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Portland is now one step closer to a 20 mph default residential speed limit – UPDATED

Posted by on April 14th, 2017 at 11:27 am

Nopo neighborhood greenway.jpg

For best results, add lower speeds.
(Photo: J. Maus/BikePortland)

It’s been a good week for active transportation at the legislature. They said yes to Safe Routes to School, they killed an irresponsible highway-building bill, and they set the stage for Portland to take a major step in street safety.

So far this week, the Oregon House has voted yes on three bills we’re watching. They all passed overwhelmingly, garnering 26 “ayes” and just one “nay”. We shared the good news about the Safe Routes to School bill (HB 3230) on Wednesday. The day before that the House Committee On Agriculture and Natural Resources passed the Oregon Coast Trail Bill (HB 3149), which will establish a State Parks fund to hasten development of a plan for a walking trail along the coast.

We also learned this week that HB 3231 will not move forward. This is the bill that would have given cities and counties the ability to form powerful tolling districts and build new highways completely independent of planning or public oversight. After getting summarily shot down by respected opposition voices in a public hearing last week, the champion of the bill, Washington County Republican Rich Vial, shared news of its demise in his latest constituent newsletter. “Last Friday,” he wrote, “I was informed by the committee chair that HB 3231 would not receive a work session by the April 18th first chamber deadline, which prevents the bill from moving forward this session.” Good riddance!

The big day for sensible transportation policy was Wednesday, when the House Committee on Transportation Policy voted unanimously to pass HB 2682 which gives the City of Portland the ability to lower residential speed limits to 20 mph without first getting permission from the state. As we reported on Tuesday, the bill changed dramatically from its original form. The one that passed Wednesday limits the geographic scope of the bill to just Portland (instead of the entire state) and limits the type of roads the lower speed limits can be applied to.

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“Something needed to be done.”
— Rob Nosse, Oregon State Rep (D-Portland)

HB 2682 is sponsored by Portland House Representative Rob Nosse. During testimony to the committee Wednesday he said, “Something needed to be done,” to stem the increase in traffic fatalities. “I think this bill will do a lot of good in my district — the residential district in the state — and it will improve collision outcomes.”

Elizabeth Edwards, a member of the City of Portland’s Government Relations staff, told lawmakers that the five mile per hour difference, “Is life or death in many instances.”

After Rep. Nosse’s testimony, Committee member and Representative Ron Noble (R-McMinnville) said he wished his district could have these same powers. “I’m disappointed it’s only in Portland,” he said. Rep. Noble shared that the City of McMinnville has requested lower speed limits from ODOT in the past, only to have the resulting traffic analysis end up in a higher speed based on the 85 percentile rule the state uses.

The impact of the bill would be profound. As quickly as they could switch out the signs, the City of Portland’s Bureau of Transportation could make 20 mph the maximum speed limit on 4,827 miles of our roads. The bill would apply to all residential, non-arterial roads in Portland — about 61 percent of our total road inventory. In the past, PBOT would have to ask ODOT for permission to do this, triggering traffic analysis studies and an onerous process that could take over a year to complete for just one street segment.

Suffice it to say PBOT is eager to get this bill passed. It would allow them to essentially make 20 mph the default speed of every residential street in the city.

“We’re excited that the bill has advanced another step,” PBOT spokesman John Brady shared with us this morning. “We’re going to continue working with our Portland delegation to keep this momentum going.”

Let’s hope the bill speeds through the Senate as well.

UPDATE, 4/24: This bill has officially passed the House by a vote of 55-1. See the latest coverage via The Oregonian.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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Travis
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Travis

I’m totally for this in a big livability way. But the huge win will be calming more of arterial and collector streets.

Gondow
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Gondow

I hate to be Debbie downer, but with lack of enforcement speeding will not change with new signage.

BB
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BB

20 MPH is fine for people driving cars on main roads but is still too high for many residential areas.

I wear many hats
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I wear many hats

20 mph drivers are moving speed enforcement anyhow. This will help.

Caitlin D
Subscriber

Yay, great news!

Gary B
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Gary B

“It would allow them to essentially make 20 mph the default speed of every residential street in the city.”

Is that pure conjecture, or do you have more information on how they plan to use this hopefully-new law? Specifically, wondering if they’re planning a sweeping implementation, or more of a case-by-case approach. Hope for the former–I’m quite enamored by a straight, easy, citywide (except freeways) 20mph speed limit, a la NYC, and this can get us a good way there.

