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Portland about to win another major battle in its quest to lower speed limits

Posted by on August 24th, 2016 at 2:12 pm

Ride Along Kathleen McDade-34

The City of Portland thinks proximity to vulnerable road users should be used to determine speed limits — not the dangerous behaviors of those with the most protection.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

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.

PBOT included this chart in their presentation to ODOT.

PBOT included this chart in their presentation to ODOT.

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.

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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:

(Chart: ODOT)

(Chart: ODOT)

And here’s PBOT’s flow chart for their proposed alternative methodology:

(Chart: PBOT)

(Chart: PBOT)

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.

Streets eligible for alternative speed zone methodology.-Click to enlarge-(PBOT)

Streets eligible for alternative speed zone methodology.
Click to enlarge
(PBOT)

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 – jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

The 85th percentile concept is crazy. I’ve had one WashCo engineer tell me that if 85% of drivers are going less than 5mph over the speed limit, than the road in question is not eligible for traffic calming measures. And I’ve had another WashCo engineer that if they find that 85% of drivers are going way over the speed limit, they will raise the speed on the road if they can. So in both cases, it’s being used to keep or raise the speed limit on the road. If you’re not in a car you don’t get a vote.

rick
Guest
rick

NW Cornell by a public school, public park, and coffee shop is 45 mph. Insane in Washington County.

Adam
Subscriber

Not good enough. Needs to be 20 mph city-wide.

colton
Guest
colton

I’ll need to ride with a bike computer. I’m pretty sure there are places that I regularly exceed that.

Adam
Subscriber

Perhaps a lawyer could chime in here, but I am under no assumption that cyclists have to adhere to the posted speed limit. How could we, it’s not as if bicycles come standard with speedometers, and there is no law staying we need to ride with cyclometers.

Tim
Guest
Tim

Europe has largely gone to 30 kph (about 17 MPH) on all local roads and in many locations all stop signs, traffic signs, and lane marking are gone. It appears to work.

Paikiala
Guest
Paikiala

.67 *30=21 mph

9watts
Guest
9watts

You’re both equally wrong. It is 19mph (30km/1.609)

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

19mph, but that’s 16mph in Canadian speeds

shirtsoff
Guest
shirtsoff

YESSSSSSS 🙂

Anne Hawley
Subscriber
Anne Hawley

The sheer straightforward simplicity of PBOT’s new flow chart deserves kudos.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Bravo…though not 5 stars. This still seems to leave a lot of critical arterial bikeways on roadways with outdated speed limits…it I understand it correctly from BP.

I would recommend ODoT just create a statewide legislation that would turn over this administrative activity to all cities with more than 100k population (it can be some other #). Their staff is already stretched thin to deal with rural and highway facilities.

Large cities in Washington State have this authority from WSDoT. (Though not all use this administrative latitude to the benefit of cyclists and traffic safety.)

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Todd,
The OAR specifies the limits of application to non-state roadways with Federal Functional Classifications below Arterial. I would agree that Minor Arterials should be included, but that’s not the way the OAR was written.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

Yes…it would take the ODoT to push the solons to update the OAR to modern practices.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

The OAR was negotiated between the former City Traffic Engineer and the former State Traffic Engineer.

Buzz
Guest
Buzz

If there is no enforcement, they can set speed limits as low as they want and it won’t make a bit of difference.

What is the prognosis for getting speed cameras out on any of these streets, since putting actual manpower out on the streets to enforce speed limits simply doesn’t seem to be a priority for PPB?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Mobil photo enforcement could be used on any street in Portland, but fixed cameras for speed enforcement are limited by law to the worst case high crash corridors – roads unlikely to fall into the Local or Collector Federal Functional Classification this OAR pertains to.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

According to the graphic, enforcement can’t bring the collision fatality rate below 30% because physics counts that 10mph between 20 and 30 differently than our police, laws, and courts.

Eric Leifsdad
Guest
Eric Leifsdad

…unless we posted 9mph on the signs. But “9 is plenty” doesn’t have the same ring.

lop
Guest
lop

9 is fine.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

What’s the best path to get mobile photo enforcement on your street?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

PBOT is the intake for enforcement requests.
823-safe, or the on-line form. they will want a location and time of day to focus on. mobile photo radar is limited to 2 hours at any one location.
PPB staffing the vehicle may be an issue. I hear the traffic division is at half staff right now.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

I assume they are always at half staff because of the traffic fatalities.

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Thanks, paikiala.

SteveG
Guest
SteveG

I agree 100%. Enforcement is the key.

