here’s PBOT’s flow chart for their proposed alternative methodology:
PBOT wants to use three categories of speed limits: 40 mph maximum unless streets have a center median barrier and clear zone, and people walking and biking are physically protected; 30 mph maximum on streets with busy intersections experiencing high crashes, on streets with sidewalks or shoulders next to travel lanes, and on streets with bike lanes next to motor vehicle lanes; and 20 mph maximum on shared space roads (driving, biking and walking) that do not meet school, business or neighborhood greenways statute for 20 mph. Once a speed limit has been changed under this new methodology, PBOT says they will provide annual reports on the the before-and-after driver speeds and crash statistics.
The fact that ODOT seems poised to sign off on this might have something to do with the fact that this isn’t the first time they relinquished regulation of speed limits to PBOT. In 2011 the city won the right to lower speeds on neighborhood greenways to 20 mph and the sky still hasn’t fallen.
In fact, the only thing that has fallen is the speeds on streets designed for people. The more that happens, the better.
Learn more by taking a look at the packet PBOT left with the Speed Zone Review Panel.
— Jonathan Maus, (503) 706-8804 – email@example.com