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Let’s be like Leslie Carlson and make driving the speed limit a hot new trend

Posted by on January 21st, 2020 at 2:17 pm

“What started as an exercise in modifying my own behavior has become an interesting social experiment in watching other drivers react.”
— Leslie Carlson

It’s a major source of frustration that so much time and money is spent trying to make roads safer, yet we could make major progress by simply slowing down.

Make no mistake about it; speed kills (and hurts and maims and terrorizes). We’d be well on our way to Vision Zero if people always drove the speed limit.

When I heard that Portlander Leslie Carlson was making a concerted effort to drive the speed limit, my interest was piqued. I know from experience that driving at reasonable, safe speeds can often upset the norm of insanity and selfishness that prevails streets these days.

I emailed Leslie to learn more her efforts…

What exactly are you doing?

Last year, I started to pay careful attention to the safety of my driving, particularly the speed I was moving. I’ve been working to ensure that I stay under or at the speed limit in my car at all times.

Why?

My family primarily gets around on bikes or riding transit, so we’re all aware of how vulnerable we are on two wheels and on foot. And, as people have begun to drive more over the last few years–and there are more cars on the road–it feels less safe for my family to be riding our bikes or walking, even though we’ve done so for years. I’ve been a part of that problem in the past, driving over the speed limit, because I wasn’t paying enough attention or I was mimicking the speed of other drivers. Even though I’m only in my car one or two times a week, I wanted to be a part of the solution, modeling safe driving behavior.

What have reactions been so far?

“I thought I would see a pedestrian killed in that moment.”

Strangely, what started as an exercise in modifying my own behavior has also become an interesting social experiment in watching other drivers react. Every time I’m out in my car at least one driver reacts noticeably to my speed. For example, I’ve become used to having someone 7-10 feet off my bumper at all times. I think that’s the driver trying to will me to go faster, though it doesn’t work. Every couple weeks I get more extreme behavior, like the driver who didn’t like me staying at 25 mph on Lower Division. He pulled aggressively into the oncoming traffic lane at the intersection of SE Division and 34th Avenue and passed me at high speed–maybe 45 to 50 mph in my estimation. I thought I would see a pedestrian killed in that moment. On higher speed roads like N. Lombard of I-84, the tailing/passing/speeding behavior tends to get worse. All in all, I find myself pretty frightened watching driver behavior on at least a weekly basis.

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Anyone else doing it with you?

My husband’s a bus driver for TriMet, so he’s already really careful about driving. He rarely if ever speeds. Though I think that’s his training and not him reacting to me. I have heard from a few friends that they are trying it–one reached out to me on social media after a driver passed her very unsafely on E. Burnside.

Any advice for others?

Don’t react if drivers are aggressive. It’s not worth the confrontation. Just keep doing what you are doing and know that it’s the safer choice.

Do you think it’s helping?

I doubt it. Most people are speeding most of the time. It would take more of us to make a difference, I think. What I’m doing is not a solution to unsafe driving. We need better infrastructure, fair enforcement and culture change across the region to eliminate deaths and injuries on our roads. We’ve got to work on systems change for that.

Will you persist? For how long?

Now that I’ve started to pay attention to speed, I don’t know if I could go back to ignoring it! And, if we’re ever going to get speeds down and reach Vision Zero, someone’s going to have to model that behavior. I plan to stick with it.

Leslie (on Twitter @QueenLeslie1982) is Co-founder of Brink Communications and is also a member of The Street Trust Board of Directors and Metro’s Transportation Funding Task Force.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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JeffS
Guest
JeffS

She sounds a lot like the smoker who quits and now spends their time trying to force others to do the same.

Evan Manvel
Guest
Evan Manvel

This is awesome. Parallels my own experience – there’s a lot of people who get angry if you’re not breaking the speed law. It’s kind of amazing.

And JeffS, it’s kind of like that – except that the main (but not only) people endangered by speeding are other people, and the main (but not only) person endangered by smoking is yourself.

