A lower speed limit on St. Johns Bridge? Maybe

A very sad sharrow in a stressful riding environment. The least ODOT can do is lower the speed limit. (And just FYI, that sidewalk is very narrow and is not technically wide enough for bicycle users and walkers to share.)

I have good news to share regarding a little advocacy effort in St. Johns.

Remember how the Oregon Department of Transportation lowered the speed limit on the St. Johns Bridge to 25 mph during a recent construction project? They told me the rationale was to protect vulnerable work crews who were walking on the bridge sidewalk.

It struck me that everyone who uses the St. Johns Bridge outside of a car is just as vulnerable as a construction worker, so why not keep make that speed limit reduction permanent?

As I shared in October, I made a request to ODOT through their public input portal to do just that. ODOT told me the request would have to come from the City of Portland. So I made a similar request to the Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) via the 823-SAFE hotline.

Guess what?

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PBOT, in their infinite wisdom and open-mindedness, agrees!

These people deserve the same safety considerations as other vulnerable bridge users like construction workers.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

After three months I heard back about my request. A PBOT engineer investigated the issue and emailed me this week to say: “We reviewed your request to reduce the speed limit on the St Johns Bridge and agreed that a lower speed limit would better match the mixed use of this important bike connection.”

Since ODOT owns and manages the bridge, PBOT has made a formal request to them to conduct a speed study. That could take up to a year, but will probably be done sooner than that.

Given the importance of the St. Johns Bridge in our bikeway system (it’s the only Willamette River crossing in north Portland), combined with the fact that ODOT currently requires us to share the bridge roadway with people driving well over the posted 35 mph speed limit*, it seems reasonable to me that they consider a lower speed limit.

I’m eager to see what ODOT’s investigation uncovers. As I reported last week, they say they want to be more sensitive to speed decisions in urban, mixed-use contexts. This is golden opportunity to put their words into action.

I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, keep your fingers crossed!

(*A 2010 City of Toronto study found that only 54% of bicycle riders feel comfortable riding on a “major road” with sharrows (PDF, page 27).)

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

THANK YOU! I am very hopeful for this change. I frequently ride over this bridge, I occasionally drive over and I have walked across a couple of times. I would feel much better about a lower speed limit in each mode.

Champs
Champs
2 years ago

There’s still going to be the Dirty 30 and freight trucks rolling through the heart of St. Johns. Not especially safe or particularly (no pun intended) healthy at either end. I don’t see how this changes anything of consequence.

David Hampsten
David Hampsten
2 years ago
Reply to  Champs

Many firms with large truck fleets will generally avoid streets with lower posted speed limits in favor of ones with higher posted speeds, such as interstates. Likely there will be a significant reduction in the number of trucks using the St. Johns Bridge from such firms. The lower spped limit also makes it easier for police to write up speeders for larger fines, making enforcement more likely.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Agreed. The alternate route adds 10 miles of congestion to the trip. This won’t reduce freight traffic. And unless it is enforced, I expect this will largely be a symbolic gesture. Maybe I’m being pessimistic. I hope so.

gilly
gilly
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

Yes, unfortunately, St. Johns is the designated bypass route. Trucks coming west on 30 and heading to I5 north are routed through St. John’s to avoid downtown Portland.

Frank Selker
Frank Selker
2 years ago
Reply to  David Hampsten

I believe that lowering the speed limit will reduce speed somewhat even without enforcement. Enforcement would be icing on the cake. That means both fewer accidents and lower risk of death. Thanks Jonathan.

Buzz
Buzz
2 years ago
Reply to  Champs

No enforcement, no consequences; next step is speed tables/bumps (I wish it weren’t so!), the ‘silent policeman’. Truckers will love that! (unless they successfully lobby to get some freight PAC to convince our pols to drop it!)

middle of the road guy
middle of the road guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Buzz

Exactly that.

A limit means nothing without a related negative consequence.

Rebecca
Rebecca
2 years ago
Reply to  Champs

“Hey, I used some of my free time to improve safety for all and the cycling experience of our community.”

“Maybe those nihilist philosophers are right; maybe this is all we can expect of the universe, a relentless crushing of life and spirit, because the equilibrium state of the cosmos is death.”
– Arthur C. Clark, BP commenters

Why even try to make anything better, man. Why even try anything at all.

Scott Kocher
2 years ago

Emailing a speed limit reduction request to safe[at]portlandoregon.gov isn’t a sure bet, but it’s about the highest rate of return on advocacy effort you’ll ever see.

Loshad
Loshad
2 years ago

Am I not understanding the statement, or are you forgetting that both the steel bridge and Broadway bridge cross the Wilamette to north Portland?

