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Southwest Portland needs more 20 mph streets

Posted by on November 19th, 2020 at 9:49 am

Kids walking in the bike lane on SW Vista Avenue, a residential collector street with a 25 mph speed limit.
(Photo: Ryan Fedie)

According to Bloomberg CityLab, Europe is slowing down. Paris already has speed limits of 30 km/h (18 mph) over 60% of the city, and is considering generalizing that limit to the entire city. Spain recently followed suit and reduced the speed limit on all two-lane urban roads to 18 mph, and went down to 12 mph, “on streets which lack a clear delineation between roadway and sidewalk,” which are common in the medieval core of some cities.

Here in Portland, our city has a “20 is Plenty” speed reduction program which covers 70% of our streets. As Scott Kocher wrote for BikePortland last winter, “That’s impressive. However, PBOT has not rolled out 20 mph as directed by the ordinance on collector streets in residence districts in most of the city. If you live on or use one of these streets, you’re not getting the level of safety and comfort you’re entitled to.”

In other words, we have room to improve. Especially in southwest Portland.


SW Dosch Road circled in blue.
(Source: PBOT speed limits map)

Southwest Portland has plenty of roads without a “clear delineation” between bicycle riders, walkers, and drivers — and many of them are collector streets currently posted at 25 mph (like SW Vista in the photo above). One of them, SW Capitol Highway, has recently been in the news because it is slated to receive a full suite of active transportation improvements — curb-protected bike lanes, six foot sidewalks — for a $26 million price tag, after a 30-year gestation period and over a length of just one mile.

At that pace and price, it is hard to imagine constructing a safe bike network in the southwest within the lifetime of someone who’s already middle-aged. In the meantime, the city could improve safety outcomes by following through on its “20 is Plenty” program and lower the speed on all collector streets in residential districts.

This is particularly important for SW Portland because it’s not laid out with a tidy grid. Often there are no alternate routes, especially if you are trying to go some length north or south, in which case your choices are limited to either SW Terwilliger Blvd or SW Montgomery Dr.—>Dosch Rd.—>30th Ave.—>Capitol Hwy.

Lisa Caballero

And yet PBOT is making progress. Take the SW Montgomery to Capitol Hwy project (which will break ground next year). SW Montgomery to Talbot recently got sharrows. Improvements at the Vista and Patton crossings are scheduled for this spring.

If we could slow cars down to 20 mph on SW Dosch Rd, we’d have the start — a backbone at least — of a safer bike network.

— Lisa Caballero,
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Hello, KittyThe other FredpaikialaScott Kochersquareman Recent comment authors
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Speed at impact is directly related to crash severity outcome, and speed is associated with crash frequency, but lowering speed limits has only been shown to reduce 85th percentile speeds by about 3 mph for each 5 mph posted change (85th percentiles are often higher than posted).

The same topography that limits a grid system of streets on the west side means the through streets that do exist are often called upon to do most everything, including emergency access. Dosch is a District Collector north of Vermont, the same designation as Multnomah or Capitol Highway, or NE 33rd north of I-84. It is also a Major Emergency Response Route. Such roads are not just for neighborhood traffic, but for traffic across the multiple neighborhoods all around the road.

Contrary to Mr. Kocher’s assertion, enabling posting below 25 mph is not directing such posting. What might be of greater benefit is the ability to post local streets to 15 mph, but state law is very specific about the conditions needed to do so.

A modification to current road standards that requires paved shoulders as a minimum could provide significant benefit to all road users particularly on roads like Dosch. Fire-friendly traffic calming could reduce speeding on many of our busier streets, but is not currently allowed on streets classified higher than Neighborhood Collector (one below District) and Portland Fire and Rescue has veto authority for Major ER routes.

The problem is not as simple as new speed limit signs.


Unfortunately, there are actually no 20 mph streets in Portland.

Well, sure, there are lots of new 20 mph speed signs, but there’s little if any evidence that motorists have slowed down. Especially with the pandemic, there is virtually no enforcement of any traffic laws in Portland.

More and more often, I’m seeing motorists in my neighborhood rolling through stop signs at 10 mph and driving at 30 mph.

Try driving at 20 mph and see how long it takes before there’s another motorist on your bumper.


slow speed divers stop paying attention. there have been many tests proving this. slwo roads are more dangerous, people start looking at phones, playing with radio, grabbing things under seats


Sharrows are not “progress”. Multiple studies show that Sharrows do not help, but if anything seem make things worse. The meaning is subjective and open to a wide variety of interpretations by the driver. They showed many drivers interpret the signs as indicating that bikes need to get out of the way.

“Bicycles may use Full lane” signs are more clear and at least one study of the behavior data is very encouraging. Yet PBOT keeps installing Sharrows and then its referred to as “progress”. Its not.

Effects of “Bicycles May Use Full Lane” Signs on
Bicyclist and Motorist Behavior along Multi-Lane Facilities.


Council Crest’s popular defacto recreation multi-modal Fairmont/Talbot loop is the worst 25 mph street in SW. Only time before a walker, jogger, or cyclist gets hit by OHSU short-cut commuters. Traffic calming please. Diverters would be best for portions? How about: Talbot three-way intersection to the Greenway underpass? Marquam Hill McDonnell Terrace? Himes to Chesapeak?.

Pascual Perrin
Pascual Perrin

Without enforcement I don’t think simply lowering the speed limit really helps. I live on a Greenway street. It’s residential and 20 mph. People blast down it at 35 mph on a regular basis. Recently the speed limit was lowered on an arterial near me from 30 to 25 mph. PBOT made a big fancy announcement about it on NextDoor. When I asked if there would be any enforcement with the speed limit change they replied “No”. Drivers routinely go 35-45 mph on this street and there were 2 pedestrian accidents (car versus child walking) at this location.
Portland won’t enforce its laws as it discriminates against the lawbreakers! We should change the motto from the “city that works” to the “city that enables”.

Doug Hecker
Doug Hecker

I find Scott’s quote a bit off considering that streets that have higher speeds are probably the same ones that have easier access to public transportation. They also probably have better infrastructure unlike my sidewalk less, 1/2 mile walk to a bus street that has a worthless 20mph sign that was improperly installed at 4am. But, maybe I’m wrong, but I doubt it. And yes, he’s “entitled” for his most likely over privileged comment.