Roughly one-third of traffic crashes are speed related.

One
Guest

When I drive my car going 20mph (the speed limit) on NE Ainsworth in my car, I get a big line of other drivers also going 20, but they deal with it. When I do the same thing on my Electric Bike, it feels like people’s heads are going to explode.

Roberta
Guest
Roberta

Yay Leslie! I would also add that going extremely slow in freeway congestion actually ‘unblocks’ fully stopped traffic. Let people merge in front of you in a super slow roll, this keeps all traffic moving moving behind you and effectively unlocks congestion. Counter intuitive. Let the speeders merge then stop ahead of you. They dont get very far. But then everybody stays moving slow behind you and we all get through a little faster. Be a lead slow car next to a big semi and unblock congestion with a slow roll.

Jillian Detweiler
Guest

Driving within the speed limit! Just one of many ways in which I strive to be like Leslie Carlson!

BikeRound
Guest
BikeRound

I drive the speed limit, too, where I live in northern New Jersey, and it is not nearly as difficult as many people may believe. I would say once a year somebody who is behind me honks at me or flashes their lights, but no more than that.

Matthew in PDX
Guest
Matthew in PDX

I am in Leslie’s camp, I travel at or below the speed limit whenever I am driving my car. To ensure I stick to the speed limit, when I am on a road with little/no traffic, an interstate or any time I think I might be likely to speed up, I use my cruise control to set the speed to the speed limit (I still have to pay attention to traffic). In addition, when traveling on a road with two or more lanes in my direction, I stick to the right hand lane. I was driving on I-205 S yesterday morning, when a Freightliner semi was right on my tail until he got into the middle lane and passed me. There have been other occasions when truck drivers have flashed their lights to try to persuade me to speed up, to no avail. Truck drivers in particular should be obeying the speed limit.

Cody Herriges
Guest

Our family only began riding bikes a couple years ago when I decided to give commuting from east of NE 122nd into SW 2nd and Oak a try and it stuck. There were many ramifications of that decision, one of which was a shift in my driving behavior. I use to be a fairly aggressive driver that floated the line between an unreasonable speed on and off the freeway but getting out of my vehicle and really experiences cars whiz by making questionable decisions changes your perceptions about the safety of it all. Being a cyclist has truly made me OK with going slower and focusing on everything moving around me, in many ways because I no longer identify with car culture and the culture of cars is fast, aggressive, and owning the road.

idlebytes
Guest
idlebytes

As far as helping goes I think it’s a step in the right direction. Making those around you aware that their dangerous driving in most cases isn’t doing them any good can actually change their behavior. It’s easier for them to hear from a friend or family member in a non-confrontational manner then from the person they put in danger or on rare occasions a traffic officer.

I think most people are like how Leslie was part of the problem because they’re not paying attention. Not just to their speed but also to if their manor of driving is actually benefiting them in any measurable way. Everyday I count the seconds people gain by passing me just to turn a bit earlier or slam on their brakes a little sooner. I can’t imagine it’s doing them much good but they’re certainly not going to like it if I point that out to them. Maybe their passengers can start helping.

Matt
Guest
Matt

I’ve been doing this for about five years, and I’ve definitely noticed a steady increase in others doing it too.

joan
Subscriber

This is excellent. Cheers, Leslie!

PATRICK
Guest
PATRICK

I’ve been doing this for years. It’s often difficult to ignore the hostility of others who want me to go 5 mph faster. Its is safer, saves gas, saves wear & tear, and promotes calmness.

Chris
Guest
Chris

We’re teaching our son to drive. We make him obey the speed limit everywhere. At this point, he’s been honked, sped around, tailgated, you name it. There may be a 20 mph speed limit in residential ares, but people sure aren’t following it.