The eBike Store
2 years ago

The St. Johns Bridge would be the only place I can think of where I would support full time speed cameras. You speed, a ticket arrives in the mail. Sharing the road at 55mph (my estimate of the actual average traffic speed)

Chris I
Chris I
2 years ago

Full-time speed cameras should be on every arterial in the city. Why do we accept criminal behavior all over our city, every day?

Jered Bogli
Jered Bogli
2 years ago

would be super excited for a 25 mph – I could easily get a ticket on my bike coming into St. Johns from the west side – perfect. all this talk of freight traffic, as a guy that takes the FULL lane any time I’m on that bridge I’ve never had a bad experience with commercial truck traffic on that bridge. Regular folks who don’t drive for a living have made me much more uncomfortable on the bridge.

The Dude
The Dude
2 years ago

Guess what?

No one is going to slow down.

Algebra Lives
Algebra Lives
2 years ago

Practical question: For people who do cross this bridge, do you prefer a lane or the sidewalk? I approached it first like other downtown bridges and took the sidewalk, but it’s scary in it’s own way. Suggestions?

abomb
abomb
2 years ago
Reply to  Algebra Lives

I use to live in North Portland and used the St. Johns bridge on a regular basis and I always felt safer riding on the sidewalk. That bridge is a sketchy high speed deathtrap. You get better views from the sidewalk and you can stop and enjoy said view.

Shuppatsu
Shuppatsu
2 years ago
Reply to  abomb

I agree but it’s pick your poison. The sidewalk is scary for me as well. Very narrow, with a big unprotected drop from the curve to the street. I get visions of getting off balance, trying to save from bouncing onto the road, then wiping out due to the drop and the oblique angle. Then getting plastered by a speeding car or truck.

Tom Hardy
Tom Hardy
2 years ago
Reply to  abomb

I used to live in Kenton and I first rode the St johns bridge in 1953 when I was 8 ye3ars old with my Dad. at that time he said the sidewalk was too narrow, the curb too high, and the railing too low as a gust of wind could do a cyclist grieveous harm and it was a long way down. We used the traffic lane, but stayed to the side when we rode bikes to Sauvis island. I have always ridden in the traffic lane. I have been brushed by cars speeding past with their mirrors brushing me as they blew past like it was a drag strip. 25 would be nice!

Fred
Fred
2 years ago
Reply to  Algebra Lives

I once found myself in St John’s on a recreational ride. I saw the St Johns Bridge and thought, Why not? – I’ll give it a try. So I started riding up the fairly steep incline in the right-hand lane, looked in my mirror, and saw a phalanx of trucks and cars behind me in both lanes, heading straight for me. I quickly got off my bike and lifted it onto the sidewalk and scampered up after it. I’ve never been back to the St Johns Bridge and I am sorry for those of you who need to ride it regularly to get where you need to go. It seems like a deathtrap for cyclists.

25 mph? – you bet! I would ride there again under those conditions.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
2 years ago
Reply to  Algebra Lives

The lane, always (although I have never crossed it at dark). I hold onto the naive belief that if everyone did the same, drivers would learn to expect cyclists on the deck and become more respectful. I have also only had negative experiences with the auto users, other than being uncomfortably close due to their size, the pros are generally OK.

Asher Atkinson
Asher Atkinson
2 years ago

The St Johns Bridge has always felt to me to be a perfect candidate for active traffic management where lane availability, direction and speed automatically adjust to demand and conditions. Sensors and lights would enable a lot of interesting configurations. Here’s a primer: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/atdm/approaches/atm.htm

As much as I’d appreciate cars passing me on the bridge at 25mph, I’m not on the bridge now late on a rainy December night, and I doubt others. The bridge knows for sure, so why not let it decide the appropriate speed limit for the moment. I share the concern that a blunt 25mph limit 24/7/365 will often, and at times understandably, be ignored.

Alex Reedin
Alex Reedin
2 years ago
Reply to  Asher Atkinson

I could see this being somewhat helpful for faster & very confident riders who take the lane on the St. John’s Bridge. There is a small but significant minority of drivers like me who religiously follow speed limits & even (gasp!) go slower sometimes based on conditions. I would guess the minority who at least follows speed limits the vast majority of the time is about 5-10%, in Portland. If one person drives in the left lane at 25 mph, that gives a good chunk of time with no one passing a bike rider at speed. It’s not perfect, but maybe better than nothing?

Matthew72
Matthew72
2 years ago

THANK YOU!

SD
SD
2 years ago

This is great. Thanks!

Tom
Tom
2 years ago

I commuted to/from St. Helens and NE PDX for a year. The sidewalk is the only way I would use the St. Johns Bridge highway during commuting hours.

