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Today at City Council: 20 is Plenty

PBOT says the new signs — and new law — will be ready by April 1st. No foolin’.

Today the Portland will make official one of the key pillars in the war on speeding: A blanket 20 mph speed limit on 70 percent of our entire street network.

The move comes as Portland grapples with its deadliest year for people walking and biking in over two decades and the highest overall death toll since 2003. That grave reality is reflected in the ordinance language that will go before Council this morning: “An emergency exists because people are dying in traffic crashes; therefore, this Ordinance shall be in full force and effect from and after its passage by the Council.”

This major step forward was made possible by a legislative lobbying push from the Portland Bureau of Transportation to pass House Bill 2682, which authorized the City of Portland to, “Designate speed that is five miles per hour lower than statutory speed when highway is located in residence district and highway is not arterial highway.” After going through a major revision that allowed it to apply only to Portland (it was initially statewide), the bill sailed through the Oregon House and Senate and was signed into law by Governor Kate Brown in June.

PBOT has over 2,000 “20 MPH” signs ready to install and they expect all of them up by April 1st. Practically-speaking, the ordinance gives PBOT the authority to create 20 mph speed limits on any road that isn’t classified as an arterial and that isn’t in a business district. This means it applies not only to small, residential streets, but also to larger “collector” streets. PBOT already has the authority to reduce speeds in business districts and has about a 95 percent success rate when they request permission from the Oregon Department of Transportation to do so. PBOT’s website lists 30 streets where they successfully reduced speed limits in 2017.

Given that lower speeds are a key part of Portland’s Vision Zero Action Plan, which was passed unanimously by Mayor Ted Wheeler and City Council, we don’t expect much debate today. What we do expect is more of a celebration of a traffic safety milestone and the introduction of PBOT’s “20 is Plenty” marketing campaign.


Oregon State Senator Ginny Burdick unveils a 20 mph speed limit sign in this slide from a PBOT presentation.

While “More enforcement!” is what many people are eager for, PBOT is betting heavily that the softer tact of marketing and education will hasten behavior change. And that’s not simply their decision. The agency’s own Vision Zero Task Force intentionally endorsed a plan that prohibits PBOT from upping enforcement due to concerns about how police might unfairly target people of color.

In notes from the Task Force’s December meeting, PBOT offered hints about what we can expect for the upcoming “education campaign.”

PBOT hired a public relations firm to help develop the campaign. After using focus groups to solicit feedback, the firm decided on a campaign that, “Involves having a Portland celebrity sharing the stories of lives lost on Portland streets due to speeding, and highlighting that everybody is somebody.” After hearing the outlines of the campaign, Vision Zero Task Force members offered feedback. Several of them wanted the campaign to not just focus on victims. They want it to highlight the consequences for the people who are deemed at-fault in a collision. “For example, a family member who is now in prison as a result of driving impaired and hurting someone,” said one task force member. “Get people to imagine killing someone, how that would feel,” and “If you speed, you could change someone’s life,” offered others.

To make sure City Council hears loud and clear that Portlanders want people drive more slowly, The Street Trust launched a petition campaign last week. So far well over 600 people have signed on.

The ordinance is set to be heard at 9:45 this morning (1/17). If you can’t make it to City Hall, you can watch the livestream here.

Learn more about PBOT’s residential speed limit reduction efforts on their website.

UPDATE, 11:30 am: As expected the ordinance has passed unanimously 5-0.

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

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