Ngallendou Dièye
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Ngallendou Dièye

Such a draconian measure requires a qualifier, such as 20 MPH when humans are visible within 100 feet. Otherwise, it will become another Liberal hate attack against motorists seeking to confiscate workers’ wealth.

Michael
Guest
Michael

20 MPH is reasonable for some residential roads, but by no means all. I can ride my bicycle faster than that in some areas, and quite safely. Speed limits in Oregon are already slower than most other places in the country, and reducing speed limits to unreasonably slow speeds isn’t going to accomplish anything other than frustration, and possibly more revenue from completely unnecessary ticketing. People need to take responsibility for their own safe operation of their vehicles, taking into consideration their abilities, current conditions, and the handling characteristics of their vehicle. For some reason, people here seem to think that common sense and decency need to be legislated across the board, as if the populous were all children who needed to be taken care of by the State. I understand that people want to feel safe in their neighborhoods. When I was a kid, we used to play ball in the street. But we all had enough sense to realize that the street was where the traffic was, and enough awareness to get out of the way when necessary. Standing on the side of the road waiting for a car to pass at 20mph doesn’t feel any safer than letting it pass at 25 or even 35 mph. In the end, the streets are there because of the cars. Millions of dollars were not spent creating a network of paved surfaces for the benefit of people who wanted to run or walk the dog or ride bicycles or play ball. Perhaps unfortunately. Ultimately, if residential speeders are a problem in certain neighborhoods, then up the enforcement in those problem areas rather than make region-wide restrictions that don’t make any sense.

Kenny
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Kenny

FINALLY. Acting based on Data. 20 MPH means something like 80% less chance of severe injury, or death in the event a Ped or Cyclist is Hit?

I live on a Safe Routes to School street (SE Harold in Woodstock) that went from 30 MPH to a reduction of 25 MPH.. they mostly go 30 MPH or more, it should be 20 MPH, or Less.

Keeping it under 25 seems like a far better speed on a street meant for children to ride to school and elderly people to confidently Cross.

Vision Zero might have some hope if every street is reduced to 20 MPH or less, exception being highways at 30 MPH Max.

Tim Davis
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Tim Davis

This is a very interesting discussion! It’s an amazing group, and I always learn a lot from the comments–as long as they’re constructive and do not attack anyone! I *cannot stand* negative responses to others’ comments, which is why I rarely comment. 🙂

That said, I deeply understand and empathize with everyone’s perspective. I can’t think of anyone who actually enjoys being spending 3 hours driving on 99W at 5 mph. 🙂 The main problem from the very beginning has been (in addition to massive subsidies for highway and suburban development, etc) how our “stroads” have been engineered. As Chuck Marohn put it so well, ideally there would only be STREETS (very low-speed corridors that he defines as “platforms for creating wealth”) and ROADS (high-speed, semi-limited-access corridors designed to get you rapidly from one area to another). Unfortunately, nearly all U.S. cities are absolutely full of “stroads,” which function *terribly* as both streets and roads.

So, we end up with a situation in which roads originally engineered for people to theoretically drive almost unlimited speeds on (SE Powell, NE Broadway, outer SE Stark, etc) have become super unpleasant (at least during certain hours) for ALL users of these horrible corridors.

20 mph is an interesting speed limit. It’s right at a *very* important threshold after which the probability of dying when hit by a car goes up dramatically, so in that sense alone, 20 is critically important. However, in truly great urban areas, such as almost any urban neighborhood in Europe where you can still drive (and those areas are rapidly disappearing–fortunately, to me!), you *never* see anyone driving over 15 mph because literally *every* aspect of the street is designed to *force* drivers to pay incredibly close attention. There’s literally NO NEED for a “speed limit” in these neighborhoods because you really cannot drive above around 15 mph for fear of running into any number of things in the very narrow corridor. And these streets (very often Dutch-style woonerfs) are incredibly vibrant!! All it takes is ONE trip to Amsterdam to see what this is all about. 🙂

On the other hand, like some have said, it’s nice to be able to get out of town quickly when you want to drive out to the wine country or the Gorge, the mountains, the coast, or any number of incredible destinations for which we are INCREDIBLY fortunate to be living in my favorite city in the U.S. 🙂 And, just like everyone else in this situation, I’ve sat in agonizingly slow traffic when I was just trying to get to Newberg, which is all of 24 miles from my place; it can easily take up to 2 hours to get there thanks to nonstop “stroads.”