Ricky
Guest
Ricky

Thanks for being a responsible driver! The speed limits need to be lowered again, knowing that most folks are going to go 5-10 miles per hour over it anyway. From 20 down to 15 for residential areas. Plant more trees, narrow multi lane streets and add more traffic calming features. Either that or start executing those speed limits somehow.

Scott Kocher
Guest

There’s a lot in the world we can’t change, but we can start with ourselves, our street, our neighborhood and build from there. Thank you Leslie!

Scott Kocher
Guest

A few years ago I asked Rep. Blumenauer to declare a National Drive the Speed Limit Day. Didn’t hear back ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. We can start our own, though. It can be… every day!

Shane
Guest
Shane

Yes! I gave a friend a ride last week and felt like he noticed how slow I was going (um, the speed limit) and I joked that I was single-handedly trying to reduce speeds in the Portland metro area. Is great to know I’m not the only one!

Opus the Poet
Guest

The fact that nobody drives the speed limit unless consciously working to drive the limit is an indictment of engineering. The street environment should be providing clues to how fast is safe, but for years we have been building streets as if they are freeways and people are treating them like freeways. We need more street furniture that narrows the lanes and visually obstructs the street so that drivers are forced to drive more slowly. This is not particular to PDX but is the general condition everywhere.

dachines
Guest
dachines

I believe that part of the issue with speeding is how people interpret the signage itself. There seems to be a perception that the “speed limit” is the speed that should be driven. However, the key word on the sign is “limit”, which essentially means maximum. I have often wondered if people would act differently if the signs said “maximum speed” instead of “speed limit”. There certainly is a precedent for a “maximum” as there are already signs that say “minimum speed”.

I’ve had multiple conversations with people who are complaining about other people obeying the speed limit. I point out to them that limit does not mean minimum, it does not mean average, but it does mean maximum. Their response is typically, “…but, but, but…they are going slow, they are making me crazy, they are holding me up”, to which I simply say that is their problem since the person they are complaining about is acting lawfully.

Of course, I have little faith that if the signs were changed to say “maximum speed” that it would actually result in less speeding.

B. Carfree
Subscriber
B. Carfree

On the rare occasions that I drive these days, one of my joys is watching the reactions of motorists behind me who have never driven at (or slightly below) the posted speed limit before.

Gee, it’s almost like we allow people to drive if they can only answer 70% of the easiest questions correctly, give them three tries to pass and then never retest them again for as long as they can fog a mirror. Add in essentially no enforcement and the near-impossibility of losing one’s license and it’s a predictably deadly free-for-all out there.

drew
Guest
drew

Try installing a fake camera with a blinking red light behind your rear window. That may reduce the tailgating and bad behavior.

Steve
Guest
Steve

I started doing this after living and driving/biking in a totally toxic transportation environment. It felt like everyone is gaming the system and then taking punative action on the road at the slightest provocation. I made a decision not to get wrapped up in that. People can break the law all they want, but I refuse to get emotional on the road.

KT
Guest
KT

I, too, always drive the speed limit, and it infuriates most other drivers. It helps to be in a bigger vehicle.

Carrie
Guest
Carrie

Chris
We’re teaching our son to drive. We make him obey the speed limit everywhere. At this point, he’s been honked, sped around, tailgated, you name it. There may be a 20 mph speed limit in residential ares, but people sure aren’t following it.

Our new teen driver as well is really good at only going the limit or slower. And it’s even more scary the aggressive response he receives while driving, because he’s trying SO HARD to do the right/legal thing all the time and he gets this horrible feedback when he does. FWIW, I’m also part of the speed limit club (that slow line of cars you see on Willamette once a month is led by me :)).

Johnny Bye Carter
Subscriber
Johnny Bye Carter

I didn’t even realize that I’ve been setting a hot new trend for the last decade. I credit this blog for helping me get out of my car and discover just how dangerous driving is.

I’ve seen all the negative aggressive driving in response. I’ve been passed in lots and lots of unsafe manners by frustrated drivers.