We need cheap, ubiquitous radar cameras, with fines that start low but increase rapidly as people exceed the limit. Maybe a 3 MPH buffer, but once you hit 4 MPH over the limit, it’s $40. And once you’re 10 MPH or more over, it bumps to $15/MPH. A $150 ticket in the mail for going 35 in a 25 zone would change behavior very, very quickly. Especially if it’s applied consistently, i.e. every single time.

I bet traffic fine revenues would spike for about a month, and then they’d taper off to almost nothing. And so would speeding.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Steve,

Will you be contacting your state representatives regarding this change in law?

soren
Guest
soren

BikeLoudPDX and Livable Streets Action are doing exactly this Sept 22. Please join us in lobbying against a dramatic cut in funding for active transportation and for making safety a priority. #VisionZero

https://www.facebook.com/events/171450939945796/

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Buzz,
Don’t forget that most of Portland’s streets only have one travel lane in each direction. This means that if we can change attitudes about speeding, those drivers obeying the speed limit will discourage others from speeding. Like the MADD campaign, changing hearts and minds takes longer than a couple years or months.

Adam
Subscriber

So you would support 4-2 road diets on all streets like Hawthorne, Burnside, etc?

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

I do for neighborhood collector, maybe even district collector streets, even if the peak hour volumes exceed the 1,000 per hour per lane rule of thumb.
Safety is more important than convenience.

Adam
Subscriber

Great, I look forward to the day that Portland no longer has 4 and 3 lane roads. I have a long list of roads for you to fix. 😉

Hazel
Guest
Hazel

I agree with Buzz. There have been tons of streets where the speed limit has been lowered and it just doesn’t seem to change how people drive from major roads to bike boulevards. I’m so fed up with this as I continue to see people use side streets and bike routes as a cut through option where they can drive 30-40 mph because there is little to no car traffic.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Enforcement is not the only benefit to lower speed limits. In an urban setting, posted speed limit is often the speed to which changes are designed. Taper length being a prime example. w*S*S/60 is the formula for taper length. w is the shift, in feet and S is the speed. Since S is squared, taper for 30 mph is 44% longer than taper for 25 mph – space that impacts other uses of the roadway.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Hazel,
Any examples? Something we can verify?

Tim
Guest
Tim

Currently speed limits are based on road classification which may have little to do with safe driving speeds. I have a road near my house that was once a rural road so the speed limit is 40. Now it is a suburban street passing a park with vertical and horizontal curves that limit sight distance to a maximum safe speed of 30. It even has a section corner turn (90 degree turn) that predates automobiles. The County is planning to enhance the flow of traffic on this road, but widening, sidewalks, and reasonable speed limits are not part of the plan.

Todd Boulanger
Guest
Todd Boulanger

This is also where advocates need to review their local jurisdiction’s bi-ennial TIP list to check on appropriate road classifications…especially those in urban fringes that have been annexed from a county.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Tim,
Inaccurate. road classification = mobility is only one of a dozen or more categories in the ODOT standard method.
the PBOT method lists classification (as required by the OAR) but depends more on the road form to determine the speed based on a 10% risk of fatality standard.

I wear many hats
Guest
I wear many hats

Its a step in the right direction, but the change will only be in policy, not in effect. There will be no means to enforce it.

SD
Subscriber

Does it have to be cops who hand out traffic tickets?
Could enforcement be expanded by employing traffic specific city agents?
Speed gun with a camera, cross walk enforcement, illegal parking etc.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

It has to be a sworn officer. seems like a parking enforcement model would work.

rick
Guest
rick

Yes ! About time!

buildwithjoe
Guest

Novick and Hales constantly LIE they can’t do much because of money limits on them.

I urge people to call or email. Demand Novick and Hales engage the public. They always talk about engagement, but rarely act.

Urge people to get ladders and take down signs that say 30 and 35. PBOT can start with their list of the most deadly streets under PBOT control. This defaults the road to 25mph by law. Then deliver the signs to a central location where PBOT can move the signs to other locations that used to be 45 and need to drop to 30 or 25. This would make national news!

Bam. Done. Call.

novick@portlandoregon.gov (503) 823-4682
mayorcharliehales@portlandoregon.gov (503) 823-4120

Do it even if they refuse. Do it in honor of my student who was killed on Hawthorne last week. If they refuse, vot for Chloe Eudaly in November. I’m a teacher, and I approve this message.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Check out roadtrafficsigns.com. Many custom and/or speed limit signs are available there at very reasonable cost.

mran1984
Guest
mran1984

Speeding is nowhere near the problem that the phone is. The one handed generation consistently clutches that item as if it is their lifeline. No attention is being paid to operating the vehicle and traffic awareness is nonexistent.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

ooo, “kids these days on their phones not paying attention” is on my Tired Stereotypes Bingo card.