So, if our seven county area’s transportation policies can somehow get on the same page and get 100 times more progressive (i.e., merely follow the recommendations of current top transportation planners around the world), far fewer people will end up driving! Thus, trips on our “stroads” such as 99E, 99W and 224 would be SO much easier because they’d be used more typically by those who either a) have no choice but to drive (a situation I was in for many years as a teacher at many schools simultaneously) or b) take, say, a monthly drive to Yamhill County or Mt Hood or something.

I also don’t like relying on enforcement or “shaming” people into driving more slowly, although Jonathan and others raised some very interesting points about synergy regarding enforcement, etc. The plain fact remains, though, that our streets have been engineered for decades to accommodate highway speeds. So, the three main results have been:

1. Prioritizing massive road projects first has resulted in induced demand over and over again, to the point that the percentage of trips taken by car is at least twice what it needs to be in order to make our streets and roads used efficiently.

2. People can–and often do–drive incredibly quickly down streets such as SW 4th near PSU when the street is empty (which it is 22 hours per day).

3. People are stuck in almost unbearably slow traffic on what should be fairly free-flowing roads such as–surprise–SW 4th by PSU. People are literally *encouraged* to drive to work; this is the entire reason by many roads are either like highways or parking lots. But they’re obviously getting increasingly like parking lots–and maybe only *then* will people starting switching to Trimet in reasonable numbers.

So, while I applaud “20 is plenty,” in reality, our policies and traffic engineers (and our unbelievably outdated “traffic studies” and the *especially* hideous four-step trip-based transportation demand model, along with auto-based LOS, etc…) have directly created a situation in which people far too often drive either 5 or 50 mph.

I want to be FORCED to drive slowly (preferably around 15 mph) on actual *streets* – AND for our *roads* (by the true definition of “roads,” which really should be, within Portland proper, only I-5, I-205, I-84, Hwy 26 and Hwy 217 and maybe a couple others) to accommodate much faster movement of cars.

Probably the *most* important and effective way to achieve this in the long run is to prioritize transportation in the correct order, according to the latest research by all the top next-generation transportation planners: 1. walking 2. cycling 3. public transit 4. movement of freight 5. private auto use. This is the *only* order that’s been shown to benefit ALL users of the transportation network, *including* those who solely drive! Again, some people *have* to drive, and I absolutely, completely understand that; I was in that boat (er, car LOL) for many years.

OK, that’s probably enough out of me for now! 🙂 Thanks for the great discussion, everyone, and keep it positive and constructive despite the admittedly challenging and often super frustrating topic of car speed!! 🙂

I always greatly enjoy learning from the authors and comments! BikePortland is literally the exact opposite of OregonLive. 🙂

Cheers,
Tim

John Liu
Guest
John Liu

Michael
20 MPH is agonizingly slow on main roads. Most such roads have 35 MPH speed limits and traffic moves ~40 in good conditions. Most of us live more than a mile or two from the places we needs to go, and the difference between it taking 10 minutes or 20 minutes to get there is often significant. Just because you personally aren’t comfortable driving at the current speed limits does not mean that others are similarly handicapped.
Recommended 3

Look at the map more closely. The residential streets that are now posted 25 mph, and where 20 mph will be possible, are not “main roads”. They are small side streets, where 20 mph is not “agonizingly slow” at all.

The roads where 20 mph is unreasonably low – and yes, there are many such roads – are currently posted 30-35 mph and will not go to 20 mph under this law.

Michael
Guest
Michael

El Biciclero
That is a good start to a list of applicable skills, so the remaining question comes down to motivation. What is a driver’s motivation to drive “responsibly”? What would a driver’s motivation be to learn the skills you are talking about? I know there are professional driving schools that would teach such skills, yet very few drivers learn them—why not? Likewise, there are various “CycleSavvy” and LAB courses for bicyclists, but again, very few feel motivated or see a need to take such classes—why not? You allude to it in your final sentence: “…only motorcyclists are currently required…by law“. It seems a big motivator for operating responsibly on the roads comes down to “legislation and enforcement”—even where education is concerned. In case I haven’t tipped my hand already in asking the questions I have about motivation, my no-longer-hidden agenda is to point out that there is very little motivation for drivers of essentially armored vehicles to operate “responsibly”—or even learn the skills necessary to do so—except for fear of legal repercussions, which are very, very often lacking, even for well-established gross breaches of responsible operation. Meanwhile, bicyclists had better learn to operate “responsibly”, or they could very well die, which is a different—and in my view, lopsided and unfair—motivation. But even under threat of death, most bicyclists are not going to feel motivated enough to take skills classes—unless it’s required by law.