Cameras work. Chevy Chase MD has a section of Connecticut Ave. posted 30 MPH Speed Camera Enforced. Traffic slows dramatically all hours day/night through this section. Contrasting with the St. Johns Bridge, this is a wealthy city. I observed pedestrians and cyclists using marked crossings, and side streets have cars entering the arterial. https://www.chevychasevillagemd.gov/194/Safe-Speed-Program

middle of the road guy
middle of the road guy
2 years ago
Reply to  Tom

I used to live there when I spent time at the EPA.

Chainstays
Chainstays
2 years ago

Fantastic, thank you Jonathan! This would be an amazing change.

J_R
J_R
2 years ago

A lower posted speed on St. John’s Bridge will make absolutely no difference!

There is virtually no enforcement in Portland.

Even if there were a willingness on the part of PPB to enforce a speed limit on St. John’s Bridge, there are logistical issues – namely no place for an officer to station himself/herself to record the speed and no place to pull over a speeding motorist to make a citation.

Yesterday I saw four motorists blow through stale red lights at traffic signals.

No enforcement. No consequences.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
2 years ago

Could not agree more, thanks again!

Keviniano
Keviniano
2 years ago

Comment of the week.

The Dude
The Dude
2 years ago

Speaking only for myself (as a critic of your action), I appreciate your thoughtful response.

Given your passion for this issue, I’m really curious why you aren’t spending your time advocating for speed limit enforcement? For example, there is a lot of discussion here about how speed cameras solve the enforcement problem very effectively. Why aren’t you advocating for installation (or legalization) of speed cameras? And if you are doing advocacy work on speed limit enforcement, please tell me more specifically what you are doing and how to get involved.

ed
ed
2 years ago

What the naysayers don’t seem to recognize about lowering the speed limit: yes, people will speed anyway BUT that means they will drive 55 in a 45 zone, 45 in a 35 zone etc. So lowering the speed limit WILL slow traffic; maybe not to the actual speed limit (too much to expect motorists to actually obey the law 😉 but they will drive slower therefore safer if the limit is 25mph. Don’t let ’em get to you Jonathan; most of realize this is just one of countless ways you’ve made life better for active transportation users over the years and we love you for it!

Middle of the Road Guy
Middle of the Road Guy
2 years ago
Reply to  ed

I disagree with that.

I think they will drive at roughly the speed of others around them as well as how fast the road allows them to drive. Similar to how induced demand works…people will use and maximize what is there.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago

I agree, which will be lower as more and more people obey the new limit.

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
2 years ago

Hi Jonathan,

I want to apologize for my pessimism. I’ve lived in St. Johns for over 30 years and watched my beautiful walking and biking neighborhood degrade into a congested mess of distracted, angry and frustated drivers: too much freight, too many commuters avoiding the freeway, too much cracked pavement, too many dangerous intersections. Sometimes I let the grief get the better of me, but I should not take it out here on this community. Please forgive me.

On that note, thank you for pursuing speed reductions on the bridge with PBOT and the state. A lower speed limit there might be symbolic, but symbols mean something and a few folks (myself included) will pay attention. Even a few obedient drivers at strategic times of day will have an impact.

On the plus side there have been some good safety improvements on Fessendon, St. Louis and Lombard. I fear that improvements lag behind the degradations, but as my wife constantly encourages me to not let fear govern actions, I’m going to say that the improvements have made for better walking and biking.

Thank you for your advocacy and persistence without which our city’s life would be diminished.

Stph

J_R
J_R
2 years ago

I’m sorry you were offended by my criticism.

I have been an advocate for decades. I served on a bicycle committee in another community; I have personally testified on bicycle/pedestrian safety issues before the state legislature and the Portland Commission. I provided testimony to the city budget committee. I have written letters to the editor.

I have regularly called on this forum for more enforcement. I appreciate your advocacy, but I still maintain that a lower speed limit will do nothing, especially on St. John’s Bridge.

Phil Richman
2 years ago

Thank you Jonathan, The St. John’s Bridge reminds me so much of the Vermont & Newbury Bridges along SW Barbur Blvd that are complete deal breakers for the “interested, but concerned.” If the speed limit along that short stretch were 25 MPH, instead of 45 MPH there’d be many more people cycling too/from SW. As it is we patiently await SW Corridor instead. Your efforts are well worth it.

Brian
Brian
2 years ago

Agreed. It worked on Hawthorne with no additional enforcement. Bring on the lower limits!