The victim blaming is also objectionable.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

A study in 2012 indicated ‘failure to signal’ was responsible for twice as many crashes as distracted driving, in the crashes studied. There are lots of monsters out there, not just phones.

buildwithjoe
Guest

Dan. As David Byrne said, ..
Facts are simple and facts are straight
Facts are lazy and facts are late
Facts all come with points of view
Facts don’t do what I want them to
Facts just twist the truth around
Facts are living turned inside out

Take this fact…I ride my bike to work and back 34 miles. 5 days a week, rain or shine. That’s a lot of saddle time to collect data. I see a lot of failure to signal, but the most deadly cars are the six I see every day speeding, signalling with a dangerous pass on Clinton, blowing red lights, and ignoring the flash beacon on 82nd just South of Powell.

Too many people try to go on tangents when the topic is streets with signs posted at unsafe limits, going over the speed limit or too fast for conditions.

You sound like Hales a bit, watch the end of the video

http://koin.com/2015/06/24/hales-to-cyclists-get-transportation-bill-funded/

Dave
Guest
Dave

Both are problems–a driver travelling at excessive speed has less time to react to the spasticity of a phone-intoxicated one.

buildwithjoe
Guest

If you agree we can lower limits and engage the public to do this fast and low coat just share my public Facebook post.. >

https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=1093572880735963&id=100002497835823&ref=bookmarks

9watts
Guest
9watts

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)
of course bikes have to adhere to the speed limit Adam.

Not so fast, there, Jonathan.

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/bike-blog/2014/jul/25/can-cyclists-be-fined-for-speeding
(UK: not really)

http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2013/10/30/yes-you-can-get-pulled-over-for-speeding-on-a-bike-especially-in-a-school-zone/

(Seattle: yes, but fines lower for bikes than cars)

http://bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/564/can-you-be-ticketed-for-breaking-the-speed-limit-on-a-bike

(It depends on the country, the state. This is all kind of interesting when you get past some people’s proclivity to assert that bicycles are vehicles, therefore yes)

soren
Guest
soren

some people’s proclivity to assert that bicycles are vehicles

…in the misguided belief that this will somehow give them a right to the road.

Justin
Guest
Justin

Look, I’m not one for yelling in comments, but….

SPEED LIMITS DON’T MATTER WITHOUT ENFORCEMENT!!!!!!!!

I’ve seen speed limits dropped on both E Burnside and Stark. Every day, I see drivers fly 10-20 MPH above the speed limit… right past the police station at 47th and Burnside.

Even if arterial traffic WERE slowed down, it would just increase the already rampant use of small side streets as high speed cut throughs.

Let’s make enforcing the current speed limits a priority before pointlessly lowering other speed limits and patting ourselves on the back. (Although when it comes to patting themselves on the back, Portland officials truly are world class.)

rachel b
Guest
rachel b

Agreed! A worthy yell, Justin. Every time I drive into Milwaukie on McLoughlin and witness the excellent, law-abiding behavior of whipped-into-shape drivers (they have learned they will be ticketed), I wish we had the kind of speed enforcement all over Portland that brought about that result in there.

Sheed
Guest
Sheed

Always ignoring the obvious, speed is not the problem. Bad drivers are the problem. Unaware, texting, clueless a-holes.

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

“NHTSA considers a crash to be speeding-related if the driver was charged with a speeding-related offense or if an officer indicated that racing, driving too fast for conditions, or exceeding the posted speed limit was a contributing factor in the crash.

Speeding is one of the most prevalent factors contributing to traffic crashes. The economic cost to society of speeding-related crashes is estimated by NHTSA to be $40.4 billion per year. In 2007, speeding was a contributing factor in 31 percent of all fatal crashes, and 13,040 lives were lost in speeding-related crashes.”

https://crashstats.nhtsa.dot.gov/Api/Public/ViewPublication/810998

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

And that doesn’t count crashes that could have been avoided if the speed limit at the location had been lower.

bikeninja
Guest
bikeninja

Let’s follow Baltimore’s lead and put drones in the sky above the city to enforce the new speed limits that will hopefully come out of PBOT’s new methodology ( thumbs up). To avoid the problems with identifying the drivers on speed cameras these drones could be equiped with focused EMP devices that could disable the speeding car and tag its location for the police to arrive and dispense the ticket. In newer cars it would be even easier as the drone could link to the cars “onstar” type system and shut the vehicle down with a short warning to allow the scofflaw to pull off to the side of the road and await the arrival of the authorities to dispense justice. Its time we use technology to save lives and not just dream of self driving cars.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

If I ever get a speeding citation while bike riding on a street, I am framing it and putting it up on my freaking wall.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor
JeffS
Guest
JeffS

I lost track. How many exceptions to the new rule are there?