That is a fair enough point. Motorcyclists do tend to adopt these habits for self-preservation. I can’t imagine why bicyclists should think they are in a substantially different situation. I tended to adopt many of those habits as a cyclist long before obtaining my motorcycle endorsement, but admittedly being exposed to such ideas in a mandatory course was certainly a helpful reminder.

I suppose my argument is that it might be better to make education mandatory and work to improve the behavior of all road users rather than simply reacting to their bad behavior by reducing speed limits and writing tickets, especially if such enforcement is predominantly focused on one group of said users (in this case, car traffic).

Michael
Guest
Michael

BB
“I don’t hold with the Vision Zero idea that avoiding a death is always more important than time. ”
And I believe anyone who actually takes steps to further that opinion should be incarcerated for the good of everyone else.
Recommended 0

BB, you are the worst kind of Orwellian authoritarian. You’re talking about convictions for thought-crime. This is the United States of America. Where we have free speech, and can hold opinions contrary to one another and our government without fear of incarceration. Our citizens fought wars to protect those freedoms. Who are you to declare which opinions should be legal for people to have and promote? Who are you to determine what exactly constitutes the “good of everyone”?

Mike
Guest
Mike

I am 100% completely, totally effing pissed that the speed limit bill only applies to Portland. Once again the rest of the state gets nothing while Portland gets to keep moving towards a 21st century city. This is just another example that there’s Portland and there’s Oregon but they’re only legally connected. These legislators who didn’t support allowing all cities throughout the city to lower speed limits under this bill are a bunch of spineless ***inappropriate insult deleted***. This goes for the Dems especially.

Michael
Guest
Michael

soren
I would also add that disincentivizing driving (e.g. by making it slower during off peak hours) can spur the development of local infrastructure (e.g. grocery stores, markets stands, convenience stores in food deserts). Road design that incentivizes driving 5+ miles to the nearest freddies hypermarket is a hidden regressive tax.
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The tenor of this post suggests that you perceive driving as only having a kind of base utility that must be occasionally endured strictly in the service of consumerism, but I want to add that some people actually quite ENJOY driving. Sometimes we “go for a drive” with no particular destination in mind, and seek an enjoyable experience, particularly during off-peak times when traffic is minimal. Those are precisely the times when we don’t want our preferred leisure activity “disincentivized” nor do we want to needlessly crawl around in 1st gear when the streets are relatively empty and hazards minimal.

This is part of the trouble with putting oneself in the position of deciding what is “best for everyone”. Things get reduced down to statistics and mathematical descriptions of what one thinks people need, with little care for what people might want. I value my ability to move freely, and it seems like that comes with more and more regulation and restriction all the time. And then, to make matters worse, along comes someone and says “well, it would be better for you to take the train, anyhow.” Sometimes? Sure. As a general statement of fact? No. And I’d prefer to retain my ability to decide whether it is better to drive or take the train on a case-by-case basis, for myself, as opposed to having it “incentivized” on me by someone else.

Michael
Guest
Michael

soren
“The tenor of this post suggests that you perceive driving as only having a kind of base utility that must be occasionally endured strictly in the service of consumerism, but I want to add that some people actually quite ENJOY driving. Sometimes we “go for a drive” with no particular destination in mind, and seek an enjoyable experience, ”
In this case slower traffic speeds would extend the enjoyable experience…so a win win.
Recommended 0

Right. Next time you go for a ride, put your bicycle in the lowest possible gear and leave it there. You know, the one that will get you all of about 5mph with a 90rpm cadence. While you’re at it, make sure the route includes a few fun hills, but ride the brakes all the way down instead of letting the bike run. Get back to me on how enjoyable that is for you. You obviously understand my point, and are just being deliberately obtuse.

rick
Guest
rick

When does the bill go to the Senate?