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
2 years ago

This is a great FIRST step, thanks for advocating Jonathan, now if they would revisit eliminating a lane each direction and adding protected bike lanes…

Stephen Keller
Stephen Keller
2 years ago
Reply to  Steve Hash

I think an interesting approach would be to eliminate a motor vehicle lane on each end. We really only need two lanes exiting the bridge in either direction. If the split occurred roughly half way across, it would provide significant room for backups in traffic. The remaining width from the former fourth lane could be dedicated to a fully protected lane for bikes and other personal mobility devices, ideally this would independently signalized at the ends somehow to give vulnerable users an appropriate turn at each intersection. A nine-foot lane for two-way bike, etc. traffic isn’t ideal, but it would be far better than the current situation.

Stph

Michael Rubenstein
Michael Rubenstein
2 years ago

Will only have a chance of having an impact with photo radar enforcement. Otherwise, could be worse than now with some speeding vehicles weaving around vehicles following a lower limit ie more dangerous than now.

Glenn F
Glenn F
2 years ago

Wonder if the bypass30B can be taken off as a truck route (other than local deliveries) ?

joe adamski
joe adamski
2 years ago

Traffic Division for Portland Police is in the former City Hall for SJ/Former North Precinct at the east side of the bridge. Still,little enforcement on the bridge.
Imponderable.

Steve Hash
Steve Hash
2 years ago
Reply to  joe adamski

My bet is it’s because there is no where to pull anyone over. Perfect place for photo radar though.

J
J
2 years ago

Well, now when I drive over I can drive 25 miles an hour instead of 30 thereby slowing traffic down by one lane. Some others will do the same and it’ll help a little.

Josh Volk
2 years ago

Thanks for doing this! Every little bit helps. Any chance you think the city might recommend not just a lower speed limit to ODOT but also a lane configuration change? Some day I’ll find the time to sketch out what is totally obvious to me and send it to ODOT since they don’t seem to understand from my written descriptions. There could easily be just one lane of motor vehicle traffic on the uphill sections of the bridge with no additional congestion since the bridge is fed from every direction by single lanes of traffic (ODOT has told me that this is not the case – making it obvious that the people handling communications at ODOT have never been on the actual bridge). This would leave space for a bike lane on the uphill sections where the speed differential is most pronounced and therefore the risk is highest, and possibly even on the downhill sections. Even as a pedestrian on the sidewalks I find the fast moving lane right next to me a bit frightening, and driving next to a large truck in a small car is similarly concerning. There really isn’t good space for four lanes across that bridge deck, changing that lane configuration would also leave space for wider motor vehicle lanes. I hope other folks will continue to write ODOT, PDOT and our representatives about this and make enough noise that the bridge configuration finally gets a much needed change.

buildwithjoe
2 years ago

In October 2018 I observed only one speed limit sign on the bridge for traffic headed West. I sent email to ODOT asking for speed reduction, cameras, and 4 signs in each direction. I also called this in to 823-safe.

Here is the ODOT email saying they will add one sign for a total of 4. And they make a bunch of excuses about speed cameras, which they could install if they wanted. Every staff person and engineer at ODOT and PBOT is responsible for the record deaths in 2019. They could all sign a petition that baby steps are not acceptable and we must take drastic action.

quoting ODOT in reply to asking for 8 signs on the bridge. :


ODOT staff evaluated your suggestion to add more signs to reduce speed on the St. Johns bridge. The findings were as follows: Speed signs along state highways in urban and suburban areas are placed no closer than ¼ mile and may be up to 2 miles apart. If there are no constraints, speed signs are also placed after major intersections. The St Johns Bridge is about 0.70 mile long with speed signs on each entering side, and one additional for the eastbound direction. This is appropriate sign placement and spacing. The other, non-speed related, signage along the bridge must also meet appropriate spacing standards. That being said, a field visit was completed to ensure that the existing speed signs meet appropriate size and reflectivity standards. The outcome of the investigation is that one new speed sign will be placed in the westbound direction, and the existing speed signs will be replaced to ensure reflectivity and visibility.

With regard to speed cameras, these are enforcement tools that ODOT is not legally authorized to install, operate or maintain. In Oregon, our legislature only allows automated speed enforcement to be conducted by certain City jurisdictions as well as in construction work zones on state highways. Information related to speed enforcement cameras can be found in the Oregon Revised Statues (ORS) 810.438 – .442. Here’s a link to one: http://www.oregonlaws.org/ors/810.438. There was a new law passed in the last legislative session that just allows red light running cameras to also track speed enforcement. Here is a news article – http://www.kgw.com/news/local/red-light-cameras-can-catch-you-speeding-starting-thursday/48 And here is a link to City of Portland’s webpage regarding fixed speed cameras: https://www.portlandoregon.gov/transportation/article/576452

Unfortunately drivers pay very little attention to the Regulatory signing on today’s roadways unless consistent enforcement is available. If you are frequently witnessing drivers behaving aggressively or jeopardizing the safety of others you are encouraged to report this to the Portland Police Bureau non-emergency line at 503-823-3333.”