I’ll set my speed at the speed limit if it’s clear and sunny, but anything other than that and I’m going to be going even slower. I’m always going at least 5 under if it’s dark and/or raining. Like it’s been said, it’s a maximum so I reduce my speed from there depending on conditions.

Taking the lane while riding a bike has allowed me to learn how to tune out drivers behind me that are frustrated that they can’t go faster. Not my problem.

What IS a problem is the law. If I’m going 24 MPH is a 25 MPH zone then I’m required to pull over. I break this law all the time. I never pull over because I’m delaying traffic by 2 or 3 MPH. And I never pull over on a neighborhood greenway while biking. ORS 811.425 be damned!

Ken
Guest
Ken

About ten years ago, The Oregonian newspaper reported that speed limit compliance on Oregon highways was 30%. As cars have improved and now provide more confidence for drivers, I would imagine that speed limit compliance has worsened further since 2010. At a time where tolling freeway driving is being contemplated, I suggest that issuing speeding tickets could be a source of needed revenue, while increasing highway safety by providing a disincentive to the norm of speeding.

Josh Chernoff
Guest

You should do a thing on the other side of this spectrum. That is the culture forcing people to drive. Found this little gem today on hacker news. https://twitter.com/JaysonElliot/status/1219861955256541187

TonyT
Subscriber
TonyT

Riding my ebike yesterday, doing 20mph southbound on SE 43rd yesterday and a driver HAD to pass me even though the street is 20mph, and is also a school zone. Passed me and continued driving in the wrong lane to turn left into . . . you guessed it . . . the school parking lot.

I love doing the speed limit in my car. Although I disagree with Leslie; it DOES help. When I do 25mph on SE Stark in the 30s, 20s, and teens, all those drivers stuck behind me would otherwise certainly be speeding are now not speeding.

paul g.
Guest
paul g.

Leslie only exceeds the 20 mph limit on her cross bike. 🙂

RE: above comments, I’ve also been surprised that driving the limit on Woodstock seems to be acceptable (though I get tailgating). But biking the limit? I’ve been spat at, yelled at, people pull around me HARD on the RIGHT, etc.

And this is only for a 10 block or so stretch of Woodstock. Yes, I ride in the middle of the lane, but it’s the only damn safe space on that road now, and besides, it’s frickin’ 20 MPH. Am I really slowing you down that much?

Now let’s talk about Cesar Chavez …. supposedly 25mph going south from Woodstock, residential on all sides, and the typical speeds exceed 35.

Toke Vihn
Subscriber
Toke Vihn

All drivers should understand: they’re gonna get to their destination faster in a car than if they were on a bike or bus so WHAT’S THE RUSH. Yielding for a pedestrian or bike costs like 5-10 seconds in travel time. If anyone’s in a rush cause they’re late that’s on them. Folks behind the wheel just need to chill out and slow down.

Tom
Guest
Tom

AVs will drive at/under the limit. People should get used to it.

q
Guest
q

The sad thing is that someone driving the speed limit is legitimately newsworthy.

I could see this as an Onion article, “Portland Woman Routinely Obeys Speed Limits”.

Middle of the Road Guy
Guest
Middle of the Road Guy

It all boils down to one’s level of patience.

JeffP
Guest
JeffP

idlebytes
So now it’s scooters going over 35 mph? I hope you mean like a Vespa ………Recommended 0

To clarify for you – yes, the Vespa type. I don’t experience the kick scooters often.
Maybe I’m just lucky to pay witness to all that is human with my commutes! Or perhaps, I pay attention to a lot more around me. Either way – just observation and request for thoughts….like mentioned, I’m just another cog trying to get to a destination be it by foot, bike, or car.

DaveB
Guest

There’s a national program that advocates exactly what Leslie is doing – Pace Car. It’s in 60+ cities. I first heard about it years ago when I saw a bumpersticker on a car that said something like, “PACE CAR, Follow me, I drive the speed limit”

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pace_Car_Program