I suppose we’re supposed agree that anything is better than nothing. In the case of the city publicly acknowledging a long list of things that trump individual safety, I’m just not sure it’s a cause for celebration.

paikiala
Guest
paikiala

Per the OAR:
1. not a road under state authority
2. not classified higher than collector in the Federal Functional Classification System.

For the first experimentation PBOT is not proposing anything lower than statutory (and PBOT doesn’t even use all it’s statutory authority).

Bald One
Guest
Bald One

I’m wondering about the big caveat “for streets which are not designated freight routes” that they have in the criteria, but don’t seem to be taken into account on that map. I would like to see a map that has all the freight routes removed, since the freight lobby is heavily in bed with PBOT and rules making for many local city streets.

Skid
Guest
Skid

It’s not speed that needs to be reduced, people need to pay attention while driving. Making people drive slower is just going to make them zone out even more.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

If that’s true, we should double every speed limit.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

And POW…..

Every neighborhood street can with just a few sign changes become a greenway. PDOT should immediately lower all neighborhood streets to 20. And add a “bicycles may use entire lane” signs every three blocks on all of them.

Though I can think of many arterials that deserve the 20 mph speed limit as well, especially the high commercial corridors which have high pedestrian counts. Not perfect, but it’s a start.

Adam
Subscriber

Speed limits don’t mean much when the design speed is much higher. I guarantee no one will adhere to a 20 mph on streets like Powell, because they feel safe to drive twice that speed. Now, if we’re talking about narrowing all roads and making all streets 2 lanes or less, we might be on to something.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

No one?

Not one single person will obey the speed limit?

Adam
Subscriber
JeffS
Guest
JeffS
gutterbunnybikes
Guest

Blah, simply not entirely true, yes street design can have an effect on travel speed but so does enforcement, and the psychological effects of enforcement on a driver’s willingness to risk a ticket.

There is an old police saying which goes “9 is fine, 10 you’re mine” which exemplifies the issue here. People speed by how much they are allowed to.

For most drivers 5mph -10mph over the speed limit is ok. and this behavior has been reinforced by a lack of enforcement over the years. And by lowering the speed limit by 5 mph, you have lowered the how fast they can travel before risking a ticket by 5 mph as well.

You act like most speeding isn’t a conscious decision, but that isn’t the case. Travel speed is a conscious decision, and most people, if they’re really honest about it would tell you speed within these parameters.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

BTW Powell is ODOT jurisdiction, PDOT has absolutely no say on what happens on Powell (yet).

Adam
Subscriber

Yes, but calling for increased enforcement has its problems too. I’d rather the design of the road encourage the behavior we want, rather than relying on police enforcement – which is not only is reliant on funding at the present moment in time, but is also inequally applied based on race.

gutterbunnybikes
Guest

I wasn’t making the case for more enforcement. Even though I do adamantly support more “even-handed” enforcement, it was not the point I was making.

I wasn’t implying that lowering the speed limit would make fewer people will suddenly not drive over the speed limit, actually – I’m saying the same number of people will continue to drive over the speed limit, but they’ll be doing so at a slower pace.

As an example, a driver who concisely drives at 5 mph over the speed limit is traveling at 30 mph in a 25mph zone, rather than 40 mph in a 35mph zone.

Reducing the speed limit will almost always reduce the traffic speed because of this psychological risk assessment drivers make on what is an acceptable speed to drive. Which unfortunately has little to do with the good of the public, and everything to do with how much it would cost them to receive a speeding ticket (or worse if they got other legal issues).

Dan A
Subscriber
Dan A

A Washington County Sheriff, when asked about speed enforcement on Bethany, told us, “unless drivers are going 10 or 15mph over the limit, there isn’t much we can do”.

SD
Subscriber

We tend to think of lowering speed limits to affect people that are speeding and then get frustrated knowing that they will continue to speed.

It is probably better to think of lowering speed limits for the people who go the speed limit or would go slower if they didn’t feel pressured by other drivers. Even if 25% of drivers slowed to the new speed limits, it would have a significant effect on traffic flow.

Otherwise, you could think of it as a citywide art installation encouraging people to imagine if streets were more fun and less dangerous.

Mike
Guest
Mike

Once again Portland only cares about itself. If Portland politicians had any vision they would see this is an Oregon (and nationwide) problem. So why aren’t they working on getting this change expanded beyond their border?

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Portland should really be trying to fix the world. Why don’t they lobby for this to be enacted immediately in Tanzania, Turkey, and Thailand too?

In fact, why do we have any laws that aren’t global or galactic in scope? Utah only cares about itself by having an 85mph interstate speed limit.

JeffS
Guest
JeffS

Some questions are so nonsensical that they don’t deserve a response.

Ted Timmons (Contributor)
Editor

Yep. I’m fascinated by taking an argument to its logical end.